X called me this afternoon as she needed me to babysit for a few hours. This was just the opportunity I was looking for. Z and her 8-year old brother G have not cleaned their room in months and X keeps telling me she can’t figure out how to get them to do so. They’ve had entire days devoted exclusively to cleaning this room and not made an inch of headway. She claims to have tried everything. I think the problem is that she’s too busy yelling at them, so they spend too much time yelling at each other, and nothing gets done. This is not an average messy kids room. Both kids share one small room and there are piles of crap everywhere – clothes, toys, garbage, books, movies, CDs, hell we even found a cable modem (though they have no computer upstairs).
In less than 2 hours real time (about 2.5 kid hours of labor) they managed to clean roughly half of the room. Here’s how they did it…
- 4:00pm – Z and I arrived and I set her at the kitchen table and informed her she had one hour to do her homework. (Which is the most common excuse for not getting the room cleaned on weekdays)
- 4:15pm – G arrives home – I tell him to set down his backpack and go upstairs while I help Z with a problem. I then tell her that if she gets stuck again she should call me and then skip to the next problem while she waits for my arrival.
- 4:20pm – I go upstairs and inform G to turn off the TV and come into his room. We toss all of his bedding (he sleeps on the floor) onto Z’s bed and through the crap that was in the center of the floor (essentially on his bed) on top of other piles. This leaves a large clear space in the middle of the room.
- Next, I assign G a small portion of the room (the entryway) and tell him to go through everything in it. Anything of Z’s gets piled in the clean spot of the floor, dirty clothes go in the hamper, garbage goes in a trash bag, and his stuff gets put where it belongs.
- For the next hour I check on Z’s progress occasionally, but mostly supervise G keeping him on track.
- 5:15pm – G has finished the tasks I assigned him. The room now has one clean area (by the door) and one half clean area (the middle). Z has one remaining short essay to write for homework but I tell her its break time. G is sent to watch tv (after an hour’s work he needs a break) and Z comes up to take over on the room.
- I point out the two sections of the room where G has removed all of her stuff. I then inform her that she needs to remedy her stuff as well (same rules as G – nothing goes in another pile). Anything that is G’s she may throw away because he’s already stated there is non of his stuff in those areas.
- 5:45pm – I bring G back and task him to go through all the remaining piles of crap and just pick out the garbage. Everything that is not garbage can stay right where it is. Meanwhile Z is up on her bed going through the last remaining pile of her crap. They are instructed not to speak to each other as there is no need. They each have their own task and they do not intersect.
- 6:05pm – G informs me (for the second time) that he is done with his task. Z is nearly there. There have been two very brief spats, but a stern reminder on my part ended them quickly. I have G help me take out the newly full garbage bags while Z finishes up.
- 6:15pm – Dinner time. At least half the room is completely clean. Almost no fighting has occurred. A brief conversation/warning about keeping the clean parts clean and I’m free to return home.
The lesson – anything can be accomplished as long as you stay on task. No distractions, just 100% focus.