What We Did This Week
As I mentioned last week, the first big project my kids and I embarked on this summer was The Big Cleanup, by now an annual tradition. Over the last couple of weeks we all worked together. We went room to room, starting with the kids’ rooms, moving to the master bedroom, and ending with the common areas. Depending on the amount of work needed, we dedicated a day or two to each room. We took everything out of every closet, drawer, shelf or cubby. Every surface we cleaned with a soapy wet cloth, vacuumed every cranny, and sorted through every item.
We put together pieces of games that got scattered over the previous year. The kids sorted mixed-up crayons, markers or pencils and put them into separate boxes. We recycled lots of paper, and discarded expired food items and medicines. We put outgrown toys, books and clothes into separate piles, and gave them away. Some we passed on to friends with younger kids, others to beloved old preschools, yet others we donated to Goodwill. We tossed broken things. Overall, this year we gave away a car-load and a half of toys, games and books; two large trash bags and a huge card box full of clothes; and a large box with miscellaneous things. We cleared up a couple of cubbies, lots of closet space and some shelf space.
Here, for example, is what one of the drawers in the kids’ bathroom originally looked like:
We took everything out:
Then vacuumed the drawer and wiped it clean:
And then we put everything back in again, the way it’s supposed to be:
It will hopefully look like this for at least a couple of months or so…
Why I Think It’s Important
Now, no one really likes cleaning up, myself included. One could argue that making children organize their room over the summer vacation (instead of, say, sending them to camp or letting them play in the sand) is a malicious form of kid-torture. But I find this experience to be beneficial on many different levels. Here are some (but by no means all) of the benefits I see:
Cleaning up teaches kids basic life skills that will be useful later on. Younger kids learn to sort, match (game parts, socks), vacuum, clean. Older kids learn to fix things, fold clothes properly, hang things in the closet, check food for expiration dates.
Cleaning makes kids take responsibility for their own space, which in turn makes them more independent and proud of their achievements.
It teaches kids that they are a part of the family, and therefore have a responsibility towards the family. My children use the entire house and therefore need to tidy common areas as well as their own room.
Cleaning together encourages cooperation and teamwork. It also requires negotiation and conflict resolution, all important skills.
Cleaning teaches compassion and social responsibility. We all had trouble parting with some things, be it a favorite stuffed animal or a beloved-yet-outgrown book. Saying goodbye to these items was hard. But we knew that by passing them on someone else would enjoy them, be it a person we care about or a stranger. Putting a toy in a pile directed to “kids who have no toys” made my kids feel good about parting with toys they no longer needed.
Getting rid of things teaches kids that material items are not important, and that stuff is replaceable.
My children actually like the Big Cleanup. This year they wanted to start organizing the house even before the school year ended, and I had to convince them to take a couple of days off to relax first. When I asked what they like about it, my seven-year-old told me he always looks forward to finding lost toys or lost pieces of games. My twelve-year-old said that she likes the way a tidy room (and house) feels. My fourteen-year-old, it turns out, enjoys going over my clothes and seeing what she could pilfer.
It took a bit over two weeks, but our Big Cleanup of the year is finally over. To celebrate our accomplishment we went to the movies. “Finding Dory” was fun, as was eating a huge bucket of popcorn.
Material things are disposable. Shared experiences are forever!
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