The Mountain Method Can Get Your Kids To Actually Tidy Up

by Kristen Mae
Originally Published: 
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If your kids are anything like mine, you’ve experienced the following scenario: You ask them to clean their rooms. They grumble and hem and haw, and you beg and bribe and threaten, and they finally get to work. They take for-freaking-ever, and you constantly remind them to keep going. Finally, they announce that they’re finished. You come to check their work.

Um, no. Not clean at all. Sure, there is a bare spot in the center of the room that passes for clean, but the perimeter of the room is an unholy disaster. Nerf bullets, Legos, tiny doll shoes, crumpled paper and other various art supplies, dirty socks, little unidentifiable pieces of plastic. And you don’t even want to look under the bed or dresser.

It’s as though you haven’t spent the better part of the last decade of your life teaching them how to be humans in the world. Why do you even bother?

You take a few deep, cleansing breaths to prevent yourself from bursting into rage tears, and you just… give up. You dive in with your kid and help them clean their room. And it does get clean, but only because you helped and, quite frankly, did 90% of the work. Again.

My oldest was around nine when this scenario finally broke me. By that point, he’d had a solid six or seven years of assisted room cleaning under his belt, and I was sick and tired of always getting stuck cleaning up the mess that he’d made all by his damn self. So, one day during one of these half-assed cleaning attempts, in a fit of rage flash of brilliance, I swept all his toys out from under his bed, from under his desk and dresser, and away from the walls, and piled the entire damnable lot of it in the middle of his room.

It was like one of those movie scenes where a character throws a temper tantrum and uses their whole arm to sweep every single thing off of a desk and onto the floor. I told my son there would be no screen time until everything in that pile was in its proper place. And I turned on my heel and left.

I had not the slightest hope he would actually do it. He hadn’t been able to manage independent cleaning up to that point, so a ginormous toy-mountain in the center of his room certainly wasn’t going to be manageable. And it really was just a furious outburst on my part. I just wanted my son to see all the things he’d willfully ignored, to know I’d seen them. I wanted him to know he wasn’t fooling me by bulldozing all his shit under his bed.

Except … when I came back to check on him, to my utter surprise, the pile was smaller. He was chucking toys in the appropriate bins, recycling used-up paper, and throwing dirty clothes in the hamper.

What sorcery is this?

By accident, I’d stumbled upon a new method to help my kid clean his roomwithout me. Hallelujah! Still totally winging it, I reeled in my mania and pretended I’d known all along what I was doing. “You’re doing great with this new cleaning method, honey, don’t you love it? It’s called the … um … the Pullout Method!”

Don’t worry, we call it the mountain method now. Personally, I think “pullout method” is a more accurate and chipper descriptor, but I’ve probably already given my kids enough things to discuss with their therapists when they’re older, so, “Mountain Method” it is.

Seeing my son finally manage to clean his room made everything click for me. All that clutter spread out all over the room was way too overwhelming. It made it impossible for him to decide what needed to be done next or where any particular thing needed to go. Having everything in one place turned what felt like a thousand tasks into one single task.

My daughter was just emerging from toddlerhood when we started using the mountain method, so she doesn’t even think twice about it. When it’s time to clean, she scrapes her toys into the center of the room and gets to work picking through the pile. We’ve honed the method a bit too—now I provide a donation box, a recycling bin, and a wastebasket as they clean, encouraging them to donate toys they haven’t played with in a while.

We use the method for surfaces too, like dressers and nightstands. Everything comes off, and after dusting, my kids put back only what they want to display. Remaining items need to be put away or deposited into donation, recycling, or trash.

It may have been by accident, but I’m so glad I lost my shit that day and swiped all my son’s stuff into the center of his room. Cleaning is 100 times easier these days, and now you get to reap the benefits of my fortuitous discovery.

Happy cleaning!

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