With the advent of spring comes the annual clutter cleanup and closet cleanse. But have you ever thought about spring cleaning as an opportunity to teach your kids about self-sufficiency, gratitude, and compassion?
If you’re like most people, you put off thinking about spring cleaning for as long as possible and approach it with as much enthusiasm as filing your taxes: You need to force yourself to do it, sometimes the process can be downright painful, but you usually feel better when it’s all said and done.
The same can be said for spring cleaning; however, by embracing this annual chore as a teaching tool for your children, you just might find that you’re not the only one left feeling better at the end. In fact, you can help your kids feel better – and do better – for the rest of their lives. In a way, spring cleaning can be the conduit for transforming your kids into the ultimate Do-It-Yourselfers.
To help you fully understand where I’m going with this, let me share with you a bit about where I’m coming from.
You hear more and more of these stories about entitled kids – those with toddler birthday parties costing thousands of dollars, iPhones at 8, and expensive cars at 15 – who inevitably turn into entitled and seriously disillusioned adults. They are ill-prepared for the reality that smacks them in the face when they finally leave home (at 28) and many of them never fully recover. For the ones who actually get things back on track themselves, the road is long, arduous, and often filled with painful lessons learned at the expense of promising careers and relationships.
Don’t get me wrong: I fully appreciate that these parents are coming from a place of only wanting the best for their kids and a desire to spare them some of the difficulties they may have experienced themselves. At the same time, there’s a difference between blessing your kids with the fruits of your labor and reinforcing their fantasies that things in life will simply fall into their laps.
I propose parents throw a bit of balance back into the mix and use spring cleaning to teach children how rewarding it can be to work for what they receive. What better way to teach kids some good old fashioned values than through a good old fashioned yard sale?
Step 1: The ‘Sell’
As any parent knows, getting your kids to do something is much easier when they’re on board with it. Ideally, this ‘motivation’ will be positive in nature rather than a ‘Do this or else’ or ‘Because I said so’ situation. Think carrot rather than stick here, even if that carrot is: ‘If you want the money you need for (insert reason for said funds here), you need to do this first.’
Yes, you could (and would) have just given them the money anyway. But now the point is that they have something to gain rather than the threat of something to lose.
*Lessons: Accountability and the real world concepts of motivation and consequences. As an adult, if you want money, you have to do your job. If you don’t do your job, you don’t get the money and you lose your job. But isn’t it more positive to think of your paycheck rather than a pink slip?
Step 2: The Setup
Help your children go through all of their things and set aside toys, clothes, books, and anything else they have outgrown, don’t use, don’t need, and don’t want. Have them clean their spaces and reorganize the things they’re keeping as they put them where they belong.
Again, the point is for your kid to take responsibility for this undertaking. You should simply be a facilitator. Certainly, younger children will need more help, but use your judgment here, erring on the side of allowing them to do more rather than less.
*Lessons: This teaches ownership of one’s spaces and things, cleanliness, organization and order, and an appreciation for the hard work of others (namely mom and dad). Also, this teaches kids that life involves tradeoffs and helps them understand priority: If you want this, you have to give up that, so which is more important to you?
Step 3: The Sale
Now the nitty-gritty of the earning comes into play. Have your kid organize a yard sale, write up online listings (for eBay, Craigslist or your neighborhood listserv), or make flyers to post in the neighborhood.
As much as possible, they need to be the driving force behind organizing the sales and closing the deals. Although you’ll supervise, they need to get up and be outside at the crack of dawn; they need to be negotiating with buyers; they need to be putting the cash in their own pockets. Whatever they earn, they keep.
*Lessons: The true effort required to earn a buck along with the satisfaction that comes from earning your own keep and being able to accomplish big things on your own.
Step 4: The Share
Whatever is left over gets donated, with your child personally handing the box to the Goodwill attendant or shelter worker. At this point, they’ve earned what they can and all that’s left is to pay it forward.
And if your child is too little to sell anything, even a toddler understands sharing; you can donate all of their items to charity and start a savings for them with their earnings.
*Lessons: Empathy, compassion, and goodwill. It’s not all about getting; life is also about giving and if you have been blessed with more than enough, sharing with those less fortunate is a wonderful way to help someone else and feel great about yourself in the process.
By involving your kids in this spring cleaning project, you get to pry them away from their video games and have some much needed help around the house. And maybe, just maybe, you can turn your children into the ultimate DIYers and send them out into the world more prepared to succeed in all areas of their lives. And isn’t that what good parenting is all about?
What are some of the creative ways you’ve turned mundane tasks into teachable moments?
Rheney Williams is an attorney-turned-writer and home improvement project blogger. Rheney’s DIY philosophy encompasses all aspects of improving your home and building a better life for yourself and your family.