Introducing: The Box

We have a problem with clutter.

Late winter (you know, last week), it hit a new high. (Or was it a new low?) Boots, balled-up socks, sweaters, toys, coats, shoesโ€”just follow the trail and it was likely to lead you to one of several little people around here.

Not much can be done about the twenty-two month old right now. He’s simply at That Stage. But the girls? At five and almost-eight, they are both capable of picking up after themselves.

I was sick of reminding them. But I didn’t want to turn clutter into a huge disciplinary issue. They didn’t need me following them around doling out punishments every time they took off their socks and let them on the living room floor.

They had to be internally motivated to put their possessions away, not externally prodded by me all the time. And whatever I did to motivate them, it had to be self-sustaining.

At first, I thought maybe I would put up a chart, with stickers for clutter-free days.

But I hate charts. (There. I said it.)

Charts are great and wonderfulโ€”for mothers who remember them.

Around here, the first week of a chart is exhilarating. Everybody is excited about the new program and the neat stickers. And then, one day, we forget to put up stickers until after the girls are in bed. Or one girl remembers and the other doesn’t. Or one girl always takes the pink stickers and there’s only green ones left and I don’t want green, I want pink, but she has them all. The gloss wears off. We fall behind in keeping track and everyone stops caring.

I am too absent-minded to be trusted with charts. I stand with one foot in the real world and one foot in the world that exists inside my head. This divided attention means many details of living can completely evade me or slip through my distracted fingers.

I’ve tried to improve. I buy vitamins that are supposed to help me concentrate and remember, but (you can see where this is going, can’t you?) I forget to take them. I keep an erratic planner. I make lists. I married a man who never forgets.

None of this has helped me much. I’m a chronic thinker and daydreamer. Vitamins and husbands aren’t going to change that.

A chart for clutter? Let’s pretend that I try it and I wouldn’t forget. So what if someone lets one sock on the floor? Would that completely erase the daily sticker? I could just hear the fuss that would make. They are children, not pre-programmed robots. Besides, we all live here, and if I look around, I can see a few of my possessions here and there.

While I was kicking this problem back and forth, I stopped beside an empty cardboard box that had been used to haul groceries home from the local discount store. I looked at it, and my chart idea vanished into the ether.

I’d like to introduce you to The Box.


It’s my new best friend.

It takes care of the clutter for me.

Here’s what I told the girls: “You know how you have a problem with letting your things all over the house, like shoes and backpacks and dolly clothes?”

[Insert sheepish nods here.]

“Do you see this box?”

They did.

“Whenever I find things on the floor that shouldn’t be on the floor, I will pick them up and put them in The Box. If you want to redeem them, you will need to do a job for me. One job for every item in the box.”

“What’s redeem mean, Mom?”

“It means if you want to wear your school shoes again, you’ll need to do a job for me.” I looked at the other girl. “It means if you want to play with your dolly again, you’ll need to do a job for me. Whatever is in The Box, you can’t have it back until you work to get it.”

The best part of this program is that I don’t have to remember anything. I still pick up things that shouldn’t be on the floor, but now I just toss them into The Box. However, the girls are finding it much easier to put their possessions away immediately rather than doing jobs before redeemingย their stuff to put it away. If something of theirs is in The Box, they don’t complain about the job they have to do, because they know they could have prevented the job from happening.

The Box creates internal motivation. No more nagging from me. All I do is march toward the coat on the floor, and suddenly there’s a girl diving for the coat and whisking it into the closet.

We might even graduate to a smaller box, since this one is over-qualified.

And with all this putting away clutter and redeeming clutter, the house hasn’t looked so good in a long time.

Well. Not entirely. There is still the twenty-two month old, and he’s messier than both his sisters combined.

Maybe we should put him in The Box.

And redeem him with kisses.

26 thoughts on “Introducing: The Box

  1. I’m another mom who hates charts! They are so fun and cute and motivating…. if you remember to use them. And with 7 (almost 8) children and homeschooling and daily living that just simply isn’t happening around here. I love self motivating ideas!
    We’ve done this kind of box some years but we usually make the children buy stuff back with real money and then the money we collect benefits the whole family (ice cream, pop, or museum fees) Eventually we call a meeting to disperse the remaining objects which no one wants to claim. If it’s yours, you must pay! ๐Ÿ™‚
    I enjoy your writing!

    • That’s a excellent idea, particularly with older children who understand money concepts. I’ll have to remember it. I don’t anticipate outgrowing our need to keep after clutter. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • You, too? We’ll have to form a club. ๐Ÿ™‚ But someone else will have to be president. I’ll forget to call for meetings.

  2. Count me in on the “No Charts” club! I’m not disciplined enough myself to make them work, plus a situation usually arises that defies all the scenarios I’ve tried to imagine. The Box sounds like a lot less mind work. Thanks for sharing. And I might also need one for an 18 month old at That Stage, who can undo tidiness faster than I can keep up.

    • And when that situation arises, I have to decide what to do about it, and honestly, it can be difficult enough to decide what to make for supper, so why should I be creating more scenarios to puzzle through? The only decision The Box requires is who gets what job–and around here, jobs are easy to come by. Especially with a little fellow on the loose. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I’ve used The Box in the past and it works great. Thanks for this reminder….I think it’s time to resurrect The Box at our house again. Not only do you no longer have to nag about them putting their stuff away, you also have a clean house from the chores they do to redeem their stuff. It’s a win-win situation for the mom.

  4. Excellent idea!!! This I could do!!! I can’t wait to get my hands on a good sized box! I too can identify with those charts that are eventually pushed to the back of a drawer and forgotten, and the vitamins sitting forgotten on their cabinet shelf. ๐Ÿ™‚ I use a planner diligently out of necessity, the embarrassment is just too vivid of figuring out at the last minute that I have excepted two invitations…. for the same meal. Or hearing the chuckle in a friends voice when she asks if I forgot about ___ last week. Or the annoyance in a receptionist’s voice when I call to reschedule a forgotten doc appointment.

  5. I LOVE it! I enthusiastically told my children about the idea I learned from my friend Stephanie . Somehow they seemed a lot less enthusiastic about your great idea than I am??? Its SO much easier to throw the coat on the floor than hang it on the hook that is WELL within reach. Wonder where they learned that from…as I look at my sweater thrown over the back of the chair. If we start this project I can just see them requiring some jobs of me, too. But that is often what it takes, working together! Thanks for what I THINK might be a helpful suggestion(unless I forget where I put the box)…..

    • I confess I have wondered what would happen if I would tell the girls they could put MY stuff in The Box. Oh, they would love it. Me, not so much.

      Talk about sheepish.

  6. Love this idea. I too hate charts; they never last more than a few days. But I think The Box would work.

    But at our house, it would have to be a HUGE box.

    Do you have a cure for clean up that is not done well? My children can say that a room is clean – but that only means the center is clear. When I send them back, they pick up a few more items but never seem to get the corners unless I stand right with them and point it out.

    Once I threatened to throw away everything in the room that they had not put away, hoping that would encourage them to pick up more items, but my son threw his school books on the floor – so that didn’t work!

    • Do you want me to track down a washer or refrigerator box just for you? ๐Ÿ™‚

      We fight the sloppy cleanup problem here, too. I’ve hid pennies in a room and told them they could keep the pennies they found, but everything they lifted or moved, they had to put away. Since they didn’t know how many pennies I hid, they kept working until the room was clean. Unread library books or fun projects act as a great motivator.

      One of the things that has (sort of) helped was showing them what “clean” looks like. After they worked hard and made a room beautiful (thanks to a lot of superintending from me), I point out the difference between a sloppy cleanup and a thorough cleanup. Some children–and one of them is mine–can’t see the mess and can’t envision clean.

      All this makes it sound like I’m on top of this problem, but I’m not. We just keep working on it.

  7. Hate charts too. Love the BOX idea. And the penny idea. And…the box for the 14 month old..haha. And, no, there can’t be a box for me either ( cuz really, I always put it away myself anyway…eventually) .

    • But if the box were big enough, you could climb inside with a book and a flashlight, and no one would be able to find you for maybe 10 minutes. Every mom needs 10 uninterrupted minutes every now and then. Recently, I can’t even go to the bathroom without someone banging on the door, looking for me.

      Oh. You meant a box for the stuff you let all over the house. ๐Ÿ™‚ (Forgive me for being ridiculous, but that’s what flashed into my head when I first read your comment. You know: “box for me.”)

  8. I NEEDED that box idea! It must have really worked for you! I see a box on the picture with nothing peeping out of the top & everything spic n span all around it! Wonder if it will work that well for me….. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Well…I did pick a sock off the floor before I took the picture. ๐Ÿ™‚ But it was a Micah-sock, and he is still Rejoicing In His Irresponsibility. And my sister stopped in late yesterday afternoon, and she cleaned up the playroom (she does stuff like that for fun–for fun! Can you imagine? ๐Ÿ™‚ ), which is the room visible through the doorway. I took the picture this morning. The playroom doesn’t look so good anymore. Again, thanks to Mr. Irresponsibility.

  9. I did a form of this years ago, only I hid the stray item. The way they redeemed them was to find something to put away, not necessarily their own. It was a win/win solution and we did it for quite a long time.

    • That’s an excellent variation. It would save the…uh…clutter of a large box sitting around, which has occurred to me as being some contradictory to our purpose.

  10. Three cheers for The Box! Thanks for the great idea… and the comfort it brings that I’m not the only one fighting this battle ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Ah, yes. Wonderful charts (and other Big Ideas) that last for two days! And here’s the other thing I do — use an idea for awhile and it works great so we gradually quit and then, suddenly I read somebody’s blog post about a box and the light bulb flashes — Oh yeah! We did this once and it worked great!! What happened, I wonder, as I count 4 pairs of shoes, 2 pairs of socks and a coat on the floor just from my vantage point ???? Thanks for the reminder ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Me? Oh, I LOVE charts. I love to think them up and make them and tweak them and fix them just so. And then the fun is over. (So why make them in the first place??!) I think I’m going to find a box for my Lil Guy. And I really need one for me. Only right now I’ll forego the flashlight and book and substitute a pillow and blanket…

    • Pillow and blanket? That’s a great idea–but only if their can’t-see-Mom alarms don’t go off. I love them dearly, but sometimes it’s exhausting to be so needed.

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