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Trouble with Room Cleaning? Try Bucket Cleaning!


“Clean your room!”

As a parent of 4, room cleaning is a perpetual issue.

A few years back, even when my kids were still quite young, I tried experimenting with some GTD principles to see if I could help them feel less overwhelmed and empower them with some tools to gain control. It’s amazing to me how the exact same principles that bring relief for adults can work for kids as young as 3-4 years old. Overload is overload - it knows no age!

If you or someone in your world gets stuck feeling overwhelmed at the thought of cleaning an area in your world (a drawer, a car, a bedroom, an office, etc.), perhaps you can try experimenting with a lab activity from the book Getting Things Done for Teens called "bucket cleaning”.

Bucket cleaning is based on the first 3 steps of the 5 Steps of control - capture, clarify and organize.

My daughter, Norah, is the third of my four children. When faced with what feels like a large task, she can get overwhelmed and shut down. When she was four years old, we tried bucket cleaning for the first time and turned what could have been a long morning of struggle into a enjoyable little game (that planted some helpful executive functioning seeds!).

The setting - all three of my daughters all share a bedroom. It doesn’t take much for their room to get out of control.

We started off by placing ourselves amidst the chaos and grabbing a bucket (in this case a large plastic laundry bin). This bucket served as our capture tool in Step 1: Capture. The next step was to go on a stuff hunt. This involved looking for anything in the room that is not where it belonged. Anything that was stuff got thrown into the bucket.

In less than 3 minutes, voila! The room was now clear. We actually didn’t do much “cleaning", but the fact that everything in the room now matched where it belonged (including the stuff in the bucket), meant we were on our way to organized!

The next step was Step 2: Clarify which we immediately followed up with Step 3: Organize. We took out one item at a time out of the bucket and asked the question, “What is it?” (clarify). Once we identified what the item was, the natural next question was, “Where does it belong?” (organize).

Item #1:

"What is it?”

"My big sister’s stuffed animal!"

"Where does it belong?”

"In her top bunk!"

Item #2:

"What is it?”

"My baby sister’s dolly!"

"Where does it belong?”

"In her crib!"

Item #3:

"What is it?”

"I don’t know.”

(Dad helps her identify as a night light)

"Oh! I know where that goes!"

You get the idea!

And before we knew it, the room was now clean - meaning it was clear and organized, free of stuff.

Bucket cleaning isn’t just a game for 4 year olds. There is some pretty powerful cognitive science to support the process. Truth be told, as an adult I still use this strategy all the time! Our van gets a lot of use with 4 kids, and can get out of control quickly. When it comes time to clean it, I take a big plastic bin with me into that van and in 5 minutes I capture every piece of stuff I can find. I want to spend the least amount of time possible climbing seats and finding not so lovely surprises in the nooks and crannies! After capturing it all in the bucket, I head inside and quickly clarify and organize the stuff one item at a time. It makes such a huge difference for me mentally and in the efficiency of the time spent cleaning out the car.

Where might you be able to bucket clean? Do you have a young person or teen in your life whose got a space in their world that is out of control? Are they feeling overwhelmed at the thought of cleaning it?

If you are interested in trying something new, give bucket cleaning a go, and see if it’s a tool that works as well for them as it does with my little Norah (and her dad!). I’d love to hear stories of how it works for you (or doesn’t)!


















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