Operation Break A Habit

The above picture is straight from my life. This laundry basket belongs to one of my children. Don’t worry; I will not use his name so as to protect him from unkind stares of organized people everywhere. This is my child the “pack rat”. This is my child the child the sentimental fool. This is the child whose organizing style is most like mine. If you went into my bedroom as a child, you would have seen the same picture of laundry on the floor next to the basket. (I am pretty sure if you went in my room now you would see the same scene. My excuse is that I don’t know where to put the clothes that I only wore a few hours and so are not technically dirty but are not clean enough to go back on the hanger.) But the clothes in the picture are dirty, for goodness sakes they belong to a boy and boy’s get clothes dirty very quickly. Doesn’t he know that I am a professional organizer? Doesn’t he know that I do public speaking on clutter hot spots and one of my topics is laundry? Well I guess if I didn’t have him in my life where would I find the inspiration that I have for my blog?

Here is my game plan on breaking this habit of not quite getting the laundry in the basket and this works with most every habit change. I need to either punish him for bad behavior or reward him for good behavior. I am a believer of my first step of rewarding for good behavior but more often than not I punish for bad behavior. Here is how it has worked in the past in our house. We all had a habit of wearing our shoes into the house and taking them off by the front door. We were all guilty of this. I devised a plan that if I caught their shoes by the front door, they had to do an extra chore for me. If they found my shoes by the front door, I had to take them out for ice cream. How well did this work? We had the habit changed within 3 days.

Step 1: The trick is to find the trigger for each member of the family so that you can make sure they are invested in the habit change. I have parents ask me all of the time how to change the habits of members of their families and we devise a plan to make it happen. One mom I worked with was tired of telling her daughters to clean their rooms. These same daughters loved their cell phones. I simply told her to stop nagging them and simply say that if their rooms were not cleaned by Sunday she was going to shut down their cell phones for the week. I don’t mean just take them away. I mean call the phone company have them disabled for the week. Drastic I know and she was worried about the cost of doing this every week. I told her not to worry and her daughters would make sure that their rooms were never messy again come Sunday. Mom was happy because she didn’t have to nag anymore. Daughters were happy because they didn’t have to hear mom nag anymore and they clearly knew what the expectations were.

When my boys were younger, their trigger was video games. I would disconnect the system for the allotted amount of time for their punishment and reconnect it when it was over. For one of my boys it was not being able to play with friends. The point is, you need to make it so it works with the personality of the person you are working with. I have wives ask me constantly how to change the habits of their husbands. Really ladies….that one is not that difficult to figure out! You just need to find the reward or punishment that gets his attention.

Step 2: Make it easy. Don’t make it so complex that there is a spreadsheet created to track the progress of the habit change. I have seen parents with elaborate chore charts with 72 different chores on it. These kids don’t know if they are coming or going. But more often than not, it is the parent that becomes more confused over the tracking of the chores and it is quickly abandoned.

Here is one chore chart that I have found to be easy to track the daily progress and it is simple enough for a 3 year old to operate and it works really well for children with ADD or ADHD.

Step 3: Stick with it. More often than not it is the parent that will cave in and give the child the video game or cell phone back. It is the same thing we were told as young parents, just let your baby cry themselves to sleep for a few nights and then they will be sleeping through the night in no time. Well, I have a child who would cry so hard he would throw up. The doctor didn’t warn me about that! Needless to say that child is now 16 and he does sleep through the night! This is the step that most fail at. Our follow through is horrible. Mine too! I get tired and find it is easier if I just bend down and pick up the laundry. Or when the boys were little and I had taken those video games away for the week I would have a house full of wild boys that needed taming so I could work and I would be the one to give in and connect the video games back up.

Step 4: Tackle one habit at a time. You are not going to convert your messy child into a neat freak overnight.  I am 42 years old and still working on breaking my habits.

Step 5: Just start. Start small or start big, it doesn’t matter but the point is you need to start somewhere. Instead of you getting angry or frustrated get your action plan ready for the habit that you want to change.

Step 6: Be realistic. When my boys were little I would threaten them with taking their video games away for a month. That was a hollow threat and they knew it. I needed to find something that would make a point with them but still let me live with the consequences.

Step 7: Have a united front. You may need support in changing some of these habits. Make sure that you have the support to help you get it done. It makes no sense to me to expect my son to get his laundry in the basket if I can’t get mine in the basket. So I need to start with myself and make sure that all of my clothes are picked up first and that my husband is on board to help me with “operation dirty clothes in the laundry basket.

While I work through these habit changes with my boys, I can’t help but think that I am doing this for my future daughter in laws. For example, the toilet seat is always down. And to them I say….your welcome.


To Joyful, Simplified Living,


MS. Simplicity


MS. Simplicity, also known as Melissa Schmalenberger  operates her business as I Did it with MS. Simplicity.  She is a Professional Organizer based out of Fargo, ND and her website can be found at http://www.mssimplicity.com/

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2 Responses

  1. I have a folding chair that I throw the in-between clothes on, but I bet one of those drying racks would work well if you have a more grown-up bedroom than I do. I also have about six different color-coded laundry baskets that I sort my clothes into as I take them off. (A basket for whites, lights, colors, etc.) And wash them as I fill them. Granted, this strategy really doesn’t work for a large household, but it works for me.

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