Cari asked me "How do you get the kids (ages 8,5,3) to pick up after themselves so that you don't feel like a servant picking up after everyone all day long?"
Ah, an age-old question. I'm sure even pioneer mothers were frustrated by lengths of rope left laying around the yard by active young boys and corn husk or rag dolls left by little girls. It's always been a mother's plea: "Pick up your stuff!"
I'm also sure that many other mothers have tried-and-true methods better than mine, but I do have a reasonable amount of control over the "stuff" owned by the six children who live here, and here's how I've done that.
First of all, as a mother you will always be a servant, but you should never be a slave. The service we render ought to prepare our young ones for a life beyond the one we provide for them. A very important part of mothering is equipping our children to be capable and responsible, to be disciplined and dutiful. This must start young!
A 3 year old is old enough to pick up toys and books. But maybe not always without your supervision and cheerful cooperation. We do the "Clean Up, Clean Up" song from a very young age, and the point is to instill as a habit that when we're done with one thing, we pick it up before moving on to the next thing. Simple enough. But if you don't train them young, look out. It's a hard habit to teach later on. (I had no idea until I inherited a few stepchildren who didn't have this habit.) This is incredibly labor intensive, but it's an investment that pays huge dividends. You can call attention to all the work that must be done to keep a house in order, and a child will begin to notice on her own. After a meal, call attention to the fact that we must all clear the table and do the dishes. After a bath, involve her in helping to pick up all the bath toys. After dressing, say out loud that we must pick up the dirty clothes and put them in the hamper. When we get out of the car, we take everything with us, and when we come into the house, we put away anything we bring in. If you just do these things without the oral commentary, (or worse, if you don't do them at all but expect them to), it will be much harder for the child to start to make regular clean-up a habit. It requires a developed consciousness that is not automatic.
Also, have a place for things. My 2 year old has a bucket for toys and a basket for books. Period. My older kids have drawers and tubs for games and toys that include lots of pieces (Legos, Imaginext, Lincoln Logs, etc), and they each have a "Special Box" that slides under their beds and holds anything they want to keep, or little odds and ends that are important to them but have no specific place. They can slide it out, play with whatever, put everything away, and slide them back under. That has worked really well for me. Oh, and as a rule (except for the toddler who needs to play downstairs under my supervision), I don't let toys come downstairs. There are eight people in this house and keeping a handle on every little thing that every person has would be a full-time job (it is, I think!) if there were not a few boundaries. One of those boundaries is that the toys stay upstairs.
Another boundary is that each child has his/her own laundry bucket and does his/her own laundry. No mass piles of dirty laundry left in bedrooms, bathrooms, or laundry room. I can only handle so much.
But now here's the biggie, and it's not really enforced so much these days because the kids learned I was very serious years ago. Basically, they better pick up their crap, or I will, and I'll throw it away. Little odds and ends that I find left around the house I will gather up and set in a designated spot. (Right now it's on the bottom stair.) They have one day to retrieve their belongings and put them away, or they're gone. This works wonders to create almost overnight remarkably responsible children, but beware that in order for it to be effective, you must follow through. It will break your heart at times. It will be a party at others, but you can't be wishy-washy or you will be detected for the fraud you are. I've trashed items, I've given away items to the Good Will, and I've held hostage a few items that could be purchased back from me, but only rarely. Now? You'll hardly ever see kids' stuff hanging out where it shouldn't be.
Cari, your 5 and 8 year old are old enough to handle their stuff with proper guidelines and reinforcement. But set them up for success. First, make sure they don't have too much stuff. That can lead to some carelessness, when they just have so much that what they have isn't appreciated. Go through their toys and books and donate what they've outgrown or become disinterested in, throw away what is broken or useless or stupid (all McDonald Happy Meal toys and all the worthless garbage they bring home from those school fundraisers), and begin with a fresh system in place. Help them to get organized and simplified so they can feel that sense of order and control, and then teach them to be good stewards. After all, that's what you want them to be, of all that they may be blessed with in life.
And you'd better model it yourself, or no matter what you do, you'll be fighting a losing battle!