I could have written a lot of your post. My two older kids will not clean up without pitching a fit and even them they seldom pick up more than a few things. It takes literally 2-3 hours to get the living room picked up. We've gotten rid of and packed up most of the toys they used to have. I can't take away much of anything else without the younger three (who, except for the baby do help clean up) would have nothing to play with. To get them to clean up anything I have to stand right there and say 'Ok, now pick up the blue crayon. Now put it in the box. No, it's not time for a snack, please stop asking. Now the red crayon. Pick it up, it's right in front of you. Yes, right there. In front of you, next to where the blue crayon was. Look down. I've already told you it's not snack time yet, we need to clean up the crayons first. You need to come back, we will have a snack when the crayons are cleaned up. I've already asked you to pick up the red crayon. Thank you. Put it in the box next to the blue crayon....'. This is when they were given an eight count box to share.
Here is what we're down to:
a wooden box with wooden blocks in it
a small bin of large legos (the older kids never play with them)
a toy barn with a handful of animals in it
a dollhouse with only a few pieces of furniture and a couple little dolls
four baby dolls and a doll cradle
a dishpan with some baby toys in it (older kids don't play with them)
a playstand (doesn't need to be cleaned up)
a play kitchen (again, doesn't have to be picked up)
a small basket with some play food and few toy dishes
two wooden trucks and a small wooden car
four stacking toys (seldom played with)
That's it. Even if everything is out it takes me all of five minutes to clean it up. It used to take me a couple hours to clean up puzzles, board games, and little junky plastic toys.
I've actually started adding toys back in the mix. I thought if there were hardly any toys out they wouldn't think it was a big deal to clean them up but it takes just as long. They are more creative now but not in a good way. They don't have enough to play with so they whine to watch tv (our house isn't big enough to just walk away from a whining kid, if I send them to their rooms they make a mess there). They've gotten destructive with things out of boredom. They get into everything. The junk drawer, a locked closet with craft supplies, my nightstand, the storage thing that holds wrapping paper and tape, their dressers/closets with clean clothes in them, bars of soap, shampoo, a basket of clean folded towels and blankets, books, pictures on the wall, whatever they can grab in the kitchen/fridge, the food in the deep freezer, boxes of keenex, toilet paper, spray bottles of kitchen cleaner.... everything. They'll get ahold of a sheet of paper and I find it in little balls taped to the walls where I have to stand on a chair to scrape if off with a butter knife. Soap is squished into the drain while I feed the baby. Laundry detergent poured on the floor to make a skating rink while I make dinner. It's way more work cleaning up their 'creative' messes than it was picking up more toys.
I hear all the time to just take away toys until they keep things clean but I think that's assuming only one or two kids who can be watched all the time and haven't figured out how to work together to defeat every non keyed lock out there or enough storage space to rotate things out frequently enough that they always seem new. I'm not comfortable putting a keyed lock on everything (nor are we allowed to in military housing) and walking around like a prison warden. I'm interested to see other suggestions.