My boys are 4.5 and 2. We don't clean up after using each and every toy. During the day, we clean up according to need - like if the living room is just trashed to the point of not being able to see anything, we'll "reset" the room in the middle of the day. We always pick up at the end of the day, but who does it varies. I don't have any rule about picking up one toy before playing with another, I don't have a good reason to set a rule like that and sometimes toys can be mixed in new and interesting ways.
We often pick up so that we have a clear space to do something else, though.
Some things that help to get cleaning up under way here:
- first/then: have an activity that we will do after the room is cleaned up. "Let's make lunch after we clean up the living room" or "ooh, a puzzle. Let's pick up some of these toys so we have more space to build it."
- working together: cleaning up a mess alone can be overwhelming to anybody. Working together goes more quickly, provides companionship, and we can keep each other on track or look for missing items together.
- picking jobs: "I'm going to pick up all the dress-up clothes. Which thing will you choose to pick up?"
- fun: we have a variety of clean-up songs, sometimes make things into games or competitions. This isn't always interesting to everybody. If it's not working for you right now, take a break, but it might work again in the future.
- a place for everything: we have lots of shelves and bins and while it's not a rigid organizational system, there's a certain box for toy cars, a basket we always use for hand puppets, etc. Returning things to their place every day has built a sense of organization. My 2 y/o has started picking things up on his own and putting them in their bin/shelf lately.
- natural consequences of cleaning: we often stand back to admire the clean open space we've created, or say how happy we are to have a clear coffee table to build a puzzle, or how nice it was to find the missing piece of tinker toy, etc.
- timing: sometimes the time when *I* want to clean up is arbitrary. If the kids don't want to pick up then, I need to step back and ask myself if it's truly important to clean up right that moment, or if we can wait.
- who is responsible for the job? Sometimes the kids pick up, sometimes we all pick up together, sometimes DH and I pick up. I try not to make it a battle or have hard and fast rules, but just emphasize that we all do work to keep our home neat and take care of our belongings. Sometimes I pick up after my husband. Sometimes he picks up after me. The "you made the mess, you pick it up" thing doesn't really seem to apply to adults, so I don't see a need to apply it 100% of the time to kids.
So far I haven't dealt with an absolute refusal to help clean. If that were happening, I'd have to do a lot of thinking about why my child was choosing not to help. Is there something frustrating him? Does he just not want to clean up right that moment?