I have this parenting trick called The Hungry Bag. I got it from a STEP parenting class and while it’s not exactly my style, it’s stood me in good stead. The Hungry Bag comes out and eats toys that are left out on the floor after clean-up time.

How this works at my house is that I announce clean-up time, each day after lunch and before dinner, plus any other time there are so many toys out I can’t walk safely across the floor. I say, “We have five (or ten, depending on the size of the mess) minutes to clean, and then the Hungry Bag will come eat everything up.” In reality, of course, ‘five minutes’ lasts as long as the kids are actively cleaning with me; I never Hungry Bag their stuff while they’re picking it up.

It’s not a perfect system. But it saves me from being responsible for putting all the toys back on their shelves every time she takes them out. If I have to clean up, I am entitled to take the mess away where it won’t be back on the floor ten minutes later. In theory, the toys then get parceled back out gradually. In practice, my closet is full of Hungry Bags of clean-ups past, and I only occasionally open one up and return its contents, which are never missed. How did my kids get so many toys?

I digress. Toys grow like mushrooms in the dwellings of small people; it’s an act of magic and there’s nothing to be gained from questioning it.

The Hungry Bag is occasionally greeted with drama and remonstrations and pleading. Sometimes with defiance and indifference. Today, the Hungry Bag made it’s scheduled appearance and something new and interesting happened:

The Hungry Bag ate something of mine. My glittery blue cowboy hat.

I wore it to a party last weekend, and left it on the floor when I got home. Today during clean up, Rio picked up all her toys, and when the Hungry Bag came out, there was nothing left on the floor but a couple of beads, some ribbon scraps, and my hat.

The Hungry Bag has never eaten Mommy’s toys before. Let me tell you, this was a hit. Enough of a hit that certain little girls who shall remain nameless ran around behind me putting more of my stuff on the floor to be gobbled up, and gigglegigglegiggling.

They also cleaned up everything they took out for the rest of the day, almost without being asked. Apparently pride really is a greater motivator than fear, and being better than Mommy is some heady stuff in the Pride department.

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