The Black Trash Bag

If the toys aren't picked up before the timer goes off, in the trashbag they go.

Some of my best parenting tactics come from my brother-in-law. His kids are a few years older than ours, and he’s really creative and quick-thinking. When he and my wife were kids, he would lock her in the pantry and switch the light on-and-off-and-on-and-off for several minutes. Then he would just leave her in the dark. This worked until my wife realized she had plenty of food and water and could just ride it out. So today I bring you: the black trash bag.

To solve the challenge of getting the kids to pick up their messes in the bedroom, the playroom, the living room, and so on, my brother-in-law would call home when he was leaving for work. The kids then had until he got home to pick it all up. When he arrived, he would pull out a black trash bag and scoop up everything that was left.

I tried this a few years ago, and Eddie as a 3- or 4-year-old would fall to pieces. The challenge was too great, and it didn’t help that his baby sister was undoing whatever he managed to do. And I had to boss the job from start to finish. Miserable for everyone. (Our trash bags are white, but it sounds more menacing to say “black trash bag.”)

Then about six months ago, it started to work. Now he’s almost 7, and Carla is 4, so they can actually get the basement picked up. Almost to my dismay. I don’t know why I have such a punitive sense of justice. It ought to be a major discouragement to think your toys will be taken away if you don’t put them away. Really, I want them to put their crap away before they get out the next pieces of crap. Is that so hard?

Apparently so, because in the past two days, I’ve amassed one small bag and one large one (pictured) of their toys. Things you’d think they’d care about, like the shoebox of crayons, a really great dressup hat and a set of magnetic dressup dollies. But into the bag they went.

The problem is how to ransom the crap back. Eddie earns 25 cents for selected household jobs, such as unloading the dishwasher, dusting or doing windows. I finally decided it was reasonably steep to charge 50 cents to get a bag of toys back. But then what to do when we get multiple bags? And really, then they forget about the toys that were taken away. Which tells me they have too many toys, anyway.


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