Uh-Oh! The Out of Luck Ransom & Chore Bin…Would you? Should you?

Uh-Oh! The Out of Luck Ransom & Chore Bin…Would you? Should you?

Maybe you have seen the Uh-Oh Out of Luck Bin picture on pintrest or facebook. If you haven’t it’s basically a big plastic bin with a little poem on it that goes:


“You left it out Mom picked it up she’s got your stuff you are out of LUCK to get it back must do a CHORE again it is yours just like before” Next to the poem is an envelope filled with chore tags, the only visible one says “Get a wipe”, I am guessing other chores in the evelope are for sweeping, vaccuming, and other household chores.

Comments I’ve seen on this bin idea range from “Brilliant” to “Yeah! now I’ll show who the boss is” to “that is so totally wrong and cruel”…..

So, Would you set up a bin like this? Should parents use ransom & chore bins like this?

I totally see that this is a positive step away from harsh physically punitive measures. For sure I have seen and heard of parents that simply take a trash bag and dispose of any and all toys that are scattered about. Sometimes the clutter can really cause stress and lead to escalated punitive measures where children may be spanked for forgetting toys on the stairs etc… So while I totally get the reasons why parents may turn to an idea like this, and I do think children should learn to be responsible for their personal items, I also see some potential negatives involved in using the bin.

Within the positive parenting philosophy, there are some points and alternatives I think would be important to consider before introducing something like this at home:

1. Masking the problem: The idea to introduce such a bin seems to stem from the fact that toys and other items that belong to the children are not being put away or are being misplaced. Mom or Dad always sweeping them away for “ransom” isn’t quite going to encourage children to pro-actively think about putting things away. It could actually back-fire in the sense that children may simply become accustomed to checking the bin instead of remembering to put things away. This system does not help children internalize the act of caring for their own items.
Possible Alternative: Address the problem at the root. Are items being left because there is no place for them? Are expectations about clean up realistic based on the child’s age and capabilities? Can clean up be made more fun? Are items being left behind because there is a rush to get out of the house, what if more time could be added into the routine?

2. Adding Conflict: If the bin has been created out of frustration due to toys being consistently left untidy then adding this step of holding items until a chore is completed is adding to the existing conflict. Now, Mom and Dad not only get to nag about picking up items and forgotten items they can use the bin as a threat, and then the subject of whether or not the consequence, i.e. the chore has been completed could create even more conflict. A child may be upset about their toy being taken, parents frustrated about taking the toy because it was on the floor yet again, it’s quite the potential set up for an argument about the impending chores or simply a tantrum because a child may feel sad, frustrated, angry etc…
Possible Alternative: Are items being left about because there is no routine that involves the time to clean toys and other items up? What about creating time to clean up together? This can boost the connection between child and parent, provides an opportunity for modeling and the more connected children feel to their parents, the more they want to cooperate, belong to the family and help out. Plus, instead of nagging about the pick-up, what happens if we ask for help with a solution? Inviting cooperation can really go a long way!

3. Creating Resentment: Let’s for a moment assume that this bin system is in place. Maybe the first few times it works like a charm. Now on the second or third day the most beloved toy was forgotten by the sofa and a chore MUST be done. How long until the child starts really hating chores? Really wishing they could just have their toy back, after all they didn’t mean to leave it by the sofa, they just got so excited about that other puzzle over there, or went off to play with a sibling…Now they have to stop their play to sweep the floor to get their toy back…SIGH, SIGH…how long until a big “I hate this” or “Sweeping is stupid” thoughts will start? Plus, many children may simply give up and leave the items in the bin “Nah, you keep that! I don’t care.” Now what?
Possible Alternative: Incorporating age appropriate chores into daily routines can be a really rewarding opportunity for the whole family. When children participate in the household tasks they are naturally learning so many life skills. Doing chores is a fantastic opportunity for children to feel encouraged and a way for them to actively participate in family life. When chores become something punitive, all of that encouragement and possibility for belonging is lost.

Of course the decision to implement a Ransom and Chore bin is up to each family. Where I love practical solutions to daily parenting challenges, I think that this particular solution, although clever could create additional challenges and conflicts that are not necessary. I will also add in complete honesty that while we clean up here every day around 5:30pm, our house is far from pristine and I am very comfortable having toys around. So, like any quick solution, I think it’s really important to weight the advantages and disadvantages and how they line up with each family’s values and dynamics.

So, have you set up the ransom & chore bin? Would you? Should you? Why or why not?

Peace & Be Well,


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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

25 Responses to Uh-Oh! The Out of Luck Ransom & Chore Bin…Would you? Should you?

  1. Great points you make. I too saw this idea. I immediately recognized that this would not work for me since I would have to pick up too much and too often. Mommy and Daddy stuff might be in there too. I agree more with the Pinterest sign “excuse the mess we are busy making memories!”

  2. Oh great point! I love that sign!

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  3. I can understand your points if this system was being used for ALL toys… It would be impossible! But I think it would work for my kids with just the electronic toys. We have a set clean up time, and my girls are very good at picking up after themselves, usually. The only thing they have a problem with is the nintendo ds stuff… the games, the little ‘pens’ the earphones… I hate it when I find them on the floor or left out because they are expencive toys and we cant afford to replace them if they get lost or broken. I have been taking the games away for a short period of time (a day or two) when I see them left out and it seems to help remind them to take care of their things. I think I might get a ‘box’ and try this idea!

  4. Ariadne, I’m a brand-new reader and HUGE fan. 🙂 I was raised on Positive Discipline (my mom was a certified educator in the early 90s!) and while it’s in my bones and my natural instinct to follow positive parenting practices, I need sites like yours for new ideas and inspiration. We are at ages (just over 4 and 2) where we need some systems for clean-up and household responsibilities and I’m looking forward to reading the other posts you link to in this one.

    Huge fan already! Thank you for what you do!


  5. Welcome Sarah, so glad to have you here! Thank you for the wonderful feedback!! What a great story you shared about your mom being a pd educator.

  6. I thought this was totally brilliant! until I thought more about my own children’s personalities. In the past if I used a system of “it’s mine until you do XYZ”, they just move onto something else and let me continue to clean up and hold onto the toys. Their special things they make sure to pick up, but a host of other small items they feel they can live without for an undefined amount of time. So I’m still having to pick up after them, and they are left still not learning to clean up and put away. I’m glad you pointed out some of the other possible downfalls to this method as well. Good points!

  7. Actually this system works well for me but my kids are teens. They have been taught to pick up and have time – they just have other things on their mind. I could never get my daughter to pick up after herself in the bathroom but it only took twice of her having to do a chore in the morning to get back her flat iron and blow dryer for her to remember to put them away. Maybe it works better with teens than with smaller children

  8. It’s a great system. I have 8 year old twins and they have chores to do on a regular basis anyway. They enjoy helping me. The toys in the bin are reclaimed with an “extra” chore. So I usually set the table and they clear it. Instead, one of the envelope chores might be to set the table for the next meal. Might be to brush the dog for 10 minutes. Things they don’t mind doing anyway.
    The only thing I’ve added is a shelf life. If a toy remains in the bin for over a week, then I figure they do not care about that toy too much anyway. It gets a “walk the plank”. If no one does a chore on the walk the plank day, it goes into the donate box. Sometimes, they even volunteer to just donate things. I love the idea.

  9. Thanks for sharing that Karen, I really like hearing how this tool is working or not working for different families! I think a lot of it has to do with how we parents approach it, if we are taking sort of a mean spirited approach or a kindness approach, either way I think the children sense that and will react accordingly!! “Walk the plank” day has me intrigued!

  10. My eldest (5) is very much a move-on-to-something-else child, so he only works to get the extra special things out of the bin. So we implemented a rule that if you don’t get something out of the bin by doing a chore within a week, it goes to Goodwill.

    I look at it as a win for me either way. If he doesn’t care enough to get the toy out of the bin, I give it to a child who will care more about it and have less clutter and less to have to pick up next time!

  11. Aha! I should have read on and saved myself typing out the comment above 🙂 I like the term “walk the plank” for the donation box!

  12. My feelings are mixed about this. In the time it took this mom to write a clever poem and make up individual chore slips, she could have just talked to her kids. And really, I think it’s all dependent on a child’s age and expectations for tidiness.

    When our son was a toddler up to about age 5, he had toys out all over the house all day long and I was okay with it. At the end of the day, we’d all make a game out of returning the toys to huge baskets. It didnt’ matter what went where, as long as it was up off the floor.

    As he got older, he was expected to keep everything in one designated room and then pick up after himself at the end of the day. If something was left out, I’d just toss it in a basket rather than make it a battleground.

    Now that he’s a tween, he is expected to keep common areas like the living room, dining room and kitchen tidy and clutter free. If he leaves personal belongings out in common areas, he gets a reminder and then the item is stashed away. If he asks “Mom, have you seen so-and-so?” he is expected to look for it himself. If the item is lost, he buys a replacement out of his allowance.

    His room is his own territory and he can do whatever he likes as long as it’s not a health hazard so that’s where all the mess is now. I just close the door and ignore it. He recently started cleaning his room on his own after it got too ridiculous even for him. Nagging has never worked. I wouldn’t take very well to a “chore box” for things I leave out, so I wouldn’t do it to my son, but this might be a great system for other kids.

  13. I wonder if it works on husbands? haha. seriously though, I try not to expect things of my children that I can not do myself. I sometimes forget to pick my things up, as does my husband. A gentle reminder is all that is usually needed.

  14. Omg im so glad to have found ur website ive needed help for so long.. parenting has proved challenging for me though I try my hardest yet I cant find any parenting groups where I live.. im working my very hardest to make sure I am nothing like my parents. I grew up living in and out of foster care and then with my dad in the later years he was very abusive and never helped me learn wrong from right. My mom on the other hand wasn’t around much abusive men in drugs were much more important than her nine children only one of which besides me we’re fathered by my dad.so as soon as I got pregnant with my first child at 17 I sign up for any parenting classes possible determined to be a good mother and nothing with my parents.I feel like a very good job as infants and even toddlers.. now for older I’m having a really hard time.. I find myself yelling a lot and always having to punish my kids rounded corner taking things away Ect.. that does not work for my children as I know the thing is only making them more angry and rebel even more. I want to learn how to parent any more positive way and instead of so many consequences may be helping them to understand but the things that I’ve tried are just not working. I said every day of my life trying to be the best mom I can be but at this point it seems that I’m not doing so well. Since I didn’t have parents to help me with anything I enable my children very very much my oldest son is about to be 11 and has never done any chores just started showering by himself with no help anyways in the last couple months but I still brush his teeth dress him.. my 6 year old is about to turn 7 is the same way I still washes his hair in the shower but let him wash his body I Drive him I brush his teeth and I dress in every single day I even put on both of their socks and shoes.. I didn’t really realize that what I was doing wasn’t good or normal Intel my kids have a sleepover and every other kid know how to do everything by them self I just thought I was being a good and helpful mom. At this point I am having a very hard time getting them to do anything since I waited so long they clean their room to at the bare minimal though and I make their beds, vacuum and everything else. they do not do any chores and wouldn’t even know how if I asked them to and worst of all they refused to sleep in their own room still which leaves them sleeping with Dad and Mom on the couch. I am not sure exactly what I can do at this point to fix this. My kids mean the world to me and I want to do whatever it takes to be a good mom that helps in excel in life not slow them down. The disciplineI have shown is little to none and by the time I finally deal its yelling in negative.. please please please help me with this not only is it stressing me out very much but it is causing problems in my relationship my husband was a mama’s boy who never did anything for himself so he thinks this is OK and as I’m trying to turn it around we are bonking Headz disagreeing on everything.. at this point I’m trying to the charts for their behaviors in church for chores and positive reinforcement and its just not working please any advice for any tips from anybody that reads this would be so helpful please no mean comments though I really AM only trying to be a good mom. Thanks so much for your time and I look forward to hearing feedback

  15. My kids do a chore a day on a regular basis, the “lost-&-found bin” has just been added into our routine.
    It’s a great idea, and I’m delighted to adopt it. Far fewer shoes and books left around the house…

  16. I’ve been reading the comments, and have to say that I agree with a lot of people here! I’ve got a nearly 3 year old and a nearly 9 year old. The 3 year old is still learning and I’m not as concerned. The nearly 9 year old has been told and taught and given PLENTY of time to clean her stuff up and have designated areas for this. I showed the bin idea to her and asked HER opinion and she WANTS to have it. I’m not sure what the chores associated with it will be, or if I’ll brainstorm another options. But a catch all bin, regardless of what the child has to do (or not do) to get their possessions back, is definitely a very real solution with less work for the parent. I also told my daughter we’d have a time period that if something wasn’t claimed by the date it would be donated. My kids (both girls) are the only grandkids on BOTH sides of our family and thus have a LOT of STUFF. I feel the root of our problem is that they have so MUCH stuff, they don’t know how to value what they have. Even though the nearly 9 year old has read tons of books about how a girl treasures her one and only doll, she just doesn’t get it. I feel that a system like this tailored to our needs will help her learn to evaluate just how much items are worth to her. If they are not worth working for to reclaim, then maybe she doesn’t need them as much as she thinks she does, and SHE will come to that realization on her own as a result. I completely agree with your statement that a LOT of this has to do with the spirit in which it’s presented and the intentions of the parents. Although I haven’t done this YET, when I was teaching full time I went to a presentation by Rick Smith, who wrote “Concious Classroom Management” (life changing, really, not just for classrooms but for parenting too!), and he talked a lot for younger kids about using picture rubrics for them. Maybe they don’t know or aren’t ABLE to visualize what “clean” means. Doing a one time game, make the problem area as messy as possible. Decide which number is best, 1, 2 or 3. Let’s call 1 the best. Take a picture of the messy area and put a 3 under it. Then pick up half or so, so it’s kind of clean, and take another picture and put a 2 under it. Make it completely clean, take a picture and put a 1 underneath. Print out the pictures and numbers and post them near the area. Practice seeing how fast it takes to get from 3 to 1 and sporadically try to beat your best score. When you walk by said area and you feel it needs to be cleaned, you can say “This area is at a 2, almost a 3, it needs to be a 1 really soon, do you want to use the timer this time and try to beat your last score?” They can look at the pictures to reference the numbers. Or you can even ask as you walk by, “What number do you think this area is at?” Older kids could have numbers 1-5 with more variations of “clean” or whatever.

    Man, it’s a good thing I stumbled on here, because I hadn’t even though about those picture rubrics for so long and now that my nearly 3 year old is starting to recognize numbers (heck, I guess I could have been using colors-like a traffic light-or shapes up to now, or letters even) I could probably implement this with her (although truth be told, she’s the kid who is LEAST messy and MOST likely to put things away between her and her old sister….figure that one out!).

  17. I read your comment and I just wanted to tell you that I applaud all your efforts to be a better mom than you had!!! And I think every mom has problems (I find myself yelling and I HATE when I do that, and am sincerely working towards eliminating that behavior), but with anything, it does take time. And as silly as it sounds, it takes practice. Anything new you want to implement with your kids, you’ll need to explain to them, explain WHY you are doing it (because you love them and want them to succeed in a world where you will not always be there), and then practice it, and the HARDEST part is being CONSISTENT with it. Gosh that gets me all the time. So don’t be surprised if something new takes several weeks to fully get roots going, even when you do it consistently. Don’t give up-look for parent support groups in your community! *hugs* to you! “You do what you know and when you know better you do better.” Don’t beat yourself up for past things you view as mistakes. Acknowledge and move on 🙂

  18. In our case (children of age 6 and 10) the best idea was a little notebook where they would get marks every day for the aspect of their room. If all the marks were 10 in a 2 weeks period, they would get a toy that they wanted or some other reward. We did that for 3 periods of 2 weeks (6 weeks in total) and at the end it became a habit. They keep their rooms clean and their things in place all the time.

  19. […] Train the kids. Small children are like blenders without a lid. Try to teach tidiness by encouraging them to put away one activity or toy before pulling out the next. I saw this great idea for teaching tidiness. I’m not sure where the original image is from but I sourced this one here. […]

  20. Have read some of the comments and every parent will do what works for them but I don’t think its a horrible idea at all. I wish my husband and I would have had some rules for picking up and doing chores more than years ago now. If you ask your child to pick up his toys, make her bed, whatever it is and they ‘forget’ or ‘don’t listen’ to you then its a very good idea. The child will learn responsibility and you’re still the parent after all.

  21. As a mom of 6 I agree I would not use this system with my youngest 2 (ages 2 and 4). They are too little and are still in the process of learning how to clean, but my 8, 10, 13, and 16 yr old are TOTALLY capable of remember to hang their coats on the hook and put their shoes in the shoe bin.

    I have also have some “fun chores” like ‘give mom a hug’/’call dad and give him a compliment or thank him for something’/’do 10 jumping jacks’. The rest are quick chores like ‘shine one appliance in the kitchen’/’wash one window with the most finger prints’… I usually give one reminder about items laying out and then they go in the bin. Instead of me continually nagging I now have a way to enforce the rule that kids need to be responsible for their own stuff and out of respect for the rest of us it needs to be put away. (If everyone in my house forgets to put away one pair of shoes that is 16 shoes to trip over. 🙂 Ugg)

  22. Hi Ally,
    Your idea of adding fun chores is really great! I could totally see that working for older children as a playful yet clear reminder of taking care of their belongings. Thank you for sharing that idea.

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