There are two ways we could go about this. One is as follows.
Public Announcement 6735: On April 1, 2012, at 11 am (MST) there will be a meeting in the living room of the Wilson/Ellis house for the purpose of removing dirty dishes from the coffee table. Until such time occurs, and until the aforementioned coffee table is cleared, no one may place any object (dish or otherwise) on the surface of said coffee table. This includes such non-dish items as feet, PS3 controllers, and pickles which have been mined from the depths of fast food hamburgers and are still wet with ketchup. This edict also applies to the area immediately surrounding the coffee table to a distance of six inches in all directions. When the coffee table has been sufficiently cleared (as judged by the coffee table owner), there will be a signal (agreed upon previously) and objects (including dirty dishes) may once again be placed on the surface of and in the area immediately surrounding the coffee table, until such time as the next official coffee table clearing event is announced. (This announcement has been made pursuant to Wilson/Ellis Revised statutes 154-L, otherwise known as the “But I cleaned up my mess” rule.)
Public Announcement 6736: On April 1, 2012, from approximately 1:00 p. (MST) to 2:00 pm (MST), there will be a gathering in the kitchen of the Wilson/Ellis kitchen to wash the dishes which have been removed from the Wilson/Ellis coffee table. There will be twenty slots of three minutes each available for the washing of the dishes: please register for these slots no later than midnight, March 31, 2012. (This announcement has been made pursuant to Wilson/Ellis revised statutes 154-M, otherwise known as the “But that’s not my cup” rule.)
Or you could just stop arguing about who made what mess, and clear off the coffee table like I asked you to in the first place.
Why is it that the same kid who can come home with somebody else’s backpack every other day can tell you, with one hundred percent certainty, down to the tiniest molecule, exactly which part of a particular mess they are responsible for? (And only clean up “their” portion of said mess accordingly?) Point to a series of muddy footprints on the floor and they will exclaim, with complete conviction, that while they might have made that and that footprint, they certainly didn’t make that, that, and that one. Or, more likely, that even though they were among the ten people with muddy feet who just walked through the kitchen, somehow they alone were the one whose feet left no trail—which is why they shouldn’t be held responsible for having to clean it up. (If that were possible I would never let a kid like that out of my sight: you never know when you might need some loaves and fishes, let alone a new jug of wine.)
Sometimes I get the feeling that if my house were to explode, and we were required to pick up the bits of pieces of it that were strewn all over Flagstaff, my kids would carefully scour the entire town picking up only those items they were sure belonged to them and them alone. Never mind the fact that one of “their” pieces might be lying under another piece; never mind the fact that they were already bending over; somehow, in their minds, they have become convinced that people are responsible for picking up their messes, and their messes alone.
“But why should I have to clean up someone else’s mess?” is the argument they always make.
At that point I am always tempted to throw down the mop and march out the door, asking, as I go, “Why indeed?” Sigh. One day.