Dealing with teenager’s clutter

As a father of a toddler, I can easily clean up the toys that she plays with and eventually leaves strewn about the room. I am not looking forward to her teenage years, however, if she turns out to be as messy during that stage as I was. I’m not exactly sure how I will deal with it, but maybe some of our readers can give me some pointers?

The reason I bring up teenagers and clutter is an old article I stumbled upon from Kevin Duggan of The Coloradoan. An excerpt:

Clutter is as natural to teens as acne and mood swings; it’s as aggravating to parents as gray hair and hearing loss. There lies the conflict.

My home is not immune to this problem. A tour at any time through my daughters’ bedrooms (and nearby rooms, for that matter) will reveal all manner of clothes worn or tried on in recent days strewn about the floor like so many pine needles in the forest.

There’s no telling which clothes are dirty and which were recently washed but never put away. Included in the ground cover are food wrappers, CDs, papers, books and every shoe they own. Prized possessions are mixed in with trash.

So do we have any readers who deal with teenagers and their inevitable clutter? Would any parents be willing to brag about strategies for helping to raise a clutter-free teen? Trust me, I’m all ears!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

44 Comments for “Dealing with teenager’s clutter”

  1. posted by Welmoed on

    We have an 18-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter, so we know about teen clutter. We have used a few methods to keep the clutter to a dull roar.
    First, when the kids learned to read and could reach the controls, they were in charge of their own laundry. Period. If they ran out of underwear, it wasn’t my fault and they knew it. I never insisted they hang up or fold their clothes; it was up to them to keep track.
    Second, we had to be able to reach their beds in the dark without tripping over anything. They could pile junk anywhere else, but Mom and Dad had to be able to get to them in the middle of the night without fear of bodily harm.
    Third, they could keep their rooms in whatever condition they chose, but if I could smell anything from outside their door (anyone with a teen boy knows what I mean) they would have to clean up and air out.
    We have a cleaning service every other week and they take care of vacuuming and changing sheets, so they are required to tidy up their rooms the night before.
    Oh, and we also didn’t shower them with hundreds of toys, and limited television severely as long as we could. As a result, they don’t much care for material stuff and are highly skeptical of media pursuaders, so they don’t bug us for much either. That certainly helps limit the flow of stuff into the house!

  2. posted by Leslie on

    I too was one of those messy teens. But have no fear, I am now a clutter-free adult. I do remember a turning point one day though. I used to keep everything piled in the floor of my bedroom, no kidding about 2 feet high covering every inch. My bedroom window needed to be replaced and my parents did not tell me the repair guy was coming, so I was frantically trying to clean up once he got there because I was so embarrassed. After that, I kept a much cleaner room (or at least clean enough that it could be straight within a few minutes). I know this wouldn’t work for all teens though, since some would never get embarrassed by their messes.

  3. posted by Tanna on

    Start young, my daughter is 15 months old and she helps with the laundry. It helps to have a front loading washer and dryer though. 🙂 My oldest son unloads the dishwasher and is in charge of getting his clothes to the laundry room if he wants clean clothes. Once he is old enough he will have to do them as well.
    If toys make it to other parts of the house, give them a basket and have them pick up all of their things. When they are teens the same applies.
    The more they have the bigger the mess. If we buy everything they want, they will not appreciate what they have.
    When they are in elementary school teach them a filing system for their homework. They will thank you later. It is never to early to start teaching your children organizational skills.

  4. posted by Ryan on

    Can’t say I’m in any way a parent, but when I was 19 I lived in an apartment with a girlfriend who was 18 at the time. I had lived alone previously and learned to clean up after myself. But my girlfriend was straight off her parents.

    And like her parents, she was very messy. After the house started to get trashed, we had to do something.

    We had three bedrooms. Since we shared 1 bedroom, we decided to split the other 2 for our own personal spaces. I set mine up as a computer room (yeah, I’m a geek) and she made her’s a dressing room.

    We agreed that we can keep our personal rooms in whatever condition we wanted, but all the rooms we shared must keep clean.

    That pretty much worked. Most of her mess came from her clothes and makeup, and she kept all of that in her room. Sometimes when we would clean the apartment, she would toss some of the mess in her room just to get it out of the way. Eventually she’d get sick of her room and spend all weekend cleaning it. She’d also sucker me into helping (she had that evil cuteness thing going).

    So I guess my answer is to give your teenager their own space and let them work it out, but once they come into shared space, or your space, lay down the law.

    Or you can do like my mom and beat your kid with a broom until he/she cleans their room. That works well too.

  5. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    With all children (regardless of age) they need a place to put everything even if they don’t put everything in its place. Actually they can’t put everything in its place if they DON’T have places to put everything. Thus, parents, help your children decide where to put everything and leave it to them to put everything where it belongs.
    The next thing to do is explain in detail what it means to have a “clean” room. Most children (including Mensa-level teenager) seem to find the expression “clean your room” to be a very vague set of instructions. Parents need to give very clear instructions (e.g. use windex and paper towels to clean the mirror, vacuum under the bed so there is no dust left etc).
    Children also need to experience real-world consequences of their actions. If they can’t find their homework in the mess of papers on their desks and they miss the bus to school, then let them walk or use their allowance to take a taxi. If they do not have their clothes in the laundry room to be washed on time, let them wear whatever is clean.
    One of the most important things is to make sure your child has a bedroom door that can be closed tightly before guests come over.

  6. posted by SomewhatMessyParent on

    Let go of this issue during the teen years. In particular, young teens will chafe at your constant critiques and it will only feed their need to rebel. It eventually stops or lessens and you have more leeway as they get older to point out their slovenly ways. Through natural maturation and some likely embarrassment they will come to understand the need for more order in their life. But remember there is far worse behavior you could be dealing with than a messy room. Count your blessings and choose your battles wisely

  7. posted by Kate Smith on

    Three words: Close The Door. (Or these three: Choose Your Battles.) Seriously, you’ll have bigger fish to fry.

  8. posted by James on

    At our house, your room comes with free maid service. Yep, whether you like it or not, dad’s going to vacuum your room about once a week or so. Anything on the floor ends up on the bed so it doesn’t get sucked into the vacuum. Granted, right now #1 is three and #2’s still cooking, but the floor’s not for storing place and I’m hoping that this concept sticks with them throughout their life. We’ll see. Could be I’m just a niave new parent.

  9. posted by Ethan Bodnar on

    I am one of these teens who is seventeen right now. For me it is more of a personal preference whether I clean the room or not. To be honest sometimes I am so busy that there isn’t anytime to pick up some stuff, after coming home at 10 at night after a long day at school. I sometimes think that the mess is alright and represents how I am thinking about many things and that my mind is full of clutter and these ideas and concepts that I am always thinking about. Other times when I pick up some stuff it feels like a better place to work. To be honest with you, I wrote “Pick up room” on my list of things to do today before even reading this. So I better be going.

  10. posted by James on

    At our house, your room comes with free maid service. Yep, whether you like it or not, dad’s going to vacuum your room about once a week or so. Anything on the floor ends up on the bed so it doesn’t get sucked into the vacuum. Granted, right now #1 is three and #2’s still cooking, but the floor’s not for storing stuff and I’m hoping that this concept sticks with them throughout their life. We’ll see. Could be I’m just a niave new parent.

  11. posted by James on

    double (and now triple) post. sorry!

  12. posted by Sara on

    When I was a teenager, I was pretty messy. I had the covered floor and the laundry everywhere. My mom was nice enough to do my laundry and vacuum and everything, but if I didn’t get my clothes into the hamper, they didn’t get washed. And, when my mom went to vacuum, she would pile EVERYTHING that was on the floor onto my bed. This meant I had to clean before I was able to sleep again. And the WORST she would do, honestly, is every couple of months she would completely clean and organize my room for me, while I was at school. Sounds nice, eh? But when you are a teenage girl, you probably have things in your room you don’t want your mom moving around, or possibly even finding. So, I was always scared of letting my room get to the point where she would clean it. Kind of a backward way of thinking, but it worked 🙂

    I’m still pretty messy as a 20 year old, still trying to get used to living on my own in a much smaller space, but I’m not too bad!

  13. posted by Lori on

    I had a horribly messy room as a teenager. My room was the big joke in the extended family. One day, I got sick of it and cleaned it up — not because of any family pressure, just for me. I’m a fairly neat adult, although I do have my pockets of messiness. I think it’s a phase most teenagers go through.

    The public space rule works well: keep your private space any way you want within the bounds of decent sanitation, but public spaces must remain picked up.

  14. posted by Fili on

    I’m 20 now, and I used to be one of those messy teenagers.

    This is kind of a tough subject because I (and I’m guessing most other “teens”) HATE being told what to do. So the only time I ever cleaned my room was when no one told me. If my mother asked me nicely, I wouldn’t do it. So I guess the best thing parents can do is compliment positive behavior.

    It just got to a point one day that I realized I’ve never brought any friends over because my house is so cluttered and bringing any one over was unthinkable. So one day I just realized I should keep my room as if I’m expecting an unexpected visit … if that makes sense.

    I can’t change my clutter-addicted family, but I can start with myself.

  15. posted by Tiara on

    I have two young girls and am not looking forward to the teenage years. However, my mom did something that I think I’ll continue to do with my girls.

    First of all, cleaning our rooms was part of our chores. If we didn’t do it, we didn’t get our allowance. But that didn’t mean it had to be perfect. We still had a lot of clutter. Then, about once every 3-6 months, my mom would clean our rooms for us. But this wasn’t the usual tidy up, dust and vacuum. She went through EVERYthing. It meant our privacy was invaded, but it gave her a chance to go through everything, get rid of anything we had outgrown — clothes and toys/objects alike, and make sure everything had a place, even if in the future we chose not to put it there. We were given the option to help out. If we did, we had a say in what stayed and what went. If we didn’t choose to participate, my mom chose for us — which meant our prized possessions had a chance of disappearing!

    This is something I do now with both my girls. It helps to get rid of the old toys and clothes they’ve outgrown, and keeps down on the clutter. It was a lot of work for my mom, and is now for me. But it means we have control over at least some of the clutter in our own homes.

    I’m still a clutter bug now, but I’m working on that (thus the subscription to this blog)!

  16. posted by Jasi on

    I have an 18 m/o, too. I have no experience with teenagers aside from my little sister, an accomplished pack rat.

    Still, through observations it occurred to me that she loved getting new things. Perhaps if you balance each new thing with a donation or toss out of an old item you could better manage clutter.

    The universal truth of clutter is that each room/ storage system has a magical number of items that it can comfortably bear which makes clean up almost satisfying, a no brainer. The trick is finding that number and maintaining it.

    Good luck!

  17. posted by Sandra on

    I am 21 now but I think I still qualify in this category as I’m in college and much of my stuff is still at home with my parents.

    That’s why it’s so tough for me to keep clean. My dorm room at school is quite pristine, but every time I go home, things get messed up and I’m on such a tight schedule that I can’t clean it up, so it just gets worse and worse. I imagine this situation will get a LOT better when I actually move into an apartment instead of the closet that is my dorm room, because I’ll actually have enough space to think logically about what I want to keep vs. get rid of.

  18. posted by Andamom on

    I see both sides of this … I have an almost 14-year-old daughter and a 19-month-old son. Yes, that makes me the proud mother of a teenager and a toddler. Generally, I just need to laugh – like when my toddler gets into my daughter’s hair junk and when he steps into our shoes to plod about the house… Yet, a big part of why I need to be as streamlined and uncluttered is because we all live in a 900 square foot apartment.

    Teenage clutter (in her backpacks/bags, drawers, closet, and pockets) is annoying. However, the threat of her brother coming along and finding/getting is enough of a deterant … or rather – she at least reconsiders clutter from time to time. Here are some of our other tactics:

    -A daily list of chores that (including cleaning her room) she needs to complete for an allowance.
    -Sitting and going through her things (with her) regularly to chuck or donate things she just doesn’t need. The point is doing it together because if I did it myself, she wouldn’t learn. And Jacki Hollywood is absolutely right – most teens need specific instructions (like make your bed and sweep your floor versus clean your room)
    -Refusing to buy into the materialistic tendencies of her friends… If she wants things that she doesn’t need, I don’t buy them despite all of her whining.
    -We used her bed to pile things on in the past. From there, we would designate a specific location for each object.

  19. posted by spark on

    I think someone else mentioned this tactic up above, but I’ll restate it with my own experience.

    I don’t have children yet, but I remember the consequences my brother and I suffered from failing to clean our rooms as we were told.

    My mother’s strategy from the time we were quite young and up through our teenage years was this:

    Clean your room or I’ll do it for you.

    And while the second option sounds good at first, give in and you’ll regret it. My mother would “clean” our rooms and most of the stuff in them would end up in large garbage bags or boxes labeled “goodwill” or “salvation army”. And they went to those designated places too, it wasn’t just a written threat!

    Basically, if we were told to clean several times (yes she did provide the “specific” instructions and not just “clean this”) and we chose not to do it, or not to do it properly, she’d just come in while we were away at school and clean “out”. This happened a few times throughout our childhood/teenage years, and it sucked. We knew she meant business when she reached the breaking point of “if you don’t do it, I’ll do it for you.”

  20. posted by Kathryn on

    I’ve got a 13-yo and 10-yo, and they are both horrendous clutter-monkeys, both with the rooms and with stuff like schoolwork binders and backpacks and lockers and desks…

    I think it is genetic. Never reproduce with someone who has stacks and stacks of old newspapers in their apartment and a beer can collection when you first meet.

    The only thing that helps even a tiny bit is to give them as much structure as you can to the process of getting and staying organized: printed lists of steps to cleaning their rooms, scheduled time for organizing their schoolwork, etc.

  21. posted by Lorena on

    My parents had a good strategy that they instilled in my younger sister and I at a young age– anytime you got something new, it meant going through your old stuff and picking things out to donate to Salvation Army. They did it with us and toys– if toys didn’t fit in the drawer underneath our bunk bed, than we had to get rid of stuff. Same thing happened when we were teenagers when it came to clothes, too. Another thing that helped was the type of furniture my parents bought me when I became a teenager– a headboard with a bookcase (I’m a voracious reader) and a drawer underneath my bed (for the rest of my junk). So, consider whatever “collecting” tendencies (CDs, clothes, books, etc.) your teen might have and suggest appropriate furniture choices when it comes to “growing up” their bedrooms.

  22. posted by Jack on

    I’m a pretty neat young man now, but in high school I was very much a stacker. I had far, far more books than I had bookshelves, not to mention art supplies and electronics gizmos and even, gasp, some clothes, and so everything ended up in piles on the floor, on my dresser, on my desk and at the foot of my bed. My parent’s never stepped in with the threat of cleaning it up for me, and didn’t really care as long as I made sure there wasn’t any food or stuff like that in the mess, and it didn’t leave my room. Now that I have my own place with lots of bookshelves, the problem has pretty much solved itself.

  23. posted by jesse on

    So much of these strategies sound really coercive and disrespectful–kids learn from parents, not only about cleaning, but also about respecting other people’s space and possessions.

    To walk into another person’s room and toss their stuff without their consent, that’s disrespectful, plain and simple. Work with your kid to come up with things that will work for both of you. Kids are smarter than they often get credit for, so brainstorm together and you may find the perfect solution. If you go marching into Jane’s room yelling, “Pick up this pigsty or I’m throwing it all out!” that’s probably not going to make her want to say, “Hey, I’d love to pick this stuff up, but I don’t have enough hangers/space to put things/whatever. Can you help me?” Developing and maintaining a healthy and non-coercive relationship with your kids should be more important than striving for some obsessive uncluttering goal.

    Pick your battles–things that are a health/safety concern are fair game and most teens can understand why they may not have a congealing mold colony covered with ants in their bedroom. But is it really going to hurt you in 30 years if your kid kept all her clothes on the floor? Don’t waste your kid’s teen years picking a fight about every. single. thing. Down the road, you’re not gonna remember every mess, but you and your child will remember all those years you lost to fighting with each other.

  24. posted by ysabet on

    I’m 26, so I have some experience of being a teenager.

    As a teenager, I had my room about 3-4 feet deep at all times. No joke.

    I had too much stuff. I had most of a household’s worth of cuterly, crockery and linen, and mum bought me clothes all the freakin’ time. I wasn’t allowed to throw anything out, because it was still good clothing. The other stuff – I wanted to store it elsewhere, but elsewhere was full of junk and other stuff. My parents are hoarders, you see. That never helps.

    Also, my mother said ‘Clean up your room!’ a lot. Her room was messier than mine, so I cleaned it up to the level of hers, and defended my position. Not a problem you will have, I suspect.

    Basically: If I’d been allowed to make my own decisions and be free of judgement when I chose to toss something, I think I would have managed some level of neatness. As it was … not so much.

  25. posted by spark on

    @ jesse

    I wanted to put you at ease if you were referring to my mother’s tactics.

    I am not scarred from this cleaning behavior of hers. In fact, the reason she did those things was to teach us a great lesson, one that we haven’t forgotten.

    “Be thankful for what you have. Be responsible for what you have. If you can’t take care of it or refuse to do so, I’ll give it to someone who will.”

    It was not disrespectful of her to come into our rooms and clean them out. We understood the rules and chose to disobey them. She was not being unreasonable with her expectations for a tidy home and living environment. And we did have plenty of hangers and storage space for our belongings. If we didn’t, we worked together on organizing. I’m referring to when we were being lazy (as many children and teens are) about cleaning. There was no reasonable excuse for us throwing our clean clothes on the floor instead of taking the time to put them in a drawer or closet.

    She wasn’t being disrespectful of our space, we were being disrespectful of OUR space. Our home was a shared space and we knew we shared the responsibility for keeping it clean. And worse, we were not properly caring for the things our parents provided for us. I completely agree with her desire to keep our home clean and cared for, and respect her for teaching us to take care of the things we have.

  26. posted by Acheman on

    My parents gave me perpetual grief over my room when I was a teenager. I’m not a naturally tidy person, and it’s taken me a long time to work out heuristics to keep my posessions in some kind of order. I’m sure my parents’ tirades significantly slowed the process, because I became so depressed and guilty about the subject that I couldn’t even think about it clearly. This site has had enough articles about the psychological aspects to clutter for its readers to understand how this works. Parents, please realise that your teenager is a whole separate person. You can and should try to protect them from their worst and most irresponsible choices, but when the consequences aren’t going to be severe or permanent the best way for them to learn how to make them right is to make them wrong a few times.

  27. posted by Charlotte on

    Can’t say about the teen years because mine are 7 and 4. But I ask them to clean up their mess before they go to bed. Anything they no longer want, doesn’t have to be picked up. I will do that. Therefore, anything they forgot, refuse to clean up gets thrown out, recycled or give away. Gone. Do it a couple times and they’ll know you mean business. Hope this will still work when they are teenagers.

    Also, just don’t buy that many stuff for them, you’ll have less clutter. I buy one toy of their choosing for them once every year, on their birthday. And yet, they still have more toys than I can think of. When they have less, they’ll take better care of what they have. Yeah, poor kids, I know.

  28. posted by ceegee on

    I was a messy teenager, and it would take me hours to clean my room because I’d stop to read every magazine, book or scrap of paper I was supposed to be putting awaY.
    Finally my dad got angry and took my door off the hinges and explained that my room could continue to be a disaster zone, but that it would remain door-less until I got it straightened up. From the front door one could see my messy bedroom which I saw was shameful, and the lack of privacy made me get my act together pretty quickly. After that if it started to get messy again, my parents would only need to threaten to take the door off, and I’d be cleaning it up in a flash.

  29. posted by Mags on

    I’m with the “once you turn 13, your room is your responsibility”. At 18, or 19 or 21 your kid will be leaving home. By then they should have the basic skills to look after their living space. By controlling the room yourself, you’re not equipping them for life as a responsible adult. Yes, it’ll be messy. Yes, they’ll have a period of “I can throw stuff everywhere!”. But they’ll reach the “actually, I need a system here” point. Or move out taking the mess with them!

    I got a clothing allowance to spend per month so could only buy what I could afford. If I wanted a new coat, I had to save. So the mountains of clothes never happened. I had to do my own laundry (taken to a launderette too, not just dropped in a laundry basket). I had to manage my room, but was also allowed to decorate it exactly as I wished beyond the door.

    My mother used the stairs tactic with stuff scattered in the common rooms (the thing of stacking stuff on stairs ready to be taken up). I was lucky that we had a study room upstairs which I used as my school study, but because it was a common room, I had to have all my work shut away in my desk at the end of the night.

  30. posted by Chloroform on

    I was an exceptionally cluttered child, and by the time I was a teenager, my mother had given up trying to get me to clean up my room- she got tired of banging her head against that particular brick wall. In order to be left alone, however, I had to meet three conditions: no plates, bowls, cups, or silverware in the bedroom, no mold, and I had to earn straight A’s in school. I was happy to oblige for the sake of being left alone about something that, frankly, was not a priority for me (and still isn’t).

    The uncluttered mentality can’t be taught. It’s a result and a function of experience and maturity.

  31. posted by Catarina on

    Unless you are the parent of a teen, this is a hard concept to understand. When my children were little, I had many idealistic scenarios of how they would nicely help and I would not be coercive. Yes, they all helped nicely when they were small, I limited the amount of trash coming into my home which made it far easier to keep things neat. Now I am the parent of teens. One of my dc is instinctively neat and organized. The others are not. At all. It does not matter that they have the correct organizational tools in their rooms. One teen thinks that dressers were meant to be catchalls for everything but clothes. Hangers hang empty in the closet while clean clothes pile up on a chair, the floor ( mixed up with the dirty ones) the bed. Yes, the threat of ” if you don’t clean it out, I will” resounds through my home. Also, ” if you want to go out with your friends, you will clean up that room first” works like a charm. It’s not a matter of anything other than laziness. If you put away things you use, there would not be a horrible mess. The last clean-up yielded a very large box of schoolwork from semesters past and the comment ” I don’t know why I was saving those.” Do the Myers-Briggs personality tests. They are telling – either you are an organized type or you are not. One of my dc is, the others simply are not and the level of messiness bothers me far faster than it does them. This said, it is our home and I will always demand certain standards of cleanliness. When they are on their own, they will decide how they want to live.

  32. posted by Tina on

    I’m seventeen now, but a few years ago a friend told me something which actually convinced me to keep my room messy at all times: Your mom is way more likely to come into your room when it’s clean.

    I didn’t have anything to hide, I’m just very protective of my own space, so that was enough. However, about a month ago, completely of my own accord, I cleaned and organized EVERYTHING, so now everything has a place, and I put it back. And yes, my mother comes in sometimes still, but I’m becoming less bothered by it. The organization and peace are worth it.

  33. posted by Sangrail on

    Make sure there’s all the standard containers to make it easier to be tidy – somewhere to dump their bag, to empty things out and scoop them back in again, and a hamper for not-quite-dirty clothes. And if they had these as a kid, try and update them to ones a 20-something year old would be happy to have (if you’re smart – a hip thrift store shopping type 20-something).

    Why? Encourage a sense of *style*.

    If they want to have a stylish space, if they can have friends round, then they’ll want it to look at least good enough for their friends.
    For all the heartache of teenage romance, an (optimally – for cleaning I mean) unrequited love-interest visiting the house is one of the best incentives for someone to frantically tidy their room.
    Heh.

    The more visitors, the higher the impulse to – just put these clothes away, close those drawers, put those posters up…

    Ok, the style may not be what you’re *into* – so you will have to weigh up with yourself whether you really do want an ornate goth/hippy/emo sanctuary in your house, or a standard boring messy teenage room. Some people may prefer the latter.

    Of course, if that’s the case, that whole scheme has problems way earlier – the independence of having people round, etc etc only really works with a family with healthy communication structures, and an ability to move back the boundaries gradually as the teen gets older. For some, it just won’t work.

  34. posted by jgodsey on

    can i make a comment, though i have no children…but WAS indeed a messy teen? SPACE. why do you think they moved greg into the attic? Teens need more space than pre-teens, they simply have more STUFF. more clothes cause they are buying it themselves, more books, more electronics, they are inclined to want to do less things communally with the family. Basically I lived in my room from 14 to 22. once i had to fit ALL my burgeoning belongings into my room, it got unmanageable. As soon as i moved into my own 3 room apartment, it got immediately easier to stay organized.

  35. posted by Barb on

    I have two daughters, 13 and 16. The 13-year-old is naturally tidy. The 16-year-old is not. As a parent, I feel it IS my house, and I have the right to hold them to certain standards with logical consequences when they fail.

    Things like cell phone texting, IMing on the computer, and television are perks that can be taken away, not birth rights. Frankly, learning to manage their stuff is a life skill I want them to learn.

    I suppose shutting the door is an option, but it tends to make small homes feel even smaller, especially in the winter with so little daylight.

  36. posted by Karen on

    Spark, my mother used similar techniques with us — I grew up in a family with four kids and we were all teenagers at the same time for a few years. I never felt disrespected by her coming in and cleaning our rooms. It’s like I tell my kids, this is OUR home, but Dad and I pay the mortgage and I expect you to take care of the things that we work hard for. I’m not a neat freak, but I do expect my kids to take care of their things. I also agree that setting up a good organization system is crucial, and not accumulating a lot of stuff makes the job much easier. We all have more than we “need” anyway.

  37. posted by Christine on

    My parents had an eminently reasonable solution to my messy room. I had plenty of storage space, even for all my numerous books, but I had and have (at 26) a decided tendency to just pile everything onto flat surfaces. After I complained one too many times about how I couldn’t find something, my mom would scrounge a large box or three, accompany me up to my room, and start clearing surfaces off. Everything that wasn’t in its place (clothes outside the closet and laundry hamper, anything on my desk that wasn’t current schoolwork or my pencil cup, books outside the bookcases, etc.) went into the box(es). I had one week to get everything put away; after that it went to Goodwill or the trash. If stuff had gathered on the flat surfaces again, rinse and repeat. It worked, and it’s still one of the cleanup methods that I use.

    I’ve currently got a box full of papers and random crap sitting next to my desk, and I’m using the weekend to get them organized and filed. My parents were really respectful of my space, but there’s no reason to listen to somebody complaining about something that’s easily fixed.

  38. posted by Andrea on

    As a person just coming out of teenage-hood, I have a couple pieces of advice for the people who are just starting having their children.

    1)Oppositional-Defiance… this is a psychological term which basically means, if you tell me to do it, even if I was about to do it myself, I won’t. I am finally getting over this urge in my twenties, but it was bad in highschool. My mom would tell me to clean my room and my gut reaction would be to go make it worse. Don’t know why, completely illogical, but there you go. Work with your kids if they seem to have that impulse otherwise you’ll be running into a brick wall and they will be building it stronger and higher.

    2) make a distinction between dirty versus cluttered. If you want them to de-clutter the room make sure than they have enough places to put their stuff. My clothes were strewn about the room because a) i hate folding shirts and b) not enough space. now I use hangers for all of my shirts and they hang neatly in the closet. Just because an organization system works for you doesn’t mean that it will work for your kids. If it is dirty chances are they hate their room just as much as you do, but are overwhelmed by it.

    hope this helps…

  39. posted by Aron Clark on

    I am actually a clutter-free teen myself! Unfortunately, I share a room with my brother who is ten years old (and the complete opposite to me). He doesn’t care at all and leaves his crap wherever he likes, and no matter how much I ask him to clean up even a little bit, he just continues to mock me. He also steals, moves, ‘borrows’, breaks and destroys my stuff whenever he pleases.

    But me? Oh, I try to be clutter-free and clean. ‘Hey.. lets be stereotypical about teenagers!’ Erm, no..

  40. posted by Ashley on

    I was a half and half teen. My dad was the clean freak and DEMANDED my room be clean. I hated it so much that when I moved into my own place I just said F*** it and lived how I wanted. Now, that “living how I wanted” has gotten old and that is why I read this blog and Erin’s book. The clutter is driving me crazy. I feel like I live with a teenager though, my boyfriend. His mom always did his laundry and picked up his things and never really held him accountable for any cleaning, so he doesn’t do anything around the house unless I make him.. I feel like I am my dad now. :/ So I am slowing “training” him to pick up his own things and put dishes in the dishwasher instead of leaving them in the sink. It’s a struggle. And I am still thoroughly a packrat. :[

  41. posted by lulu on

    the school that my son attends invites various speakers and one was a prominent child psychologist. Near the top of his list for parenting tips was ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’. A messy bedroom could easily become a source of conflict but there are much more important and profound matters between parent and child that will arise that will be a source of conflict….so i’ve followed that way of thinking. ( my child also does his own laundry since he was 14) my sister was very strict with her son about tidiness which he obediently followed. Now that he is an adult, he is not ‘tidy’ at all.

  42. posted by Lisa on

    Start when they are young. Whenever my kids were bored, we would re-arrange their rooms. We would get in there together and sort stuff first. Most kids don’t have a clue how to clean their room because it has to be learned. It is better if they make the decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of. My poor mother was extremely puzzled by my teenage collection of old kleenex boxes in my closet, but it finally all made sense when I became a graphic designer, and did package design.
    Make sure they have a hamper in their room to put dirty clothes as soon as the clothes come off.
    The kids would put garbage in their garbage can, things that didn’t belong in their rooms, or things they didn’t want anymore outside their bedroom doors.
    Some things were recycled, some were thrown out, and some were given away.
    We made to-scale floor plans of their rooms, and to-scale drawings of furniture, which they could move around to til we got to an arrangement that worked. We vacuumed and dusted, and moved the furniture.
    As teenagers, when they were bored, they would clean and rearrange their rooms. When my oldest moved out, she made a floor plan ahead of time, and moved her furniture around on a to-scale plan first.
    My middle child is working out-of -country right now, and we may be down-sizing while she is out of town. On her last visit, I asked her to prepare her room, so that only the things that would be wanted or needed in a new home would be moved. She was happy to make those decisions, and she did a massive cull of her possessions before going back to her job.
    I was a messy teenager myself, and had to learn to organize and let go of possessions, thanks to the TV show Clean Sweep, and to blogs like this one and Apartment Therapy.

  43. posted by Becky on

    I am on my 4th teenager now. I used to let our older kids live with their mess for the most part, only making them clean their rooms periodically. When it got really bad, and I would insist they clean up their room before they went out that weekend, it took forever, and was overwhelming for them.
    I have found that the best solution for us is to keep up on it. I started with just asking them to make their bed every morning. Then I started making them put their clothes away more (like every day, or every couple of days), and just keeping up on it. Yes, I nag them a lot, but I think they genuinely like having a cleaner room. They are learniing that it makes life easier if you don’t let it get to be a big mess. Every year we go through all of their dressers and closets to get rid of clothes that don’t fit or are no longer worn. I may be in the minority here, because my method may be considered “sweating the small stuff”, but I feel like it is my job to teach my children HOW to do things by practice.

  44. posted by Home Arise on

    I can highly relate to this. I realized that my 16 year old son postpones things in his room. Like he says, I will fold and keep away my clean clothes in the evening tomorrow. Dirty clothes are strewn on the floor. So the first thing I did was to get him a laundry basket to keep his dirty clothes. The second thing I have done is to talk to him about postponing. He should not be doing this. When he gets his clothes from his hanging line, he should fold them and keep them in the respective cabinets immediately. This has seemed to work although we are still trying to make his room clutter-free.

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