My daughter’s room looked like a tornado had whipped through it. Every single one of her bureau drawers was open, with clothes spilling out. Clothes and laundry were all over the floor, to the extent that I could no longer see the floor. I couldn’t see her desk, either, because of the piles of papers, magazines, and assorted treasures. The bean bag chair was home to a bazillion Rainbow Loom creations. A desk chair was parked in front of her open closet door, so she could reach the top shelf and get to clothes stored there.
This is pretty much what my 9-year-old’s room looks like every day. That is, every day when I don’t nag her to clean up. Sometimes, she does. Sometimes, she’ll say she’s cleaned up … which means closing a few drawers. I get weary of pestering her and I back off or, worse, I’ll pick up after her (hel-lo, parent enabler). Then I’ll lose my patience — like, say, when bedtime is delayed since she can’t get to her bed because of the pile of stuff on it.
I crowdsourced this particular parenting problem on Facebook, and got a bunch of wise ideas from parents who have been there:
1. The “Lend-a-hand” approach
Says one friend, “We do a lot of ignoring and then occasionally set aside chunks of time when we help them clean.” Another pointed out that to help her kids to efficiently clean, she’s made sure there are enough shelves, cubbies, and bins to hold everything. Buying a bunch of cute baskets would definitely be cheaper than, say, hiring a bulldozer.
2. The “Take-it-one-messy-area-at-a-time” approach
Usually, my demand is the general “Clean your room!” But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, as my friend Peggy noted: “Take baby steps instead of cleaning the whole room … just one part at a time.”
3. The “Risk-losing-it-all” approach
My buddy Stephanie has this hardcore strategy: She bags whatever doesn’t get cleaned up in her kids’ rooms and then, she says, “I stash the bag for a few days somewhere. If it’s not missed I donate it.” Sometimes, she just holds stuff hostage till the kids are out of underwear but sadly, she notes, “my boys could care less.” I found the most brilliant solution of all on my friend Jennie’s feed. She’d conducted a little experiment in which she decided to stop bugging her girls to clean their room for a week. Sure enough, it was a spectacular mess. Oh, but Jennie had a plan: While the kids were at school, she was going to bag their stuff, put it in the attic, then give each kid the option to earn or buy items back at five bucks apiece. And the money would go into their savings accounts. Genius.
4. The “Out-of-sight-out-of-mind” approach
“That’s what doors are for,” noted one friend. (This is actually the approach I take with my husband’s bathroom.)
5. The “Do-this-or-else” approach
Enforcing consequences, which I have been admittedly lax about with cleaning, is a biggie. Parents tell kids no TV, computer, or video games until the room is tidy — with no regrets. As my pal Kate said, “I think we all do enough — way too much — for our kids. We have to make them own their space, their clothing, their choices.”
6. The “Do-this-or-die” approach
The rule in one friend’s house: There has to be at least a path cleared to the door at night, in case of emergency.
7. The “Pick-your-battles” approach
Satisfyingly, someone informed me that Yale University child psychologist Dr. Alan Kazdin, author of The Everyday Parenting Toolkit, says to let this one go. I’m choosing that, the path of least resistance (even though it’s literally the path of most resistance due to the clutter). There are only so many power struggles you can have with a kid. As one friend said, “This isn’t the biggest battle. Eventually, the room will be empty.”
And then, I’ll only have my husband to nag.