Clean His Room or Close the Door?

Updated on September 21, 2012
L.U. asks from Kirkland, WA
24 answers

I have a 7 year old son who is a messy kid!!! His room is always a disaster. I swear, I will go in there with him and organize, clean, get all things put in it's right spot, and feel like we did a great job getting it done and within a week it's back to disaster!!
So, do I just close his door and let him live in his room (no food or drinks go in his room) or do I force him to clean it?
See, I had a mess of a room as a kid and I was forced to clean it and it would be torturous!! Hours and hours of cleaning, and dinking around, and singing and cleaning a little more....not worth it to me to fight with my kid the way my parents fought with me.
I am an adult now, and while not glistening, my house is just fine (for the most part). I must have grown out of it!
So, do I let my little pig pen live in it or do I force him to clean?

What can I do next?

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So What Happened?

Well, I bit the bullet and went in there with him and we cleaned it. He does have A LOT of toys because we handed everything down from my older son. Makes for less to buy! But, he has all these little things...bakugans, beyblades, LEGOS, action figures, cars...BLEH! So, we didn't do a DEEP clean, but it looks a whole lot better.
I think that we will just have to do a every night before you go to bed you clean up a bit or else it's just going to get out of control!! My older CLEAN...this one, such a pig pen! Amazing how different kids are!

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answers from Kalamazoo on

I would just require that he pick up once a week enough that you can vaccum and change the sheets, thats a hygiene/dust mite issue. And clothes dont need to be folded, but they do need to be in the dresser or closet. Theres a difference between clean and organized. I dont care if things are organized, but I like them to be clean.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Although my son is now in 2nd grade, we still read together at night, mostly books that he's not quite ready to read on his own, like Harry Potter, Dragonrider, etc. He really looks forward to it, so I've been able to set the rule that if he doesn't pick up his room at night when he's all finished with homework and his evening relax/play time, no reading. Inevitably, however, I start to slack off and things pile up. If it gets bad, I pull out a garbage bag and give him 20 minutes to clean or anything I find gets tossed or donated. I have proven that I mean it so I usually get results! This year we also made a rule that he has to make his bed in the morning before school. If not, he loses weekend screen time. This approach but works for us and has virtually eliminated the arguing and bargaining and complaining that used to drive me absolutely chew-my-own-arm-off crazy. I hope that if we set a few rules now, it won't be so bad when he's a teenager., hope being the key word here.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

My sister had that kind of room, and my parents made it a decision: keep it clean or keep the door closed. If the door was open, then she had to go clean her room. They also found that saying "clean the room" involved too much for her to process. It helped to give more specific directions, like "put the dirty clothes in the hamper and the toys in the box." Have him do it in stages and focus on the big issues. Let the little ones be.

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answers from Colorado Springs on

First, you get Mark Teague's book PIG STY and read it with your son. It's a fun one. The illustrations are priceless.

I think a child needs to learn to keep his room in *some* semblance of order. But I suggest that you do some homework first.

Go in his room, sit down on the floor, and look around as if you were a seven-year-old. The room will look much bigger, and so will the stuff in it. It's impossible to organize clutter. Once you look at his room from his perspective, can you talk to your son and ask him how he feels about his room? Maybe it would be a good experiment to take all the stuff out (include the contents of the closet) and put back only what he really can't live without. This wouldn't be a punishment - just an experiment! You two can talk about it every day and see what changes need to be made.

Seven is really pretty young, so consider your expectations. You don't need him to keep his room in military fashion, do you? What would your son need to do for himself? Make up his bed? Hang up his clothing? Put away the things that have been left on the floor? Maybe that's all he can handle right now. When he's older, he can take a little more responsibility.

Don't assume that neatness is a burden just because you had a bad time of it as a child. It's a good habit to learn, and your boy can learn some of it without a whole lot of angst.

Another book you can read (to him or to yourself) is Betty MacDonald's MRS. PIGGLE-WIGGLE. Look up the chapter titled "The Won't-Pick-Up-Toys Cure." That's another story you both can smile about. What you and your son want to do the most is to stay on the same team.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

There has to be a manageable path to the door and window because of fire safety. That was a given on most nights. Other than that who knows! Have ya seen college rooms?! I tried to strike a ballance but obviously it's still not a priority! No food or drink is a great rule, stick with that one. Somehow I think the creativity came first for us and added a lot of joy, still I want a clean potty when I come to visit!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

What I do is as follows:

Roughly once a month I go in with my 2 boys (8 & 6) and help *really* clean their room.

Then I require a good solid effort (meaning everything up off the floor) I don't care about how the books look on the shelf or how the clothes look in the dresser, heck I don't even look under their bed or in their closet, I do count under the dresser cause you can see and but other than that I don't care.

The rest of the week I close the door.

~But it might be helpful to know that I had 'That Mom' ....the one whom, on more than one occasion, came in to 'inspect' my room after I had cleaned it and if ANYTHING was out of place, no matter how small, she would pull EVERYTHING out of my room and I mean EVERYTHING... toybox, my clean clothes from the dresser, dirty clothes from hamper, books off bookshelves, hanging clothes off hangers.... and she would pile it all into a MOUNTAIN in the center of my room and say 'start over'....

I vowed to NEVER be 'That Mom' so I am probably more lax than most?

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answers from San Francisco on

Up until about the age of 11/12 I made them keep their rooms fairly clean. Of course this meant constantly getting rid of things, because they had SO much stuff, too much stuff, to really keep themselves organized.
Beyond 13 I shut the door. Too many other battles to fight in the teen years, bedrooms and clothing are WAY down on my list of priorities now! I have MUCH bigger concerns :(

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answers from St. Joseph on

I think at 7, he probably needs some guidance on this. I'd suggest that you should probably require some minimums, but not so strict as to make it seem overwhelming. For instance, as long as it's not a fire hazard (or other danger), and he can find things (shoes, homework, whatever) when he needs them without delaying everyone else, then he can keep his stuff where he likes in his room (not necessarily in a certain place, or the same place all of the time). It might help to let him pick out some cool stackable bins, shelves, baskets, or whatever to help him group things in an easier way--but avoid labeling them for specific items, because he might get the idea that he can't put, say, toy cars into a bin for building blocks, even if he doesn't have any building blocks left anymore--and if there is no bin labeled for toy cars, he may not know where he should put them. If none of them are labeled, then pretty much anything can go in them.

Also remind him often to put one thing away before getting out another--even if he's not finished with the first thing. And perhaps take flylady's advice and have him do a quick 15-minute pickup once or twice a day (with a timer); you can even make it a game. That will help keep it from being overwhelming at the end of the week.

Another thing I've found that helps: praise him for his efforts, not necessarily his results. If you can tell that he tried to make his bed by himself, don't go over and smooth out the rumpled sheets. Just tell him you appreciate how he made his bed without being asked. And sometimes, you may want to offer your "services" to help him clean--perhaps as a trade, like you will clean his room if he will rake the yard for you, or as a reward for studying really hard for a test ("You worked so hard, I'm going to clean your room for you so you don't have to, and then we'll get pizza for dinner."), or whatever will work for him.

I've also found that it helps to go through a few times a year, get rid of the broken things, and set aside a box of things he doesn't play with very much. If he hasn't removed and played with the items within a week, donate them. We also like to let the kids choose some things to get rid of the week before their birthday or Christmas, so they can make room for the new stuff they'll get!


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answers from Syracuse on

He's 7, so yes I would give him some guidance here. Having a clean and somewhat organized room is a good thing, just like having a clean somewhat orderly house can lead to less stress.

Help him out by making his room easier to clean. Take out some of the toys and put them away or give them away if he's done with them, even rotate them. I think some of the problem is that kids just have so many toys these days. I have really limited the amount of toys in my home, and it's so much better and the kids still have plenty to do. Make sure there are places for his things to be put away in, shelves, toy boxes, book cases, bins. You could buy those clear plastic bins for him and label them (cars, trains, legos, star wars,) and his job is to put all his toys away in the right bin before bedtime. It'll make it easier for him to find what he wants to play with.

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answers from Chicago on

When we had this issue and my daughter was six, we did The House Fairy. She has a website and videos. The House Fairy comes unexpectedly and leaves a "surprise" if the room is clean and "fairy dust" if the room is messy.

We cleaned and organized her room in 30 minute increments initially. Then I had to keep after her to do 5 minutes of cleaning each day to keep it organized. Sometimes she needed several sessions of 5 minutes. Don't ask for more than that at a time, they get overwhelmed. You can set a timer if you need to.

It got to the point where she knew what to do to keep it clean. The House Fairy would often leave surprises like erasers, pencils, sometimes stuff she needed like a fun toothbrush :)

Now she's older and knows the House Fairy isn't real. But she has pretty good habits ingrained so her room is usually passable.

Kids need good habits and a good organization system plus good rewards and they'll do it without a fight :) Good luck!

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answers from Phoenix on

I say to find a happy medium. Like my kids rooms aren't spotless by any means, but they have to keep it "picked up" and their bed *basically* made. So they don't have dirty clothes anywhere on the floor. Toys are off the floor and their comforters are pulled up so the bed "looks" made. We tend to pick our battles and still allow them to feel like its "their" room. It seems to be working pretty well so far. They are 16, 12 and 9. I do about 3x per year go thru with them and downsize. Get rid of stuff they no longer use. My 9 yo just went thru his stuffed animals on his own and got rid of all of them but about 6. Yay! So they look like "kids" rooms but not disgusting. Oh, and they are not allowed to eat at all in their and can only drink water in there. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

I'm a stickler for a clean room. My oldest is 7 and he keeps it clean. Maybe your son has too much "stuff" in there. Can you help him get rid of some stuff?

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answers from Charlotte on

I totally agree with Mary about the book Pig Sty - you should BUY it for him!

No, L., don't just close the door. It's really important for him to learn SOMETHING in regards to cleaning up his room and taking care of his things.

Truthfully, though, he has too much "stuff" if he can't take care of it at all. There's a difference between a messy room and a disaster.

Identify the worst of the culprits. If it's clothes, start paring down. Never have more than one season in his room - keep other seasons and sizes that are too large in boxes in a different closet. If he just won't wear certain clothes, get rid of them. Rather than having 20 shirts and 10 pairs of pants and all that, stop buying a lot for him. As he grows out of them, his closet will "get bigger" and he won't have so much to take care of. As long as you can wash once or twice a week, he doesn't need more.

If he won't put his dirty clothes in the hamper, withhold a privilege or beloved item until he does. What does he want or need the most before he goes to bed at night? It takes all of 10 seconds to throw his dirty clothes in the hamper at night before he goes to bed.

If he has too many toys in his room, box some up and start cycling them through once a month. He probably doesn't really play with ALL of them at the same time. Kids get bored with the same toys at their disposal. So just have some out, and the others away. Then change them out. Voila - new toys! That will make it easier for him to pick up and put on the shelves or in the bins.

Kids really do get overwhelmed if they have too much stuff in their rooms, and once they get used to less, it's easier on them. (He might really balk at first, but if I were you, I would work on his room by yourself first. Remove anything that is broken or is missing pieces or things he has grown out of and doesn't play with. That way he won't even realize what you took out of the room.)

This really helped my kids, especially with the clothes for my younger son.


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answers from Portland on

I grew up a messy-room kid. I wish my mom had actually taught me the basic steps to cleaning up my mess. I desperately needed routines, because without them I would let it all go after she cleaned it all up and it would go right back to chaos. Once it's messy, the kid has a horrible time knowing how to start cleaning it up. It's as if there is a block in our brains that won't let us move forward because it's so overwhelming. I'm still that way. If the kitchen gets unbelievably messy, I have to really be patient with myself and use my steps to get it back.

Teach him now that he needs to put everything away as he uses it. Teach him to put his clothes in the hamper right after he takes them off. For my son, I actually check at the end of the day that he remembered. I also make them make their beds each morning before school. Of course they aren't perfect, but a made bed gives the room a polished feel and it's easier to keep the rest clean. If the room gets messy then teach him how to clean using a timer for 15 min. or 10min. Make it fun too, by asking him to put away all legos first, then all clothes in the hamper, etc. Make it a game.

I finally feel like I know how to barely keep up with organization and it's only because I had to teach myself and seek out as inspiration. Some kids just can't "go clean their rooms".

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answers from Savannah on

"Clean your room" is such a big and vague directive. Heck, even I can get overwhelmed with "Clean the house". My house got a million times better, as did my experience and view towards cleaning, when I found and printed off the detailed cleaning lists. Wow. So much better. Do step 1, check it off, do step much easier and I'm so much more efficient with that. How about going in and helping him organize it. And while you're at it, what needs to be thrown away, what can be given away, and NOW what do we do with what we're keeping? Once it's organized and cleaned together, it's easier for your son to have an idea of where things go and how.

I'm not a room nazi, but we do have things that need to be done EVERY night. There's a divided laundry hamper in his closet (colors in the blue bag, whites in the white bag), and every night before bed all dirty clothes should be in the hamper. My 5 year old is the WORST about throwing his clothes, especially socks wherever they land, so the dirty clothes thing is what we seem to have to verbally say every night. It's a good habit to pick up toys when finished with them. Books should never be on the floor because they will either get damaged or hurt someone that slips on one and skids across the room. His room doesn't have to be immaculate, but I figure blankets at least ON the bed, no books or dirty clothes laying about, and toys basically picked up, that's fine until the day I dust, vacuum, and clean window blinds comes. Every Monday night he empties his bedroom trashcan and replaces the little bag (Tuesday morning is trash day). His desk is cluttered with rocks, papers, crayons, just random junk, but I don't get onto him about it since he does his "homework" at the kitchen table right now.

It's not to be a clean freak, it's to teach respect for property, and to be basically organized. That will carry through to other areas of life that are really important later on, so it's a good habit to develop now. Habits are being formed everyday; they can be positive or negative. It's harder to break a bad habit you've had for years, when you need to. I play with them sometimes, and I help them clean sometimes. We do a lot together. It doesn't steal their childhood to clean up their mess; that's a silly notion. I do admit that the playroom only gets a good cleaning (putting all toys away in the correct bins, etc) 2 days a month. I kind of feel like that's their domain, and it's ok to have the train tracks built and the city "ready to go" for their play when they feel like getting back to it. But I have noticed over 2 years that with me HELPING them, but them having to clean the mess a couple times a month, that the mess really has gotten DRAMATICALLY smaller now. I went up there today, looking for the cat, and there's a train set on tracks, a gun and army vest on the floor, a curtain on the clubhouse window is off (it sometimes gets used as a turban) and just a couple dinosaurs spread about. It used to be knee deep and you'd have to wade through to even get to the light switch. They're learning it's not fun to clean so just play with a couple things at a time, then put them away before pulling out the legos or whatever. VICTORY!

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answers from Washington DC on

Hmm, like you, I had a pig pen as a kid. And my mom would force me to clean it. And it would be torturous for both of us. Looking back I think I have/had ADD, not the hyperactivity kind, but the inability to focus. When I got to be a teen, they gave up and just closed the door, because nothing would have helped at that point. And guess what, I still have a hard time with cleaning and organizing. I don't know if this is a genetic thing (my mom was horrible with clutter too), or if it is something that is taught, because my daughter is just as bad as I was with her room. My SIL is anal about cleanliness, and her son at age 5 is already organizing things every chance he gets. Any way, I make my daughter clean it if a friend is coming over, or risk my husband getting in there (and if he cleans it she will never find anything again), and I remind her that she could be embarrassed. I usually have to help her focus. I wouldn't let it get too over board but otherwise I would close his door.

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answers from Houston on

My son is in his 20s. I wish I had spent more time with him playing. Leave him be.

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answers from San Francisco on

It takes a week before it's a disaster again! You're lucky! My GD can trash her room in an hour!

I say a little of both. For the most part, leave it alone but every now and then you have to make him at least pick up stuff off the floor so you can walk. That's my criteria - when I can't walk in GD's room, it's time for her to clean!

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answers from St. Louis on

My little one is 7 and every weekend we clean/organize his room together. Actually, he is not too messy, but I am teaching him to keep part of his toys, and books in one place of the room; he gives his ideas/suggestions, and I give him mine, we pick up things by color, we race and see who is the fastest we also take turns, I pick up the books and he picks up the stuffed animals, etc... it is like a game, and he likes it!. He is learning that when he is messy, and he doesn't do this, he cannot find the things he is looking for, so I let him know that keeping his room neat (not perfect) he will find easily what he needs.



answers from Baton Rouge on

My daughter is a slob. I didn't make her clean her room nor would I do it for her. I made it clear that anything that got stepped on, peed on by the cat, or chewed on by the dog because it was in the middle of the floor instead of put away would not be replaced out of my pocket, no matter what it was.



answers from Cumberland on

He should keep it clean-try to have him tidy up daily-it's easier.



answers from Portland on

What I used to do with my kids was I gave him a time limit of say an hour (or whatever you want to make it) to put away all his toys and make his bed. An hour might be too long. Then I would tell him that if he didn't want to put away his toys he obviously didn't want them and so I was going to pick them up for him and give them to another person who wanted them (Good Will). Then I would go in there and start picking them up. If he threw a fit I would look at him and say that he was given xx amount of time to show he was working and next time I come in it will happen. Give him less time to "fix" his room (as long was he is attempting and working praise him - and then if he didn't do it go in there and carry out your threats. He may lose some toys but it may help him realize that he has to keep everything cleaned up. Of course you might have to help him with a little cleanup but the main purpose is make the bed and pick up the toys and put away in toy box and not in the closet with the door closed and then you come in and help him with vacuuming or whatever else you would like done.

This not only helps with his work ethics but if he can't put away his toys then he obviously doesn't want them anymore. Maybe he has too many or it could be he has outgrown them.

Wish you luck.




answers from Oklahoma City on

Kids need many many many smaller jobs instead of "CLEAN YOUR ROOM"!

Ours get so overwhelmed by too much stuff. They really are NOT adults and do not have the ability to manage this many items.

They need simple one or two step commands.

Put all the Barbie stuff in the tub.

Pick up every shoe and put it on the bed.

Try to find the match for every shoe/boot/ etc...

Try the shoes sets on and if it's too little bring it to me otherwise put it on the shoe shelf side by side.

Put the socks in the hamper.

Put the undies in the hamper.

Put the pants in the hamper.

And so forth. After each thing is successfully done they get to take a break or get a reward like a skinny portion of a Kit Kat bar. Something to make them want to do it more. Punishment only makes it harder work. Rewards make it a desirable job, so they can get more rewards.

I don't go to work if I don't get something. I like to get a pop or a candy if I accomplish something. Why can't kids get something. I get to have clean clothes to choose from when the laundry is done. I get to see how nice everyone looks when they leave the house, how new the garments look, how un-wrinkled....that's a reward for me, for others it's a chore they hate and might need a physical reward to get them to do it.

There is no reason that we cannot have a reward for doing something we don't really like. I hate doing dishes and will fight with hubby for days to keep from doing them. I'd rather throw them away and go buy new, I SWEAR this to be true, I have thrown away glasses instead of washing them when I didn't have a dishwasher because there was dried milk in them....I was beaten with a switch, a belt, a hand...when I was a kid when it was time to do dishes. I had dishes thrown at me because they weren't clean enough. So I hate doing dishes, I stand there and cry the whole time sometimes and am mad for days....I know, I'm fricking

Anyway, I assigned hubby to do the dishes. He can get them done however he wants. He could hire someone to come in and do them, I do not care. I just don't want to touch them.

So, if I have to wash dishes for any reason I can guarantee that I am going to get a huge reward for myself for doing them. I can wash them just fine I just happen to hate it with a passion.

Little kids need to find the fun in doing chores. They will hate it when they grow up. My granddaughter's room is a disaster too. She has too many items to manage successfully though. It's past time to cull/sort out toys and books. She needs less "stuff" in her room.

I think she can manage her room much better if she has much less. The seasons are changing so we need to change out her clothes and put the warmer clothes in the closet. She can keep her tee shirts and capri's but tank tops, strapped dresses, sandals, swim suits, etc...are all going to be sorted for size next spring and some will go to little sister and other stuff will be packed away in the tub under her bed. This makes her closet much more orderly and easy for her to understand.

Once the temps drop below 60 all day we'll take out all the short sleeved stuff and anything not long pants. She does keep her gymnastics and dance stuff separate so she does have access to her shorts to wear under her dresses.

You need to make sure that he has the least amount of stuff he can manage with just a little bit of a challenge.

Then when it's messy close the door. BUT he can't be a feeding ground for mice and roaches. So the no food or drink policy is an excellent one.


answers from Washington DC on

i hear and understand all the reasons to teach children to de-clutter.
it's a battle i chose not to fight.
my dh, whose standards are higher than mine, would from time to time insist that they dig out. but i myself just closed the door.
my priorities were elsewhere. and it seems to have worked out okay. they're not as neat as adults as a mother might wish. but then again, i was never as neat a mother as a kid might have wanted.
:) khairete

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