We Are Both Right

Keeping the Kids’ Rooms Clean (Enough)

Everything has its place...just as I like it. © Vera Berard/stock.xchng

Memories of my childhood include soaking venetian blinds in the bathtub, spreading the just-washed sheep’s wool that made up our pillows over chaise lounges in the backyard, and listening to my eleven-year-old cousin brag about how she took it upon herself to polish her mother’s silver and individually clean each crystal teardrop on the dining room chandelier.

Somehow I don’t have a Cinderella complex. And in comparison, my children are getting off easy.

Because when I tell them it’s time to clean their rooms, I’m not expecting the furniture to be polished or even the bedsheets to be changed. I’m going for organized more than clean.

As in, no miscellaneous toy pieces left on the floor. Books back on the shelves. Clothes in the hamper. Dolls in the crib. Balls in a bin. Everything in its place.

The clean “look” if you catch my drift. It’s kind of the way that I keep the rest of the house. The floors may not be gleaming and the windows always have the distinct markings of wet dog nose and three-year-old sticky hands, but the counters are clear and the table is available for dining (on most days). We have one catch-all basket on the kitchen counter that gets sorted when it reaches maximium capacity, and each item must be sent to a permanent home or it goes into the trash.

Most of what accumulates during the day is a collection of assorted toys retrieved from the dog who finds it amusing to run around the house with a plastic shark or teddy bear, baiting you for a treat or some attention. It takes a few extra minutes every night to redistribute this pile of rescued toys but to be honest, without our resident toy snatcher, the kids’ rooms might be a whole lot more messy.

They know that if something is important to them and they don’t want it to be missing a foot (like the Daddy in the dollhouse), then it should be neatly tucked away and out of reach of their four-legged sibling. That pretty much inspires them to return games to their boxes after they’re done playing and file football cards away in binders.

If only the dog was interested in laundry. Our biggest struggle right now is getting our son to realize that dirty clothes never need to hit the floor when there’s a hamper three feet away.

The worst is when he dries off after a shower and leaves the wet towel on the carpet in his room. But I don’t let it sit there for long — and I don’t pick it up either. I’ll call him back into his room and ask if that is its final resting place, and he’ll promptly scoop it up along with the clothes beside it to add to the pile in the hamper. I figure if I keep up the pace (and the nagging) he’ll never have one of those stereotypical teen rooms where the floor and the bed are indistinguishable under rolling hills of clothing.

But I’m not all that worried. Because when I do get into a little cleaning frenzy in one of my kids’ rooms, sorting through old toys and papers that have accumulated on the shelves of their closet organizers, the owner of this stuff always happens to join in. And last time we did that, L. told me afterward how good it felt to know where all his things were and that he loved spending time in a neat room.

Ahhhh, a kid after my own heart.

Have scientists isolated the “clean” gene yet? They might want to check in with Amanda, who has some theories of her own.

I Didn’t Realize There Was a Messy Room Gene (Sorry Kids)

toy room

This is about as clean as our toy room gets. ©We Are Both Right

…Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
Donald or Robert or Willie or–
Huh? You say it’s mine? Oh, dear,
I knew it looked familiar!

–”Messy Room” by Shel Silverstein

As a child, I had a messy bedroom. (I hear my mother snorting from all the way over here.) OK, maybe messy isn’t the word. Probably more like disaster area. Pigsty. Garbage dump. You get the idea.

My grandfather, Bepaw, used to joke that he was going to shovel me out. (I think he was joking anyway.) I had stuff everywhere. Under the bed, under the dresser, on the floor, piled on the desk, shoved in the closet, crammed in the drawers. From when I was a little kid, my room had one default setting — shambles. It’s not that I didn’t like having a clean room — I totally did. I just didn’t have the time or inclination to straighten it up. And it reached a point where the thought of trying to put everything back in its place just got too overwhelming. So I didn’t.

As I got older, I got much better, although even today, I am not the neatest of people. I like to pile things; you have to be careful when you open any cabinets, lest something falls out and bops you in the head; my “junk drawer” is actually four of them. And once again, I find myself wanting to be more orderly, but it’s just not in my nature. For me, messier is faster. (Until I lose something.)

My point is, I get why my two older kids’ rooms are shambolic (and wonder if it’s something in their DNA). I totally understand and can relate. To some, it might be a cop-out, but they are busy. They are in school all day and then there are after school activities to think of, and friends to play with and homework to do. The room always comes last. And honestly, I’m OK with that.

But lest you think my kids are going to be the next people profiled on Hoarders, I do have some rules about their rooms.

  • No food or wrappers in bedrooms — nothing that will attract bugs.
  • There has to be a clear path in and out of the doorway and to the bed.
  • If something breaks as a result of the messy room — it’s stepped on, crushed, whatever — we will not replace it and it gets thrown out.
  • Clothing drawers must stay closed.
  • If they want to have a friend over, the room has to be cleaned — not perfect, but to a point where everyone can sit down and the floor is mostly visible.

Do I wish their rooms were neater? You bet. Not because the mess upsets me — both kids have doors on their rooms and we can close them if necessary. I wish they had clean rooms for themselves. It’s nice when you can find things and have friends over and just relax in a room that’s neat. As much as I didn’t like cleaning my room as a child, its messy state was always something that hung over my head.

To that end, we’ve recently instituted a new policy. Every day, I set a timer and they must spend 15 minutes cleaning their rooms, whether its making the bed, putting away clothes or just straightening up. My son C. has a bit of a head start on my daughter A. though. Last week my husband T. got so fed up with C.’s room that he spent a good two hours cleaning it and clearing out the junk. So right now it’s really clean, but I can see, even three days into having his room be pin straight, he’s having issues. For my kids and me, cleanliness is not inherent.

Still, I’m trying to set a good example, doing the 15 minutes thing myself and doing my best to eliminate the piles and the clutter. Every night I wipe down the counters and the bathroom and I don’t go to bed unless the kitchen and living room are neat. We plan on having a yard sale this spring, and I’m hoping the thought of making some money for the things they no longer want will jump start them (and me) into getting rid of stuff, thereby making the house less crowded.

And, apparently, there is some hope. I think the cycle might actually be breaking with our toddler, S. He will happily “put toys in,” when it’s time to clean up whatever it is he’s been playing with and if he happens to stumble upon someone’s clutter (even his own), he will exclaim, “What a mess! Who made mess?”

So maybe I should be following his example.

Do you allow your children to keep a messy room? Why or why not?

Suzanne is not a fan of messy rooms, but bless her, she barely raises an eyebrow when she sets foot into my house.