My Child’s Room Is a Pigpen: Three Strategies That May Clean It Up

My Child’s Room Is a Pigpen: Three Strategies That May Clean It Up


James L. Casale, Ph.D.

Your child’s room is neat, clean, and always tidy. You never have to remind him or her about taking care of their personal space. Good for you. Read no further.

I use the word child in the title because children who refuse to tidy up their rooms or help out around the house are not bound by gender. My son slept on top of his bed so he didn’t have to make it in the morning. The rest of his room was tidy except for the moss growing in the dust on every flat surface.

The condition of my daughter’s room caused us to contact FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and apply for funds to hire a cleaning service. When we were showing off our new home to friends, Stephanie’s door remained closed and posted with a “Do Not Enter” sign.

Even after endless reminders, demonstrations, and bribes, the following conditions prevailed: clothes, shoes, and sneakers strewn on the floor, dresser drawers ajar, bed unmade, enough dust to be scooped up with a shovel, other unidentifiable things on the floor including books and pencils (at least she tried to do her homework), and a closet so full of her stuff that it defied entry. If any of these sound familiar, these three strategies will help and may just lead to spending less money on a cleaning service.

  1. Be specific and start small. What exactly does “clean up your room” mean? Do not use general terms when explaining your expectations for a tidy room. And don’t expect to conquer Mt. Everest in one day.Choose what vexes you most and start there. Will it be to make your bed each morning, bring all your dirty clothes to the laundry room, vacuum the floor, dust all surfaces, hang up your clothes, or place all books on the shelf or desk? If she has a private bathroom, that might not be the place to begin her metamorphosis. But learning how to properly clean bathroom surfaces can become a lifelong skill.
  2. At all costs, remain calm and civil. Avoid screaming, yelling, and throwing things. If she needs demonstrations or directions, provide them in a calm manner. Show her where the vacuum cleaner is stored and how to use it. Show her where the washing machine is located and where to place her soiled clothes. Again, start small and be specific.
  3. Provide choices and consequences. Do not clean her room or pick up after her again. For example, if her dirty clothes are not brought to the laundry room, they will not be washed. Anything on the floor that does not belong there will not be picked up by anyone but the room’s resident slob. New clothes, shoes, or accessories may not be a future option for someone who does not take proper care of what she already owns.

Stephanie: “Mom, I need a new outfit I saw at Urban Outfitters. I want to wear it to Debbie’s party next week.”

Mom or dad: “First you need to learn how to take care of the clothes we have already purchased for you. You can start by picking up the clothes from your floor, bringing the soiled ones to the laundry room, and organizing your closet.”

Let’s Review

I read a story about a mom who convinced her husband and sons that each night, they had to set the table. Then and only then would she make dinner. It went as planned for a while, but soon dad and the boys started shirking their duty.

 When the table was not set, mom did not cook. The arrangement soon returned to the original agreement as mom reminded them of their pact and dad and the kids were hungry. This was all accomplished with a calm and civil tone.

It’s never too early to teach your children to be responsible not only for their own space but as a family member and part of the team. Before I was ten, my mother showed me how to make a bed with hospital corners, sew a button, and mop a floor. Of course, that was in ancient times, but teaching responsibility never goes out of style.

Parenting is a struggle, but it can be rewarding as you teach and model expectations for the next generation. However, it requires a positive attitude, courage, determination, a modicum of leadership skills, and a plan. Everything else is boring. Go for it.

Dr. Casale is a state and national award-winning educator: Florida Teacher of the Year and a National School of Excellence Principal. He is a published author and a national speaker. His website is Follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.