Last Updated on August 22, 2021.
Do you have a messy child? Are you struggling with the clutter and mess in your kid’s rooms? Here’s why it’s a struggle, and more importantly, how you can help a messy child in your house!
I used to feel like I was always saying “What happened in this bedroom?!” or “Get upstairs and clean your room.” My kids were a disaster. I knew I had to do something, or they might find themselves on an episode of hoarders in the distant future. So I did a little research and found a system that works. If you are wondering how to help a messy child, this system is for you.
Why is my child’s room always messy?
Tidiness is a learned skill. If your home is frequently in a state of disarray, it should come as no surprise that your children’s rooms are also a mess.
If your home is always tidy, and your children’s rooms are the exception, then the issue might be a little more complicated. It could be that your children always had someone to pick up after them in the past. If they’ve never been responsible for their own belongings, they may still have the expectation that someone else will do it for them. Or, worse, they lack the skills to do it for themselves.
Of course, there are other possibilities. They could be struggling with overwhelm. They could be stressed or anxious over relationships at school. Or they could be struggling with school work. You’ll have to address these issues directly with your child. Get to the root of these problems before tackling the messy room.
Your kids are way more important than the mess.
How do you organize a messy child’s room?
We’ve talked about why, but an even bigger question is HOW to help a messy child tame a disaster.
Make Sure Everything Has a Place
Even adults struggle with putting things away when we don’t know where things go! Make sure every single item has a home. This includes dirty clothes, clothes that will be reworn, school materials, sports materials, etc. If there’s not enough space, it’s time to downsize. You may even need to label storage locations at first.
Create a Daily Routine
To become a habit, it needs to be done every day. Have a set time when rooms need to be tidy. I like to use a “When/Then”. For example, “When your room is tidy, then you can come down for dinner.” You could also break up tasks, like make your bed before school, bring down your dirty laundry before bed, etc.
Young kids (and maybe even older kids) thrive when they have a checklist to remind them of their daily tasks.
Ensure Personal Tidiness Extends Beyond Their Bedroom
Start making kids responsible for their belongings in every part of the house. They should put their own shoes away, hang their backpacks in the appropriate place, put clean out their lunchbox,
It’s hard, but refrain from doing these tasks for them!
Have Age-Appropriate Expectations
It’s unrealistic to tell a 3-year-old to “go clean your room” and expect a perfectly tidy room. At that age, you’ll have to say “Please put your books on your bookshelf.” and “Please put all the toy food back in the bin.”
Expecting too much from your kids will lead to frustration, discouragement, and poor self-esteem. The last thing you want is for your kids to label themselves “the messy kid”!
So have realistic, age-appropriate expectations for your kids. Here’s my suggestion.
Under Age 3
Parents do 90% of the tidying, giving very specific tasks to kids. Here you are modeling tidying skills.
Age 3 to 5
Parents do 50% of the tidying, working side by side with your kids. Here you’re providing training to help your kids develop skills.
Age 6 to 10
Parents do 10% of the tidying, only providing help with difficult tasks (vacuuming, purging toys or clothes, etc). Here you are reinforcing their personal responsibility to keep their room tidy.
Age 10 to 14
Parents only help as needed (for larger messes or unique situations). This is where you’re giving kids an opportunity to practice independence.
Kids should be independently maintaining their own belongings and space. Parents may need to provide occasional encouragement.
Why is a messy room bad?
Generally, messy rooms are not a good thing. According to a study by New York’s St. Lawrence University, messy bedrooms lead to poor sleep, increased levels of stress and anxiety, increased risk of cognitive dysfunction, and increased risk of depression just to name a few.
Messy rooms feel heavy. They create a sense of overwhelm, erode kids’ confidence, and destroy self-esteem. It has the potential to impact your children’s school work and even their peer relationships.
Are there good things about messy kid’s rooms?
It’s tempting to just say “definitely not.” But the truth is that messy bedrooms can reveal a lot about a person. And you cannot truly learn how to help a messy child without acknowledging these common characteristics. According to a study done by the APA, messy people are more creative than their tidy counterparts.
Messy people are also known for going with the flow. They are flexible and spontaneous. And they rarely sweat the small stuff.
Solutions to End the Messiness
So how do you actually end the messiness? Here’s a few steps to tame the tornado in your kids’ rooms.
You absolutely must eliminate as much as possible! Kids (and moms) actually benefit from fewer toys, so don’t be shy. If it’s broken, toss it. If your kids haven’t picked it up in a week, donate it.
A Place for Everything
Once you’ve whittled down to just the best items, it’s time to find a place for every single thing. It’s not good enough to say “it belongs in the closet.” You need to have a specific home for everything, like “it belongs in the blue bin on the second shelf in the closet.”
Design a Manageable Daily Routine
Tidiness needs to be a daily habit. And habits are things you do repeatedly without even thinking about it. So you need to design a daily routine that will actually work with the way you live. And sneaking in these daily tasks can be easy! Something as simple as “wipe down the sink after you brush your teeth” or “make your bed as soon as you hop out of bed” will do the trick.
Set the Expectations
Your kids need to be on board. Have a conversation with them about what tidiness tasks are priorities for them. You may not get your kids to do every single thing you want them to at first. But you can start small, set clear expectations, and create a form of accountability.
What works best for our family are checklists. My kids love to check items off their list. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence. But you can use accountability calendars, chore charts, or any other accountability tool.
One of the hardest things for parents to do is refrain from giving too much help. Let your kids fly or fail on their own. And follow through on any consequences you set. If you said “When your room is clean, then you can have your tablet”… do NOT give them the tablet unless their room is clean, no matter how much they beg or cry.
At what age should a child clean their room?
Kids as young as one can help clean their rooms. Stacking books, piling dirty clothes, and putting toys in bins are all easy ways very young kids can participate in tidying. As kids grow, their responsibility should grow with them.
Is a messy room a sign of intelligence?
There is an often quoted study from University of Minnesota that suggests that messiness and intelligence go hand in hand. The theory is that intelligent people spend their time focused on more meaningful tasks than cleaning, thus they live in messy spaces.
Is being messy a sign of ADHD?
Messiness alone is not a sign of ADHD or any other attention or learning disorder. If messiness is accompanied with other symptoms you should consult your pediatrician for an appropriate diagnosis.
Is it normal for a teenager to have a messy room?
It’s normal for teenagers to be messy. But it’s also normal for teenagers to be tidy. It’s more about the teens learning tidiness skills and priorities. If they can easily tidy their room and it’s important to them, they will maintain a tidy room.
Does a messy room cause anxiety?
The short answer is yes. There are a number of studies that link messiness with stress and anxiety.