Ask the Experts

Dear Organizing Coach: The Unsanitary Bedroom Problem

Most children’s bedrooms are a little messy, despite parents’ nagging. But when they cross the line to unsanitary — as they often do for children with ADHD — the problem demands more immediate attention. Here’s how to tackle your child’s uncleanliness, in a way that works for her ADHD brain.

Q: “Is he oppositional? Does he just forget to clean up his room? Why is he dropping things on the floor in the first place? I’ve considered not cleaning up, but his room gets worse.” —Carlsbad Mom

Q: “I need help preventing my 15-year-old’s room from being condemned by the Board of Health.” —Krtsinohio

Q: “My daughter is OK with having dresser drawers hanging open and clothes spilling out. She loses things constantly and I find expensive glasses and all kinds of things on her bedroom floor. It just seems that talking to her about it is not working.” —Art Mom

Hi Carlsbad Mom, Krtsinohio, and Art Mom:

Trust me you are not alone on this one. Here are a few of my favorite tips to get you started down a path toward consistent bedroom cleanliness.

  1. Recognize Your Kid’s Organizing Style. We each have our own unique organizing style. Start by asking your child, “What system is going to work for YOU?” If they need to see their stuff so they know it exists, then remove their closet door! If folding clothes isn’t their thing, replace the dresser with bins where they can toss t-shirts, jeans, socks, and underwear. If they detest hanging up clothes on hangers, ditch the rod in the closet and put up hooks.
  2. Eliminate Road Blocks. If it takes a child more than three steps to do something, they aren’t going to do it. Take a tour of your child’s room using THEIR height as your guide. Can they open the closet door easily? Reach the rod and shelves? Are the dresser drawers hard to open? Is the dresser crammed full? And don’t forget about shelving! Is there enough shelf space for books, memorabilia, etc.? Do they have big enough trash and laundry baskets? Eliminating roadblocks is the first step!
  3. Cede Full Control. Teens crave independence. So empower your child by giving her choices while still setting boundaries. Tell your teen that a few electronics can live on the floor, but laundry and food is off-limits. That one-to-one ratio — one rule for every freedom — makes teens much more likely to comply with your clutter edicts.
  4. Create Custom Clutter Zones. Differentiate between kids’ space and shared space. For example, let your teen keep his closet however he wants. But communal spaces, like the living room, must be clutter free. Also allow “clutter days.” Your child can have free rein over her room Monday through Friday, but Sunday is family clean-up day. Post the “house rules” where all can see and make sure that natural consequences are discussed and enacted consistently.

And if you are looking for more tips and tools, please check out my book, “What’s the Deal with Teens and Time Management: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Your Child Succeed.”

Our Editors Also Recommend:

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Free Download: Your Free Guide for Controlling Clutter

Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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