Ask the Experts

Q: “My Sons’ Bedroom is Chaos!”

“Children with ADHD are less likely to use complicated or multi-step organization systems. Instead, eliminate roadblocks by touring your sons’ bedrooms at their eye level.”

Messy bedroom, teenager, boy

Q: “How do I help my boys get their messy bedrooms in order? They never throw anything away and leave empty boxes, clothing tags, and shopping bags in their rooms for weeks. Their clothing drawers have no sense of order. They put shirts in the pants drawer or socks in the shorts drawer. It’s madness.” JazzyJ

Hi JazzyJ:

This is one of the most frequent questions parents ask me. And despite what many think, the unbudging parent-child struggle over messy bedrooms isn’t necessarily the child’s fault.

Let me explain.

When a parent asks me how to get their kids to clean and maintain their bedrooms, I lob this question back at them: Are your children’s bedrooms set up to make it easy for them to organize and maintain? Sometimes we don’t realize that our children aren’t cleaning and organizing their rooms the way we’d like because they simply can’t.

My first rule is to eliminate all roadblocks to maintaining the room. I suggest taking a tour of your sons’ bedrooms at their eye level. Literally. (Since I don’t know the ages of your boys, it’s difficult for me to give you specific guidelines.)

As you tour their bedrooms, ask yourself the following questions.

How functional are their dressers? You mentioned that they need help keeping their clothing drawers in order. Are the drawers hard to open or crammed full? Would it be easier for your sons to replace their dressers with clear, properly labeled boxes in a shelving unit or open clear bins along the wall?

[Self-Test: Does My Child Have ADHD? Symptom Test for Kids]

I have found that if we give children, especially those with ADHD and executive function challenges, organization systems that are complicated or require many steps, they are less likely to use them. Instead, use organization systems that are unfussy and streamlined. For example, tossing a t-shirt or a pair of jeans into a bin is a quick and easy way to maintain order. And the same goes for their closets. If hanging clothes on hangers is a major pain point, ditch the rod in the closet and put up hooks.

Do their bedrooms have large bins to accommodate the trash accumulating? You mentioned that shopping bags, clothing tags, and empty boxes sit in their rooms for weeks. Do their bedrooms have trash bins that are large enough to accommodate the trash that accumulates? When it’s time to clean up or organize, wastebaskets — especially large ones — are essential.

What is the most significant source of the bedroom mess? In your case, is it the shopping bags and boxes? If so, you might consider setting up an “unboxing or unbagging” station in your garage, kitchen, or wherever your household recycling and waste bins live. Instantly eliminating all the unnecessary waste from their rooms means there will be less for them to organize and manage. A win for all.

And I saved the best for last: Do they know where everything in their rooms goes? Everything in their messy bedrooms needs a home. It’s that simple: If you don’t know where something lives, it will live wherever you leave it!

[Free Download: Organizing Strategies for Children with ADHD 

And here’s some food for thought.

Kids crave independence. So, empower your boys by giving them choices whenever you can while still setting boundaries. For example, let your boys keep their closets however they want. But communal spaces, like the living room, must be clutter-free. Also, allow “clutter days.” They can have free rein over their rooms 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.

Once you establish what they can and cannot do and make everything accessible, cleaning and organizing will be much easier for your sons.

Good luck!

Messy Room with ADHD: Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach 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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