“Q: How Can I Encourage My Teen to Clean and Organize His Room?”
Getting a teenager to clean their room regularly feels like an impossible and exhausting task. To get your teen to organize without prompting, emphasize that their bedroom is their own space — an autonomous zone over which they have ownership.
Q: “My 13-year-old son with ADHD has always struggled to organize his belongings — video games, clothes, books. I’m not much better, having been diagnosed with the condition five years ago. How can a disorganized mom teach her son to be tidier?”
I have great news for both of you: Organization is a learnable skill, just like everything else you have taught your son. You two can tackle this together!
Children have a hard time getting organized and, as adults, we have a hard time teaching them how, because we organize differently. We tackle the house room by room — kitchen, laundry room, bedroom. As we organize each space, we sort items into their appropriate places. Having different rooms is a natural and helpful organizing principle.
Teens, however, have only one space — their bedroom. To change your organization mindset, try to think of their space as a mini-apartment. This mental shift will turn cleaning the bedroom from a chore to a fun and empowering activity.
How to Get a Teenager to Clean Their Room
Teen Room Organization Tip #1: “You Own Your Space”
Giving your son full ownership of his mini-apartment will empower him to say what he truly wants to keep and what he has outgrown and no longer wants.
Teens often feel they need to hold on to certain items to please their parents. My rule is that they can get rid of anything they want from their mini-apartments. If a parent wants to keep something, they can store that keepsake in another area in the house.
As teens are given full control over their bedroom possessions, they will start to let go and keep only what they want to have right now. Some learn this skill quickly; others take a year or so for it to develop. But, in the end, letting kids keep only what they use and love will make cleaning and maintaining their bedroom easier.
Teen Room Organization Tip #2: Declutter with the Seasons
The goal is to keep the contents of your teen’s mini-apartment fluid. Just as adults clean their homes each week, children should clean their bedrooms each weekend. Decluttering a little each week makes a huge difference long-term.
In addition to the weekly cleaning, teens should do a deeper decluttering three times a year — at the end of summer, over winter break, and at the end of the school year.
Each of these seasons marks growth in maturity and a slight change in gadgets, clothes, and other passionate pursuits. Upon reflection, many parents realize these are the three times they are replenishing their child’s wardrobes as well. Having adult support during these transitions will facilitate more decluttering for easier maintenance.
Teen Room Organization Tip #3: Create Zones in the Mini-Apartment
Labeling your teen’s bedroom his mini-apartment is about more than giving him a sense of ownership. I want you to truly think about this space as his own independent home inside your home. In your house, you have a kitchen, laundry room, family room, bedroom, office, and storage areas. Your child has all of those in his bedroom, too.
For example, your child’s desk is his study area and where he keeps office supplies. His closet is where all of his clothing resides. A bookshelf can house books or other items, constituting the “play” area of the room. Underneath the bed is a great place to put off-season clothing or sentimental items for close storage. Designating and discussing the functions of each of these zones make cleanup and maintenance easier.
As your teen ages, the contents of his mini-apartment will change and likely include more electronics and, sometimes, snacks. Your son is preparing himself for a dorm room or apartment of his own outside of your home.
Teen Room Organization Tip #4: Know That Maturity Grows Over Time
Just as your child learned to crawl before walking, your teen’s organizational skills will need time to develop and grow as well. To move through all three stages outlined here will take a full calendar year.
Organization is not a one-and-done experience. Learning how to organize and maintain his mini-apartment today will set him up for success when he leaves your home one day. Embrace this wonderful season of growth for you both as you learn to be more organized and neater together.
Teen Room Organization: Next Steps
- Q&A: How Do I Get My Son to Clean His Room — and Get Off His Phone?
- Download: How to Control Clutter
- Read: Less Messy in 30 Days!
Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.
Updated on February 5, 2021