Take Control of the Kids' Messy Rooms

Tips and tricks to help control the mess

By Jennifer Hill, publisher of Macaroni KID Fremont, Calif. January 21, 2022

"Clean your room!" is something likely heard in every family's household all over the world at various times. 

In our home, one of the kids is amazing when it comes to cleaning her room (and other things). 

The other? Not so much. It's like he can't stay focused and just drifts off into another world ... wasting the day away without completing his chore of cleaning up his bedroom. To help him along, I have come up with some tips and tricks. I thought I'd share for all of you parents out there who, like me, have reluctant or unfocused room cleaners.

Define a clean room

Be clear about what a "clean room" means to you. Does it mean bed made, laundry put away, toys and books organized and put away, floor clean and vacuumed? Make sure you are not setting up your child for failure by not being clear on expectations. Also make sure your expectations are age-appropriate.

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Give step-by-step directions

Be clear on the step-by-step directions with your child, and even make a written list if needed. If we tell our son to "put all of your clothes away neatly" and "put all of your books on the bookshelf neatly" he tends to do MUCH better than if we just tell him to clean his room.


Last year we got rid of a lot of my son's toys and books that he simply didn't use, but somehow would still end up on the floor and in a mess. If your child is reluctant to get rid of toys or books altogether? Compromise by boxing them up and storing them away for a defined amount of time (like 30 days). Then agree that if your child hasn't missed them in those 30 days, you can donate them to another family. The less stuff your child has, the easier it will be to keep tidy.

Free up dresser drawers

Help your child keep clothes folded and neatly put away by making sure the drawers aren't overfull. You can free up dresser space by rotating seasonal clothing and going through clothing together regularly to weed out items that no longer fit.

Turn cleaning into a game

Set a timer or turn on music and play a game. "I bet you can't get all of the books on the shelf before the timer goes off or this song ends." Give little challenges to keep your kids moving and working.

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For our son, screen time is a reward. It doesn't always work, but the promise of some extra screen time if he can finish within a certain timeframe, or without our nagging, often gets him moving. When it doesn't, the threat of losing ALL screen time until it's completed to our satisfaction usually does the trick. You know your child. What's their currency? Use it as needed.

Last resort

If all else fails, as a last resort, grab a chair and sit in the room with them while giving them step-by-step instructions to help them remain focused and working.

It's clean, now what? 

Ideally, kids would pick up their rooms each evening and a parent would check it and praise them for keeping it clean or remind them of what needs to be done.

That's ideal.

But in our house, we tend to get busy and forget to check until it's already bedtime or our son will have building blocks spread across the floor that he wants to play with again tomorrow and we agree, but then several days later the blocks are still strewn across the room ... and other stuff has started to make its way to the floor ... and so on. And then we're back to square one.

But that's the way parenting goes! There's no perfect answer, unfortunately (at least I haven't found it yet!) but with a little teaching, persistence, and sense of humor, you can get your child to clean their room too.

Jennifer Hill is the publisher of Macaroni KID Fremont, Calif.