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How to Get Your Kids to Clean Their Room

A young boy vacuuming his room.
Pakula Piotr/Shutterstock

Kids love making messes! When it’s time to clean up, though, they’re nowhere to be found. Can you teach them to approach this dreaded chore with gusto and focus? How about teaching them to keep their rooms clean without nagging, threatening, or rewarding them?

Yes, you can do it! The key is to teach them the value and efficiency of a clean, organized room. Show them how to clean a room properly, and then let them take pride in their work.

If it sounds like we’re setting you up for frustration, don’t worry—we’ll help you guide your kids down the path of cleanliness.

Why a Clean Room Is Important

For some families, it’s easier to just close the door and forget about the disaster zones. If that’s what works for you, that’s okay!

At the same time, if you teach your children how to clean their room, it’s a life skill they’ll hopefully carry into adulthood.

Maintaining a clean room teaches the value and respect of personal belongings. If toys are strewn on the floor or in a big pile, they can easily be broken or damaged. An organizational system will protect everything because toys will last longer and be easier to find.

Teaching your children about tidiness helps them become more efficient in their regular routines. If their clothes are piled in a heap, it takes much longer to find specific things, like soccer shorts or a dance leotard.

However, if clothes and toys are clearly labeled and organized, finding particular items will be much easier. In the long run, this gives your kids more time to focus on the activities they enjoy.

Getting Started

If your kid’s room is currently a danger zone, figuring out where to start might feel overwhelming to them (and you). Set aside a few days, if necessary, and do a “deep clean” to set them up for future success.

We’ve got some tips to help you jump-start your clean-room mission:

  • Lead by example: How clean is the rest of the house? Do you spend time together as a family cleaning and organizing? If you demonstrate the importance of doing the dishes right after a meal, rather than letting them pile up in the sink, it will help. Show your kids how you make your bed every day, put your clothes in the hamper, and pick up your belongings.
  • Dividing shared rooms: If you have children who share a room, discuss which area belongs to each child. For example, the yellow bookshelf is for Sally, and the green one is for Sam. This makes each child responsible for their own space instead of having to worry about the entire room.
  • Designate a spot for everything: And we do mean everything. Use baskets, storage bins, hooks, a closet storage system, or whatever it takes to keep everything neatly put away. Get a label maker and go to town! For younger kids, it’s easier to toss everything into large bins.
  • Clean together: You want to instill a sense of independence, but, at the same time, it’s important to help out along the way. Some kids hate a messy room, but they don’t know what to do about it. Set aside a chunk of time, turn on some fun music, and work together! They’ll learn a lot from watching you sort and organize stuff. Just make sure they don’t slack off and let you do it all. It should be a team effort.
  • Tackle specific areas: If the entire room is a mess, then focus on specific areas first. For example, you can start cleaning in one corner of the room, or you can sort and organize all the toys first, and then the clothes, and so on. Spread it out over several days, if you need to.

How to Maintain a Clean Room

A woman sitting on the floor, putting a stack of clothes in a cardboard box.
Suriya Yapin/Shutterstock

After you help your kids get their rooms in tip-top shape, it’s time to develop a system, so it doesn’t devolve into Armageddon again. Maintaining a clean room should be easy, as long as your kid learns to do a little bit every day.

Here are some clean-room maintenance tips:

  • Purge: It’s easier to keep a room clean when there are fewer things in it. The art of letting go is a valuable lesson for kids. You can even try the one-for-one rule: for every new toy your child gets, he has to give away an old one. You can apply the same practice to clothing. Alternatively, everyone can do a monthly purge and throw all unwanted items into a donation box. It’s a good idea to store the box in the attic or garage for a month or so, though, in case your child changes his mind.
  • Define clear rules: Establish guidelines to help your kids stay on track, such as no food in bedrooms, or beds have to be made before breakfast. The more these rules are integrated into their daily routine, the less of a battle it will be.
  • Clean as you go: Teach your children to clean up immediately after each activity. You can start this practice when they’re toddlers. Done with the Play-Doh? Ask them to put it away before they pull out the Legos. Avoid letting toys pile up on the floor.
  • Use lists: Create a daily checklist that includes things like make the bed, put away dirty clothes, pick up toys, and so on. You can make a monthly list that includes bigger jobs, like vacuuming or washing bedding. If you work on these lists together, it will make your child feel more invested in the chores and more likely to complete them. If you need them, there are charts that list age-appropriate chores. You can’t expect your 3-year-old to neatly fold and put away all his clothes, but he’s totally capable of dumping dirty ones in the hamper and picking up his toys.

Avoid Using Rewards or Money as Incentives

As tempting as it might be, when you use rewards or money to get your child to do chores, it sets some high expectations. Do we get rewards as adults for cleaning our rooms?

It’s more helpful in the long run to teach your kids that having a tidy space is a reflection of their hard work and dedication. That alone should make them feel proud and motivated to keep it that way.

If you can get in the habit of using “first, this, and then that” language whenever possible. This simply conveys to your kids the order in which you want them to do things. For example, say your child is begging to play on your iPad, but his room is a disaster. You could say, “First we need to clean your room. Then, if we have time, we can play on the iPad.”

This is different from a reward because you’re not implying he’ll always get something after he cleans his room. Rather, you’re just spelling out what needs to happen before he can do a certain activity.

Also, keep in mind that praise goes a long way. Take the time to look over all the details of their clean room and compliment their hard work and dedication.

If you can instill a sense of pride and accomplishment in your kids for maintaining a clean living space, it’s a valuable life lesson they’ll carry into adulthood. Try to lead by example and help them along the way. If you can avoid nagging or yelling (it only makes them hate the chore even more), it’ll become second nature over time.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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