My Home, My Room

My children (12, 9 and 7) leave their stuff everywhere, and their rooms are really messy. How do I deal with this?

I was one of five children in my family, and all the kids in the neighbourhood played at our house. The people next door had two children and a perfect house, and no one played there. Everyone knew that our house was a home for children, while theirs was a display house for impressing adults. Of course, we had room for my father’s study, where he would retreat when the mess and noise became too much.

It’s really important that children feel that your home is their home as well. After all, it’s the only home they have. If adults say “This is my house” because they own it, they leave their children feeling homeless. I have provided psychotherapy to several adults who were traumatized as children or teens by parents who gave them this message.

Having it be the children’s home means they are entitled to be in most of the rooms and to have something which represents them in those rooms. When my three children (now grown) lived at home, they each had their own “pile of stuff” on the floor in the main area of the house. They could just as easily have put it in their rooms, but they seemed to need to claim some of the main territory as their own. They didn’t leave things everywhere if they could have their piles of stuff. These may not have looked very pretty to visitors, but they gave the message that the home belonged to the kids as well as the adults.

The neatness of the kitchen, living room, bathrooms, and other main areas of the house is a “family issue” and needs to be discussed with all family members who are old enough to participate. As long as each child feels the home is theirs, and has a place for their things in the main area, they may be willing to keep things put away. They can also participate in vacuuming and cleaning counters so that they learn how to do this and so they contribute to the family.

The children’s own bedrooms are a different issue, however. Each person needs to have some place they can call their own, in which they can have privacy and which they can decorate or mess up as they please. The mess in children’s own rooms is not a family issue but a “kid issue.” As long as there is not rotting food, parents should leave kids’ rooms alone, and just close the door if they don’t like looking at the mess. This means don’t go in and clean up, don’t go in and make the bed, don’t even go in and collect the laundry (they can leave it in the bathroom hamper). If children know their rooms are really their own, they will eventually clean them up. They are much more likely to do it if they know you won’t come into their rooms uninvited, nag them about it, or clean up for them.