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Teen's Messy Room

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13 year old's mess is taking over my space

Aug 2011

I am a single mom to a thirteen year old daughter who has taken over our space. When I am gone, she hangs out in my room in my bed watching my TV. We live in a small apartment and she has pretty much messed up her own space and wants to hang out in mine. I can already lock the TV electronically but that's not enough. There are other things going on with boundaries that I am working on in therapy. I just wonder if anyone out there knows how to lock a door without screwing any thing into the wall (we rent, and the landlord does not allow it). The door has the standard lock that locks on the knob on the inside but can't really be locked or unlocked from the outside when I leave. I know that when she was little, I used to have a small screwdriver that was filed down that I could use when she locked herself in accidentally. Any ideas? Feeling Invaded


You have already defined how you'd like to resonsd to this, but I would recommend another angle. She is only 13 and may not know how to keep her own space clean. My daughter was the same, but I kept after her. She's now 16 and keeps her room fairly clean. My son was the same way when he was a young teen, but now he is 18 and his room is good. They really appreciate it when they have space that they enjoy and better function in. Less time is wasted looking for shoes, socks and books for school, etc. Don't give up on her so soon. Help her clean and organize and then kind reminders that that is the expected norm are all going to help her. E.

What is reasonable to expect from an 11.5 year old?

July 1999

I need help on what is reasonable to expect from a pre-teen regarding the state of her bedroom. My 11 1/2 - going on 16-year old and I are headed for trouble. Up until now, I feel I've been pretty reasonable and it's worked. Both kids are responsible for their own rooms: I don't clean them. If they put dirty clothes in the basket provided, I wash them. If they leave them on their floor, they stay dirty. Then once every two weeks, in preparation for our house cleaner, they are required to neaten up. This means the floor must be clear of all debris, clothes and toys must be put away although my definition of this is loose (as in very large piles of stuff on top of the desk or dresser). In return, they get their rooms dusted, vacuumed, trash removed, and beds changed. They have always complied, albeit with a certain amount of grumbling. Little Brother, age 8, is actually good about this--enjoys sorting and organizing his stuff (into categories that mystify rational adults), labels drawers with charming notes about their contents (I know this won't last).

The 6th grader is a problem however. She routinely pulls large amounts of clothing (clean) out of her drawers, doesn't wear it, leaves it in a heap on the floor where it mingles with dirty stuff and becomes dirty by association, and then throws it in the dirty clothes basket as a means of getting rid of it--meaning I wash about twice as much stuff as I need to. She also drops books, toys, homework, etc. wherever she happens to lose interest in them, where they stay for weeks on end despite regular nagging from her father and me--her stuff is all over every room in the house. The bi-weekly clean up is becoming a major struggle. This week, she neatened up as required at the last possible moment, despite plenty of gentle reminders, etc. early in the week; she complained, cried, pled for relief, and ended up angry, exasperated, and put-upon. Then the next morning, after she had headed out for her camp, I went into her room and found that in the space of about 8 hours, during most of which she had been sleeping, it had turned right back into the disaster it had been previously. In a fury, I dumped everything of hers found laying about the house (after she had supposedly done her picking up) and everything on her floor into a clothes basket (which was overflowing by the time I was done), put it in the middle of her room, and told her she gets no privileges of any kind (friends over, TV, phone) until the basket is empty. Not a productive interchange. What should I do? I know this is just the beginning of a long, difficult phase and that I should pick my battles. But her behavior affects everyone else in the household and it seems so unnecessary. I don't know whether to make her clean up more often, so it doesn't become such a chore, or to let it go entirely. I know parents who just shut the door to their kids' rooms when they turn 12 or so and let them molder for 6 or 7 years. But it infuriates me to have to do that -- a little bit of order in the chaotic life of working parents is important. I look to my home to provide a little bit of serenity--at least once every two weeks, for the first 12 hours after the housecleaner leaves. HELP!


The posting re. "bedroom maintenance" could have been written by me. This list is great because I feel so much better knowing I'm not the only one with problems. I'd like to take things a step further and either find a support group for mothers of middle school girls or get one started. I'm a single mom, and I admit it-- I need support! Does anyone know of such a group?
Cynthia
Hi. I think that hhis is an extremely common problem, and I'm going thru it with my 12-year-old. Here are some things I've tried. None will result in a your child maintaining a beautiful room, but some may help to get you out of the nagging loop.

1. Stop washing her clothes. Teach her to wash her own clothes and let her deal with it. I did this with my daughter, and have had some success.

2. Whenever possible, ask your daughter for solutions, and give her (some) help in implementing them. I find that my daughter is much better about doing something that SHE decided to commit to. For example, we (for the 100th time) wrote up a list of daily weekly and monthly chores. This time, I asked her to make the list, then we consulted on it and I added some more chores. Then I asked her which ones she felt that she could do on which days, and she decided which ones to sign up for - amazingly, more than I would have assigned to her. So we divided things up, more or less fairly, and she is actually looking at the list almost daily. At one point I had to threaten her with not being able to do something if her chores for the week (up to that point) weren't done. And she actually went ahead and did them without too much reminding. Hopefully this will help her understand how to establish a regular schedule for self/household maintenance, and to understand that if the work doesn't get done, the playing doesn't get done either. A lot of "experts" suggest rotating the jobs on the family chore list around so that nobody gets stuck with something they don't like to do forever. probably a good idea.

3. Ask your daughter what would help her to keep her room/the house clean, and help her implement HER solutions. You could give suggestions to help her organize, but let her decide. Maybe suggest that she could use some shelves above her desk to keep her schoolbooks on, or an in/out basket for her schoolwork to keep it from getting lost. remember, she is a kid and doesnt' have the experience to know what tools and useful items might be available to her.

I think the trick is to allow them to accept responsibility. After a few weeks of no clean clothes, for example, my daughter asked if she could have some more laundry hampers for her room so that it would be easier for her to sort her dirty stuff. So I bought her 3 hampers, for light clothes, dark clothes and clothes to be bleached. She doesn't necessarily take her dirty stuff off and immediately put it into the correct hamper, but i think this is slowly nudging her in the right direction.

Regarding things left all over the place, don't give them back to her, put them away and maybe even throw them away. You have a right to live in an environment that is reasonably comfortable for you. Part of raising children is teaching them to understand that what they do has an impact on others. I think of it as teaching them to be good room-mates - remember the college room-mate you had that was such a slob even you couldn't stand it? (it was probably me!)

I think as much as possible, make the consequence a logical result of the situation. Loss of possesions left laying around, either temporary or permanent, makes a big impression! I've heard of parents who replaced a child's bike several times after she left it laying around in the front yard and it was stolen. Doesn't teach the kid anything about responsibility.

There are a lot of books out there about organizing your home, your family, etc. and some about teaching your children about responsibility. Check them out, there are some good ideas floating around out there.

Good luck, and I would love to hear any other ideas that people have!
Nancy


Response is to the teen bedroom issue: My main response is a deep prolonged sigh and rolled eyes (strategies learned of course from my teen). We face many of the same messy bedroom/excess laundry issues. It appears to me you are being reasonable and use many similar strategies. We are lucky to have a cleaner once a week and my daughter has to clean up the evening before. I have to note that sometimes the cleaning means huge piles on the bed, (which then does not get made). However, I have resorted to an additional strategy which adds one small step to yours. I don't have a spare basket, but use paper bags in which I stuff all the belongings from her floor. Then, rather than leave them in the middle of her room, I leave a note that says something like this. "Your clothes have been kidnapped. You were given 2 or 3 warnings and failed to heed them. Now you have to pay!!! Come to me to negotiate your ransom." The negotiation means she does something that compensates for the mess making--like doing and folding three baskets of laundry, picking up around the house, ironing, some vacuuming--all depending on MY needs. (the idea being that she develops some awareness of other's needs). She hates to be missing a favorite piece of clothing so this strategy has some success. I don't need to do it often, but when I tell her to pick up I sometimes have better compliance for awhile. Be prepared for angry foot stomping when the note is discovered. If some parents think this is too strict I would love to hear feedback.
Anne
Just a quick response to your plight. I had to laugh as I read it because it was a literal description of life with my 12 year old daughter. Something tells me this is pretty universal and thus clearly a thing that one must let loose of. A little tension over the desire for a clean room is part of the parent-child equation but ultimately I see that it is a territorial issue that the kid needs to win in order to move on to the next level of independence. It's not easy for me to let go of my involvement with her room, but I know I must. I'm just trying to find a way to keep it safe for her and her friends, like vacuming every two weeks, washing the bedding, and limiting food wrappers etc. Other than that, it's her room and she needs it to be in her control it appears. I talked to her about giving her her own hamper so she can be in total charge of her cloths, since then I wouldn't be invested in my good washing and folding going to waste...but that measure will probably not be enforced for a year or two. It's my ace in the hole. Alas...I'd better just get used to the look of a closed door and concentrate on the rest of the house for some sense of order.
Katherine
The message about the bedroom was great. I have two kids in high school. they are both like your daughter. It doesn't get better as you know. I have to talk to myself to calm down about their rooms. I have exactly the same rules you do except my housecleaner comes once a week. I used to kind of pick-up the rooms when school was on and they truly have lots of homework. this summer I figured I should follow your rules and put them completely in charge. I live in fear they will run out of clean clothes and go around looking like homeless kids. They don't want me in their rooms at all so I try to stay out. It makes me crazy. Some of my friends say just leave them alone and they will eventually want to clean-up stuff. I am kind of learning that the real issue is the room is their space and we should stay out. I think it is fair to ask that no food be left in the room and their clothes get washed once a week. Your expectations sound right to me - clean up before the cleaning person comes so the heavy stuff can get done. I don't think we should give in on that. If you're not careful, they start to say they don't care if their sheets get changed and clothes get washed. It doesn't seem healthy to just cut them loose and close the door for 4 years, so the twice a month program sounds pretty fair. It's nice to know other moms are as upset by this issue as I am.
Micki
I also have one (sort-of) neat and one messy child. I recommend trying two things: teach your daughter to do the laundry, and then let her know that she needs to do her own laundry if she can't comply with "house laundry" rules. When she runs out of clothes, she might decide it's easier to put the laundry where you want it than it is for her to do it herself.

Allowing the kid to leave his/her room a mess except for the bi-weekly cleaning might be your best option if you insist that things not be left lying around the rest of the house. This works somewhat: at the very least, it gives you the option of having the rest of the house reasonably tidy, and you don't have to look at her stuff. With my son, things of his I find lying around I put on his bed. When he can't find the precious object he's looking for, I remind him where I put it and remind him that if it's not on his bed, I no longer know where it is and he'll either have to find it himself or do without it. Of course, he wants to put "special" things somewhere else (on the dining room table, etc, etc.) so that he can find them, but I don't give in and lo! and behold, every once in a while some portion of the room gets clean enough so the precious things can be located. Good luck!
Ellen


Re: Guidance Needed Re Reasonable Expectations on Bedroom Maintenance I have a daughter, 16, exactly like your 11 1/2 (also with a little brother who doesn't mind cleaning up). She has been a slob since before 11 years of age. I now have a very disinterested approach with her. Simply, if her room is not picked up, I dump it in a garbage bag and stick it in our garage. She goes through it, clears it out. I have told her whatever's left I will dump in the garbage or call Salvation Army. I warn her just before I clear her room out every two weeks and that's that. I no longer have such fury and anger towards her. It's much easier not to be so involved with her habits, but I continue to emphasize the house is a collective (and I'm in charge), everybody should do their job, and if they don't, the consequences are not huge fights, but simply I'll decide what's best to keep the house in order for everyone who lives in it. My daughter can comply with it or lose some of her clothes and various material possessions. My house is certainly not as neat and clean as it was when I didn't have children, so my standards have fallen as well, but you have to pick your fights and I'm not going to worry about her room, but save myself for bigger issues. I'm at least glad to see I'm not alone and I don't have the only sloppy teenager on earth. Thank you for that.
Jahlee
I sympathize with the Bedroom Maintenance problem. My teenage daughter is now 17. She was always fairly neat until she became fussier about what she wears. Now she discards clean outfits in a heap as she tries them on till she finds the "right" thing. The only thing that has worked is to tell her we "can't" buy new clothes or shoes till the old ones are in order. Therefore we get major cleaning before shopping sprees. Also, nothing is left in another room of the house (our house is too big for that problem; I would go nuts) or it "may" go to Goodwill. I know that sounds drastic, but it only happened once. NOTHING is ever left draped around the kitchen or living room or bathroom. Good luck! I, too, cannot just close the door for 6 years.
Dee
Some thoughts on the messy room. Welcome to life with a young teen. She's starting to define herself and her definition doesn't include your sense of what's orderly! I've raised 2 teens (one now 19 another 15) and their rooms are gross by my standards but better than many. (No rotting food) You've got 85% of a great plan going, it's just in need a minor refinement. Clean up if you want the room dusted etc, otherwise the housecleaner passes you by is right on. No one's going to clean their room at college, that's for sure, so why let them get comfortable with that. When the clutter gets to me (sometimes daily, sometimes it takes a few days) I call for what I call a "sweep through"- this means "You guys survey the house and claim what's yours that's cluttering the public space or else I'm going to sweep it into oblivion." I ask ONCE before the sweep and give them a reasonable length of time to comply. (It rarely takes much time to actually accomplish- it's the whining and procrastination that takes so long. This I ignore.) They don't have to be happy about my need for order, they just need to comply with it. Or not. And if not, tough luck. They've had, at times, to pay me to return the swept item, to either work it off or monetarily pay my "fee", or to do without. I know someone who gave "lost" articles to Goodwill, but I'm too much of a softie for that (unfornunately). Public space is required to be at my standard (which has incrementally sunken somewhat over the years, I might add). Their rooms can be garbage heaps but I won't help find lost things. They came to learn there's a price for living in chaos. And as far as the clean wash in with the dirty I'd say I won't wash clean clothes and I don't have time to sort, so you have to do your own wash. Give her 2 baskets, one for unhung-up clean stuff and one for dirty on wash day, if necessary. Let her sort if she wants laundry service. The outcome: My college kid cleans his dorm room thoroughly 1 or 2 times each term when the dust gets to him and as far as I know, loses very little stuff because he's made his own order. He prefers order when he can create it. My 15 year old extensively cleans 2 or 3 time a semester, when the work load lightens and only clears his floor the night before the houscleaner. A little surrender is good, but not so much that you feel like a doormat. Good luck!
Winifred
Concerning messy rooms. Why not make the daughter responsible for her own clothes washing? You'd have to accept it if she just wore them dirty. She may need to have her own space her own way. By the way, one clothes basketful is nothing. I wish somebody would make me clean my room on a regular basis. We had an identical situation to yours with the house cleaner coming weekly in the house I grew up in. I'm sorry to admit that I never developed any routines about cleaning. I guess I'm still waiting for Mom to tell me the cleaning lady is coming tomorrow! I also think it's important to pick your battles.
Nita
I'm there! I have two very slovenly teenagers. Their rooms are not only disaster areas; they are black holes that suck stuff in from all over the house - plates, food, electronic devices, pens & pencils, hair gel, combs and brushes, all the scissors and scotch tape in the house.

Here's what I do: I ignore their rooms and keep their doors shut. Every few months when important household items go missing, I force them to clean up. Usually there is a threat involved. Usually it takes several hours over a period of 2-3 days, and usually I have to stand guard the whole time, or they will try to stuff everything under the bed, or throw everything away.

Laundry: I KNOW how it is to find T-shirts still folded up in the dirty clothes basket. Isn't that the most galling thing? Lately I have been brushing them off and putting them back into the clean clothes pile. If they want laundry done, they have to either 1) get it into the bathroom hamper 2) take it downstairs to the laundry room 3) do it themselves. The younger one just wears the same thing over and over. Gross!

The cleaning lady doesn't clean their rooms at all, ever. It got to be too much stress to get them to pick up before she came, so I droppped that. I still have to nag to get the shoes and socks and backpacks and sports equipment and soda cans and video game cartridges out of the living room. I walk in from work and it's always there to greet me, I always yell for them to pick it up, they grudgingly do it, and the next day we start all over.

A friend told me that her teenage son made a good case for having a messy room. He told her that he likes chaos because order makes him uncomfortable. He knows where everything is, he said, so he would like to keep his room messy. She accepted this argument because she is also a somewhat unconventional person who feels uncomfortable around orderly people. I tried this out with my own kids for about 3 months until the day came when I needed the scissors but I was too afraid of the mess to go in and get them myself. So now we're back on the three month cycle.
Ginger


Response to preteens disgusting bedroom.
You say your response of no TV, no friends, etc." was not a productive response." It was only non productive if you didn't carry out the threat. By the way children know that most threats are empty, show your child that you are different! It's YOUR house, and you have the right to expect certain things. If you carried out your promise of no TV, no friends indefinitely if necessary, and got results, then it was productive. Be strong and consistent and it will eventually sink in that you are serious and not a wimp when it comes to consequences. I have a 16y/o girl that will whine for a few seconds, then get the job done, she knows what it's like to lose TV, phone, friends (I could go on!) for a long time for unfamiliylike behavior. Don't give in.
Carol
If you get into a power struggle over your child's room about how clean it is, the room will never be clean and you will have a hard time being friends. Give it up and meditate to become accustomed to the mess.

However, a kid like this must follow certain rules to get laundry and maid service. If their messiness creates extra laundry, teach them to do the laundry. And forget about vacuuming for them.

As for the rest of the house, when you are feeling good about each other, have a conference. Tell the messmaker to chose a time when all his/her things will be taken to his/her room. It is important that s/he has some power over the situation. That's why s/he should choose the time. Tell the mess maker the consequences: perhaps, you will bag the stuff up and keep it for 24 hours, even homework due the next day. What ever threat you make, you must carry out. Otherwise you have lost. So choose your threat carefully, considering all types of things that might be left laying around.

A kid should have a place to call their own and have some power over: their own room. They should not mess up other people's rooms or the public spaces of the house.
Sunsol


I have a few suggestions for the parent who is frustrated about her daughter's room. I have my children doing their own wash (starting at age 8) so that they begin to understand that a pair of pants tried on but not worn does not require washing. If they don't do a wash when needed, then they struggle with no clothes. Most children will not wear dirty clothes just to avoid washing. I also have a system of "pick up" before cleaning day. The kids have to pick up everything from the floor of their room.(not shove it in the closet).They can leave the room however they want the rest of the week (door closed ). I start this around 11 or 12 years old. One way to not nag is to have the clean up be before an activity, IE: Clean up before Sat. morning TV, or clean up before going out on Sunday. I don't mind my child having a messy room as long as they know that they can't leave the rest of their stuff all around the house. One way to train your daughter would be to take 25 cents off of her allowence for every item that is left around the house (other than her room) by the time she goes to bed. I would check the living room when I went to bed and let them know in the morning how much they would be docked.You can put the money in a jar and overtime you can all go out to dinner if you collect enough. You only have to do this for awhile. Once they get into the habit of picking up you can stop. I don't mind a few things around, but everyone has their own standards. The key to all of this is to agree and then not argue about it. My two grown children did this,and they are both pretty neat adults.Once in awhile you can offer to help your child do a good cleaning, but they useually don't want you to. Good luck!
Rona
in our house i stack my kids stuff up on the stairs, where presumably they will pick things up as they go and take them to their room and put them away. the reality is that every couple of days they have to clean off the stairs so that we can walk up/down safely. when the kids leave things in the common areas of our house, ie toys in the living room, books on the kithchen counter, i ask them to put it away (yes, sometimes interrupting whatever they are doing), and if they don't, it becomes mine. so far the threat of this is enough. the theory is that if you care about your things you take care of them--if you don't care about them, you don't need them, and that you have to respect the other people in your household enough to clean up after yourself. as far as the room goes, roughly weekly it gets picked up and vacuumed, or if a freind is coming over it gets tidied so that they can play. otherwise i try to turn a blind eye, which is hard. good luck!
Ann
Re: Bedroom maintenance
Your daughter is 11 1/2 and leaving clean clothes on the floor, and then you wash them? Perhaps it's time for her to take responsibility for her own laundry!
It sounds like you doing everything right...but. The first teenager in the family probably always surprises the parents with how much it's possible to test those boundaries. Be prepared to do what it takes to maintain "a little bit of order and serenity", or whatever you need to feel like life is worth living. The limits you set will be tested, and even more so, if they are not applied consistently and communiciated clearly. No matter how much she protests, your teenager wants to know and feel where the boundaries of acceptable behavior are. And you're right, "this is just the beginning of a long, difficult phase".. I encourage you to cut down on the nagging, calmly make clear the consequenses of unacceptable actions, dish out the consequenses (as appropriate) and, above all, avoid (i.e. refuse getting involved in) unnecessary arguments about "fairness", the merits of the boundaries, etc etc, etc, etc. I emphasize this last point because our teenage son will argue ad infinitim, over anything, and getting into this only makes us angrier and ultimately poisons the relationship.... Sounds good? I think I'll try it myself!!
Peter
Regarding reasonable expectiatons on bedroom & laundry maintenance: Teenagers should be given more responsibility as they get older and this means they should do their own laundry and clean their own rooms. I had the same problem of always finding clean clothes in the dirty hamper. So when they were pre-teens, I announced that when they turned 13 they would be in charge of their laundry. They are 14 and 16 now and their laundry problems are minimal. In respect to room maintenance: If they cry, whine and procrastinate when you take away their priviledges like TV, computer games, video movies, and having friends over . . .So what? If you are providing a good role model, then stick to your rules. It'll get easier. My kids learned from early on that everything should have a home and if it doesn't, it's out the door. When they were younger I would regularly go into their rooms on clean-up days and help them make decisions about homes for all their stuff. This was also a good time to remove, with their permission, items they had outgrown, broken or were no longer useful. Our home is neat and tidy - not fastidious and sterile. Also during school nights, none of the priviledges mentioned above may be accessed if their homework isn't completed.
I wanted to respond to the mother who posted a message about her daughter's room. After a very long time of nagging both my son and daughter about their rooms and all of us ending up totally frustrated and angry, I asked a friend of mine who is a family therapist. She suggested that I let my kids' rooms go...it's their space, something that becomes more and more important as they advance into those dreaded teen years. Both of them are now responsible for doing their own laundry, also. One rule that I set was that the "common area" of our house was to be reasonably maintained and that if I found any of their things laying about, they would get one warning and after that I would deposit it in their room wherever I could (usually on their bed) for them to do with as they pleased. This has worked pretty well all the way around and an interesting development that my son has now become a neatnik (and bothers his sister about her sloppy ways) and my daughter will usually go into a cleaning frenzy about every two weeks or so. They both found that total disorganization and chaos was no benefit to them: they lost schoolbooks, papers, clothes, etc. As much as you want a tidy house, they need a space that is theirs to do with as they please (their room). A good book on teenagers I read talks about "relating" to your kids as opposed to "control." The more you try and control, the harder they resist. It's their job in developing into adults to define their boundaries and selves. Good luck!
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