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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Mess makers » Mess makers

Mess makers

mfranti - March 29, 2011

Not wanting to cause trouble (yet), I thought I’d start off with something light….

On my way to the kitchen yesterday, the always closed door to my daughter’s bedroom was wide open exposing me to filth and chaos on levels only seen on the Hoarders. The piles of clothes and shoes and paper and wrappers made it impossible to pass. I waded two feet into the mess and was forced to retreat. For my own health and safety. Even her bed was piled high with clothes, both dirty and clean. Where is this kid sleeping?

I’m positive that a finer example of entropy could not be found. I’ll admit that I’ve neglected to snoop around her room. She’s 17, a senior in high-school, and a great kid with a job; heck, my work is mostly done. All that’s left is to get her off to college and enjoy the solitude. But after seeing the level of destruction, I couldn’t look away. I had to step in, be the mom that hassles her kid, and make her clean her room. I asked nicely.

She’s always been like this. When she was younger, I would rummage through her piles with a 40 gallon trash bag (the stretchy kind) purging anything that didn’t look important. I was hoping that she’d enjoy the order and floor space and strive to keep it that way. I was hopeful she’d develop good habits and carry them into adulthood. Nope. Oh, she enjoyed the order and floor space, but when sloth* comes so easily, why would she fight it?

Later, I would make her clean her room, but as many of you with children know, that’s just an exercise in parental futility, frustration, and fury. The kid almost always wins.

In recent years, she’s proven herself trustworthy so I mostly stay off her back. She still has chores around the house; dishes, trash removal, and cleaning her bathroom. Mostly easy stuff (going back to the three f’s, I needed to keep it simple), but I don’t pay her for these chores. I also don’t pay her to clean her room. The way I see it, it’s her contribution to the home. It’s part of being a family member.

I know that everyone has different ideas on this kind of stuff. I also know there’s a few of you dealing with chronically messy children that ooze filth from every molecule (Pig Pen!). So I was wondering…

Do you make your kid(s) clean his/her room? And do you dole out cash for completed chores ? Maybe you find it a non- issue, in which case I just killed an hour that could have been spent folding my own massive pile of laundry.

* She knows about this post an my feelings.


  1. That was the one sticking point I had with my daughter as she was growing up. She sounds like your daughter’s twin. I’m the clean, organized type, so it really bothered me. But as you rightly say, the kid almost always wins that particular fight, and at some point I decided it was a battle not worth fighting, so I just kept her door shut so I wouldn’t see it.

    Based on my experience, I don’t think it’s worth fighting on this front if your kid is otherwise a good kid, as yours surely is. (A glimpse into your future: my daughter’s apartment is still messier than I could live with, but it is better than her room was as a teenager.)

    Comment by Kevin Barney — March 29, 2011 @ 11:08 am

  2. No, I don’t make my (very small) children clean their rooms. But if they don’t, I confiscate or throw away the toys they are incapable of caring for by themselves. No stress for me, just the facts. If something is confiscated, they can earn it back by showing me they are responsible enough to take care of it. If it is not earned back after a month, it potentially is given away, sold, or put in permanent storage.

    So far, I don’t pay, but when they are old enough, I will probably have some chores that are required (with loss of privileges if they are not done) and some chores that are voluntary for money.

    Comment by SilverRain — March 29, 2011 @ 11:14 am

  3. My daughter and her girl friend who was living with us while she dealt with issues with her parents,both lived in the room you describe. My wife would laugh as we passed the room and never brought the subject up.We knew that some day they would grow up and that the more important issues we discussed with them would help them to become great moms.They both have temple marriages ,both home school and both have more then three children.They are creative ,loving,generous,and both take on what every calling they are asked to do. My daughter write a bloq about motherhood and another about food storage and survival.Your daughter will be fine,she has a mom who loves her and the most important thing is as parents we need to remember what it was like for us to be teenagers.She aint heavy she is my sister.sometimes we carry them for awhile.We were not popular with a lot of lds parents on the issue of allowance.We gave our kids fifty dollars a week,they were required to pay for almost all the fun things we did.When we stoped for dinner at micky d’s ,we would make them pay for their own dinner,the movies,ice cream truck ,etc.they soon found out that the fifty did not go very far if they did not make good choices.When we started taking kids in this tradition stopped.

    Comment by marv thompson — March 29, 2011 @ 11:53 am

  4. She’ll grow out of it. When I was a teenager, my room looked much like you described. Now that I have my own place, I keep it tidy. (It’s not perfect, but it’s much better.) I think in some ways, it was my teenage rebellion. I didn’t do any of the typical rebellious things, but annoying my mom with a messy room was a safe way to cross boundaries without any harm.

    Comment by Keri Brooks — March 29, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

  5. “Neatness” is positively correlated with the size of the prefrontal cortex. I have a child that used to be hopelessly messy; rather than endless nagging, like Kevin Barney, I just let her be. With her door closed. As an adult, she has figured out on her own how to have a clean space.

    Here’s the study: http://www.tc.umn.edu/~cdeyoung/Pubs/DeYoung_2010_Big_Five_brain_structure_PS.pdf

    Comment by djinn — March 29, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

  6. I think it also depends on what else the kid is doing. I’m much more lenient on my son on his messy room, because he gets good grades and works to earn his own money. I’m much less lenient on my daughter’s room cleaning habits because her grades aren’t as good and she’s not working, so she has more time to clean up. I find it’s not that hard to get her to clean up, because she just can’t go anywhere until her room is clean. That gets it clean pretty fast.

    Comment by MCQ — March 29, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

  7. Yeah, the fight and hassle isn’t worth it.

    I know one LDS mother who decided to quite nagging her teenage son to clean up the pigsty he called his room on the condition that he would sign a statement swearing that his mother had tried to teach him how to keep a clean room but that he preferred living in filth. She figured she might need to to show it to any future daughter-in-law who might assume she was a bad mother who kept a dirty house.

    Comment by Mark Brown — March 29, 2011 @ 1:09 pm

  8. btw, his room really was awful. I was in there once in February and after removing a couple of layers, I found some Halloween candy from 4 months earlier. I think geologists could have used his room to test their carbon dating equipment.

    Comment by Mark Brown — March 29, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

  9. Yes, my (turning-15-next-week) daughter treats her room like a post-apocryphal 70′s movie set. And, yes, cleaning said room is on the list of chores for which she’s paid an allowance. And she even manages to keep it clean for… two… three days? But I’m with Kevin on this one. You have to choose your battles, and this, on the scale of potential teenage maladies– is a pimple.

    Comment by David T. — March 29, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

  10. There are pimples and then there are abscesses.
    If the room is a breeding ground of disease and pestilence, then they should be evicted.
    A shed in the backyard should be suitable as long as it is well posted with toxic warning signs, and they should only be allowed in the house wearing a hazmat suit.(if it can keep out hazardous materials, then it should keep them in)

    If a landlord won’t tolerate such conditions, why are children privileged to walk all over parents?

    Comment by SNeilsen — March 29, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

  11. I think a lot of kids don’t know HOW to clean their room. Have you ever been confronted with a mess that seemed overwhelming? It helps so much to have someone else walk you through the steps to sort through it. Every kid enjoys a room where they can find their shoes and have some floor space to play. I think they need to be gently taught the skills to do it. I’ve worked with my kids a lot in different ways to help them face their dirty rooms without stress. It’s a fun project. Also, I started a small business that bridges that sometimes acrimonious relationship with kids and is a teach-kids-to-clean-their-rooms service. It’s fun. (And I am not a clean freak.)

    Comment by christy — March 29, 2011 @ 2:09 pm

  12. I think you should clean her room for her (or hire someone else to) and bill her for it. If she wants to go out or do something fun-just tell her fine, as soon as she pays up. I wouldn’t charge her an outrageous amount though.

    Comment by HeidiAnn — March 29, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

  13. Billing doesn’t work. Even if kids have their own money, which they don’t unless they have a job, they often won’t pay you if you give them a bill, then what? Eviction is not a realistic option for most parents. Those kinds of threats are not appropriate or productive in a family relationship. Loss of privileges like going out or using cell phones does work, as well as loss of allowance if you use allowance.

    I like Christy’s approach, but that is something you do early on in the relationship and if you have been down that road a few times and it hasn’t worked, then you have to do something else. After trying a few times to fix it, if nothing works, then you have to do a cost-benefit analysis and decide if making an issue of it is really worthwhile. Sometimes closing the door and ignoring it is the only option, but I remember my mom making a project of cleaning my room with me several times. It can be a positive experience to do that.

    Comment by MCQ — March 29, 2011 @ 3:08 pm

  14. It wasn’t a battle I wanted to fight. They outgrew it.

    Comment by Coffinberry — March 29, 2011 @ 3:35 pm

  15. We come to earth as full grown spirits with developed personalities .When you hold that new born baby in your arms ,the contract you make is to guide that spirit to the best of your ability.Just remember there is no one fits all method,each child is an individual and each may require a different approach.I was amazed when my daughter was born that she did not come with a users manual, I worked for IBM and every thing I worked on came with manuals. When my kids had grown and left the nest I finally felt qualified to raise kids,this on the job training is just as tough on them as it is on us.

    Comment by marv thompson — March 29, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

  16. My daughter was worse than the four boys combined. It would drive my neat-as-a-pin wife crazy. It was a battle I stayed out of figuring that kids needed their own little kingdom. Eventually my wife relented (somewhat) and now our daughter is married with two kids of her own, she’s turned into her mother and keeps a clean, ordered house.

    And beginning to hassle her kids about their rooms.

    Comment by Yet Another John — March 29, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

  17. I told my son that if I could smell his room then he needed to do something about the stench, the rest was up to him. I have chemical sensitivity so we use no room deodorizers, and smells are pretty obvious. It might be the idea that he still has control over the major part of the room, but it seemed to make sense to him. Still messy, but not stinky. I can live with that.

    Comment by IdahoG-ma — March 29, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

  18. My grandma tells a story about a mom who, on passing a messy room but having resolved to only say positive things to her teenager, says, “My…look at that clean ceiling!” and kept on going down the hall.

    I am very much a believer in natural consequences. Probably, your daughter occasionally cannot locate something she really wants, and knows it is somewhere in there. I think I would pretty much stay out of it, but definitely let her know that I would be willing to help her if she decides she wants to do something about it.

    I think I would also make a push a few times a year to clean the whole house, including kids’ rooms. I think it’s important to start a new school year with your house in order, for example, and maybe a New Year clean-out, or end of the school year touch up. But day to day: I wouldn’t sweat it, if it really is just cluttered and not dirty.

    Comment by ESO — March 29, 2011 @ 5:52 pm

  19. Mel, I still think we should get our kids together.

    Comment by MCQ — March 29, 2011 @ 5:56 pm

  20. /sigh…
    we’re doing some looking into getting help with 7yr old offspring: turns out, his ADHD (or whatever it is) weighs in big when it comes to organizational habits. bribes and threats don’t do squat. Only one of us standing right there with him helping him move from one task to the next is of any effect.

    I’m hoping there will be some improvement by the time he’s a senior.

    Comment by G — March 29, 2011 @ 8:46 pm

  21. G, try not to worry. I was much the same way as a kid.

    Comment by MCQ — March 29, 2011 @ 8:54 pm

  22. My oldest kids are 9 and 7. Yes, I make them clean their rooms. And no, I don’t pay them for it. Like you, I think that chores and keeping their rooms clean are the price of being a contributing family member. If they want something, I have them do extra chores to pay for it. My daughter has ADHD (diagnosed) and keeping her room clean has always been a battle. I’ve learned that if I help her a little bit she doesn’t get so overwhelmed and give up before she even begins. My son has always been really good at doing chores. I enjoys them. He’s always helped since he was tiny unload the dishwasher or run the vacuum. He’s naturally helpful. And most of the time he cleans his room of his own volition.

    Comment by Risa — March 29, 2011 @ 9:42 pm

  23. No, I don’t pay for chores, although they get an allowance every week so they have their own spending/saving/tithing money. They are 10 and 11.

    The only ways my kids really clean their rooms is if I help them, and they actually do appreciate the help. This past week we dropped some money at Ikea for shelving units, baskets, closet organizers, etc. The kids and I put them together. Now we just have to get the junk off the floors and move the piles in the closets into the storage containers!

    Our house seems perpetually messy, but it never actually gets grimy, dirty, or smelly, thank goodness!

    Comment by meems — March 30, 2011 @ 8:20 am

  24. #21
    MCQ, I think that’s what G is afraid of!!

    Comment by Rusty — March 30, 2011 @ 8:58 am

  25. Well, not to split hairs, but our daughter’s allowance is actually a stipend which we sometimes hold over her head if she doesn’t clean her room, vacuum the house, polish the silver, etc. Is that the same as paying her for doing her chores? I haven’t given it much thought.

    But like mfranti’s daughter, ours gets good grades. She fills her free time with ballet, piano, cello and (it feels like) a bunch of youth activities. She cooks and sews for fun. She’s attentive to her appearance and sensitive to modesty. We may spoil her with some extra latitude like not having to maintain a perpetually immaculate room, but as I said, we pick our battles and this one’s nothing.

    A 15-year-old in our ward from a good, active family recently had a baby. A 17-year-old in the other ward in our building killed himself last week. Do you really think I give a rodent’s derriere about driving home the correct principle of a teen’s tidy room?

    Comment by David T. — March 30, 2011 @ 9:21 am

  26. his room really was awful… I found some Halloween candy from 4 months earlier.

    4 months? MONTHS????

    Amateur. Sheesh.

    Comment by Last Lemming — March 31, 2011 @ 6:24 am

  27. I was messy. I grew out of some of it. I was the youngest, so by the time my parents got to me, they didn’t have any desire to fight the clean-room-fight.

    College roomates, missionary companions, and the desire to have a somewhat neat living space should a female come over were much better devices for getting me out of messy habits than any allowance/threats from my parents.

    Comment by B.Russ — March 31, 2011 @ 11:04 am

  28. I was at least as messy as your daughter sounds (probably worse, though) from a very young age until I left for college. 10 years later, I’ve become a bit of a neat freak. My parents never made me clean my room, although they made their displeasure about the mess known. I think part of the problem when I was growing up was that all my belongs were kept in my tiny bedroom (I didn’t like to leave stuff in other parts of the house where people could “get” at it). Organizing it was just too overwhelming. Now my whole apartment is my space, and there’s enough space that I can keep things organized, and I really like it to be clean.

    Comment by Kathleen — April 2, 2011 @ 9:59 am

  29. It sort of sounds like “my” room. “Our” room is always neat and clean, but my room aka my cave is pretty much a cluttery mess 95% of the time. I clean it up totally spotless when it begins to bug me, which is long after it begins to bother Bill. But we can shut the door.

    Having raised my kids, looking back, if I had to do it over, I’d skip that particular battle and just shut the door.

    I was going to say I don’t know why I’ve become a slob in my old age (I was a pretty neat and clean teen) but then I remembered I work and I’m ill. Maybe teens are just stressed out. They get up early, they run all day, stay up late and catch up on their sleep on weekends.

    So I’d probably just shut the door on their sloppy mess today. Yeah.

    Comment by annegb — April 24, 2011 @ 8:40 am

  30. Good advice, annegb.

    Comment by MCQ — April 24, 2011 @ 11:49 am

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