Messy room? How to help your child keep it neat

ByThe Understood Team

At a glance

  • It’s common for kids of all ages to have messy bedrooms.

  • Some kids want to be neat but need help with organization.

  • Being clear and specific on what you expect makes it easier for your child to follow through.

If your child’s bedroom is a mess of toys, clothes, and other stuff, you’re not alone. It’s common for kids of all ages to have trouble keeping their rooms neat.

Some kids may like having a messy bedroom (“I know where everything is!”). For others, it’s a stage, like a child showing independence or a teen overwhelmed by new responsibility. And then there are the kids who have ongoing trouble with organization and need more help.

Whatever the cause, you can do things to encourage your child to clean up a messy bedroom. Here’s how to help kids to keep their rooms neat.

Be specific about what a “messy room” is.

Just saying “Your room is a mess” doesn’t tell kids what they need to do to fix it. Some kids need very specific instructions.

When your child’s room is clean, walk through it together and point out what makes it clean: “There are no toys on the floor because they’re put away. The bed is made. Your clothes are hanging in the closet, not thrown on the floor. Nice job.” You can even take a picture of the room when it’s neat so your child can refer to it.

Be clear about how much mess is OK.

Sometimes your child’s room is just a little messy and you might let it slide. But it’s important to let your child know what you won’t accept. If you can’t stand it when Legos are all over the floor, be clear with your child: “The Legos need to be put away as soon as you’re done with them. You can put them in the special Legos bin.”

Explain why it’s a problem.

Some kids don’t see the point of cleaning up. For them, it helps to explain why neatness matters. You might say things like:

  • “If you don’t pick up the Legos, you’ll step on them and hurt your feet.”
  • “When clothes are crumpled on your bed, they get wrinkled and look bad.”
  • “If you don’t throw away those food wrappers, it may attract bugs.”

Be careful, though, not to nag or repeat yourself over and over, which can backfire.

Use visual reminders.

Some kids need help remembering how areas like bookshelves are supposed to look when neat. Take a picture of the bookshelf when it’s organized, and post it on the wall. You can also include notes, like: “Books go tallest to shortest.” Another helpful tip: Keep a chores checklist on the door so your child can mark off each chore as it gets done.

Get rid of junk and outdated things.

One of the best ways to help kids keep their room neat is by getting rid of clutter. Once a year, go through the closet together to get rid of clothes and shoes your child has outgrown. You can also get rid of old toys, school papers, and anything else your child doesn’t need anymore. This can make cleaning the bedroom less overwhelming.

Have a place for everything.

Kids may struggle with cleaning their room if it isn’t clear where things are supposed to go. Make sure there’s a place for everything kids use and that it’s easy for them to put things back. That goes for clothes, toys, books, sports equipment, musical instruments, art supplies, and anything else they use a lot.

Pay special attention to the study area.

A neat, uncluttered place to do homework and study is important for kids who struggle with focus or organization. Make sure your child’s study area is clean, even if it’s not in the bedroom. Show your child how to keep homework organized in different folders for each subject.

Be a role model.

If you expect kids to keep their room clean, it’s only fair that you keep your own bedroom clean, too. Asking kids to make their bed when you haven’t made yours won’t go down well. Your room doesn’t need to look perfect, but try to keep it up to the same standards you have for your child.

Praise your child’s efforts.

If you cheer on your child for tidying up, you’ll encourage more of that behavior. Even if kids don’t clean their rooms perfectly, it’s good to praise them for making the effort. “The floor is much cleaner now — thanks for putting away your toys.”

Your child’s room may never end up spotless. But by explaining why neatness matters and supporting your child, you can help get your child’s bedroom in much better shape.

Key takeaways

  • Get rid of clutter, like old clothes and toys, so your child has fewer things to organize.

  • Hang a picture of the bedroom when it’s neat to show what to aim for.

  • Be a role model for your child by keeping your room neat, too.

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About the author

About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.