With these simple steps, you can teach kids to not only keep their rooms tidy, but to keep their belongings well looked-after and manageable.
Step 1: Get your storage right
Four storage hubs per child is plenty:
- 1. Wardrobe. Hang coats, jackets, jumpers. Shoes belong on the floor of the wardrobe.
- 2. Chest of drawers. Drawers for underwear, socks, hats and gloves, trousers, and swimsuits. A separate drawer for each type of item.
- 3. Bookcase. Not just books, also for displaying treasures collected on travels, and special prized possessions. My son has a collection of dragons, while my daughter keeps her “shopkins” toys in a cloth bucket on her bookshelf.
- 4. Bucket. General toys that are too big for a bookcase belong in a bucket or crate. My daughter has a pink bucket for her soft toys. My son’s “bucket” is a plastic three-drawer set, as he’s into Lego and building stuff. Whatever works best.
Step 2: Cull regularly
- One in, one out. Do regular culls of outgrown and disused items with your kids, and have a “one in, one out” policy.
- Messy rooms = too much stuff. Always. If a child has problems with a very messy room or too many belongings, a “one in, two out” policy might work better for a while. If a room is constantly messy, more stuff needs to go.
- The art of letting go. Help kids say goodbye to old stuff by explaining that old things need to make way for new, better belongings.
- Donate freely. Bring your child to the charity drop-off point when donating items. My kids enjoy knowing their pre-loved items will help others.
Bonus tip: Don’t let your kids inside the charity shop, or you might end up with more junk than you came to give away!
Step 3: Help kids with regular room cleaning
- Kids need help. Most kids are not able to effectively clean their own rooms until they’re into their teenage years. They’ll just shuffle the mess around instead!
- Active tidying requires removal of unnecessary belongings. Most children lack the willpower and drive to do this alone until they’re quite mature. So they need your help.
- Teach correctly. Use tidying time to teach children correct ways to put away clothes (folded in drawers, hung correctly on hangers), and clothing care (folding socks in pairs, checking for damaged clothing, mending).
- Kids need repetition. Kids need to be shown some skills many times before they grasp them properly. This is normal.
- Kids need supervision. Without supervision, a typical child will dump clothing messily in drawers and at the bottom of wardrobes, or on the floor in piles.
I clean my children’s rooms with them about once every couple of months. That includes active removal of old clothes, old toys, and general junk lying around. Then we vacuum and dust together.
Step 4: Clean kids rooms together
- Don’t be your children’s maid. Don’t be a mystical cleaning fairy, doing the work when your children aren’t around. They won’t learn anything that way!
- Clean, dust and vacuum together. Let your child do what they can of the work themselves, even if it is slow.
- Relax while they struggle. Jobs only get easier with practice. Work is meant to be hard when you’re new to it!
- Give kids responsibility. Older children can – and should – do washing, ironing and mending of their own clothing and bedding.
Older children can – and should – maintain their rooms fully, including changing light globes, washing windows, and mending any fixtures. They can also help paint and redecorate when needed.
Kids need to be taught how to care for their belongings and how to be tidy, and they need to be taught repeatedly until it’s a habit. It takes work to teach kids properly, but doing so will create tidy kids with great habits that will serve them well all through their lives – and yours.