“Set a timer, and ask them how fast they think they can do it.” This will work once, maybe, if the child is under the age of five. In response to this timer suggestion, a nine-year-old will reply, “You high.”
“If you want your kid to clean his room, make it a game.” If your child is dumb enough to fall for this, you’ve got bigger problems than a messy room.
While you could turn a blind eye and simply shut a door, which let’s face it is what you do most of the time, you can instead shut your child out of every privilege they’ve ever known until the room is clean. That is, threaten and follow-through with the threat. Does this inspire or motivate? Nay, nay.
When messes are overwhelming, break them down into smaller tasks.
It’s overwhelming, the mix of madness in my daughter’s room, from American Girl accessories to totally random items like birthday party gift bags, Old Maid cards, a collection of bouncy balls, stuffed animals, clothes upon clothes upon stray socks and winter boots, books scattered everywhere, hair ties, parts of science experiments, a doll stroller and crib, wind-up water toys, selfie props, dress-up clothes. My god, do I want to tear through there and just clean it up, but I know better.
After school yesterday, she had a meltdown when I refused to take her to the gym, where she loves to play in the kids’ academy. “Sorry, not happening. It’s a privilege to go there, and with a room like that, you haven’t earned the right to go.” She makes a show of crossing her arms and furrowing her brow. Tough shit, honey. “I love you too much to allow you to live like this,” I say. “A cluttered room is a cluttered mind.” If she ever becomes a stand-up comic, I’m fcuked.
“But it’s MY room, and if I want to live like this, if I’m okay with it, you should be!” She is crying and one eye is turning outward, which since infancy happens when she’s tired, squinting in the sun, or, well, crying. Just then I get my first glimpse of our mother daughter dynamic once she graduates from tween to teen. Not fcuking happening. I need to clip this shite now or the teenage Abigail will be a nightmare. “I’m the parent,” I repeat to myself.
“This isn’t a negotiation, and no matter how many times you whine or cry, I’m not changing my mind. Start with garbage, then make a pile of clothes, then a pile of books, then a pile of toys, then a pile of…” She says nothing. I hand her a contractor sized garbage bag and close the door behind me.
When I return 10 minutes later, she’s still sitting on her bed with her arms crossed.
STRIKE A POSE
Be the model for your child, get them started, show them how it’s done.
I inflate the garbage bag and toss in an oversized Barbie vehicle box. I remove all the items from her vanity, save for her hair bows, and make a pile on her ottoman. “Things you’ll take down to the playroom,” I instruct. “Get going,” I say, then walk out.
I then go downstairs to show Lucas a video on mindset. We watch a few clips, then Abby pokes her head down and says, “Done.” This is what she considers done:
I realize that one needs to pick her battles, that rather than go through this fight each time, I ought to simply close her door. But eff that noise. Because the hard truth is, this isn’t a “should,” as in, “Children should clean their own rooms,” and if my child doesn’t, then what will people think? No to the no. This is my belief that when we’re surrounded by clutter, we can’t truly relax. Literally, our eyes can’t relax. Your bedroom should be an oasis, a place to sleep. And being organized and clutter-free is a habit. I want to promote this habit, and it’s MY FAULT that things have come to this.
It’s my fault because up until now, I haven’t laid out any expectations. Sure, I muttered a general “clean your room,” but I haven’t held her accountable. There has been no weekly expectation of cleaning. That’s changing now. I’m whipping out a poster board and grabbing some golden foil stars for a checklist of a lifetime. This mama don’t mess.