Dear 1-on-1 Coaching: Help! My Teen’s Room is a Pigsty!

Posted September 29, 2008 by

Dear 1-on-1 Coaching:

Help! My teen-aged daughter’s room is a complete pigsty. I work hard to keep the house clean, but every time I walk past her door, I just get so frustrated. Clothes, half-eaten food, and papers everywhere. When I tell her to clean her room, she tells me she’ll do it “later.” When she does eventually get around to it, most times she just moves one pile of clothes to another part of her room. How can I get her to clean her room according to my specifications, which honestly, is just good hygiene?

Jenny in Peoria, Illinois

Dear Jenny,

Children often have a vastly different idea of what “clean” is. They seem to be able to live in a disorganized mess without any difficulty at all! It’s important to understand that most children are somewhat messy by nature. If you expect them to care about cleanliness and order, you will often be disappointed. Before you sit down with your child, think about what you need in order to feel your child’s room is acceptable. You’ll be more successful if your expectations fall somewhere between your child’s “all-out mess” and your “everything in its place.” Some parents institute a “clean before the school week” policy, in which they ignore their child’s messy room throughout the weekend, but insist that it be clean and organized to begin the start of the week.

If you are struggling with enforcing a “clean room’ policy, here are some tips that might help:

First, sit down with your child and have a discussion about the rules and expectations in your household around cleaning. You might say something like, “Cleaning your room is your responsibility. It doesn’t need to be spotless, but it does need to meet my criteria for clean, not yours.” Present your expectations clearly and thoroughly. If you say “your room needs to be clean,” that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Be specific: “your room is clean when the clean clothes are folded and put away, dirty clothes are in the hamper, and any dishes are put in the dishwasher. Your bed needs to be made, and your trash can needs to be emptied. I need to be able to actually see your floor.” Some families even have a checklist so that nothing is overlooked.

Many children will try to debate with you about their room, claiming that it is “their space,” or that it is clean enough for them. If this happens, do not explain or defend your rules. Simply state, “You don’t have to agree with the rules. You do need to figure out how to comply with them.” Remember, if you are trying to make your child live up to conditions you would live in, you will likely be disappointed. Present an expectation that is reasonable, and don’t defend or explain it.
If your child refuses to have the discussion, or puts it off until later, you can say, “I know this isn’t your favorite topic. We do need to discuss it. You do not have access to electronics until we have this discussion. I’m available until 7 pm tonight.” Once you’ve said this, walk away from your child. Do not continue to engage in a debate or argument.

Many parents tell their child to clean their room, only to be met with “I’ll do it later.” Twenty minutes later, you have to tell them again. An hour later, they’re still playing video games, and you’re frustrated and angry. Instead of telling your child to “do it now,’ give them a clear time range. Let them know that if their room is not clean by a certain time, they will lose a privilege for that day. For example: “You have until 5 pm to clean your room. If it’s not done by 5, you lose TV for the night, and you’ll have to try again tomorrow.” When you present the information in this way, you no longer have to remind your child to get it done. They have to take the responsibility to complete the chore, or face the consequence. For really tough cases, you could offer: “Your room needs to be cleaned up every day by 5 pm. When you’ve been able to do that for 5 days in a row, you can go down to picking up your room every other day.” Whatever you decide, stick with it. Your consistency will help your child change his or her behavior.

By the way, If you are a Total Transformation customer, you can access 1-on-1 Coaching Service for help with this and other challenges you’re experiencing with your child. 1-on-1 Coaches have helped hundreds of parents customize a plan of action to help children take responsibility for their rooms, and we can help you, too. Specialists can also work with you to formulate realistic, appropriate consequences to help enforce your household rules. Stick with it, and let us know how it works!



Megan Devine is a licensed clinical therapist, former 1-on-1 Coaching Advisor, speaker and writer. She is also the bonus-parent to a successfully launched young man. You can find more of her work at, where she advocates for new ways to live with grief.

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