If you have a teen living with you, then you know how challenging it can be to keep their room neat and organized. But as frustrating as it is, it might comfort you to know that you’re not alone. When I was in high school, there was an incident at our home where a break-in was suspected and the police were called. Although it was determined that in fact we hadn’t been robbed, when they got to my bedroom they took pause: drawers were out of the dresser, piles of clothes littered the floor and every surface, jewelry was strewn across the bed, and so on. They were concerned.
I’m sure my mother was mortified to admit that the burglarized-looking room was just in its normal state. And I’ll never forget the shame and ridiculousness of the moment: being told by police officers that I needed to clean up that mess was pretty awful. The incident stuck with me, and as an adult, I’m a fastidious cleaner and organizer. But it took a few years even still, and the help of a professional organizer, for me to figure out how.
So how do you get your teenagers to keep to keep their spaces clean without constant nagging? It’s not a one-step solution; you have to tackle it from a few angles. Minimize clutter, establish manageable rules, and create storage solutions that are easy to maintain. Try this hit list:
How to Organize Your Teen’s Room
Get Involved & Keep it Positive
It would be lovely if you could just tell them to go clean their rooms and be done with it, but we all know the world doesn’t work that way. And yes, it might be tempting to ground them until they get their room in order. But for longterm success, consider another way. Being positive — and helping them out.
- Volunteer to block out a chunk of time and help them get the process underway. Showing your teen that you care enough to dedicate your own time is a good way to kickstart their interest in cleaning up, too.
- Ask them how you can be most helpful. They might want you to overhaul their wardrobe, or just sit by and keep them company.
- Encourage your teen with positive reinforcement as you work together. This method is discussed a lot with toddlers, but teens need it, too!
- Once the big clean-up is done, pop in at least weekly to check in and keep them on track.
Reduce “Stuff” to a Minimum — and Keep it that Way
Teens are halfway between childhood and adulthood and it gets confusing for them (and you). It also gets… cluttered. Your teenager is likely holding onto a bunch of junk from childhood they don’t really need, but aren’t sure how to part with. The first step in organizing your teen’s room is to get rid of what they don’t need:
- Help them go through and look at each individual object. Decide what is being kept, tossed, donated, or passed down to a younger sibling.
- Talk about what they’re keeping and why. If there’s a strong memory attached to something useless or broken, help them find other ways to commemorate that moment and send the junk to the trash.
- Incentivize the giveaway aspect by reminding them that there’s no room for new gadgets, clothes, bedding, etc. when there’s a pile-up of the old.
- Handle each item right away. Stumbled upon a library book? Return it that day. Found a release for an upcoming field trip? Sign it now and put it in their backpacks. Simply moving things around is not going to clear out the mess.
- Don’t force them to toss things, but set common-sense guidelines. Eg: if your teen is hoarding 20 stuffed animals, tell her 15 have to go.
- Once the room is cleared out by at least a third of the items inside, set up a day on the calendar every month for them to do it again. Stuff accumulates — for adults and kids. The only way to get ahead of it is to keep going through it.
Purchase Logical Storage Solutions
Teens get overwhelmed and throw in the towel just like adults. Once you’ve cleared out the excess stuff, reward their efforts (and build in some success) with new storage that will keep the clutter up and away.
- Sturdy, free-standing laundry bins like these take the guesswork out of separating their dirty clothes and also keep the piles looking clean and discreet.
- Invest in baskets and bins that fit your teen’s aesthetic and provide a logical place for them to toss phone chargers, school papers, knickknacks, and so on. Pottery Barn Teen has tons of ideas.
- Consider a bigger bookcase where they can keep not only books, but other miscellaneous items that typically end up on the floor.
- Maximize their closet space with hanging organizers that double-up to accommodate shoes and clothes in one spot.
Just what every teenager wants: more rules, right? Keep them simple, reasonable, and easy to follow:
- No food in the room (but water is fine). Only put this rule in place if you’re able to give them some space to enjoy snacks alone in other parts of the house as they please. If kids feel like they have no space, they start to rebel, so respect boundaries but also keep the wrappers out of the bedroom.
- Ask them to empty their trash bin every other day. Once it becomes a part of the routine, it won’t be hard to maintain.
- Make sure that before hangouts or extracurriculars, the room gets a quick clean-up. Now that there’s less stuff everywhere, it’ll be a lot easier to wrap this up in ten minutes or less.
- Remind them that making the bed and opening the curtains can make a huge difference.
Most importantly, keep the dialogue open with your teens. Not only about the clutter, but about their lives. I know it’s frowned upon to be a “friend” to your kids instead of a parent, but honestly you need to be both. Respect your kids’ space but remind them that even though it’s their room, it’s in your house. And if they want to enjoy it, they’re going to have to put the work in, just like you do.