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10 Steps to Cleaning a Child’s Room without Losing your Mind


One of parenting’s great problems: (cue scary music) Clean kid rooms

More than likely you’ve had those days when stepping into your child’s room takes great courage and agility. You see stuffed animals and toys strewn around the floor, dirty clothes that didn’t make it to the basket, papers on the floor, and Legos waiting to stab your feet. You sigh and walk away, too weary to argue.

I’ve been there! I’m by no means the Dali Llama of clean kids rooms, but I do have some steps that have helped us make the cleaning experience less traumatic for all. I pass these to you to make your life less stressful.

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Use these steps to help your child clean his room without sacrificing your sanity:

  1. Choose the right time. If you’re hungry, exhausted, or already stressed, do NOT choose that time to do an all-out clean and purge! Chances are that it will not end well. Same goes for your child, especially if you have a special needs child. Perhaps you could have a snack together first to give yourselves some enjoyable moments before the real work begins.
  2. Determine what is acceptable. Are you doing an I-can’t-stand-it-anymore purge and deep clean? Will you be satisfied with simply a cleared floor? If you know ahead of time what will make you happy for this session, you know when it’s ok to stop. Of course, if your children want to pass that, let them! But knowing the minimum is a great start.
  3. Create a list. In our family, our most successful cleaning sessions come from this step. Dr. J gets overwhelmed and has a hard time determining what to do next. Meatball gets distracted by playing. A list helps both of them stay on track. If your child cannot read yet, use both pictures and words. Gauge how detailed you have to be according to your child’s ability. In our family we list categories and I try to think of large items or the category with the most things on the floor first so that the impact is immediate. For example, our list might say, “Blankets, clothes, stuffed animals, books, crayons/markers/pens, and trash.”
  4. Have a new trash bag in the room. This makes it easier to throw things away. It also cuts down on distractions–your child won’t get sidetracked on the way back to her bedroom.
  5. Start. If your child is young or is not able to go point by point yet, you’ll need to stay in the room and help or just supervise. Some parents read a story while the child cleans. In my boys’ younger days, we’d work through the list together. Then we graduated–they would do one category and come get an adult to approve marking it off the list. Now Dr. J and Meatball work together and come get an adult when they think they’ve finished the list. (If you need a storage idea, I love using an over-the-door shoe organizer for art supplies.)
  6. Take breaks if necessary. Depending on the state of the mess and your child on that day, you may need to allow breaks. That’s ok! Don’t we sometimes break cleaning into chunks as adults?
  7. Consider using rewards. It’s also ok to use rewards. Yes, we want our children to know most of life requires work. However, haven’t you rewarded yourself with something from time to time when you tackled a project you didn’t want to do? In the younger years, I’d occasionally offer M&Ms or Smarties for getting an item on the list done. I don’t do that now, but it served its purpose to help my Aspie keep going toward his goal when he was younger.
  8. Check the job. Whether you’re checking at each point on the list, or at completion, make sure you check. Sometimes I haven’t, and later I find an explosion in a part of the room not visible from the doorway. You can’t get mad if you’re not willing to go in and check. Remember, you’re training.
  9. Encourage. Just like you want your spouse to acknowledge your hard work around the home or you desire a boss to notice your work on a project, our children like to know they’ve done a good job. Remember to tell them! This is also an opportunity to build a team spirit among your children. Comment on their working together to accomplish a goal.
  10. Maintain. This is where I fall short many times. I really want an afternoon clean up time, and in the busyness of the day I forget about it. We are most successful when I remember that afternoon pick up. Perhaps I should set an alarm on my phone.

Two final thoughts about children’s bedrooms:

  1. Remember they’re children, and that each personality is different, just like grown ups. I recommend allowing some freedom in how they keep their room, as long as they are safe and not posing a health risk. There may be times you simply need to shut the door so you don’t have to look inside. 🙂
  2. Reality is that I am not always calm when it comes to room cleaning time. In fact, I hate it. However, when I use these steps, the process goes much more smoothly. I hope they help you as well.

Do you have any tips to share that help you get through this process? Leave it in the comments–other parents may benefit from your experience!

Author: Jenny Herman

Jenny Herman is not anyone special or a hero. She's just a working special needs homeschool mom who uses the Power of One to "just keep swimming". Visit her blog to learn more.

12 thoughts on “10 Steps to Cleaning a Child’s Room without Losing your Mind

  1. I could NOT have said this any better. My boy has index cards with pictures and names on them. If I can’t find the cards (right?!?), I tell him, “go pick up books! Just books! Then we will talk after that.” Power of one, right mhm?
    #2 is most important, especially close to bedtime!

  2. My only tip…”don’t touch the cardboard!”

  3. Make the bed first. I try to tell my kids this EVERY TIME and it always helps. It gets blankets off of the floor, pillows and such where they belong. You have somewhere to sit or sort or pile clothes if the bed is nice and neat.

    Put the cards or chores on cardstock and punch through a corner, bind with a book ring (1/2 inch diameter or larger). You can be crafty and make it pretty with ribbons, but having the ring of chores listed room by room, spelled out for each room makes a difference for staying on task.

  4. Great article. Where was this when S was young?!

  5. These are great tips that remind me to have patience. When I go into my kids’ rooms and can’t even see the floor, I get so frustrated. I am trying to teach them maintenance reduces the time it take to clean their rooms. As of now, it’s a big job!

    • Hi, Tammy. It IS a tough job! Yesterday I had them clean up the clubhouse they’d created after letting them have it up for a week. The floor was clean before dinner, and this morning my husband couldn’t tell they’d cleaned. Hang in there!

  6. Fantastic post 🙂 (Yes, I’m on vacation this week and catching up on all the blogs I never have time to read between work and school. Don’t judge. LOL!) Room cleaning is a big one for us, for several reasons. First and foremost, cluttered, messy houses make me cranky. I mean, really cranky. It’s a thing. My kids are infamous for “misplacing” library materials. And we’re not going to talk about how many last minute, “It’s school spirit week and I need a tropical shirt tomorrow!” conversations we have. Toss three kids into the mix, factor in that the boys share a room and all three share a closet, and my daughter is a small tornado in her own right, and things get sticky quick! Soooo…

    …We pick up rooms every night. This often involves a fair amount of compromise. My oldest likes his dresser cluttered and his books stacked by the bed, and there is NO talking him out of that. My youngest likes stacking all of his books and cards he’s currently playing with on “his” half of the shelf between their beds. But overall, we get it done.

    …I gave up on keeping their beds made. It just doesn’t happen. And part of that is that they’re in too much of a hurry in the morning to worry about it. When I have time, I tidy up beds when I gather laundry. When I don’t, they stay rumpled. Not like they’re not going to get jumped on in 7 hours anyway 🙂

    …Thorough cleanings happen every weekend. This is where mom goes a little nuts and checks to make sure dresser drawers are sorted, toys and electronics have at least made it to the right place, and what goes on the shelves downstairs aren’t cluttering up the corners somewhere. This is also where the closet gets sorted out.

    Believe it or not, when we stay on top of it clean up takes less than 20 minutes a day, and less than half an hour to pick up, dust, vacuum and do glass on the weekends. And everyone is a lot happier. Does it always happen? No. Does mom occasionally get aggravated and sweep in with the Goodwill bag? Yes. But overall, they do pretty good with staying on top of it.

    The other thing I’ve discovered is worth its weight in gold when you have younger children is to have a basket for toys in each of the main rooms of the house. Not only does it make for quick pickup, it’s much easier for young children to put toys back in one basket than to sort them out, and much easier to find things in a smaller, room-sized basket than it is to go digging in a giant toybox for them!

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