Parenting

How To Stop Caring About Your Teen’s Messy Room

The start of the 2020-21 academic year loomed large on the horizon.

Soon my four kids would be remote learning from the desks in their bedrooms. After six months of social distancing in the home, the kids’ rooms had fallen into a state of chaos.

It was time to right the sinking ship.

I spotted at least a dozen online articles on how to set up proper remote learning centers for your children. Pottery Barn-inspired photos of desk spaces filled my social media feeds. Other parents posted screenshots of their organizational charts, lists, and supply bins.

This was so not my jam.

teen's messy room

Determined, I asked my kids to Marie Kondo their personal spaces. Kondo says, “Tidy your space & transform your life.” Sounds pleasant, right?

Over the next week, my three boys gutted their rooms. We donated an enormous box of old toys and books to Goodwill. We shifted closets to fall wardrobes, packing away all of their ill-fitting, old clothes.

My daughter, though? She is something else altogether.

Dirty dishes line her desk. Some grow fuzz from sitting there for so long. Clothes and papers collect under her bed. Canvases, brushes, easels, and other supplies crowed every nook and cranny of my teen artist’s bedroom. Stacks of books line the walls.

For three days, we argued over the state of her room. When I handed her a garbage bag and told her to clear the desk, she started chucking EVERYTHING into it.

Frustrated, I asked myself, “Why do I care so much about my teen’s messy room?”

Identify Your Why: Is My Teen’s Messy Room Worth the Battle?

Put differently: What difference will winning the battle over your teen’s messy room make in the long term?

How do you minimize time spent in power struggles with your teens? You identify your core values for your family and rate their importance to you. Save your battles for the issues at the top of your list, and don’t budge on them.

When I took the time to think about my core family values, neat and tidy bedrooms didn’t rank at all on my list.

Listen, I’m a messy person.

Some psychologists believe tidiness is learned. All of the matriarchs in my family value neatness and order. Somehow, these values didn’t stick with me. As soon as I left the nest, I shed the chore charts and cleaning buckets and lived the way I wanted to live.

A tidy house means nothing to me. While I like to keep our communal spaces clean, I don’t want to waste a second of this precious life agonizing over clutter. I’d rather be doing anything else.

We all have different “messiness thresholds,” and mine is high.

Back to my daughter’s room…

She is her most creative self amid squalor. It may sound bizarre, but it’s true. Some creative people thrive in this type of environment. To me, her room looked disheveled. To her, there was a place for everything.

Albert Einstein once asked, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

teen's messy room

There is character in the paint stains on her desk. It’s in the acrylic paintings scattered all over her floor. And it’s in the stack of fifty sketchbooks the sit on the nightstand. There’s even character in the murky water of her paintbrush washer and basin.

Her thinking differs fundamentally from someone who prefers his or her personal space to be orderly and neat. I love this about her!

Why, then, was I fighting over her messy room?

When I picked apart my reasoning, there was no substance there to back it up. Our cleaning-obsessed culture had led me to believe I was failing my children if I didn’t nag them to death over the state of their rooms.

There is nothing wrong with keeping a neat and tidy home. I just don’t care.

I will battle over many things—self-respect, respect for others, safety, independence, education, etc.

For me, a messy room isn’t worth the battle. It doesn’t fit with my other parental values (or my personality).

Rather than digging my heels in on the issue of my teen’s messy room, I opted to set my ground rules instead.

teen's messy room

Set Your Rules & Expectations For Your Child’s Room

There’s a difference between messy and dirty. Period.

Obviously, you want to avoid mold, foul odors, bugs, critters, etc. because those things aren’t good for anyone.

The moldy dishes my daughter left on her desk for months on end? Yeah, those needed to go to the kitchen. The trash needed to be taken to the rubbish bin or recycling. Any crumbs or food on the floor needed to be vacuumed.

The clutter? Well, it stays. Unless she wants to tidy it up. She doesn’t have to do it for me.

Instead, I made a list of remote learning rules that WERE important to me and went over them with my children:

  • Clear enough free space on your desk for chrome book and notebook. You will not report to class from your bed. You will not wear pajamas.
  • Place your cell phones on the dining room table. When you are engaged in remote learning, you do not need to text, check social media, or surf the Internet. You may check your texts during breaks.
  • You will do a remote learning “check in” with mom at the conclusion of the school day.

These are my battles, folks. You’ll have to determine your own.

Communal Space V. Personal Space

When the pandemic began and we all quarantined, I created chore cards for my kids. These cards contained daily chores for our communal living spaces.

Keeping communal spaces clean (not tidy) and working together as a family rank high for me. Communal space is different from personal space.

My kids have learned to do their own laundry, prepare food, clean bathrooms, mop floors, dust, etc. These practical, useful skills make them more independent. And I value independence.

But bedrooms?

teen's messy room

For all I care, they can be the messiest teens alive. In my world messy rooms are small potatoes.

It’s important to create your own rules for your home. Either you’re bothered by the clutter, or you’re not.

If you’re not, I have one piece of advice for you…

Close the Door to Your Teen’s Messy Room

Ask yourself why your teen’s messy room causes you to rage?

Is it a reflection of your parenting skills? A sign of your teen’s disobedience? A blatant slap in your face?

Nah, it’s not about you. It never was. If you let go of your fear of failure, you’ll realize there is a simple solution to this “mess.”

You close the door.

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