What I Learned Cleaning My Kids’ Bedrooms

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Cleaning my kids’ bedrooms wasn’t on the top of my list of fun things to do, but it turned out to be a liberating experience for all of us. And I learned so much about my sweet people.

What I Learned Cleaning My Kids' Bedrooms

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If you get the Sunday newsletter, you already know what our family has been doing to keep ourselves occupied this past weekend: getting the whole house clean at one time.

We rent, and for the most part, it’s been a great experience. But, you can imagine how hard it is to get every room spic and span — at ONE TIME! — for the yearly visit from the owners of our house. They want to see the condition of the house (i.e. every room). And my pride will not allow them to see every room at less than its best.

While this is in some ways a major headache, it’s also a really great motivation to dejunk.

This year instead of having the kids clean on their own and presumably stash things in the closets, I took on the challenge a la Marie Kondo to help them do it. There are two kids to a room; three kids’ bedrooms. I spent one day on each, and let me tell you I learned a ton cleaning my kids’ bedrooms!

Back in March when I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I had every intention of reforming the whole house, including cleaning my kids’ bedrooms. But when my body started rebelling against me, I kinda gave up that dream.

However, necessity is the mother of invention, or at least motivation. In the last week, we have sent three barrels of recycling, two barrels of trash, and a pick-up truck of donations out of our house! Oy! I never want to go shopping again.

What I Learned Cleaning My Kids’ Bedrooms

Here are some of the things I’ve been pondering as I bask in the glory of having cleaned three kids’ bedrooms in as many days.

Cleaning My Kids' Bedrooms (2)

1. A good attitude goes a long way.

In previous times when I approached cleaning my kids’ bedrooms, I did so with a pretty bad attitude. I had a hard time keeping my cool when I saw ridiculous messes and spent the bulk of the time ranting and raving. We got the room cleaned, but at what cost?

For whatever reason (divine intervention?) I didn’t do that this time. I just said, “Hey. We’re going to clean your room. I’m going to help, and we’re going to do it all until it’s totally done.”

And, grace be to God, I didn’t rant or rave. We actually had a pretty good time chatting and sorting. We found lost things that are still precious, relived old memories, and talked about what’s special to us.

It was beautiful, even though I was surrounded by Lego and piles of stuff.

2. Clutter is a burden to them as much as it is to me. No one wants to carry it alone.

In the past I’ve also been guilty of leaving the kids to their messes. In the instances when I didn’t want to rant, I left them to figure it out on their own.

Considering that it’s taken me 43 years to get a hold on my clutter, how can I expect kids ages 7 to 18 to have it mastered already? They aren’t sure what to do with stuff. They need to be taught. They need help making those decisions that are still hard for us to make!

We gutted every closet, every storage tote, every drawer. It got worse, but then it got so much better.

I also made the U14 crowd try on every piece of clothing — 5,432,987 items — just so there was no question as to what fit. Trust me when I say God gave me an extra portion of patience. Pray hard, mamas!

Cleaning My Kids' Bedrooms

I was surprised at:

  1. what a burden some of these possessions were to them.
  2. how relieved they were when we ditched a superfluous item.

Our kids need help and companionship to work through the “stuff” of life. I’m gonna hazard a guess that ours may be the first generation that has had SO MUCH STUFF that it’s even an issue. Laura Ingalls didn’t have a clutter problem, you know?

Cleaning my kids’ bedrooms WITH them was a surprising blessing to us both. We were literally in the trenches together. Hopefully, they’re a little more equipped to answer those important questions:

  • Do I like it?
  • Do I need it?
  • Do I use it?
  • Could someone enjoy it more than I?

3. Gifts create obligation.

We love to give our kids gifts, right? Christmas and birthdays are a highlight around here. In a post-“cleaning my kids’ bedrooms” fit, I vowed to give only clutter-free stocking stuffers, and I’ve tried really hard to give them twaddle-free Christmas gifts. But, I found that I still miss the mark.

Not so much with the girls, but in both the boys’ bedrooms, I found many, many unused Christmas gifts, some from me, some from extended family. The boys felt seriously obligated to keep the gifts even though they weren’t things that they truly wanted.

That’s how I scored the Einstein t-shirt that I bought for FishBoy14 last Christmas. It still had the tags on it! But, it’s mine now.

You can bet that I will think twice before I buy physical gifts and will focus on experiences and gifts that they for sure request going forward. Made my shopping easier!

More importantly though, I don’t want my kids to keep a lot of stuff out of obligation. I’m sure it’s a lesson we’ll need to revisit, but we’ve started the conversation, and I hope they’ll reap benefits soon.

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4. It’s okay to push, even when they’re adults.

FishBoy18 was a great sport until we got to his chest of drawers. It was packed to the gills, and he just didn’t want to face it. Since he’s a man already, I choose my battles carefully. He said he would do it later. I weighed that against the joy set before me of having a totally dejunked house.

And I pushed.

I just dug in, pulling out trash, bags of beef jerky from ENGLAND last fall, remote control helicopters, and other miscellany. Within 15 minutes the drawers were emptied, the clothing sorted, and all the clothes that he didn’t love but had felt obligated to keep were gone.

Boom. Done.

1 happy mom.

1 happy-albeit-abashed-to-say-Mom’s-right teenager.

I suppose if he were living in the dorms, I wouldn’t be doing this. But, revisit point #2.

5. Silverfish are disgusting.

So is foam packing that looks like poop.

There were a couple moments when I shrieked and thought I would die. I was so relieved to find out that the stuff in the box that seriously looked like hobbit-sized poop, was really a packing peanut. If we can call it that.

And we had some friendly banter about the silverfish, aptly named Grendel and Grendel’s mother.

Honestly, these things bonded me with my boys. We had some good laughs (eventually) — they’re just as freaked by silverfish as I am — and I made some sweet memories cleaning my kids’ bedrooms!

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6. It’s so freeing once it’s clean and decluttered.

We’ve all been on cloud nine since we finished the Big Clean Out. After church on Saturday when I followed a boy into his newly cleaned room, I watched him jump in surprise. He had forgotten how clean his room was!

It seems like they’ve all sighed this huge sigh of relief. The clutter and chaos that was weighing them down is off their shoulders. It’s so nice to know that I got to watch this. And to learn from it.

(And yes, I know these rooms may look sparse or under-decorated to some people. I got a lot of flack once when I shared our Simple Kids’ Rooms. Just for the record, our kids are allowed to decorate. No one has expressed an interest to do so. If they’re happy with simple, so am I.)

Cleaning my kids’ bedrooms was surprisingly a really great experience — for all of us! I know that eventually some of it will wear off, and we’ll have to do it again. That Kondo lady is nuts if she thinks “you’ll never have to clean your house again”, but I feel better equipped to do it again and to enter the gift-giving season.

And my kids’ bedrooms.

Do YOU help clean your kids’ bedrooms?


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  1. I am curious, do you have your children clean/pick up their rooms every day/night as part of their regular chores? I am wondering because I am struggling to help my little one ( 4 year old) keep her room clean/picked up enough to see the floor and take some ownership in caring for her belongings.

    1. It really depends on the day, week, month. When I’ve been “on my game”, yes, a daily check. Until I get buried. That’s life, I guess, right? If you keep up on things, it will always be easier.

  2. As always, love your writing, insights and humor. We too rent and have a much smaller home than we have ever experienced before. But, we are fortunate to have the home! So, we are moving towards a simpler lifestyle as well. You are correct in stating this generation of children has a tremendous amount of “stuff” and are probably just as overwhelmed by it as we are.
    thanks once again for a wonderful post!

  3. I really appreciated this-especially the pictures-and the silverfish on the east coast are gross too! 😉 We also have sparsely decorated bedrooms and like it that way. One of mine does have his artwork up and down his closet door and the back of his door, but we all like our spaces de-junked so we can access our treasures! I help mine clean up and declutter too. I probably help too much and need to learn to sit beside them quietly and see what they’ll get rid of without prompting. One of mine gets overwhelmed; so I cleaned out his closet and bagged up everything I felt certain he was overwhelmed with keeping. Then I let him go through it, and happily I’d chosen the right things, and found he was relieved to let those things go! I’d be relieved if someone would clean out MY closet right now and just leave behind my favorite things. 😉

  4. yes I do too. like u said – if its hard for us it’s hard for them. I need to work on the whole having him help me thing, like u pushed about the dresser. I usually just say ok i’ll finish it. when I did a huge declutter a few months ago he LUVD it. He also had that HUGE relief sigh!

  5. That is the plan this winter we its too cold to do anything. Start in one room and work my way through the house.

  6. I think those bedrooms look amazing! I would love for my kids’ rooms to look like those, but alas, we have 5 boys in one regular bedroom. I do have the clothes of the youngest three in the master bedroom, which keeps them from pulling it all out and making a huge mess, but we still struggle with all the “stuff”. I am praying about how to help them deal with the stuff. I can’t imagine having the whole house clean and decluttered at the same time! It’s my ultimate fantasy! LOL

  7. One boy-14 years old. I have never had to clean his room, he does it on his own. He loves to get rid of things. My biggest problem is that he wants to put all of his give-aways into my room (we had to have a discussion about that one.) He also has a very sparse room. I don’t think teenage boys are into decorating. A few months ago, we went through every item of clothing in his closet and drawers. He was so happy to get rid of items that no longer fit. It’s a relief when your drawers actually open and close easily. I wish I could get rid of clothes as easily as my son. If I get rid of clothes, I will have to admit that I have gained weight and can no longer wear them…

  8. Wow, those bedrooms look amazing! I would love to see you expand on this topic. For instance, where are all your kids toys, books, games, stuffed animals, etc? I’d love to see pictures of inside drawers and closets also. I am always interested to learn the details of how other families keep their kids rooms clean. We have 1 girl in her own room and 5 boys split in 2 rooms, so very similar to you, but our bedrooms are full to overflowing!

    1. I’ll share how we store our toys. I love this topic too! We are blessed to have a living room that we turned into a library/playroom/piano room. We homeschool but don’t like to look at all the homeschool messes we make. All the books fit on shelves, and the messier things are in a cabinet with doors. We lined one wall with bookshelves specifically for all the toys to go in square baskets and clear shoebox size tubs. It makes it easy to take containers to another room to play and then put everything back. Toy boxes did not work for us, but the shelves are great! If we had a big walk-in closet though, that would be my ideal to have a toy closet- line it with shelves and store all the toys in there out of sight. If we had to keep toys in the bedrooms, I would build shelves into closets and put pull out drawers under beds for the toys. Favorite stuffed animals live on each child’s beds. Only one of mine went stuffed animal wild and had a lot of them. They have a place in the bedroom closets for little treasures , but thankfully almost all the toys are in one place, and that space limits the amount we have at any time. I tried rotating toys, but we don’t have a closet to store the extras; so we just keep what is played with an get rid of things as soon as they’re outgrown or neglected. The children all love to play together most of the time, but we have quiet time built into our day when they select toys to enjoy by themselves in their rooms or the older ones might go off to play a board game together. They love that time and then love getting back together to play more with everyone again.

      1. I forgot to say they also have small bookshelves as night stands; so they always have favorite books close by. Bookshelves with baskets make a great place to store a few special toys if you need more toy storage.

  9. Thank you so much for this post! What struck me is A. it’s taken me 40+ years too to figure out this clutter thing, how can my son be expected to master it so young. And B. the clutter weighs on our kids too. Definitely some food for thought this morning. Thanks!

  10. Great story and lesson!
    I try to go through my kids’ rooms with them about once a year. Your point of expecting them to know what to do with everything when we are drowning in clutter ourselves is a good one. Yep, it is important for kids to take responsibility for themselves and their possessions, but it is also our job to guide them so they can do so well. Sounds like you did that beautifully.
    Guiding them is often a great refresher for me, too.
    Way to go.

  11. You make me want to jump into my boys rooms and clean with them. Even I feel the weight of the stuff in my younger son’s room (since he seems to not only have his own toys and stuff right now but all the “inherited” stuff from his older brother), so I can’t imagine how he feels. Actually…yes I can, since he never spends time in there. Thanks for the motivation…the room looks great!

  12. I still feel the obligation of gifts of family “treasures”. Consequently, I have worked hard to teach my children to say thank you for all gifts, but to not feel obligated to keep anything they do not want. We have an aunt that feels insulted if someone wants to exchange a gift. What is the point of keeping a t-shirt that is two sizes too small? We thank her for all gifts, but only keep what is wanted and will be used. Unwanted items are exchanged, returned or donated.

  13. Cleaning the rooms, no. But the now 14 yo has had 2 major redesigns of furniture in 2 years that has instigated major deep clean and purging. Before that he kept it clean on his own but then he outgrew a ton of stuff–and not just clothes. So I went in with him and helped him like what you did this weekend—yes, liberating to both of us. After that he was able to keep it clean. Just moved some furniture last week because 18yo found a full size desk for $20 so his got moved to brothers’ room. So, we are now having to work backwards, barely made room for the desk and now have to clean. Since it needs to be reorganized it looks like I’ll be going in again—and I’m hoping that will get me another 2 years. 😉 The 18yo, no but I’ve found it helps with his busy schedule to give him the buckets for stuff to keep, throw away, donate and then have him work on a section at a time. That usually inspires him to keep moving—that and no FB or skype with long distance girlfriend if he doens’st stay on track. 🙂 He’s so particular it’s hard for me to help, but it just helps him with my reassuring that he CAN put stuff in the trash or donate piles.