Today, I’m sharing our room cleaning plan for getting kids to actually pick up their stuff.

A couple months ago, a friend asked me what our expectations were for our kids’ bedrooms because her child’s room was about to send her right over the edge!

Oh yes. Bedrooms. Combine “treasures,” collections, stuffed animals, and countless LEGO models with laundry that has been haphazardly shoved in the drawers and a sprinkling of dirty socks, and you have a BIG MESS! I think that all four of my boys would be content to leave things right where they happened to fall and not even notice or care. It’s possible that 2 year old Janie might not be quite as much of a slob. She definitely has more of a built-in sense of order, but the jury is still out on that one.

How to Get Kids to Clean Their Own Rooms

Why are kids so messy anyway?

  • Lack of organization skills at a young age.
  • Being easily overwhelmed with a large mess.
  • Not putting things away when they are done with them.
  • Putting things away in a lazy way, i.e. clothes hanging out of dresser drawers.
  • Prioritizing fun and easy (playing) over what needs to be done.

If you think about it, these reasons fall into two categories. One category is practical skills that need to be taught (how to organize, how to vacuum, how to tackle a large job) and the other category is character training (doing things we don’t feel like doing, doing what mom and dad say to do, taking care of things now because it will pay off later, etc). So if you have an issue with a perpetually messy bedroom, you’ve got to address both sides.

Does a clean room really matter?

Honestly, it’s up to you. If your life is crazy and the kids’ rooms are the thing that needs to slide right now, then that’s your call. I totally get it – some seasons you just can’t do it all. I wouldn’t recommend taking on a new cleaning routine if you have a brand new baby, etc. But at the same time, there are some very good reasons to teach kids to keep their rooms clean and to hold them accountable for actually doing it.

My husband feels very strongly about this. He wants our boys to be self-disciplined with their rooms because it sets them up for a self-disciplined life. Habits developed in the early years can pay off later! And really at any age, it’s difficult to have an organized life if one’s personal space is a mess. The consequences now are things like broken toys (from stepping on them) and lost library books, but later they become things like bills not paid on time, the car insurance card gone missing, re-purchasing items that are lost, etc. We can’t be good stewards of the stuff God has given us if we have no idea where it is, not to mention the time wasted looking for things.

For several years, our system was to clean the kids’ room when we got to it or when the mess was so bad we couldn’t stand it anymore. Sometimes we made them clean it by themselves, and other times we helped them clean it depending on how much time we had. Then two years ago, we started our current weekly chore system. It has been a HUGE improvement! Much less frustration on both sides.

Steps to a Clean Bedroom

1. Streamline the Stuff. Most kids are overwhelmed by a lot of stuff to keep up with. If your child’s room is perpetually a pit, go through their stuff and purge! One thing that we do sometimes is promise not to get rid of anything permanently – we’re just boxing it up for awhile until they start taking better care of their room. If they don’t miss it, then go ahead and pass it on to Goodwill. (I do tell them if we’re getting rid of stuff permanently.) Or, start a toy rotation. If the mess issue is bad and the child is easily overwhelmed, then strip the bedroom down to just the essentials – a bed, a dresser, a couple of stuffed animals or favorite toys, maybe a few books and that’s it. Store toys somewhere else. Start with what they can manage.

2. Set a Routine. At our house, everyone has weekly chores. The “deadline” for chores is Friday by dinner time. They are free to work on their chores all week, but they usually put it all off until Friday afternoon. I’m okay with that because then the whole house is clean at one time. Here’s our current chore breakdown.

Aidan (16): Clean up bedroom clutter, vacuum and dust bedroom, vacuum game room and stairs, mow the lawn.

Gresham (13): Clean up bedroom clutter, vacuum and dust bedroom, vacuum living room rug and music room, clean the bathroom.

Owen (10): Clean up dog poop in the yard, dust downstairs baseboards and window sills, clean up bedroom clutter, help dust bedroom (which he shares with Gresham), empty trash cans.

Jonathan (7): Clean up bedroom clutter, dust bedroom (which he shares with Aidan), vacuum out the van.

The Clean Bedroom Solution

I couldn’t figure out why the stuffed animals were overflowing out of the basket when we had just recently gone through them and gotten rid of some. Turns out there were several shoes in there as well as some crumpled church shirts!

Now here’s the beauty of a weekly deadline for chores. Friday night is movie night. If any of the boys chooses not to complete their chores correctly or on time, they get to finish them during movie night and depending on how much attitude there was, there may be an extra chore thrown in there for additional practice at working hard. Yes, we have had to do this. We have even cancelled movie night for everyone once or twice! But it didn’t take too much loss of movie night for the boys to get with the program.

We are reasonable, of course. If we are out all day on Friday, then chores can be finished up on Saturday. But overall, the expectation is that chores need to get done by Friday night.

During the week, we have the boys do a quick evening cleaning in their rooms if they have toys dumped everywhere. I’d say this happens about half the time. If we don’t get to it, it doesn’t matter because we have a plan! Friday is coming and it’s going to get dealt with.

If Friday doesn’t work for you, pick another time! Find a rhythm that works for your family and stick with it.

3. Set Realistic Expectations. The reality at our house is that we’re going to have to stay on top of Jonathan if he’s going to actually get any cleaning done. Everyone needs to have their work inspected for completeness. Also, every two months or so I have to go through both of our boys’ bedrooms and restore order. I throw away all the paper they have accumulated in there (why?) and get rid of the trinket toys they got at the dentist and make them take things back to all the various places around the house where they actually belong.

4. Don’t forget to teach! But don’t stay in teaching mode forever. Show kids, especially young kids, what clean looks like. Clean together a LOT in the early days. One of my boys really struggles with organization. He likes things to be clean but honestly struggles with how to get there. Help your kids establish a place for everything. But then at a point, they need to be cleaning up independently, or missing movie night!

And that’s about it! What is your system for keeping bedrooms clean?

BONUS TIP! Here’s my favorite tip for laundry day… I occasionally offer one chocolate chip (or M&M) for each sock that the kids find around the house. It’s UNREAL how many socks they can come up with. And then I can scratch socks off the Target list!


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  1. Susan Jan 10, 2017

    Get a bean bag COVER and fill it with the stuffed animals they can't seem to part with! Then they can sit on it to read or watch tv!

  2. Allison@thehousethatlallibuilt Jan 10, 2017

    I will have to try the deadline rule. Making them do it "right then" doesn't seem to work and we just seem to end up yelling.

  3. Johanna Jan 13, 2017

    Haha! I will happily copy your sock trick with my boys! ?

  4. Kaly Jan 13, 2017

    Some things that work at our house (with 2 boys, ages 5 & 7)

    1. Toys belong in the playroom. Sometimes toys trickle to other places in the house, and that's ok, but when we do a quick tidy, all toys go back to the playroom. In their room we have only beds, books, and clothing (we are blessed with a walk-in closet in this house, which holds their 2 dressers and hang-up clothing, which leaves a lot of nice space on their floor). Although, the only toy I do allow in their room are their special under-the-bed drawers I made for their fully made LEGO sets to keep them separate.

    2. A place for everything. I've found that the biggest messes usually happen because there wasn't a set spot for those toy bows and arrows, or the collection of church hand-outs my 7-yr old insists on keeping.

    3. We try to follow an "After School Schedule" which includes putting away backpacks, 20 minutes of reading, music practice, 1 chore, and tidying of room and playroom (basically tidy away toys which aren't being used - not a full put-away-clean). If we daily keep up on things, the messes aren't as big by the end of the week!

    I completely agree with you and your husband - teach them young to have responsibilities and also to take care of their things. It's definitely an on-going process!

  5. Kaly Jan 13, 2017

    Oh yes! And the best tip I ever got about socks was to clip a mesh laundry bag to the kids' laundry basket and teach them to put their socks in there. Zip up the laundry bag and throw it in the laundry and never lose a sock! In our 7 years with kids, I can't remember losing one sock! Pretty amazing.

    1. megan Mar 6, 2017

      This is genius!, thanks for sharing. I already have a mesh bag I just need to find it. lol! That thing is always missing when I need it. Do you seperate your lights/darks yourself or just throw it in one load or another?

  6. Carol Dec 28, 2019

    My youngest drives my crazy with all the little things she leaves all over the house. My favorite trick involves our iPad (which my kids are happy to get to use since they don’t get it very often). I go around and take a closeup photo of everything she needs to handle, then give her the iPad and she has to go “find” it and put it away. (In the beginning, I would give her a special message of gratitude when she would reach the end.) Anyways, this system works like I charm and we’ve used it periodically for years.


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