How to Get a Teen Room Tidy

Generation X Parenting: How to Get a Teen Room Tidy

When Maggie and I pushed through the door into our Gen Z’s teen room, our jaws dropped.

We were slapped by an odour of festering half-eaten snack food, rancid shoes and gym gear pushed beyond the limits of hygiene.

Not a single item of clothing was hanging up or in draws. Not an inch of floor was visible.

The bed looked like a family of angry ferrets had been roller derby training in it.

Every one of our teen’s possessions had been taken from a place of tidiness – at some point in the distant past – and relocated to a random location.

It was almost as if our teen had taken intricate care to lay out all her possessions in such a way so that no single object bore any ordered relationship to another.

A second wave of stench hit us, and I instinctively reached over and closed Maggie’s still agape jaw as a precaution against airborne viruses.

We backed out of the room. Cautiously. Lest the ferrets attack.

Why Teen’s Rooms are Messy

Here’s my Theory of Mess. What’s in your head is reflected in your home.

Teenager’s rooms are messy because the inside of their head is a mess. It’s a swirl of random facts, colour and movement, nouns and numbers, ideas, beliefs and misconceptions. In other words, everything they’ve pulled (and we have pushed) into their heads, but have not yet been able to order.

They are entirely comfortable with the chaos in their heads, so it’s not surprising they barely notice the mess in their rooms.

Generation Z Teen Cleaning Room

When Neat Freaks Have Kids

In the year 2012 BC (Before Children), my life was neat.

It might have looked crazy, as I was living on a military base in Afghanistan and spending my down-time skydiving and experimenting in BASE jumping, but it was ordered and tidy. Each of my meagre possessions had a purpose and a place.

Single-person shit-together-ness is easy. One cup and one plate to wash. One lot of laundry to do, once a week. One person to organise. No arguments. No compromising.

When the kids came (they were 7 and 9 when I married Maggie and we became a family), I was shocked at how much of my simple, neat life disappeared.

Things got real messy, real quick. My ordered neat way, by comparison, looked like perfectionism and OCD.

When I tried to shoehorn my new family into my neat and tidy ways, this happened:

  1. The kids fought tooth and nail against my attempts at order;
  2. I morphed into a controlling neat freak in a permanent state of frustration; and
  3. Maggie was forced to umpire a battle of the wills.

So, my first great lesson of family life (and one I still struggle with) is:

There’s only so much order you can make out of chaos. Accept it.

But that doesn’t mean we should surrender to Gen Z’s messy ways.

I implore you, Generation X, to not go quietly into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the neat…

Generation Z is Messier than Generation X

Gen Z is not inherently any messier than us. But they do have lots more stuff to be messier with. Because they:

  • play more sport than us, so have more sporting crap
  • have more hobbies, so have more plastic-y crap
  • travel more, so have more travel crap and more random crap from travelling
  • shop more ’cause clothing and shoes are cheaper, so have more fashionable crap
  • are marketed to more, so have more of the latest crap

The result is inevitable.

Crap everywhere.

Declutter & Minimalise   

Generation X has accumulated its fair share of consumer crap too. In fact, we’ve got so much crap we’ve sparked two mass movements: decluttering and minimalism.

A cleansing wave of decluttering books and websites has emerged with advice on ‘purging’ possessions and simplifying our oh so modern lives. Marie Kondo’s advice is popular, if you’re up for a purge.

While there’s nothing new about minimalism, its resurgence has mixed with other modern problems, like tight housing markets, to produce quirky trends like tiny homes. 


Enough of that, let’s get back to blaming the kids for all this mess.

Should We Make Teens Tidy Their Rooms?  

Teens don’t understand tidy and will never willingly clean their room. Full stop.

Don’t delude yourself, like I did for many years, that you can break their will and eventually they’ll submit to cleaning their shit up. This won’t happen. (Until they grow up and move out.) 

‘Experts’ agree that teen room tidying shouldn’t come at the expense of your relationship. But that’s all they agree on.

There’s continuing debate on whether forcing teens to clean bedrooms really does help with everything from school grades to life skills like goal setting.

We’ve tried both techniques:

  • We forced our teens to clean their rooms every Sunday night. It was a long, painful and widely-despised process.
  • We also tried the “Pick Your Battles” method and didn’t make them clean their rooms at all. Maggie even sold our son’s unused wardrobe and chest of draws to create more space for his floordrobe. This produced near-daily dramas with lost clothes, school books and sporting gear. And resulted in rotting food in the rooms and damage to the carpet and walls.

So, while the ‘experts’ bicker among themselves about whether to force teens to clean bedrooms, the booming voice of common sense has spoken:

Sometimes teens just need to clean their shit up. 

Why Should I Clean My Room?  

Here’s three killer arguments for when your teens ask why they should clean their room:

  1. When everything goes to shit, your room is your sanctuary. It’s your safe place and your own space where you can lock out the world’s madness. Do you want your refuge to be a festering shit pile of dirty clothes, rotting food and chaos? Is that where you want to hold up? Or would you rather escape to a place where you feel calm and in control? Clean your shit up!
  2. You can find your stuff much easier in a tidy room. Imagine if you could lay your hands on any of your possessions within seconds because you knew exactly where they were? If you saved 60 seconds a day by not having to rummage through your stuff looking for everything from socks to your iPhone, you’d gain a full 20 days over your lifetime. Clean your shit up!  
  3. Dirty rooms make you sick. The human body sheds 3.6 kg of dead skin every year. Not to mention the hair, ear wax, fecal and other bodily nasties we expel without even noticing. Most of this body goo is mushed into your bedding, carpet and clothes. It’s like fertiliser for mould and fungi, which is what your friends smell but are too polite to tell you about. Clean your shit up!

If all else fails, no-one has made the “Clean Your Shit Up” argument better than US Navy Admiral (ret’d) William H McRaven. His speech has been viewed more than 4 million times:

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