Einstein is famous for saying, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
People with messy desks, offices, and bedrooms will often repeat a form of this quote to justify the reason that they can’t seem to put their dirty clothes in the hamper or sort through the cornucopia of miscellaneous items strewn across every available surface in their house.
If you’re reading this article, then you’ve already identified that your messy and cluttered bedroom is a problem. Maybe it’s causing anxiety, or you feel like your environment is out of control. As you look around you, you might not even know where to begin to declutter.
Don’t stress! We’ll give you a framework for cleaning up your dirty bedroom as well as provide some tips to handle your child or teenager’s messy room, too.
How to Declutter an Untidy Room
Clean Floor Mess
The first step is to get everything off the floor. For most people, this means picking up clothing and either placing them in the hamper or putting them away. Whatever you do, don’t just pick them up and put them on a chair or your bed. Properly put all of your clothes and shoes away.
Depending on how messy you are, there could be other items on the floor, like books, papers, trinkets or miscellaneous items. If you don’t know where you want to put all of these items just yet, place everything in a box (or boxes) to be sorted later in the process.
Once the floor is free of debris, sweep, vacuum or mop it. It should be clean for what’s coming next.
Clean Up Cupboards and Drawers
Now you’ll go through your belongings and start to get organized. This means clearing everything out of your closets, cupboards, and drawers and spreading it out to look at. You’ll be amazed at how much stuff you’ve accumulated over the years!
Once you have everything laid out before you, you’ll categorize your items into three categories:
- Keep (and put away)
- Sell (place these items in a separate area so that you can deal with them later)
When you’re sifting through your beloved possessions, you might now know what to part with. A general rule of thumb is to only keep items that you would be willing to purchase again.
Learn More: 7 Tips and Ideas for a Minimal and Decluttered Bedroom
Clean Up Papers and Books
You might have papers and books lying around. Keep only the books that you plan to read again or have valuable reference information or sentimental value. Toss, sell or donate the rest.
When it comes to sorting your paperwork, again, you’ll have multiple piles:
- Things to deal with now and then throw away
- Items that need to be followed up
- Sentimental items, which should be stored in a centralized and safe area
- Things that you may need to reference
Reasons Why a Messy Room is Good for Kids
Parents Can Save Energy from Cleaning
Your kid’s messy room may be an eyesore to you, but as long as there’s nothing dirty and dangerous in there, a reasonable amount of clutter won’t harm anyone. Plus, if you go in there and make the bedroom spic-and-span, it’ll be a disaster area moments later. As a result, you’ll be frustrated, and your kiddo will be confused about why you’re upset.
Might Be More about You than Your Kid
As adults, we tend to want to control our environment. Being in control means safety, security, and predictably. Your child hasn’t been slapped in the face by the world yet, so they don’t have control issues, OCD (at least not yet hopefully), or hang-ups about reputations and appearances.
Remember, you’re only a kid once. Let your little ones leave the Legos on the floor. Just be careful not to step on them!
Creates a Sanctuary for Your Kid
Kids love to create and explore. Their bedroom is the gateway to their imagination. Allow them this space to learn and grow without getting upset if there’s a mountain of toys in the center of the room.
Why It Might do Lasting Harm to Your Teen
As kids grow into teenagers, they should graduate beyond this messy stage, but it’s not uncommon for teens to not prioritize having a clean room. After all, they’ve got a lot more important things going in their lives!
However, maintaining a clean room is a sign that they’ll be equipped to someday live in the real world. Keeping a bedroom tidy requires:
- Following a routine
- Organization skills
- Delayed gratification
All of these traits play a pivotal role in predicting and measuring success.
Helpful Tips (and Psychology) to Motivate Kids
Nobody likes a nagger. You already know that when your spouse nags you to take out the trash, sometimes you avoid doing it on purpose just because you don’t like their tone or the way they’re asking you to do it. Your child will likely feel the same way if they’re yelled at or nagged.
In best-selling author and psychologist Robert Cialdini’s book Influence, he writes about the concept of using the word “because” to get what you want. A classic example is if you need to cut in line. In the example from his book, just asking to cut in front didn’t inspire a lot of cooperation.
However, if you give a compelling reason for what you want and back it up with the word “because,” you’re more likely to gain cooperation from someone. For example, if you need to cut in line at the airport to catch your flight, a basic request with a please will convince some people, but not most, to let you pass. But, if you say (in a reasonable tone), “Is it okay if I go ahead of you in line because I’m about to miss my flight?” only the truly heartless will say no.
The same principle applies to convince your little one to clean their messy room, too. You might say, “I think it would be a great idea for you to clean your room because Johnny is coming over later and I’m sure you want to have plenty of room on your floor so the two of you can play.”
Set Reasonable Expectations
Your kids and teens aren’t exactly Employee of the Month at Merry Maids, so don’t expect miracles. The best thing you can do is give them guidance and tools for success while setting basic ground rules. Make sure they know where to put dirty and clean clothes, and provide multiple bins and tubs for storage.
And finally, either ban eating in the bedroom or ask them to follow a strict policy of bringing their cups, plates, and utensils to the kitchen immediately after use.
To increase your probability of compliance, you may want to consider a reward. It could be monetary or something they want like an extra night out with friends or a new toy.
If positive reinforcement doesn’t work, yield a stick instead of a carrot. Threaten to take away something that’s important to them if they can’t keep their room clean or refuse to clean it upon request.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can it cause depression?
Yes, being in a messy environment can zap willpower and cause overwhelm. Over time, feelings of hopelessness can set in, and the bedroom will continue to get messier. The cycle builds on itself because once you’re depressed, you’re less likely to care about improving your external environment.
What is messy house syndrome?
Messy house syndrome describes the tendency to hoard items. In extreme cases, a house could be filled to the brim with junk and useless things. Often, there was trauma or tragedy that triggered the hoarding habit or messy house syndrome.
How to stop being messy?
The first rule of thumb is one you’ve probably before: “A place for everything, everything in its place,” at least according to Benjamin Franklin. If you can manage to put all of your items away in their designated spots when you’re done using them, you’ll never experience clutter again. If only life were that easy!
Plus, if you’re already a messy person, you still need to figure out how to declutter in the first place. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, we recommend you ease into it and begin to develop the cleanliness habit slowly.
Here are a few top tips:
- Set aside a few minutes each day to declutter. It could be first thing in the morning when you wake up or maybe when you come from work. By always having a few minutes each day dedicated to cleaning, you can better stay on top of any potential messes.
- Get rid of anything that you don’t love or wouldn’t buy again. If you get rid of unnecessary junky items, you’d be amazed at how much lighter you feel.
When you know you’re going to be spending a chunk of time cleaning, put on your favorite album or an upbeat tune so you’ll have something pleasant and energizing to motivate you.
Some people are naturally cleaner and more of a “neat freak” than others. But that doesn’t mean you have to live like a sloth. Find the threshold of clutter you can deal with and do your best to maintain a certain level of orderliness each day.
Jill Zwarensteyn is the Editor for Sleep Advisor and a Certified Sleep Science Coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.