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How to Clean a Messy Teen Room

Plastic water bottles are scattered across the ground like in a recycling center. Food wrappers cover surfaces and span nutrition levels from Hi-Chew to high fiber bars. Clothes drape over the edge of the mattress and they pool upon the ground. Is this a campsite ransacked by bears? The scene of a crime? No. It’s your teen’s bedroom and someone has to clean it.

It’s you, you’re the one who has to clean it. Despite your pleading and cajoling, your son won’t do it on his own. He’s overwhelmed by the chore. You think if you clear the mess for him, you’ll set a baseline for maintenance. Plus, there’s the fact that you can’t have a family dinner because most of your dishes and cutlery have disappeared and you suspect they’re in his bedroom. You should probably find them. Time to make yourself a plan of action. You’re about to take on a monumental task.

5 Steps for Cleaning a Messy Teen’s Room

Step 1: Open the door, slowly. Prepare to be scared.

The horror! It’s so much worse than you thought. Every surface is covered, highest to lowest. Shoes are strewn about, mixed in with clothes. Those pops of colors? They’re empty candy wrappers. The hamper overflows with clothes he should be washing, instead he’s piling them up like a game of Tetris. Cleaning this up is likely an all-day project. You should carb load, for endurance. Hold on, see those empty bags and crumbs? All the carbs in the house have already been eaten by your son.

Step 2: Brace yourself. This is only the beginning.

You feel a little helpless. You wonder, is there any way to make cleaning his bedroom fun? Clearing a path is the first thing you should do. Think about the sense of control you’ll feel by removing whatever blocks and impedes your journey toward your destination. You might enjoy letting out your frustration by kicking things out of the way. Knocking over a bowl of half-eaten cereal would certainly be satisfying. Wait, no, ultimately, that would only lead to more mess. You need to focus.

Should you attack the floor or the laundry first? You vote laundry, since you can get a wash going while you pick all the other random things up off the floor. You gather clothing. You don’t take time to figure out if they’re dirty. Yes, that may mean washing some already clean clothes, but do you really want to smell-test everything? No, no, you do not. Arms full of clothing, you pivot carefully, then follow the exit path you cleared for yourself.

Step 3: You’re midway through! You’re making progress!

You’re out. Alright! The end is feeling closer! You start the laundry and ruminate. Cleaning your son’s room is taking much longer than you thought it would. You think he should really do all this cleaning himself, just as you did at his age. And you wonder, why can’t he do it? Maybe now that you’re halfway done, you can enlist his help? Unlikely. You consider burning his room to the ground and starting over, but that’s impractical and dangerous. You remind yourself that you’re cleaning to help your son at a time when he really needs it. It’s also hard for you to live with this mess in your house. So, you continue.

Step 4: Bring in reinforcements. Visualize the end.

“Reinforcements” means one of those stretchy plastic kitchen garbage bags. It’s time to remove the trash. You need to put your back into this one. All the way at the top of his tall dresser, you find cracker crumbs. You dust those off, then toss the snack bags and wrappers in the trash, the empty water bottles in recycling, and sweep the last remnants off the floor. Should you look under the bed? No, that’s too scary. Better to move on.

All this cleaning, and now your pulse is racing. It’s exercise. Consider this a workout. The finishing touches and your well-earned cool down are mere moments away. You change the sheets and make the bed. You put school supplies in one place, video gaming paraphernalia in another. You line up shoes on the rack, and take the trash out. You put away the clean clothes. Recovered dishware and cutlery go in the dishwasher. Take a moment to smile.

Step 5: Celebrate! You did it! You rock!

Feel pride in what you accomplished. Also know, it’s okay to feel a little bitter, too. That rescue effort took all day, and it wasn’t easy. Sometimes parenting your teenager means stepping in to rescue him when he’s overwhelmed and needs your help. But also, maybe it’s time to work on a plan together to help him keep his room a manageable version of clean?

For now, though, promise not to make him feel guilty when he comes home from school. Don’t hold his failure against him and force him to make dinner tonight. Instead, order takeout for your family, pour yourself a glass of wine, and rejoice. You have enough forks, spoons, knives, and dishes for everyone. Family dinners can resume!

Morgan Hill is a personal essayist for many publications both online and in print. The mother of two teen boys, 15 and 17, she writes from a loving experience. Besides writing, she also enjoys wine, gardening, and mid-century modern flea market finds. You can follow her on Twitter @MorganHWrites or on Insta @MorganHillWriter.

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