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Should I let my daughter leave a mess in her room?

Categories: Parenting & Family


I’m a self-proclaimed neat freak. I really wish I wasn’t, believe me. Being a neat freak means spending a lot of energy cleaning, organizing, picking stuff up. I could definitely use that time in other ways but I know myself and I know that I feel calmer, more together and productive when my surroundings are clean.

Growing up, our tiny apartment was usually very neat and organized, more by necessity than anything else — for example, we only had two closets, so my mom, dad and I had to get our stuff really organized to keep track of everything. But it’s more than that — neatness runs in my family, for sure. My grandpa irons sheets before putting them on the bed. True story. (For the record, I don’t do this. Just thought I’d clarify.)

Ever since our daughter became a walking and talking and understanding little person I’ve been much more aware of how my behavior, habits and preferences effect her. And my neatness is one of the things I’m definitely seeing rub off on her, to some degree. She loves to make a mess in her room but she also likes to clean it up before she goes to bed. Well, I am not sure “likes” is the right word — it’s what I do so it’s what she does. We usually clean up together but she never resists it. (Although she does love to leave a mess in her basement playroom, which makes me wonder whether I’m squashing her messy tendencies.)

But as she gets older and develops her own preferences, should I let her keep her room messy, if that’s what she prefers? According to this article I just read on Slate, the answer might be yes. Apparently it’s common for adolescents to express themselves by making a mess in their room and as common for most to become more organized and neat as they get older. Unless the mess is creating other significant issues — say, issues around personal hygene or not being able to get things done — the article authors suggest that parents should just let the kids do as they like and keep the mess.

Boy, I’m not sure I’ll be able to do that.

What about you? Where do you draw the line between your preferences and what you thinkĀ  works best and letting your kids do their own thing? Would you let your kids have a messy room or do you think it’s better to teach them to be organized at every age?

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7 comments so far...

  • As an teenager, my room was a MESS. What did my mom do? She shut the door. Did she really want to spend her time with me fighting?
    Was it worth it? Or could she ignore that one room of the house, in which she rarely set foot, in order to have a good relationship with her teenage daughter? She chose the latter.

    As I got older, in college, I became much neater and more organized. As an adult, I prefer my home to be relatively neat, though I’m no “neat freak.”

    Slate might have something there.

    Robyn  |  April 1st, 2009 at 10:54 am

  • I disagree with that article and won’t even make time to read it. Kids need to be taught to keep things clean. I have my kids clean up after them. I don’t understand why I would just let them be messy???

    vera babayeva  |  April 1st, 2009 at 1:28 pm

  • I’m with Robyn. I think you can encourage her to be neat, and carefully delineate the differences between “messy” and “dirty”. As long as she’s in the messy camp, shut the door. That’s what my mom did with me way back when. There was a lot less fighting and for her it was out of sight, out of mind!

    jane  |  April 1st, 2009 at 3:25 pm

  • My kids have so much stuff, we have to straighten up daily in order to avoid being buried in it. In addition, by doing this with them regularly, I’m teaching them the skills they will need to do it on their own.

    Here’s where I draw the line. If it is at a level where they, given their age/maturity, would not be able to clean it up within a reasonable amount of time on their own, then it’s gone too far.

    So while they are little, I don’t let it get beyond what would take about 5 minutes (10 for procrastinators) to pick up - because if it’s a 15-minute job, chances are my kids aren’t going to stick to it and get it done. My tolerance level is likely to increase as they get older and need more independence and privacy. But they need to be able to put their room(s) in order if I have someone coming over or whatever.

    SKL  |  April 1st, 2009 at 5:38 pm

  • When it comes to messiness, I think you should split the difference. Have your daughter keep common areas used by the whole family tidy — it teaches her how to clean up and to take other people’s comfort into consideration — but let her do what she wants with her room. As other WIMmers have suggested, close the door if it bugs ya. Kids have so little control over lots of their lives. Why not let their rooms be their crash pads, where they can relax? Her room, her responsibility.

    Jeannie  |  April 2nd, 2009 at 7:32 am

  • teach your kid s cleanliness and respect for herself and your home

    nan  |  April 6th, 2009 at 4:42 pm

  • When my daughter was younger I made a deal with her. She would be allowed to keep her room as she wanted to BUT her grades in school MUST above a C, the door to her room must be kept shut, no food or drink could be left in the room and she MUST wear neat and clean clothes when she leaves the house - no wrinkled clothes. If she could not follow these rules, her belongings would be taken from the room and she would have to buy them back from her allowance. She began to get excellent grades in school, I never had to confisgate her belongs and now at 38, her bedroom at her own home is much neater. Worked for me - maybe will work for you.

    mebejoe  |  April 8th, 2009 at 10:25 am