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Reframing The Classic “Clean Your Room” Scenario

By Kimiko Kawasaki-Gee

As a parent of two, I know all too well the struggles to get kids to clean their room. My husband and I have tried different tactics of weekly clean ups, cleaning up as you go, and even paying them to clean! Ultimately the same thing happens each time: we the parents get fed up with the mess, yell or scold for such a dirty room and everyone gets mad or annoyed as the clean up takes place.

This got me thinking - why is cleaning a room such a dreaded task? I put on my Self-Reg hat and really started to reframe this idea of cleaning. It started with my own experiences. When I think back to my childhood and my own bedroom I can remember my mother cleaning my room until I was a teenager. Once teenagehood hit, I think she threw her hands up and admitted defeat. But I was still at a loss as to what to do with my room. Since she had cleaned it on her own (and often to a much higher standard then I could ever muster) I never had that experience to grow on and yet here I was - with a room that still needed to be cleaned - but how would I go about it? I always remember feeling stuck. I had way too many items and no set place to put them which complicated and overwhelmed me. So, things sat on surfaces they didn’t belong on or stayed on my floor until I did a half-attempt at cleaning just to move it to a new spot to make me feel like I accomplished something. It never occurred to me to get rid of things - probably why I struggle with this concept as an adult.

Now, I am 35 years old. Only now - at this age! - am I finally understanding the process of cleaning, what I need and what I truly don’t need in my life and that things need an easily accessible spot or it will never get put away. My room is still a mess but I give myself grace as I know I also try to keep the rest of the household clean as well. I understand that it is a work-in-progress as well and that it will not always remain clean. I try to give these graces to my kids as well but they struggle with the same struggles I do. They keep things in their rooms - for whatever reason - but have no place for them and the overwhelm begins.

My youngest loves all her toys but cannot bear to get rid of anything. This has resulted in a toy explosion in her room and no place to put them. When I would ask for her to clean up it was too much to handle for her young brain and she became stuck. I now understand this and am working on reducing those stresses. I work with her to get rid of things to make more space. I also help her clean up so it doesn’t seem like such a scary task by breaking the big clean into smaller chunks. The other day she asked to take Google into her room so she can rock out to her tunes while she cleans. Parenting win!

My teen has a few more struggles that will take more work and different tactics. Self-Reg is not a one fit for all as they say. Each child has different needs and this situation is no different. Even more so because my teen didn’t even grow up with us; different rules and lifestyle for so long shaped different traits and values for them. Something to keep in mind when I find ways to help them tackle the dreaded “room clean”.

The signs of stress were clear though. When asked to clean, my teen would avoid it, used distractions, isolate, avoid social interaction, and when confronted on the issue, would argue and become defensive. There was even lying when we asked about random things going missing in the house, though these items were small and insignificant. When reframed, I realized this task had become too much for them so we parented up and stepped in. The room was completely emptied and washed. There was a lot of resistance as there was some garbage everywhere and our one rule is no food in the rooms. The few things that had gone missing in the house were also found in their room. We did not comment on this though and just helped get it out. The stress of hiding this secret and the stress of the messy room was too much to handle now and everyone needed to start fresh. There will be time later to discuss the missing items and food. We are still working on it. My teen appreciates the empowerment of what stays and what goes but it is still overwhelming how much needs to be tended to. Small steps. And now we have the excitement of redecorating! With a budget of $100 we said they can get what they need to make the space their own and that has helped tremendously.

It will not be the end to the dreaded “clean your room” stress, nor will it mean that this big clean will be the fix to keeping a clean room. Mess happens - that’s life! Life would not be worth living if there wasn’t a little chaos and mess. Having reflected on my past and now that I am currently experiencing the room clean from a parent perspective, I can appreciate the complexities behind those 3 words and how it can be more overwhelming then what we see as parents on the surface.

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