How to Get Your Teen to Keep a Clean Room

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I have been having a power struggle with my 16 year old for the last 10 years about the mess in his room. I am exhausted from it. I am embarrassed at how long I have been fighting this battle and how long he has been winning it. I have grounded him, taken away privileges, you name it. Sometimes when I really threaten and yell, he will pick up most of his things. He leaves his stuff around the rest of the house as well. He will be going to college the year after next. Should I just give up on this one and just pick my battles? I’m not sure what to do.

— Sarah


Ugh. This sounds exhausting. I wish you would have found me 10 years ago. Congratulations, Sarah. Your battle, let’s call it the Ten Year Underwear on the Floor War, is about to end with you as the victor. I guarantee it. The question is not whether this plan will work. The question is whether you have the emotional fortitude to let your child suffer the consequences of being irresponsible.

Kid Whisperer adults don’t pick their battles. Adults who pick their battles with kids have far more battles to fight. Kid Whisperer adults win their battles without even having to fight them. Here’s how to win your war. Notice that it allows you to be calm and strict. Notice the absence of anger, lectures, warnings, or threats. This is the way I would handle the situation. Here we go.

Kid Whisperer walks into Kid’s bedroom to see what looks like a room that has been ransacked by government agents. Kid is happily playing video games in his pit of filth.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. Yikes. I’m glad I wasn’t in here when the bomb went off.

Kid (not looking up): Real funny.

Kid Whisperer: Alrighty. Feel free to keep all of your possessions that are off the floor by the time you go to the waterpark tomorrow morning. This includes your XBOX and the games in the living room.

Kid (still not looking up): What do you mean?

Kid Whisperer: Well, what did I say?

Kid: Whatever.

Kid Whisperer: (walking out of the door) Goodnight. Love you.

Kid: Gross.

As soon as Kid leaves for the waterpark the next day, Kid Whisperer enters Kid’s room to see that it is, amazingly, somehow worse than it had been a mere 10 hours prior. Kid Whisperer grabs a nearby chair to brace for the shock. Kid Whisperer takes out two trash bags and puts every single thing that is on the floor in the bags. He then drives the bags to the local pawn shop and Goodwill Store. He gives the clothes (which he washed, mercifully) to Goodwill and sells the other possessions to the pawn shop. Later that evening, Kid is quite surprised when he enters his room.

Kid: What happened to my room?!?

Kid Whisperer: I know, right? It’s clean.

Kid: No, I mean what happened to my STUFF?!?

Kid Whisperer: I gave your clothes to Goodwill and I pawned your other stuff.

Kid: No, seriously.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. I am serious. Here are the receipts from Goodwill and the pawn shop. You are more than welcome to buy your stuff back. You’ll have to talk to them about that.


Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. Fair enough. I’ll be in my room where it’s quieter. Love you.

Please note that this is not designed to make your child happy in the short term. In fact, if your kid doesn’t get really mad about this, there may be something wrong with him. If he becomes so belligerent that you feel there should be a consequence for his actions, feel free to administer one, but not right away. Please go to for a good consequence for that behavior.

Do you suppose the next time you say “Feel free to keep all of your possessions that are off the floor by such and such a time,” your son may be a bit more likely to clean up his mess? You have trained your son to keep his room clean. While your son won’t thank you for this, his future wife probably will.