How To Clean a Teenager’s Room

by Lisa Rosen on September 8, 2011

We made huge progress last weekend–we cleaned Toby’s room!  After months of having him hanging out in the kitchen (I love him, but the constant underfoot was really getting old), we realized that the only solution was to move him–and all his stuff–back into his bedroom.  Step one:  clear out his room.  In order to use the space, one has to be able to actually enter the space.

We warned him that it was coming.  We gave him several weeks’ notice, and ample opportunity to take matters into his own hands.  No dice.  He insisted that it couldn’t be done, it needn’t be done, and he wouldn’t allow it to be done.

So we waited until he headed out for a long bike ride, then Lee and I rolled up our sleeves and got to work.

Note:  if you have a son, you will most likely face this problem at some point.  My (very unscientific) poll of grown men and parents of boys indicates that the vast majority of boys are, to some degree, total slobs (most, but not all, appear to grow out of it to a greater or lesser degree).

Our approach–whenever we need him to sort/dispose of/put away some pile of junk, we put said pile in an inconvenient spot (usually the hall), and then hang over him to ensure that it gets dealt with.  It’s a ridiculous amount of hand-holding, but I accept this.  I may be a complete failure at teaching my kids to be responsible for their space, but it’s too late to fix that at this point.  I’m just trying to protect what little sanity I have left.

So that’s what we did.  We pulled everything out of his room.  Emptied the dresser drawers.  Dug piles out from under the bed.  Poked around behind the furniture.  EVERYTHING.

And then he got home from his bike ride.  We were on pins and needles, wondering how loud the explosion was going to be.  Delaney was frantically trying to find a friend to come whisk her away.  We waited.  He finally went upstairs, saw that his detritus, piled up in the hall, made it physically impossible to traverse the hall, and whipped out his phone to take a picture.  It was a watershed moment:  even the owner of the hoard could see its ridiculousness.

And that was that.  A few hours later, he had thrown away/donated/Craigslisted a mind-boggling amount of crap, and his room was inhabitable once again.  Lee and I were hugely impressed (and more than a little surprised) by his maturity–he was willing to part with far more “memorabilia” than we had anticipated.  And (as has been our experience), once it was gone, it was gone.  He doesn’t miss it.

On the contrary–he seems pleased to have his room back.  He’s doing his homework at his desk, instead of the kitchen table.  When he wanders into the kitchen to tell me something or show me his latest Youtube discovery, I’m actually glad to see him, instead of frustrated by his constant presence.

It’s a win-win.

Some entertaining discoveries we made during the clean-up:

I counted 26 undershirts, but that was a mistake.  I later found five more in the laundry.

Ten hockey jerseys.  He hasn’t played hockey since, what?  Fifth grade?  Sixth?  It was so long ago none of us can remember.

His (extensive) collection of musical instruments included a pile of buckets.  There actually used to be five of them; I think we’re down to two or three now.

Every swim team ribbon he ever received.  If you’ve ever had a child on a summer swim team, you know they get several dozen ribbons every year.  He swam for probably five summers.  That’s a lot of ribbons.  One of the funniest moments of the whole process was when he announced that he’d need to buy a safe to take with him when he moves out.  To keep stuff in, like the ribbons.  Um.  We had a nice conversation about what sorts of things one might put in a safe.  Needless to say, ancient swim ribbons were not on that list.

A jumble of cables, like so much spaghetti.

A serious, orchestra-quality gong.  Cuz, y’know, every house needs one, right?

A dozen ties.  I counted.  And this is a boy whose idea of dressing up is jeans instead of shorts.

You may notice, in this photo, a wooden airplane and a teddy bear.  Yes, he’s a bit of a sentimentalist.  Another of my favorite moments was when we got a hard pitch for a storage unit.  He actually argued that most Americans have a storage unit, and we’re some kind of freaks because we don’t.  Sorry, kiddo.  If I don’t need to have it in easy access, I don’t need it at all.

My favorite moment of the whole day–the moment when he saw the light, and started really getting rid of stuff in earnest–was when he sat down on the stairs, and called us to come look.  He was holding two portable cd players, one in each hand.

“Why do I have TWO cd players?  Why??”

He’s an iPod kid.  Has been for years.  Before that it was a Zune.  We haven’t used a cd player in this house in years.

I think that was the moment when visions of that crazy hoarder life flashed through his mind, and he resolved not to go there.

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