Monday, May 19, 2014

How To Get Your Teen To Clean

Last Saturday day, I made my 18-year-old son clean his room. I say Saturday day because that's how long it took. The two of us worked together, side by side, because misery loves company and I'm not a fan of cleaning, myself. I sequestered myself to do the boys' bathroom which looked like a meth lab, and my teen son worked on his bedroom, which looked like the pilot episode for World's Youngest Hoarders.

We began not bright and early -- second cup of coffee o'clock would be more accurate. My goal was to not have to kick clothes out of the way with my foot to make a path past his front door and to accomplish this without me needing a whip and a chair. And no threats. Because what is a threat anyway but just an upside down bribe.

I wanted to get his room clean because I had just read an article about how disorganization can cause stress for teens. What I wanted for my son was for his room to be a sanctuary of retreat, a haven of zen where he would look forward to spending time at the end of the day, and not like his brain had a compound fracture at the sight of it. Long story short, mission accomplished and here's how we did it, minute by longest minute on earth, minute:

9:03 a.m.
I walk past the room. It looks pretty bad. I didn't think it would be this bad.

9:21 a.m.
Spend quiet time over cereal, talking to son, follow him back upstairs after breakfast.

9:32 a.m.
Act surprised at the condition of the room, "Oh my gosh! Wow. Look at this. Looks like things got out of hand. And the bathroom! Well, we'd better get busy, if we wait until we feel like it then we'll never feel like it." (This I know my son relates to because, apple, tree)

9:37 a.m.
Son mmhhmms, then wanders into room and plops on bed to listen to music to get him ready for the day. I rubber glove up and begin with the toilet seat in the boys' bathroom.

9:49 a.m.
Time for son's music to have done its day prepping. I tell him so.

9:57 a.m.
Son with music still on ears, that's okay, I can deal. I'll just shout and point. His first job is to make the bed. I extend my index finger toward the rumpled sheets and hope he sees the possibility of a miracle is in his hands.

10:03 a.m.
Mission underway, he sees the vision, too, and Houston we have lift off! While he grabs the blankets scattered around the bed frame, I tackle the bathtub with something deceptively called Soft Scrub which still makes me scrub hard. I leave him with the job of the bed, and a pat on the back to prove team work.

10:05 a.m.
He stops mid blanket toss and runs downstairs for a fruit roll-up break. I don't say a word and ask him to save me a quarter inch.

10:09 a.m.
I wait four minutes and then I call downstairs, "FRUIT ROLL-UP BREAK OVER!" Some mumbling and muttering but he bounds back upstairs two steps at a time. Needs to rest on bed to let "sugar enter his blood stream."

10:39 a.m.
Blood sugar is stabilized and he works on making the bed. I'm still working on floor in boys' bathroom. We are humming along.

11:00 a.m.
Teen son notices it's 11:00 and tells me his body is used to lunch at this time because of school schedule. He runs downstairs and has 18 chicken tenders, 4 glasses of apple juice, 1 Arizona iced tea, and a bowl of raspberries, still frozen. He has to rest on sofa, he tells me his stomach "sloshes" when he moves.

11:45 a.m.
I let him digest lunch and then call son back upstairs to finish work. He begins to hang up shirts from the floor but then tells me can't be done without hangers. I tell him where to find hangers. He says he'll work for as long as the hangers hold out.

12:15 p.m.
I find every single hanger in the house and all the shirts are hung. He needs rest. He flops on bed, closes eyes, gets much needed "rest."

12:40 p.m.
I jostle him after a long half hour and tell him time to start folding pants. I offer to help him fold after I see it looks like he gave all of his jeans in the closet spiral perms.

1:10 p.m.
Shirts are hung, pants are folded, clothes are off the floor and away from the front door and we are no longer in violation of fire codes! We now begin with the paper piles on the floor. He determines with a finger snap that anything he needs he already has and so papers are all put in recycling!! and !!! Go, return to whence you came, paper bits! You will live again!

1:27 p.m.
He asks for a break since he has spent the whole weekend on cleaning. He is allowed a break until I finish the laundry downstairs. He tells me I'm the best.

1:43 p.m.
His break is over and his interest is waning. I promise a movie tomorrow.

2:06 p.m.
He is growing weary. I ask him if he likes his iPod and would like to keep it. (will hold off on the big guns of his phone for the most dire of moments)

2:31 p.m.
He shouts down to me that he is tired of working working working. I remind him that I'm tired of cooking cooking cooking, maybe I'll stop. He gets the picture.

2:50 p.m.
Laundry is folded and next load is started. I run back upstairs. We begin anew. "This way, child, this way," I teach him the order of the sock folding phoenix. Every single freakin' sock has a mate! Huzzah!

2:56 p.m.
T shirts get shoved in drawer (that's okay to me) underwear is shoved in drawer (again I don't care) and socks are tossed into closet drawer. It looks good.

3:09 p.m.
Books are picked up from floor and put back on book shelves. We reminisce about his Treasury of Classics collection and how much he loved The Invisible Man. He tells me that if he were invisible he could leave and not come back to finish. I tell him that is true. He could indeed be gone but the mess would still be here because the principle of Invisibility doesn't apply to the mess in the room.

3:17 p.m.
Fruit roll-up break.

3:48 p.m.
I ask him to hold me up while I dust his ceiling fan. He is a great working partner.

4:01 p.m.
He decides he wants to make salsa. Which sounds like such a stereotype but we make salsa. Instead of tomatoes we use carrots and it's delicious. We also use potato chips to dip instead of corn chips and that's pretty delicious too.

4:31 p.m.
I ask him to carry vacuum cleaner upstairs and I suck up the dust from the rug.

4:42 p.m.
The room looks great, he only has the top of his desk to clear up. He falls on his bed and tells me how he never has fun. I tell him I can clear his desk for him -- all he needs to do is run downstairs and get me a plastic bag. He stands up and starts to work.

4:52 p.m.
He tells me he has to send an important text.

4:57 p.m.
He is still sending important text. I think Moses was faster pounding out the commandments, I ask "Are you chiseling it out on flint stone?"

5:13 p.m.
I bury an iTunes card in the midst of the desk mess the same way I used to bury dimes and quarters in the sandbox for him when he was five and I'd say, "Just think what else could be in there! Let's get digging!" When he finds the card he holds it up excited and looks exactly the way he did in the park 12 years ago. "Let's keep digging!," I say.

5:32 p.m.
Voila! The desk top is in neat piles and the room could hold a yoga class from the free space vibes. Breathe in breathe out we now have a sanctuary. He smiles and asks, "Doesn't it look like there's more room in here?" We stand back and admire. High five because it looks SO gooooooood. The oxygen of the declutter cannot be underestimated.

What's the most important thing I learned here? Don't be afraid to go all Look at me, Look at me, I'm the captain, I'm the captain on himBecause, obviously, they may be the ones making the mess up on deck, but we're still the ones that know how to steer that ship.


  1. Next up, a post on how to MAINTAIN that cleanliness and orderliness. :)

  2. You paired ALL the socks? Every sock had a mate? I don't know what kind of magic you practice, but I am interested in learning the way.

  3. heh. you sure showed him....smiles. ha. sounds about like trying to get my pre-teen to clean his secret...have his girlfriend (can you call them that at 11?) call and invite him over to the pool...after you tell him he can not do anything else til his room is clean....amazing what the right motivation will do...

  4. Can you come over this weekend and do this exact thing with my 17 year old daughter?

  5. Awesome! Shall implement immediately.

  6. Wait - I have to clean the toilet? This is hilarious. Also - FRUIT ROLL-UPS!

  7. We did it! No one likes to work alone, and we did it. Thanks, everyone!

  8. LOVE this post! I think I will post in on the door of the room my 9 & 11 year old daughters share! One is moving out, but not all of the "stuff" will follow her down the hall. Nor will all the stuff still in the room stay! I am MOM, Hear me ROAR!

  9. Yeah, I'm still stuck on "every sock has a mate". O_O You, ma'am, are a laundry GODDESS.

  10. I love this for so many reasons! First, apple, tree, you & me and you & us both, Alexandra. I have done this with my little guy and this also describes me last Saturday trying to do housework on my own. I did make it through 2 bathrooms before succumbing to an internet/Facebook break. I'm glad I'm not alone, but it does look like this will continue for years to come, seeing as my child has only just entered tweenhood, and he has my genes.

  11. Oh boy, he sounds like my oldest. It took us a half day to clean up her room which was full of half finished art projects. I love the creativity; it's the clutter that makes me bonkers. She is so much like me, and I feel so much better when I declutter.

  12. I *might* be hiding an iTunes card in my daughter's Hoarder Bedroom right now.
    Next up: heading to the grocery store for more fruit roll-ups. Obviously.

  13. Every once in a while I get so put out by my sons clutter than I mostly clear it out myself. I pile all their stuff in a another room and make them choose what they want to go back into the room and what they don't mind me disposing of.

  14. There is always so much more flopping on the bed than cleaning when we attempt this process too. Love your commitment.

  15. The miracle of the straightened bedsheets - yeah, we've seen that here, too.

  16. I don't suppose we think there are treasures hidden in any of the disaster zones of this house I've created, do we?

  17. But I have THREE eighteen year olds....never gonna happen. I 'm afraid I just retreat thinking...'Just remember, there'll come a time when I'll miss all this chaos.'

  18. I found my daughter's weakness for quick cleaning: time limits! I had her start straightening her room before school two days ago, and lo and behold, what would have taken her HOURS in the afternoon took less than twenty minutes when she knew she only had a very short, finite amount of time before it was time to call it quits! I am using this new method ALWAYS!

  19. This is awesome, I so love knowing my daughter is not the only one who needs 11 breaks.meals etc and hiding the gift card was/is brilliant.
    Thanks for posting



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