Monday 18 December 2017

Family Life: How can I get my three daughters to keep their communal room clean and tidy?

David Coleman

David Coleman

Can you please offer some advice? We have three girls and they share a room. Most of the time all the children will do "a share" of the tasks around the house (to a degree of clean, that is) but I cannot for the life of me get their room cracked.

They do it under duress and they say they love it when it's clean but then it's trashed within 24 hours again!

What do we need to put in place so that dirty laundry doesn't have to be extracted and clean laundry isn't scared to return there?

I'M not sure I have a guaranteed successful answer to the bedroom-as-pigsty dilemma because if I did I'm sure I could patent it and make millions from it!

For a start, however, it is great that you have expectations of your children that they will do chores. It is really good for children to take responsibility for doing some work around the house and it gives them a strong sense of fairness and working for a communal good.

When it comes to communal areas of the house I think it is fair enough that we parents set the standards for how clean and tidy we expect them to be. When it comes to the one private space in the house for children, their bedrooms, it is hard to be as dictatorial.

Particularly in your case, where you have the three children in one room, it is understandable that it gets cluttered and messy. It sounds, however, like they are all on the same wavelength when it comes to the comparative tidiness of it: when it is messy they are all happy enough with it; and when it is tidy they are all happy enough with it.

It would be worse if they all fought because they had different expectations for how they wanted the room to be.

Part of the problem, common to many situations, is that when things build up we feel even less like tackling them. So, small but regular efforts to keep on top of tidiness means that we never get to the point of feeling overwhelmed by the mountainous task it might otherwise become.

In this vein, the only solution I have found to messy bedrooms is that parents invest time, from when your child is a toddler, to doing a daily, or an evening, clean-up with them in their room.

This doesn't have to be a huge chore. By offering to share the load with your child you can actually have a bit of fun and make a game out of the tidying up.


Small children, particularly, love to be challenged to see who can get the most toys into the toy box, or who can be quickest to achieve the same task. By buying a small laundry basket for each child you can have a bit of fun playing a version of basketball where dirty socks and jocks get fired across the room to hit the target.

When you are involved and actively set the tone to one of good humour and fun, your children will soon stop seeing this as a chore and might even look forward to this time with you, since it could be their best chance to catch you in a good mood!

Think, too, about the storage in the room. Have you enough shelves or wardrobe space for everyone and everything? If things are left in big tottering piles, then the chances of collapse are greater.

Using stacking boxes is a great way of sorting out not just clothes, but toys and games, too.

If, despite your best efforts to store things, there still seems to be an unhealthy bulging from drawers and groaning from shelves, it might be time to do a proper de-clutter.

It is amazing how quickly the stashes of toys and clothes can grow and children rarely have an interest in all the toys, or fit into all the clothes they have. There are many charities that would be only too delighted to relieve you of any excess you might have.

In your situation, the 'trashed-by-bedtime' look sounds like it needs to be sorted each night before they get into bed. It is probably fair, for example, at least to have an expectation that they will create enough floor space to be able to move about without fear of accident and injury in a night-time stumble to the loo!

If you offer to get involved and help out, then five minutes with four of you at it should make a serious difference. If you set the mood by being cheerful and focused, then it will become less of a chore and you will need to use less duress.

Like the other chores around the house, once they become routine you don't need to fight with your children to get them to do their share.

You will possibly always have to remind them to do it and you may even have to regularly demonstrate the standard of 'tidy' required, but at least it will get done.

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