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9 Secrets to Getting Kids to Clean Their Room (Without Nagging)

My daughter’s good at spelling, playing the violin and tormenting her brother. Cleaning her room: Not so much. Actually, she rather sucks at it.

At least once a week I can be heard saying, “Would you please clean your room?” and/or “Clean your room or you won’t get allowance!” and/or “If you don’t clean your room, you’re not going out to play!” At times, Sabrina so dreads neatening up her room that she’s actually given up allowance and biking outside with friends.

She’s 7, an age where I shouldn’t be cleaning her room just so it looks presentable (forget picture perfect). Finally, weary of nagging, I decided to find out exactly what it would take to get her to clean up her room. We sat down together at our kitchen table over fruit smoothies, and I conducted a little interview.

Sabrina came up with some great ideas—and because she thought of them, I figured they had a chance of working. Sure enough, they (mostly) did. Here’s what happened when I asked, “OK, what are your ideas for getting you to keep your room neat?”


  • No-nag cleanup idea #1: “Buy boxes for all the stuff! And then put the stuff in the boxes!” 1 of 9
    No-nag cleanup idea #1: "Buy boxes for all the stuff! And then put the stuff in the boxes!"
    A no-brainer! I already loved the Home Depot Martha Stewart Fabric Drawers I'd recently used to transform our playroom. We ordered a bunch more online (free shipping!). The day they arrived, Sabrina begged (yes, begged) to open the box and use them. She spent an hour sorting stuff—toys in a few boxes, notebooks/folders and craft supplies in others. She especially loved labeling them with a Sharpie. Watch out, Martha!
  • No-nag cleanup idea #2: “Clean up a little every day!” 2 of 9
    No-nag cleanup idea #2:  "Clean up a little every day!"
    Briliant, I thought. "And when would you do that?" I asked. "When I come home from camp and school!" said Sabrina. "And on Saturday mornings!" Well, that didn't exactly work out—she forgot. So then we came up with the next idea:

    Photo credit: Flickr/eliduke
  • No-nag cleanup idea #3: “Write me a note to clean up!” 3 of 9
    No-nag cleanup idea #3: "Write me a note to clean up!"
    I dutifully wrote out a reminder note and stuck it on the door to Sabrina's room. Between that and some gentle nudging (inevitable, I guess), she has been cleaning her room. Still, I'm hoping for the "Clean Your Room!" reminder app.
  • No-nag cleanup idea #4: “You give me seconds to clean up!” 4 of 9
    No-nag cleanup idea #4:  "You give me seconds to clean up!"
    What Sabrina meant was, make cleanup a beat-the-clock game. "How many seconds?" I asked. "Twenty seconds!" she said. "Um, you can't get so much done in 20 seconds," I told her. "How about five minutes?" One Sunday morning, we tried it. I used the stopwatch on my iPhone and she whipped around her room, tossing stuff into bins and the laundry and organizing. And then she said, I swear on my Swiffer, "That was fun!"
  • No-nag cleanup idea #5: “Daddy can clean my room!” 5 of 9
    No-nag cleanup idea #5: "Daddy can clean my room!"
    Uh, no.
  • No-nag cleanup idea #6: “LIsten to music, like Kidz Bop 22!” 6 of 9
    No-nag cleanup idea #6:  "LIsten to music, like Kidz Bop 22!"
    Sneaky, sneaky: We don't actually own Kidz Bop 22. But it seemed like a small price to pay for clean-up motivation. I got it.
  • No-nag cleanup idea #7: “You give me money to clean my room!” 7 of 9
    No-nag cleanup idea #7:  "You give me money to clean my room!"
    "Right," I said. "That's what's known as allowance!" Sabrina pondered that. "OK, so you give me some allowance when I do it!" An advance on her weekly pay if she cleans up her room? No prob! It's given her some good motivation.

    Photo credit: Flickr/stevendepolo
  • No-nag cleanup idea #8: “We can give stuff to people who need it.” 8 of 9
    No-nag cleanup idea #8: "We can give stuff to people who need it."
    I so loved hearing this idea from her. We gathered up dolls and toys in good shape that she no longer used, and dropped a bag off at a local Salvation Army store. "That was nice to do!" Sabrina said. Awesome.

    Photo credit: Flickr/Ryan McFarland
  • No-nag cleanup idea #9: “I don’t have to make my bed every day!” 9 of 9
    No-nag cleanup idea #9: "I don't have to make my bed every day!"
    "Deal!" I said. Sabrina makes her bed most days now, but if she's running late or having a lazy weekend day, I don't insist. You've got to pick your battles, and I've basically won this one...with some insider help.

A big thanks to The Home Depot for sponsoring this campaign. Click here to see more of the discussion.


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