Teens and Clothes

Teens and Clothes
photo credit: Elliott Plack via photopin cc

If you have teenagers, you know that clothing and neatness rarely coincide. Guys tend to have mountains of clothes needing laundering (sports uniforms, gym clothes, the favorite pair of sweatpants…) Girls tend to try on clothes and drop them where they fall. This isn’t an easy place for adults and teens to find common ground.

To minimize the strife over clothing, I suggest the following:

While there may be a few tidy teens who meticulously fold clothes, this is definitely not the majority. Maintaining a tidy room and putting clothing away just isn’t a priority for most teens. Remember, teens are very busy juggling schoolwork, activities, and part-time jobs while navigating both physical and social complexity. Furthermore, they are in the process of becoming independent, and don’t want Mom or Dad to come into their room and tell them how it should look.  Parents aren’t likely to transform a messy teen into a neat one, and any effort to “fix” a teen’s space will likely result in both parties being unhappy.

While parents probably shouldn’t expect kids to care about putting clothes away, there has to be a common ground that both parents & teens can live with. This will differ by family, and needs to be negotiated.

Some examples of options to consider include:

  • Deciding exactly where a teen can dump clothes. (e.g. keep it to your side of the room)
  • Agreeing on a frequency with which the room must get cleaned up (e.g. pick it up every 2 weeks)
  • Designating zones for “offensive” clothing (e.g. uniforms MUST go right into the laundry room)
  • Ensuring that walkways are safe (i.e. there must be a clear path from your bed to the door in case you need to get out quickly)

Even though a teen won’t necessarily put clothes away on a daily basis, it helps if there is sufficient storage so that cleaning up is possible.  If a teen’s closet or drawers cannot accommodate her clothing, she will be discouraged from even trying to put items back.  Closet organizers, drawer inserts, hooks, and under-the-bed storage can make the most of the space a teen has. The easier to use, the better! For daily use, consider 2 pop-up hampers, one for clean and one for dirty.

Sometimes parents get so frustrated with a teen’s space that they are tempted to go in and clean it all up. Unfortunately, this typically backfires. Sometimes the room gets quickly undone because the teen wasn’t invested in the cleaning up process. Other times, the teen is angry because he feels his privacy has been violated. In some cases, important items go missing, which makes everyone miserable. Instead, parents need to give teens the freedom to experience the natural consequences of how they care for their clothes. This isn’t always easy, especially when there is a crisis. But we all learn best through experience.

Often parents feel frustrated because the clothing they have just washed & folded (even ironed?) ends up in a heap on the floor. It feels disrespectful and unappreciative. However, chances are that teens aren’t intending it that way. They just got busy/distracted/stressed and… voila! The best solution to this conundrum is for teens to do their own laundry. By handing off this chore, you eliminate the parent’s feeling of being unappreciated, as well as the teen’s grief of “but I need that shirt tomorrow!”  This is also just an important life skill that everyone needs to know. And it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing”; maybe Mom continues to wash dirty sports gear, but regular clothes are the teen’s responsibility.

Remember, this is a temporary issue, and one that most teens grow out of. What solutions have worked in your house?


27 thoughts on “Teens and Clothes”

  1. My girls are still not he younger side, but trust me they still fight over clothes being only 16 months apart and almost the same size. And I do very much remember my own teenage years, so totally know I am in for it, but some great tips and seriously thank you for sharing, because I know I am going to need these soon enough around here 🙂

    1. I didn’t even talk about the issue of close siblings and the sharing of clothes. That’s another post to think about, Janine:)

  2. Great advice and I am going to share it with my husband. Our daughter’s room is a disaster…and everything is exactly as you described! Maybe we need to rethink what we’re willing to live with, instead of fighting a losing battle all the time!

    1. I try to reframe it as a temporary situation rather than a battle. Most teenagers go through this, and then find their own way out of it… although it might not be until college. Something to think about anyway.

  3. My kids are one and four and it’s bad! I think sometimes even I’m guilty of doing this, and my husband.
    We need to work on a family plan.

    1. It only gets worse, so good luck! Usually the little ones are more teachable, and then they return to good habits as adults….

    1. Exactly. It doesn’t matter so much if they get put away. I think you are reflecting great wisdom here. Its all about priorities and flexing with the age and stage of the family members. (It truly is never-ending!)

  4. oh this so scares me…terrified of Dino as a teen, LOL…I hope I am teaching him right now, but his room with all this toys all over…it’s an everyday battle.

    1. Keep reminding yourself: its only clothes…. its only stuff. And remember, the less you have, the smaller the mess:)

  5. I feel like marching up to my middle kid’s room and taking a picture of how her room looks–whew! It is MESSY! But, she’s 3rd in her class for her junior year, high SAT scores, captain of her track team, going to Georgetown this summer for a program–she does it all and she does it well. Except for her room. Which no one sees except for herself. I figure we can shut the door to that, but every once in awhile I ask her (2x a year?) to clean it up. As long as she pitches in in the common areas and for her regular chores, I am okay with that.

    1. I think she must so appreciate that you don’t nag her about this. They really don’t have enough time to be as successful as your daughter and keep the room neat as a pin — unless it really matters to them and they do this to relieve stress or whatever. I’m all about closing the door! (I think this post is scaring parents of little ones!!)

  6. We found that once our girls got to a certain age (they are now 18 and 20), we let them keep their room as they wanted. HOWEVER…. we would not be part of their chaos. Can’t find your homework? Don’t have clean clothes? The shirt you need for your presentation is wrinkly? Not our problem. The chaos got out of control for a while, but then something clicked and they found a more reasonable brand of chaos. Not what I would want/design, but it was manageable and I learned to not fret about it. (That last part took a while and MUCH concerted effort.)

    1. I think there is a lot of wisdom here, Kerith. Not swooping in to rescue them when they misplace something is critical if they are to perceive the value in putting things away. I think most parents go through this, but somehow we think we’ve failed.. which is not the case. It is primarily a phase.. and they eventually find their way. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Oh Seana, what an apt post. I have been having this conversation with my 20 year old step daughter since she moved in with us in January. She shares my office as part of her bedroom. My rules are the floor has to be clean so I don’t trip on anything on the way to my desk. The bed has to be somewhat made. I do laundry, fold, it goes in every ones basket, the clothes get put away by them, basket comes back with dirty laundry. Laundry gets washed the way it ends up in the laundry pile. I don’t turn sleeves the right way out, I don’t unfurl socks and I don’t empty pockets. They have to start to learn somewhere. Great post.

    1. I’m totally with you on doing laundry as it appears. I stopped turning socks right side out a long time ago. If the wearer (husband included) can’t turn turn the sock the right way, I figure it will be right every other time he/she wears it!

  8. Ha! Were you living in our house when my girls were teens? Arghhh!
    We finally gave up the battle, especially with our youngest fashion-adoring daughter. We agreed to ignore the clothes on their floor, etc, and they would be responsible for their laundry. They also needed to keep it neat enough to be safe, as you note in your tips, too.
    What a blessing that decision was! It removed all of the stress from the situation. Both girls are now neater, thank goodness. 🙂

    1. It’s only been through working with many families that I’ve realized this situation is both 1. Common and 2. Not worth fighting over. And I think most of the young people, when they get older, find their way through this and become neater. And if they struggle as adults, I believe it is an issue that would not have resolved by more nagging from Mom anyway… more of a executive functioning challenge. So thankful for the ability to close a door and worry about more important things:)

  9. I need to remember these when my girls are a little older! Livvy at the age of 3 loves ‘trying on clothes’ and making a big mess, I do make her help me pick them up and put them back where they blog… Not looking forward to the teenage messiness! I was bad when I was a teen so I can only imagine what they will be like!

    1. For the vast majority, the teenage habits are just a phase. Working with children while they are little is very important because teens will likely return to the standard they were reared with when they were small. It’s just an interim phase where too many things are hitting at once, and not something worth creating great family strife over.

  10. Wow these are such great points. I can see how they would have applied when I was younger growing up here in America for sure. My son hasn’t reached these years just yet so I’m just taking notes 🙂

    1. Yes, funny when we look back and see ourselves at previous stages of life. You have time, Brittnei!

  11. Oh gosh, where was this post years ago when I needed it??? My then-teen daughter drove me NUTS with the amount of laundry on her floor. She actually told me she hated using drawers—that it was easier to get dressed in the morning if her clothes were spread out all over the floor so she could see them! When girlfriends came over, she just dumped it all on her closet floor to hide it. I’m happy to say though that now that she is an adult, she keeps a perfectly clean home—clean laundry neatly folded in the drawers! Great read!

    1. So funny how it can be such a source of grief for families, and then the teens move on and become perfectly neat!!! I can so relate to your story:) That’s why I’ve decided it just isn’t worth fighting over. Close the door. Worry about more important stuff… just don’t rescue them if they can’t find something or it needs ironing.

  12. This was an area that I decided to “pick my battle” on. As long as there is no food in their room, I can see the floor, and all dirty clothes make it to the laundry, I’ve let the rest go for now. Now they’re actually keeping their rooms neater without me harping on them…go figure!

    1. I pretty much got to the same place myself, and I laugh at the result of your technique. I guess when there isn’t anything to push back against except themselves, it changes the argument. Hey, whatever works, right?

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