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:
MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
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.
SET BOUNDARIES YOU BOTH CAN LIVE WITH
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)
PROVIDE EASILY ACCESSIBLE STORAGE
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.
AVOID THE TEMPTATION TO STEP IN
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.
HAND OFF THE LAUNDRY TASK
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?