How to handle your kid's messy room

Susan Goldberg believes that her son should be in charge of his own room — even when he keeps it messy.

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Photo: iStockphoto

Thunder Bay, Ont. writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences.

When Rowan comes home from school today, I’m going to meet him at the door and tie a blindfold over his eyes before leading him upstairs. “I have a surprise for you,” I’m going to say. And then I’m going to guide him into his bedroom, sit him down on his bed, uncover his eyes — and hope for the best.

Either he’ll loves what he sees, or he’ll be furious.

That’s because I have spent much of the morning reorganizing his room.

I’ve moved furniture around — something we haven’t done since he slept in a crib. Now, his bed isn’t on a cold outside wall, and his bedside table is actually next to his bed. He’ll no longer need an extension cord to run his clock radio — one fire hazard eliminated. I’ve hanged some pictures, arranged some stuffed animals, tossed the last few Halloween candy wrappers (yes, we are long done with Halloween candy and I am so grateful for that).

But that’s really the tip of the iceberg. I’m hoping that my son will be so distracted by — and even happy about — his new and (in my opinion) improved bedroom layout that doesn’t notice the small truckload worth of broken plastic and paper scraps and kindergarten mementos that I have quietly carted away and disposed of. I’m hoping that he won’t notice (or, at least, won’t resent) the degree to which I have organized and culled his stuff: Pokémon cards are all back in their correct boxes; books are more or less alphabetized; Lego is with Lego while Bakugan are with Bakugan. I have kept several exemplary specimens from his extensive rock collection, but many, many more garden-variety pebbles have been tossed back into the garden. And what is it with the sticks? And the hollow plastic eggs? And how many unsharpened pencils does one child really need?

It. Looks. Fantastic.

I know, I know: he’s supposed to be in charge of this room. His room is his domain, the place where he’s supposed to be able to scatter Pokémon cards in a thick layer on the floor, where he — packrat child that he is — can hold onto every school Valentine he has ever received, every birthday card, every single generic Tim Horton’s medal they hand out at the end of every single summer soccer league.

Further, I know that I’m not teaching him anything in terms of housekeeping or organizational skills by doing this kind of work for him. More to the point, I know that it won’t last: the cards will come out of their containers and the Bakugan will once more party with the Lego and new birthday cards and valentines will appear to replace the ones gone.

But the fact of the matter is this: I’m doing this for me, not for him.

Read more: Reasons to let your child’s bedroom stay messy >

I admit it: I’m a neat freak, an organizational junkie. I love sorting through stuff, creating systems and making labels and filing things neatly away. But neither of my sons, apparently, has inherited this trait. And while I have made great strides in terms of letting go when it comes to their rooms, it still makes me a little crazy every time I see them in all their messy glory. We have some minimum standards for the kids’ rooms — they have to make their beds and put away their clothes each day, for example — but I don’t really expect them to adhere to or even be interested in my standards for organization.

Read more: Organization: 10 helpful tips to transform your home >

So, every so often, I go to town and clear away some of the accumulated clutter, and mostly the kids don’t notice what’s gone and happily fall to playing with toys they forgot existed under the piles of crap. And everybody gets most of what they want, most the time, which is pretty much the best outcome I can hope for in the game of parenting.

Now, excuse me while I go stand quietly in Rowan’s room for a few minutes, basking in the glow of its all-too-temporary calm.

Do you clean your kids’ rooms? Do they notice? Do they care?

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