The first time my friend came to visit us in our new home, she was eager to have the grand tour.

“Look around,” I encouraged, “just don’t go into the boys’ room.”

“Oh? Why not?”

“There’s a huge mess in there. I can’t get the boys to keep their bedroom tidy. I’ve given up trying.”

My friend smiled in sympathy and then said, “So you’re not perfect after all!”

Not perfect after all? It’s funny the impression we give some people.

Years later, I am still not perfect. Nor are my children. My boys still live in a mess. I never did train them to keep their room tidy. So what did I do wrong?

I tried everything.

I bribed, I threatened, I yelled, I used consequences…

“If you don’t pick up your toys, I shall confiscate them.” The toy boxes ended up in the garage where they remained until someone stumbled over them a few weeks later. No one really missed them.

“You must have too many toys. If you can’t keep them tidy, I shall take them to Vinnies.” I never could harden my heart enough to give away my children’s favourite toys but we did have lots of pruning sessions.

“I will vacuum up all that Lego if you don’t pick it up,” I’d say as I turned on the vacuum cleaner. The boys would cry and beg me not to, and I‘d feel terrible.  What a cruel mother!

“If you don’t pick your clothes up off the floor I shall confiscate them.” I filled garbage bags full of clothes and hid them away, and no one seemed to miss them until they couldn’t find their St John Ambulance uniforms. My too soft heart always relented and the uniforms were returned.

“I’ll give you some pocket money if you clean your rooms.” I didn’t have enough money to keep up with the mess.

I tried everything…

Then one day I got tired of yelling and bribing and threatening and I gave up.

When the girls came along I decided to try something else. Whenever there was a mess, I got up and helped my children clean. And suddenly everyone wanted to help. It was that easy. Why hadn’t I thought of that before?

I guess I just expected my children to obey my commands. I was the parent and they were the children. Shouldn’t they just do as I say? 

I discovered a few things:
Children are worthy of respect, and some methods of training don't take this into account.
Children do like to work but... working alone can seem overwhelming to a child.
Working together is fun. It binds a family into a team.
If I want my children to help me, I have to help them.
It takes less effort to get up and help than it does to sit still and nag.

So my girls keep their rooms reasonably clean and tidy. And my boys don’t.

But I’ve just had another thought. Girls? Boys? Perhaps the state of their rooms has nothing to do with my methods of training after all. Maybe it’s all to do with being girls and being boys.

But then again... My mother likes to tell my children what a messy child I was (I wish she wouldn't) and Andy has always been a very tidy, an-everything-in-its-place kind of person.

Has gender got anything to do with it? Or did I just fail with the boys? And does it really matter what children's rooms look like? They are the ones who have to live in them.

"So you're not perfect after all!"

Not by a long way.
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  1. I don't think it's a boy/girl thing. Ds keeps his room rather tidy and likes organizing his things. The older girls go in spurts - actually oldest is messy and next dd much neater. The young girls - oh my! Yes, working together is the way - but all too often I'm vainly scrambling to find those energy reserves ;-)

    1. Beate,

      "I don't think it's a boy/girl thing." I agree! More to do with personality maybe.

      I've been wondering if children can be encouraged to be tidy regardless of their natural inclinations. I guess it's important they be considerate and make an effort if they share a room.

      I guess when I was a really overtired mum of little ones, and I didn't have the energy reserves to help out, I just wanted the mess cleaned up quick and without a fuss. That never seemed to happen though! Perhaps I should have ignored the mess until I felt able to help out. But that's so hard to do! These days when I am tired the girls are very quick to help me, and I am very grateful for that. I should say the boys help too!

  2. Thanks for your post! I have four sons and three of them recently began sharing a bedroom that is extra large. This seemed like the best configuration of rooms for our family. However the mess is pretty extreme, because they are the youngest boys with all the toys and caged pets. I have them clean their room once a week, but it only lasts a few hours. When I help them on top of all the other things I do around the house, I am worn out and exhausted. Thus, most of the week, I just try to stay out their room and just close the door :) Actually, the other day a smell developed and I assumed there was old food in their room. We discovered that it was a star fish that was a gift to one of my boys! He has had it for over a year, but I guess whatever coating was put on it to preserve it wore off.

    I look forward to the cleaner room my only daughter will keep when she is older :)

    1. Three boys and caged pets in one room! I can just imagine how difficult it is to keep the room tidy. My sons used to have toys and mice and rats and axolotyls and clothes everywhere. Now they have computers and car parts and papers and DVDs... Lots of stuff!

      We tried to make things easier for the boys by installing wall to wall shelving in their bedroom. That was good except they never noticed the dust.

      I love the story of the starfish! I had to track down terrible smells so many times.

      I got to the point where I just closed the door too. I also hoped no guest would ever want to go into the boys' room. Looking back I'm wondering if I should have tried harder with the boys, but when you're worn out and exhausted, you can only do so much.

      I am so glad I have more energy these days and girls who like living in pretty and organised rooms!

  3. Sue, ugh, the bedrooms...I feel like this is a losing battle. My big thing about the bedrooms is that they pick up their wet towels and hang them. Otherwise, for the most part, I try not to care too much as it is their area. (Yes, I have to keep telling myself this and reminding myself, too!) I do try to enforce them keeping the common areas of the house picked up of their things as that tends to drive me nuts.

    Hope all is well! I haven't been too present in the blogosphere lately. Good to "see" you again!

    1. Stephanie,

      Messy bedrooms seem to be a common problem! I understand about wet towels. Also, clean and folded clothes. I hate it when my kids' clean washing ends up back on the floor with all the other mess. Then again, the boys do their own washing now so it doesn't really worry me any longer.

      Their area? That's quite true, and if everyone in the room is happy, maybe there isn't a problem. It's me that has a problem if I am being honest. My problem is I want everyone to think I have brought my children up well. Messy bedrooms give people the impression I could have done better. Oh well, I shall just have to accept I am far from perfect!!

      I noticed you haven't been around lately, Stephanie. It is always wonderful to chat with you.Thank you for stopping and saying hello!

    2. Sue, I know what you mean about the clean, folded clothes ending back up on the floor! In fact, I just told my John Paul that I might as well just bring his clean laundry up in a pile. Oh well.

      Btw, I wouldn't worry too much about the bedrooms. I am reminded of your post months ago about your son and his girlfriend who get up early every Sunday to go to Mass together. That speaks volumes. You are definitely bringing up your children well! : )

    3. Stephanie,

      "In fact, I just told my John Paul that I might as well just bring his clean laundry up in a pile." I like that! That is so true. I wonder why I take the time to fold clothes too.

      I guess there are more important things than tidy bedrooms. Yes, I am grateful for so much else. When it comes down to it, what's a little mess? Thank you for reminding me about that, and your encouraging words.

      God bless!

  4. My 2 boys were so different. One kept his room clean and neat and the other one didn't.
    When they were little, I helped them clean. When they got older, I closed the door. When it got to be too much, I would ground them til they cleaned it! Lol. It worked.
    They both complained about chores. I can't wait to see how it goes with their kids! :)

    1. Colleen,

      "When they got older, I closed the door." It's nice to hear there are a few door closing mothers out there, besides me!

      I guess we do what works and it sounds like you found the perfect way to deal with your sons and their mess.

      I think we all learn so much when we have children of our own. We realise what we put our mothers through. Yes, I wasn't very good at keeping my room tidy as a child. It's a pity my mother told my children that! Obviously I reformed as an adult. I guess I should have more empathy with my boys.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Colleen.

      God bless!

  5. Haha. This is good. And I don't know exactly why we equate tidy with perfection. But I can say I was messy as a child and now that I have my own home I pay more attention. I cannot say I am perfectly tidy but I do like things reasonably picked up. And I too found that when I roll up my sleeves and say, "Hey, let's clean up your room together", my children all seem to enjoy the help and appreciate that they are not in it alone. That's what I've noticed about everything in life - we really appreciate when we don't feel alone. It is pretty easy for me to be in the same home but "away" if I'm not intentional and looking out for their feelings and needs. Thank you for sharing Sue. It is not about perfection is it? Only Jesus is perfect. We get to hold His hand while we hold our children's hands. Peace and blessings!

    1. Kim,

      You found an old post!

      You sound just like me! I really do appreciate it when my children offer to help me do things. A task can seem overwhelming when we have to do it alone. And it's also a sign of love that they offer their help freely.

      My girls are all relatively tidy people. (My boys are still messy, though one of them is now renting his own home, and so he is learning to change his habits. When there is a need...) I have to admit my bedroom is far messier than my girls' rooms. I get involved with writing and other things and don't even notice the mess until I can't find anything. Yes, far from perfect! "Only Jesus is perfect. We get to hold His hand while we hold our children's hands." Oh I do like that. Thank you for sharing those words. May God bless your family too!

    2. Kim,

      I didn't mean to imply you have a messy bedroom. Apart from my own room, like you, I do like things reasonably tidy, but I'm not worried about perfection!


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