Dorothy Rosby
Contributing columnist
In order to assist a child of any age to clean his/her room, a parent should have a great deal of patience, a dose of understanding, and a large trash bag placed just out of sight.
There are many challenges, the main one being how attached children get to their toys, even the ones they forgot they had. You may think they’re no longer interested in items they acquired when they were younger. They may think so too—until you suggest they part with them. Suddenly particular toys are not only special, they’re heirlooms to be passed on to their own children one day.
The second problem is the sheer volume of toys in the modern child’s bedroom. Today’s kids receive toys and trinkets for everything they do—eating out, going to the dentist, and selling popcorn and overpriced cookie dough. They have birthday parties with 12 guests who bring 12 useless items…I mean, gifts. And they inherit hand-me-down toys from children whose parents are better at getting their kids to give up their toys.
Thirdly, many toys come in millions of pieces. We could have built a room onto our home with all the Legos my son had when he was growing up. And if had, we could have used it for toy storage.
Finally, even older children may not have a clear understanding of what “cleaning their room” actually means. There may be smelly socks, rotten apple cores, and heaps of toys in every corner, but many children believe that the room is clean as long as there’s a small space on the bed for them to sleep.
In order to deal with these challenges, you must have a strategy: First put a trash bag and a box for giveaways out of sight in the hallway. Then label some large plastic containers or cardboard boxes with the categories of toys your child has: Guns, trucks, jewelry, costumes, dolls, dishes, miscellaneous garbage. I’m kidding. Don’t write that. Your child may not even know what miscellaneous means yet.
Now clear off and make the bed. This will prevent any sharp objects or perishable food items from winding up under the covers during the next step. Place the labeled containers on the bed and shove everything that is not where it’s supposed to be, which is almost everything, into a giant heap in the center of the room. Then light a match. I’m joking. That would be dangerous.
Instead, both you and your child should begin putting each object into its correct container. Stop periodically to ask your child sweetly, “You don’t play with this anymore, do you honey?”
Sometimes they’ll agree quickly. If this is the case, put the item in the trash or give-away container quickly without comment. This is very important. You must never say, “Grandma gave you that,” or “You used to play with that a lot,” or even “Good riddance!” Any of these may cause the child to change her mind.
Most times, the child will argue that yes, she does too play with it, even if the item in question is broken, covered in dust bunnies, and not missed since it first disappeared under the bed two years ago.
It’s very tempting at this point to lose your temper and start dumping toys into the trash bag by the armload, but that wouldn’t be fair. Always remember, these are not your belongings. Plus you’ll be caught.
You have to be more subtle than that. Fortunately, you have an advantage. Children are easily distracted. One minute they’re cleaning, the next they’re playing handball against the wall or chewing on a pizza crust they found in the corner. This can be very frustrating, but don’t despair. Just keep filling up the trash bag while they’re not looking.
(Dorothy Rosby is the author of several humor books including Alexa’s a Spy and Other Things to Worry About, Humorous Essays on the Hazards of Our Time available in early 2020. Contact