My tween daughter is a collector, just like her parents. She has tons of collections (bags, jewelry, art stuff, books, rocks, etc.), and sub-collections within those, like jewelry > loom band bracelets. Or books > comic books.
These things get scattered super-fast, and they pile up in all the wrong places, and then she gets stressed out because I get stressed out, and I forget that maybe she just hasn’t developed that particular skill quite yet.
She requires assistance. And by assistance, I mean oversight and direction. I do NOT do the work for her. I just stay in the room to keep her on track and help her solve problems as they arise. This helps her organize her mind, which has to happen before she can organize any physical space.
How to “Help” a Kid Clean Her Room
A foundational part of this is helping your child learn to recognize trash. My daughter loved to hang onto anything she ever touched with a pencil or crayon, and that’s just…no. We can’t do it. So before you begin, work through what “trash” is for your child. Let her create the definition, too. And make sure you have a designated storage spot for that ephemera she wants to keep. We have a “scrapbook drawer” that holds paper items she wants to commemorate in a scrapbook someday (soon!).
1 – Pile everything that’s not in its proper home into the middle of the room, or a bin if it fits. This goes on the floor. Not on a desk, not on the bed. On the floor. Anything at all that is out of place (on the nightstand, on under the bed, astray on the bookshelf) gets put into this pile.
2 – Nobody takes a break until everything in the bin/pile has a proper home. You can drink water on the journey, but there are no real breaks.
3 – Once everything that needs put away is in the pile, she picks up a single item and has to say its name out loud.
She is both verbal and auditory, so if she just sees an object, her mind can kind of go blank with what to do with it. I suspect she looks at an object and it reminds her of a friend, an experience, or she’s thinking about what she can be doing with it other than putting it away.
Note: Sometimes, she knows that a bunch of one kind of item are in the pile, so I allow her to do a quick search for like items so she can put them all away at once. But she can’t dig through everything. When she comes to another such thing, she’ll know where it goes because she’s done it before.
4 – Only after she says its name, she puts it away.
I stick around to remind her, “you have a place for that kind of thing in this house,” and to help her designate new spaces for toys that previously did not have a home.
5 – After the pile is sorted, we take a brief snack break. This is away from TV, stories, games, the iPad, anything that can distract us. And the snack must be healthy and powerful, because after an hour or two of constant work, both of us are pretty exhausted emotionally, if not physically. Tonight, it was yogurt and some cashews for her, and yogurt and a banana for me, since I’m dealing with TMJ and not allowed to have nuts.
6 – Then we reassess the room. There’s usually trash that needs to be taken out, odds and ends on the floor that need to be picked up before we can vacuum, etc.
7 – Vacuum.
8 – Dust.
9 – Relax!
Notice, I don’t tackle clothes other than to put them where they go (hung up, laundry, drawers). Taming the clothing collection of a 9-year-old girl is something for another session! We’re starting to think along the KonMari lines — only keeping that which brings you joy — but we haven’t gotten there yet!