Maintaining Kids' Rooms

Guidelines for Helping Kids Keep Their Rooms
Clutter Free


Once the decluttering process is complete, maintaining kids’ rooms can be a challenge.  Try implementing the S.U.R.F. method for keeping kids’ clutter at a manageable level.

Set up Systems

Systems are simply a way of doing things consistently.

Once your child’s room is organized, establish expectations for keeping it that way.  You will probably need to remind your child regularly of those expectations, but they will adapt.  Children generally want to do what’s right, and they function best in an environment in which clear guidelines are in place.

When my children were young, we had a simple system for maintaining kids’ rooms – both their bedrooms and the communal playroom. The playroom had to be picked up before they could do something else (watch television, play outside, etc.). Everyone understood the expectation.  My kid’s friends even adapted to our system.  

After a couple of visits to our house, they would come and ask me, “Can we d0 --- if we pick up the playroom?” 

This system worked well for us.  Your system should reflect your family’s lifestyle and needs. 

Be Understanding

Sometimes you have to find a balance between maintaining kids’ rooms and meeting their needs. That may mean adjusting the expectations (or system) on occasion.

 When my kids and their friends had spent hours setting up a miniature town and wanted to pause to go outside and play in the snow, I didn’t make them pick up first.  I was glad for them to get some fresh air and exercise and glad to know they wouldn’t be bored when they came back inside.  Instead, they would be eager to get back to business.

As a former educator I believe whole-heartedly in the philosophy that play is a child’s work.  If your children are deeply engrossed in creative play, feel free to set your system aside for a day or two until those creative juices have ceased flowing. 

I have a builder in my family.  Since toddlerhood he has been enamored with all things construction.  He produces amazing, one-of-a-kind creations with Legos®, Kinex®, Magnetics®, Tinker Toys®…you name it.  After laboring for hours on a new creation he’s not about to tear it apart so that it will fit back in the box - and I don’t blame him. 

If you’ve got a builder in your family, find a way to showcase his or her creations.  You may also want to think about designating a corner of the room for ‘works in progress’.  In our last home, my son used a large board as a platform for his creations.  When he was done for the day it slid under the bunk bed in his room where it was ready to be pulled out and worked on another day. 

Provide Resources

Maintaining kids’ rooms is easier when you set your kids up for success.  You do this by providing them with resources that make cleaning up a breeze.  For detailed information on kid-friendly organization, see my Toy Storage page.

Here are some additional ideas:

Shovel It 

Provide a kid-sized plastic shovel or large scoop for scooping toys up and dumping them back in the box.  This works great for building toys with lots of small parts. 

Wrap It Up

Designate a blanket or mat for playing on.  Kids can spread out all their toys on the mat.  Then when they are finished playing, they can pick up the edges and shake the contents back into the box. You can also buy mats specifically designed for this purpose like this 59 inch version which converts to a storage bag when not in use. 

Scoop It 

A dustpan with a flip up cover (called a lobby dust pan) is a fun clean-up tool as well.  Kids enjoy scooping toys into the dust pan and tipping it upside down so that the cover pops open and the contents spill out (ideally into the box where they belong).  Purchase a new one just for this purpose or thoroughly sanitize an existing one. 

Look for other ‘tools’ to encourage maintaining kids’ rooms.

Make It Fun

The more fun you can make it, the more cooperation you will receive in maintaining kids’ rooms. 

Think about how overwhelmed you sometimes feel when gazing on a messy room.  This is even truer for children given the directive to pick up your room.  Like adults, they often don’t know where to start. 

Help them out by giving them small chunks to tackle.  This makes the task both fun and manageable.

Here are some examples of manageable tasks for kids to tackle on their way to picking up their room.  String a series of tasks together and before they know it, the room will be clean.

  • Pick up all the items of a particular color.
  • Pick up all the toys with wheels.
  • Pick up all the toys with legs.
  • Pick up all the ______ (choose a certain type of toy such as Barbie® dolls or Transformers®)
  • Pick up a certain number of things.  The number will be dependent on the size of the mess and the age of the child.  Try 5 things, 10 things, or 20 things.  NOTE: Use this task as the finale when there are only a few items left. 

Another fun method for maintaining kids’ rooms is to make a game of clean-up time.  Try these suggestions or make up your own.

  • Sing a song – There are lots of simple ‘clean up’ songs out there.  Search for one you like online and teach it to your kids.  See how many times you have to sing the song before the room is tidy or try to get things picked up before you’ve sung the song a certain number of times. 
  • Race the timer – Set the timer for a certain number of minutes and try to get the room picked up before it goes off.  Offer some sort of reward if they beat the timer.  Another option is simply to time how long it takes for the room to be picked up and then try to beat that time in the future. 
  • Hide and seek – Have the kids leave the room while you hide treats in among the mess.  As they pick things up, they search for the hidden surprises.  When the room is neat and tidy, they get to enjoy their prize.  ‘Treats’ don’t have to be edible.  You can also hide stickers and other small items such as balloons, art supplies, or bubbles.  For a no-cost option, try hiding coupons for special privileges.  Privileges could include an extra story at bedtime, getting to stay up past bedtime, exemption from a chore, or one-on-one time with a parent.

Keep in mind that in order for your child to master any skill, they will need to see that skill modeled.  This means that you will initially need to play an active role in cleaning their room.  Over time, you will be able to pass the responsibility onto them entirely. 

I hope these suggestions will make maintaining kids’ rooms much easier for you and your children!


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