Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Befuddled Over Older Son’s Bedroom Messiness

I am truly stumped. I don’t know what to do about my older son’s bedroom. Things have severely deteriorated in the last six months and signs of worsening conditions have been present for about a year now.

I am told this is typical for the age, for adolescents to start doing this at age ten and lasting up to about age fourteen. Wise parents tell me that even diligent work toward guiding and monitoring the state of the bedroom, it can take years of consistent application of the chosen parenting methods for the tween to be more self-sufficient and able to maintain an accepted compromise state of affairs. I am told if the situation is not addressed that the child/teen will continue this way of living right up to the day they leave the house.

Our family does not use physical pain infliction methods of parenting. We do not use fear tactics or shaming techniques to get what the parents want. We have always leaned more toward compromise and being middle of the road with our requirements or preferences. We have spoken with our kids in respectful ways and things have been agreed upon and fairly smoothly, compliance was achieved. I know some of you may think that is wimpy parenting but hey when you can just have a discussion and then it is fixed and it is working that seems perfect to me. For years this type of parenting has worked out well, but with this bedroom situation it is not working well right now with this one son.

When I last blogged about lamenting if this was tied to the age and stage I received confirmation that this is typical of this age. Yet if the parents wish for something other than what the tween has decided is what THEY want then it takes concerted effort to change the tween’s ways.

I am truly stumped as to what to do with my son. I am not kidding or exaggerating. What I am stumped on I guess is that, dare I say I have been too lazy or unwilling to make a new family rule and be more strict such as setting a punishment or a reward attached onto performance or lack of. Such review of the situation would have to entail some kind of monitoring on a regular basis of the bedroom’s status. I hate that kind of thing and I am resisting it. However I really am thinking we have no choice here as past hopes and wishes (on my part) for my son to keep his room tidy have not been enough to make it happen.

I had a discussion with my husband about his childhood, his room and his parents. He said his father was overbearing and strict. He was to keep his room clean. Period. The room was seen daily by his father (not a formal inspection per se) and if even one single thing lay on the other bed (there were two twin beds in the room) then he was verbally shamed for it. His room was expected to be kept in pristine condition and there were no negotiations. My husband has no fond memories of having to keep his room clean or the way he was treated about it. For this reason he is not very tidy himself, to this day, and he has not said or done anything to set rules for my older son to keep his room tidier. He does hate the way our son’s room looks though and thinks it is ridiculous. I guess he is passively leaving the issue to me, the mom, to deal with. Great.

We discussed my bedroom when I was growing up. My room looked like a bomb went off in it. It was full of clutter and I owned too many clothes. The clothes did not fit in the drawers and the closet. I saved clothes that I didn’t even like anymore. I would spend my earned money on clothing and shopping for clothes was one thing I did for fun. I want to be clear that my parents did not shop for me and they would only spent $100 toward new school clothes in the fall (which I picked out, budgeted for and spent). I felt I never had enough clothes compared to the other girls in my school. Also to save myself from teasing and being labeled as a total loser I chose to wear the latest fashions and the right brands of clothes. This meant I had to work and save my money to spend on my own clothes. My parents said this was a waste of money and was stupid to judge people on their clothing. Back to the room, it was a disaster and my parents asked that I keep the door closed as they didn’t want to look at the pig sty. It was really just clutter and some dust probably. It was not dirty. Sometimes the clothes and stuff was all over the floor and there was just a pathway from the door to my bed (mainly). I am not proud of this. I mention this because it seems that my older son, if left to his own devices, is this same way.

My son’s room is cluttered. There is too much stuff on the shelves to make dusting easy. Due to the very cool season we’re having we have had the windows open for months. Much pollen and other dust from the outdoors has entered the rooms and has made it hard to keep things dust-free.

My son has been growing a lot and his clothes are larger now. His bedroom set was ‘child sized’ (not baby sized) but this means that the drawers are small and don’t fit his long pants or jeans well. He needs more storage space for his clothing. The odd seasons here mean that we can’t truly pack away the winter clothes for half the year and only have summer clothes out in the other part of the year. So we are forced to have all the clothes available nearly year round. He also now has more special clothing for certain events like multiple special uniform pieces for Boy Scouts, special clothes for hiking and other clothing items for wilderness school.

Recently, my son has resisted my attempt to remove the decorative items from his room which I installed when we moved here, back when he was three years old. I have already gotten rid of some of his displayed things. Some stuff was moved out to a display cabinet elsewhere in the house. Yet still I feel like his room is exploding with stuff.

My son likes to display things. I think we’ll have to curtail this and limit what gets displayed versus what gets saved in drawers or other places versus what gets thrown out.

My son’s gigantic LEGO creation fills the floor. This is intricate and is very hard to move as it is fragile. It also has collected dust since it sits on the floor where the dust naturally settles. It is impossible to vacuum the floor to be honest. For that reason I am strict about no food being in the room. Also he doesn’t like wearing shoes so it is helpful that he never wears shoes into his room so dirt is not tracked onto the floor. My son feels this LEGO creation must reside in his room to protect it from visiting friends and relatives who seek to destroy, for pleasure, large projects like that. I will admit it is convenient to just shut and lock his bedroom door while the guests are here then to use the screwdriver to unlock the door after they leave (to protect the LEGO creations). If I ban this LEGO command center thing from his room I don’t know where we can put it and have it remain protected.

I have removed some board games from his closet to make more shelf space available for the books and comics that he reads. Yet he has not complied with keeping them on the shelves, leaving them all over the floor, covers up. At a recent lecture on right brained learners (which this son is) I couldn’t believe it when the speaker (DianneCraft) said that right brained people like to organize horizontally, filling all flat surfaces with stuff instead of filing books onto shelves or papers into vertically hanging folders. This is so true for my son. So perhaps his habits are due to the way his brain is wired. However it is unacceptable to keep living this way so we have to make some changes even if they are not in line with his brain’s preferences. Sorry, brain, but we’re making changes around here.

I am truly thinking the only possible way to handle this child and his room is to wipe the slate clean and to have nightly inspections. Punishments or rewards will have to be tied to these inspections. I have resisted chore charts, reward earning or punishment giving based on daily inspections so far in our parenting journey. I really am up against a wall here and feel there may be no other way. Yet I cringe at the idea of doing that, it is so against my nature.

The room is so cluttered up that it is a danger to walk in. Books, magazines, comics, LEGOs, toys and clean folded clothing as well as dirty clothing is all over the floor. The dirty clothes hamper sits empty as do the book shelves.

One other thing we need to do is get more shelving units for clothing to install inside of the wasted space inside of an antique armoire that he has in his room. That space should be able to hold clothing. I have been looking around in stores for the right containers but found nothing that was affordable at Linens N Things, I guess it is back to Wal Mart I go.

I had planned to do this project when my son was out of the house away at an educational day camp. However the unplanned chicken pox meant we had to cancel that camp and instead I was stuck at home in quarantine with the kids. So it didn’t get done last week as planned.

I’m feeling overwhelmed by this project. I just had to share.

At times like this the idea of hiring a professional organizer is very tempting. Too bad there is no money in the budget for that…

One Last Thought

The bedroom is a safety hazard. This is one main reason that I am putting my foot down. In order for me to enter the room to tuck him in at night, which he asks that my husband and I still do, we are putting ourselves in danger. I have stepped on tiny LEGOs and hurt my feet. I have tripped twice. I have to hop around the room sometimes just to get to his bed (the path is not always even clear to the bed). Recently when trying to close his windows when a 2 a.m. big wind with heavy rain hit I practically killed myself trying to navigate to the windows while half asleep. So really this has crossed over from just a bit of clutter and an unsightly mess to a problem. I often read that when being a packrat or messy crosses a line to hindering one's use of a space or becoming a safety hazard that is crossing into a hoarding state and is unhealhty.

I guess the bigger issue here is me wrapping my own mind around a new parenting duty and strategy and imposing discpline on myself to follow-through on rules that I am making for my son.


Article on preteens and messy bedrooms

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Deb said...

I know this is a difficult issue for you to push through, Christine, so I wanted to send you some encouragement.

I grew up as the child of slobs, and learned to be a slob myself. I wasn't helped by a culture that just sees level of messiness as someone's personal preference, as a quirk of character, that one's friends or loved ones should just put up with.

What I didn't realize is that once you grow up and live with roommates or get married, that strewing your stuff in someone else's way is actually a wrong to that person. Making someone else deal with your mess, much less messing up *their* stuff, is a BAD thing to do. It says to that person that their possessions, or their ease of life, matter less to your than your own laziness. My husband and I had five bad years near the beginning of our relationship because I was such an inconsiderate slob. It took a lot of thinking, coming to the conclusion that I was indeed doing wrong, and THEN *years* to break myself of these habits. 13 years later, echoes of it, or my husband's suspiciousness of my ability now to be neat, still haunt us a little. It almost ruined my marriage, although I will say thankfully that we're very happy now.

So, can I just encourage you: If you make the effort now to be sure your son has a respect for his property, others, and himself...without going overboard as in your husband's childhood, of will be doing him a favor for the rest of his life. Partly because being organized is an objectively better way to live, but also because he will learn a way of life that will benefit his future roommates, wife, and children.

Lisa Quing said...

I have the same difficulties you describe with your son, room cleaning, and Legos. My 13yo is upstairs RIGHT now, having been ordered to clean it up, but telling me it is impossible.

christinemm said...

Thanks for your encouragement!!

See tomorrow's blog post for an udpate.

I also agree that is not not our right to just be slobs. It does impact others in the family, whether that is a spouse or sibling or the parent. It is taking advantage of others to make a mess that some others are bothered by, inconvenienced by or injured by.

I also have strugged as an adult to un-learn about being a packrat (which my parents are and both sets of grandparents). I also had to teach myself housecleaning and cooking as my mother refused to teach me. I was let to "just enjoy childhood" and not forced to be responsible for myself. It is a good thing I was not home much when I rented and had roommates as I was not contributing much to the cleaning of the rental houses in general.

It takes a lot of time to un-learn bad habits. I am trying to instill good habits in my kids. I am disappointed that one kid though is not getting it with gentle nudges and will require more strict parenting. I don't like being militant about inspections and such. However time and time again he has shown he will not maintain on his own and it gets really bad before I step in and declare it is time for an overhaul. I need to stop the patterns of just letting it get bad then declaring a major cleanup project. It is SO MUCH EASIER to stay on top of maintenance than to do nothing then tackle a huge project. That is true in the housecleaning in general and true with kids toys and their bedrooms.