a peek inside the fishbowl

08 Jul, 2010

“Messy room = messy mind?” Or not?

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life

Awhile back I wrote about an idea we had re: kids and chores. I was later contacted by a reporter who wanted to talk more about this topic afterwards and we had a great chat about it domestic duties in general. It is interesting to consider the difference between how our generation approaches cleaning compared to the one before. And the one before that.

Do you clean the same way your mother did? Are you stricter? Less so? And why?

I’ve been quite happy with our Focused 15. We’ve some grousing, but no mutiny. The fact remains that 15 minutes is a very short length of time – just enough to do a light tidy – and it passes by quickly.

Our 15 only includes priority areas such as the kitchen, front hall and the living/dining areas. Bedrooms are another issue. Where do you stand on the bedroom issue? Are you the kind of parent who insists on tidy bedrooms or do you shut the door in an act of denial?

We are somewhere in between. Every once in awhile we hit a breaking point and the bedrooms get a massive overhaul. Somehow we have ended up with a girl who is tidy and one who is less so. I wonder if there must be a genetic component to cleanliness. What do you think?

16 Responses to "“Messy room = messy mind?” Or not?"

1 | bushidoka

July 8th, 2010 at 6:36 am


The messy room / messy mind connection is pretty common with different schools of meditation like Zen and Shambhala. They believe that your mind cannot possibly be clear if your surroundings are in disorder. We also practice this in Aikido, which is known as “the way of Harmony”. When we enter the dojo our shoes are to be removed and arranged neatly in the entryway. It is said that you cannot possibly achieve harmony on the mat if you’ve started out by leaving your shoes in disarray beforehand.

2 | meanie

July 8th, 2010 at 7:15 am


I’ve thought about this a lot – I think my own preference is my cross to bear, as I cannot fully relax until everything is in it’s place and my surroundings are tidy. I don’t necessarily think this is a good thing – I’d much rather be enjoying another activity than fretting about how tidy something is, and I certainly don’t want the girls to be that obsessive. On the other hand, it would be great if they took more initiative and picked their stuff up. I usually do a big threat of “anything on the floor/counters will be tossed if not picked up”. I wish it didn’t have to come down to that though!

3 | Javamom

July 8th, 2010 at 8:35 am


I think the biggest challenge in this society is that there is simply too much stuff. Compile that with the fact that kids grow, and OUT-grow stuff (clothes and toys) and even the most domestically organized person will at some point pull her hair out.

Habit forming tidying, especially one’s own personal items, is key at an early age. But I’m still in the midst of this, with a preschooler and toddler around. I can’t expect a toddler to keep her clothes sorted when she can barely reach some of the drawers, but at the same time, I can form the habit of her being responsible for putting her dirty clothes into the laundry basket (we don’t have a hamper). Ben, who is 5, is responsible for keeping his room he shares with his sister tidy enough at night so that if someone has to get up in the middle of the night, they will not slip and fall or trip over something lying on the floor.

I like your 15 min tidying thing. I think perhaps I will start implementing something like this…how early did you do this with the girls? At what age?

4 | Mary Lynn

July 8th, 2010 at 8:44 am


I have to admit I’m not a great housekeeper. There are plenty of chores I’m fine with. I love to cook and I’m okay about cleaning up the dirty dishes afterwards, I don’t mind laundry, I do the vast majority of the grocery shopping. But when it comes to tidying and cleaning I fall short. Part of the problem is that hubby and I are both collectors of stuff. We’re not as bad as the people you see on Hoarders, but we do have a lot of books, magazines, mail, gadgets, etc lying about, plus all the kids toys. At the end of a long day of work I’m bad about tidying up my own stuff, let alone pushing the kids to tidy theirs.

My mom was very similar to me in terms of housework. I grew up in a house that had a lived-in look about it. It wasn’t dirty, but it was definitely cluttered. Ours is the same…I do clean the house fairly regularly, especially the kitchen, bathrooms, and diningroom floor, so it’s clean. But there’s always something a tad chaotic about our living space.

My grandmother, however, was very much a neat freak, and my mother’s laid-back attitude to cleaning was partially a reaction to the strictness of her mom. To my mom (and to me) there are so many more important things to concentrate our energy and attention on.

I do laugh when I go to friends’ houses and they apologize for the mess…then I look around and realize their “mess” is how our house looks when it’s clean. And occasionally I do feel embarrassed when people pop over unexpectedly and see the chaos that is our home. I love when I know we have guests coming because that gives me the incentive I need to buckle down and get cleaning. I suspect the kids will be the same as me. It’s much easier to get them to tidy when they know people are coming over.

On the other hand, the kids (age 3 and 6) actually seem to want to do a few chores, so I do have them help clean the table after dinner, sort socks when I do laundry, and tidy their own rooms. At least it’s a start.

5 | Binki

July 8th, 2010 at 11:03 am


Our house isn’t clean but it isn’t messy. I’ve witnessed extremes at both end of that spectrum…and both are scary. It’s pretty clean but kids’ projects might be on the dinner table. Shoes are not perfectly lined up. The mail and today’s stuff-to-deal-with are on the counter. There may be a clean clothes waiting to be folded in a basket in the back room. When I know folks are coming over, I do tidy for 15-20 minutes. It’s what my mother did…it’s what I do. Need to start the Focused Fifteen. My kids are way too old not to be putting their stuff away and helping out.

6 | Shan @ The Fairy Blogmother

July 8th, 2010 at 11:17 am


My grandmother was a hoarder and I helped clean out her house after she passed. I fully anticipate doing it again for my mother in law. Those experiences have been pretty big motivators in keeping on top of our own clutter. My husband may actually go too far to the other extreme at times, but we balance each other out.

I agree with JavaMom in that we have too much stuff in general. It all just gets in the way. Our neighbourhood started a yearly garage sale, so the past couple of years we’ve set aside some totes and just file stuff into the garage sale containers as we go through the year. It helps. Our girls are 8 & 4 so I get them involved in the decision making process of what to keep and what to let go of.

We tried chore charts with limited success. I think I’m going to try your focused 15. I think it will fit better with our busy family.

As for their bedrooms. They’re relatively neat most of the time. Their bedrooms are on the smaller size, so they really just sleep in them. They have their own tv/playroom on the mainfloor which is usually in a constant state of chaos. My husband likes to simply shut the door and forget about it, but once a month or so I go in and put all the toys back in the bins, movies back in the cases and so on. Sometimes they help, sometimes I tackle it on my own.

7 | Meghan

July 8th, 2010 at 12:28 pm


I just shut the door when I don’t like the state of my girl’s rooms. I encourage them to clean and tidy up, but really it’s their space and they are the ones who spend time in their room. I have heard them tell their friends they don’t like their rooms and the next day I remind them and help them clean up.

One thing I have done in the past is do a major clean up when my older daughter was at camp. I even put up the artwork she brought home at the end of the school year. She was thrilled to come home to a spotless redecorated room. Now I feel I have to do this every year – now x2 since my younger daughter is also going to sleep over camp this year.

8 | Ginger

July 8th, 2010 at 2:57 pm


I agree on the “too much stuff” part. Since my husband and I met 5 1/2 years ago he has spent lots of time convincing me to get rid of things. He has rubbed off on me and I am finding I like less things. I have developed a HUGE need to for everything to have its own place to live and if it doesn’t have a place to live then it must go. I am not perfect yet but slowly, room by room, I am banishing the clutter.

As for the boys’ things, I have been working very hard to keep the toys and “stuff” from overwhelming us. When you have twins people feel the need to buy two of the same toy. I will admit that sometimes this is useful. We do fight over things quite often. They don’t have any toys in their room since it is full with two cribs. Plus I think rooms are for sleeping, especially in the early years. They have a play area in the living room where most of the toys live. This summer I am working on their designated play area that is away from the living area. They enjoy playing away from us sometimes now and I want to give them that opportunity.

I have also decided that every summer we will go through their things and get rid of the things that no longer interest them or they play with. The turn 2 at the end of August so this summer all of the baby toys are leaving. Right now this is my job but I plan on having them help as they get older.

9 | Lynn

July 8th, 2010 at 3:28 pm


This is one area where my husband and I are at odds. I like things to be clean clean clean — but clutter is a-okay. He’s the opposite — he hates clutter, but he’d gladly let the bathrooms go three months without cleaning them. So his definition of “messy” is totally different than mine. After all these years of living together, we’re still trying to find common ground on this one.

So he’s really the one who is on the kids about putting their shoes away and picking up their toys, while I let it slide. I know, I really should be tougher on this or I’ll pay for it later.

As for their rooms, I’ve already decided two things. First, if they don’t keep it fairly neat (no food left in the rooms, floor not completely covered with clothes, that kind of thing) then I’m allowed to come in and tidy whenever I want. If they want to keep me out, they need to keep it clean – I expect this to be a major motivator when they reach their teenage years.

Second, this might sound weird but I’m already prepared to be much more lax on this rule with Gal Smiley than the others. She’s the one who just cannot keep her room clean, but it’s totally a personality thing. She’s a creator and always has a million projects/games/inventions on the go and needs to see them all at all times just in case she wants to change something or improve on something. I know it will pain her to keep things in drawers and boxes. I expect some tidiness, but I know it’s not in her nature so… I’m ready to shut the door if need be!

10 | Patricia

July 8th, 2010 at 3:56 pm


As a former messy teenager, I generally let the bedroom get messy. As long as the floor is clear on cleaning day and the dirty clothes are mostly in the laundry, I’m okay with it. Of course my oldest daughter is only 3.5 and my second is 6 months, so this may change.
However, as a child, this was a HUGE issue between my mom and I. We would have screaming matches over it. Was it a control thing? Probably. Did it warrant having frequent fights with an otherwise very good kid (I never did drugs, didn’t date and only started drinking when I was 18)? Obviously I don’t think so!
The arguments really did have an impact on my relationship with my mother. We never became really close and I think one of the causes was that any time we were actually getting along and having a good time together, she would always decide it was the time to bring up my messy bedroom. Being a teenager, this would just make me completely shut down.
Obviously this wasn’t the only thing that caused the lack of intimacy in our relationship, but it was the only thing we ever fought over. And it was brought up regularly. The bedroom was never dirty, just messy. There was never any food or dishes lying around, just some clothes on the floor and all surfaces were covered with paper and random things.
I am still not perfectly neat, but everything has a place and at least once a week everything gets tidied up. My house is clean though there are books and magazines on the side tables and our office desk is frequently covered.
I hope that as my girls get older, I won’t forget the negative impact this issue had in my relationship with my mother and will try to make sure I don’t turn minor issues into huge battlegrounds.

11 | Betsy Mae

July 9th, 2010 at 9:55 am


our house is little so i can’t just shut the doors and ignore the mess…when you walk into our front hallway you can see up into the bedrooms, down into the recroom, into our kitchen/liv/dining room! there is no escaping a mess and i am definitely not happy in a messy and/or dirty house. it seems that my family doesn’t like a messy and/or dirty house either because my hubs will clean and tidy if it does get that way, and the girls notice other people’s homes that aren’t tidy and/or clean.

the kids have no regular chores, and the only thing i ask of them is to clean up after themselves. i do have to remind them to tidy up before moving on to the next activity, sometimes i even have to nag but generally they are pretty good. they are used to the idea that they need to put their shoes in the closet when they come home, put wet bathing suits in the bathroom sink when they take them off, dirty laundry in the basket, towels up off the ground…but they are young (7 and 5) and i only expect so much from them.

even though i keep a pretty clean and tidy home, i am laid back about us ‘living’ in our home. the kids are always doing crafts that involve messy paints, glitter, cutting things out etc and i’m all for that, i like the kids building and spreading out in the house. but there is a difference between having a living room where an entire playmobil world has been set up and piles of junk lying around! even when the kids have made forts and play areas for themselves the house still appears clean and relatively tidy. dirty dishes aren’t lying around, beds are made, laundry is put away…that is how this family lives.

i agree that bedrooms are their own space so i try to accept their ‘collections’ of art projects, and found items, i just want things up off the ground and somewhat tidy. each time i go into their rooms (which is more than once everyday) i do a tidy up and toss/recycle something! i have a wire hung in each of their rooms to hang their art work and as i hang something i have to get rid of something. they have baskets on their dressers for stashing the small things and i tend to go through their baskets weekly and get rid of things. baskets in their closets for toys and shelves for books. i think it’s easier to play when the toys are grouped together than when everything is everywhere, they definitely seem to enjoy their toys more when we’ve gone through them and re-organized things.

i wish that i fretted less about the house, there is a whole lot more to do in life than vacuum and wash floors! but i also think that this is our home and we all like a clean and tidy home and keeping it that way takes some effort.

i don’t think it’s genetic, but perhaps more of a personality factor…not sure. there are many issues that play a role i think – like how you were raised, the way you think, what you place value on (how important individual items are), and how organized you are (i would assume if you are highly organized you will want things organized in your living space too).

12 | Betsy Mae

July 9th, 2010 at 9:56 am


sorry for the HUGE comment! it’s rainy and i think i’m putting off TIDYING the house!

13 | Sheila D.

July 11th, 2010 at 10:22 pm


Empty desk = empty mind. LOL

14 | andrea

July 12th, 2010 at 7:42 am


Javemom: we have had the girls involved in general tidying and easy household chores since they were small, as soon as they were able! Sarah, for example, loved to play with her toy vacuum. At one point we just switched it for the real one and let her go to town with it. :)

I think it’s important to establish some good habits early on, for sure, but also teach the kids how to clean up so they can master it later on.

Some people LOVE to clean. I know someone like that. She loves it, and LOVES to clean other people’s houses too. I don’t fret about having a perfectly clean house. Life is too short to worry about it. There are other things I would like to be doing!

Besides, no one ever laid on their deathbed, wishing they’d cleaned their over before meeting their maker.

15 | Marla

July 15th, 2010 at 10:15 am


I have been thinking about this post. A lot.

After reading that recent NY Mag article about parents loving their kids but hating their lives, and various articles riffing on it, one suggestion stood out: In essence, turf more toys. And I realized that some days, Jo spends as much time taking out and putting away as she does playing. Her toys are organized, in bins and tubs and are all tucked away – but that doesn’t make it any better, it just makes it easier to have MORE. Growing up, I had three Barbies – not ten. And I was fine.

And, I realized when thinking about a friend’s household pestilence situation that I spend more time tidying than I do actually cleaning – the stuff that really does matter, like vacuuming mattresses and washing windows. I like cleaning. it has immediately discernible results. Tidying is more like maintaining a status quo – you just pick up something and move it to another place.

So we are now on a de-clutter campaign (again) with an added ruthlessness. One thing I did was, in thinking about the movie Labyrinth and how those old ladies carried all their things on their backs and started piling them on Sarah, was make Josie hold her whole bin of (just!) Barbie clothes and accessories. Then we sorted it, and I made her hold it again, but then as she did, I lifted out the bag of things we’d decided to get rid of. She decided she was so happy to let go of that burden that she added more.

Your fifteen minutes came to mind – if it takes fifteen minutes to tidy our coat closet (it does) – we have too many coats and shoes. If it takes fifteen minutes to tidy the kitchen craft cabinet, we have too much (Oy, and I won the craft basket prize at the school’s fundraiser, and still haven’t integrated that stuff!). I have a drawer of recipes. I could spend fifteen minutes going through it and finding the ones I might make – or I could spend two minutes to pull the ten recipes I do make and turf the rest.

The new goal is not to spend fifteen minutes tidying – it’s to spend two, and more minutes actually cleaning.

16 | Mrsgryphon

July 17th, 2010 at 11:27 pm


It’s definitely the kid clutter that is getting out of control in our house. Something has to change soon, but I haven’t figured out how to handle it yet… Focused Fifteen is one place to start, but I agree with Marla and Javamom – we have too much stuff to begin with! Maybe a big plastic garbage bag would be helpful :)

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