Clean Your Room!

By Gary E. Dudley, Ph.D.

It has been over 40 years since I first heard the words “go clean your room.” This was followed by “no playing outside until it’s done.” I remember walking into my room. The floor (which was not visible) was a solid mass of clothing, books, newspapers, baseball equipment, unrecognizable items which probably should have been discarded several weeks before, candy wrappers, and supplies for my various pets. Like any self-respecting eight year old, I dove right into the task, picked up the first thing I saw that looked interesting and began playing with it. When mother arrived (in just a couple of seconds I swear!) and said, “I thought I told you to clean your room”,

I knew I was in trouble.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized that I had no clue what “clean your room” meant and what’s more, I had no idea how to do it or even where to begin. So, as a young child therapist 30 years ago I began to talk to lots of young children, it occurred to me to get a little bit more clear on what exactly is being requested when a parent says “clean your room.” It is out of my discussions with children over the years that we have arrived at the following description of what it means to “clean your room.” We decided that it would be a more effective “teaching” description if we wrote it in first person and so this is what it means that I should do when mother says “clean your room.”

  1. First, I go into my room.
  2. Then, I go to my closet.
  3. I get some hangers out of my closet.
  4. I put the hangers on the floor beside my bed.
  5. Next, I go to the bathroom to get the dirty clothes hamper.
  6. I bring the clothes hamper into my room and put it beside the hangers.
  7. Then, I get my trash basket and put it next to the hamper.
  8. Now, I pick up everthing that’s on my floor (except the hangers, hamper, and trash basket) and put it all on top of my bed.
  9. Next, I crawl under my bed and pull everything out from under the bed and place all of it on top of my bed next to all the other stuff.
  10. Then, I go to my desk where there are piles of things and take all of the things piled there and put them on top of my bed.
  11. Then I go to my dresser where there are piles of things and take all of the things piled there and put them on top of my bed.
  12. Then I go to any other furniture in my room where there are piles of things and take all of the things piled there and put them on top of my bed
  13. Now, I pick up everything on my bed one piece at a time and ask three questions: is this trash, is this dirty clothes, is this clean clothes?
  14. If it’s trash, I put it in the trash basket.
  15. If it’s dirty clothes, I put it in the hamper.
  16. If it’s clean clothes, I put it on a hanger and hang it in my closet.
  17. After I’ve gone through everything on my bed, I notice that the pile is much smaller!
  18. Now, I go through every piece again and ask one question: where is the place in my room where this thing belongs?
  19. If I know the answer, I put it there and then pick up the next piece.
  20. If I don’t know the answer, I set it on the floor (beside the hangers) and go to the next piece.
  21. After everything is off my bed, I take the hangers from the floor and put them in the closet.
  22. Then, I take the hamper back to the bathroom.
  23. Then, I call mother to get some help on what I should do with the things left on my floor because I don’t know where they should go.
  24. Mother will help me decide where to put it, or where to store it, or maybe when it goes on the garage sale!!!

And that’s what I should do when mother says “clean your room.”