Updated: Nov 23, 2022
Is it normal for a teenager to have a messy room?
Experts share their thoughts – and 6 steps to motivate them to tidy
If your teenager's bedroom is becoming just a bit too cluttered for your liking, these experts have the perfect tidying solutions
Chiana Dickson, Junior Writer
Although it is a bit of a stereotype that all teenagers have messy rooms, we're betting that every parent (or teen) reading this will find the theme familiar. Several of our team at H&G have teenagers with messy rooms, so we wondered: is it normal for a teenager to have a messy room? And how can we help them to be motivated to tidy it?
When we plan out bedroom ideas for teenagers the focus is usually on creating a cool, personalized space where they can express their individuality. Storage and organization, are usually high up on our list, not so much on theirs. What's more, teenage bedrooms often still house childhood toys and games that we are not quite ready to let go of, making organizing a bedroom more difficult.
Here, organization experts have offered their thoughts on whether or not it is normal for teenagers to be messy, and how they help families organize these spaces.
IS IT NORMAL FOR A TEENAGER TO HAVE A MESSY ROOM?
'As a mom with one tidy and one super messy daughter, I’d say it is normal for some teens to be messy, says Mimi Bogelund, home organizer and member of The Spark Joy Collective(opens in new tab). 'No amount of nagging made any difference to get my messy daughter to tidy up so I’d collect any rubbish, plates, or cups daily and she’d do it occasionally of her own accord.
'A weekly or fortnightly reset, so her room could be properly cleaned, was done by me and sometimes unprompted by her. Nagging and arguments do not work. But equally, keep encouraging and requesting the teen to bring food, plates, and glasses out and laundry in the basket. Choose what’s important to fight over, in our case, food and laundry, and try to remain relaxed about the rest.'
'Having a messy teen is perfectly normal, a messy room is part of the remit of being a teenager!' Victoria Bance, APDO(opens in new tab) member and creator of Declutter & Organise with Victoria(opens in new tab) concurs. 'A teenager’s bedroom is their personal space and therefore it has to be a place they feel comfortable being in whether that be in a messy or tidy room.'
'Believe it or not, some teens (like me growing up for example!) like to keep their rooms neat and tidy but the phenomenon is that you might see teens with messy rooms,' Jamie Hord, CEO and founder of Horderly Professional Organizing(opens in new tab) continues. 'Some mess can be normal and usually a way to show a teenager's independence and claim their space but it's important to step in when you need to and never let it get to the point of being unhealthy.'
Lola Houlton, psychology student and one of H&G's regular contributors, has only just left her teens. Her teen bedroom was famously untidy. She says teenagers have good reasons for having messy bedrooms:
'Back then, my reason for having an untidy room was to do with time and effort. I reasoned that if I were to spend time tidying, I'd only mess it up again later, and it was far better, in my mind, to spend the time sleeping or making a great lunch for myself. Doing so put me in a good mood, while tidying had the opposite effect back then.
'However, it is about assertion of independence, too. As part of my studies, I read Carl E Pickhardt's article The Messy Room: Symbol of the Adolescent Age(opens in new tab) in which he suggests that a messy room may be to do with independence, individuality and opposition to parental rules. A parent coming in and putting their stamp on the space undermines this.'
HOW TO KEEP A TEENAGER'S ROOM TIDY
If, however, you can't just let them be, there are plenty of home organizing ideas that are simple to implement and easy to make into buildable habits when introduced into a teenager's bedroom in the right way. Here, professional organizers suggest six ways you can encourage your teenager to keep a tidier space.
1. MAKE A ROUTINE
If you are trying to avoid having a messy teenager altogether, it is easier to start when they are children, encouraging them to take part in organizing small spaces, for example, Jamie Hord of Horderly Professional Organizing(opens in new tab) suggests.
'To keep a messy room under control is to first implement routine habits of cleanliness and organization as early as you can in childhood and be sure to set a good example for them by keeping your spaces and the rest of the house neat and clean,' Jamie explains. 'It's always easier to keep a space clean when it's organized so ensuring that you have the right systems in place so that everything has a proper home will make putting away and cleaning so much easier.'
2. INSPIRE WITHOUT GETTING INVOLVED
Being a teenager's parent is all about picking your battles. Gently encouraging your teenager to tidy by passing on your best decluttering tips is a good approach if you want to avoid confrontation.
'Firstly be the inspiration and keep your own things in order and secondly ask if they would like support to get their things in order the first time round so that they can do it for themselves from there on in,' suggests Jenny Hayes, KonMari expert and member of The Spark Joy Collective.
'Teens are carving out their own identity so personally, I wouldn’t get involved too much, fellow Spark Collective member Victoria Nicholson agrees. 'The best thing you can do is make it easy for them, i.e. if they’re throwing clothes in a heap, supply a basket for them to throw them into.'
'It is normal for teenagers to have some messiness but when it gets overboard and is affecting them and others in the home then it is a problem. Extreme untidiness which leads to unhygienic conditions may be a sign of mental health issues.
'Remember teens are going through school, exams, and learning to navigate friendship circles. Adults in the household should ensure they take part in and become a model of behavior – you can’t expect your children to do something if you’re not making the same efforts,' Craig Hoareau, APDO Member and owner of A Tidy Mind - London(opens in new tab) adds.
3. HELP YOUR TEEN DOWNSIZE
A teenage bedroom is often a bit of a mish-mash of their new interests and their old childhood toys and decor making it difficult to make the space fully functional.
'There are many and varied reasons why a teenager may have a messy room. Here are a few simple steps that will help them maintain a tidy space, however,' Spark Joy Collective member Jane Fern begins. 'Start by organizing clothes and discarding outgrown pieces and shoes, and reduce or discard or organize toys and games that they have outgrown.'
'Make sure to involve teenagers in regular purges of their clothes so that the clothes can either be donated to charity, given to friends/family or sold,' expert Victoria Bance adds.
'It is also a good idea to have their own dirty laundry basket in their room as well as simple storage boxes for everything sorted by category,' Jane continues, 'try to zone the room so that everything has a designated space, this makes putting things away so much easier.'
4. PROVIDE ORGANISERS TO MAKE THE TASK EASIER
Just as in your own bedroom, investing in some of the best bedroom organizers will help to encourage your teen to stay tidy by making the process easier. 'To try and help teenagers to stay more organized, provide them with items in their room that can help them remove the clutter from the floor and clear the clutter from the surfaces,' says Victoria Bance.
'For example, add laundry bags with handles to reduce the number of dirty clothes being left on the floor. Once the bag is full it can then be carried to the laundry room so the washing can be done. Slimline velvet hangers allow more clothes to be stored and stop clothes sliding off and ending up at the bottom of the closet while organizers for chests of drawers so that underwear/socks etc can easily be sorted and found.'
Adding too many organizers or making the process too difficult could have the opposite effect, however, as Marie Bateson, APDO's volunteer director and founder of Cut the Clutter(opens in new tab) warns. 'If this is too complicated or involves too many stages, it won't get done and the “floordrobe” will return. Teenagers have so much going on in their minds, school work, the opposite sex, how they look, etc. so keeping things tidy needs to be an easy-to-maintain task.
'There should be pinboards or an easy way to hang/stick things on the wall. Pictures, posters, reminders, and souvenirs are all important to teens. If there is a desk for homework or crafts then desk organizers such as pots for pens and equipment stop the surface from getting cluttered and make finding things easier and quicker, teens are always in a hurry. This applies to dressing tables too. Use makeup storage and hairdryer/straightener stands.
'Finally, try a box for the toys and sentimental stuff they don’t want on show but aren’t ready to part with. Get one that slides under the bed or fits on top of the wardrobe.'
5. LIMIT HIDING SPACES
One of the biggest tidying mistakes to avoid is providing hidden spots where items can be dumped and easily ignored. This often leads to losing things too!
'If your teen shoves everything into every possible hiding place rather than where it should go then try and remove or block these spaces,' Vickie Farrell, APDO member and founder of Declutteright(opens in new tab) says. 'If it's under the bed that is their go-to place, then maybe start using this space to store suitcases or boxes.'
6. TAKE TIME TO SHOW THEM YOUR TRICKS AND TIPS
Just as with any skill, organizing and tidying take time to learn and develop. Seeing as we all have different organizational styles – from hyper-organized busy-bees to more laid-back tidiers who prefer systems such as the 'bin system' to make the task more manageable – taking the time to introduce your teen to how you tidy, as well as alternative methods, might help them feel like tidying up is their choice.
'A good way to help them get their room organized is to offer to do it WITH them,' Craig Hoareau, owner of A Tidy Mind - London (opens in new tab)says. 'That is the only way they will learn and be able to maintain it. Perhaps sit with them and make a plan on how best to organize their room. Help them declutter anything they no longer need/want and look at what categories they have and assign homes for them. It is important to not make decisions for them. It is their space and their stuff. Scolding, nagging, or being too forceful will not lead to success.'
WHY DO TEENAGERS NOT CLEAN THEIR ROOM?
There are a multitude of reasons for a teenager having a messy room. From having other, more interesting things to do to simply becoming overwhelmed by the mess and not knowing where to start tidying. One of the best approaches to trying to tackle a messy teenage bedroom is to talk to your teen about why it is messy and if they would like to find ways of taming the problem and working from there.
SHOULD I FORCE MY TEEN TO CLEAN THEIR ROOM?
If a teenage bedroom has passed the point of untidy and is beginning to become a biohazard in and of itself, consider talking to them about the dangers of a messy room and offer to help tackle the problem together. If the messiness is isolated to their room, however, and is not dangerous, consider allowing your teen to keep the space how they would like to, offering them support should they wish to invest in organisational tools like baskets. It is important for a teenager to have one area to control for themselves to avoid conflict.