December 30, 2011
How Do You Get Teenagers to Clean Up Their Room?


While it is true that this blog is the third most popular innovation blog in the world, and while it is also true that, last year, I was voted the #1 innovation blogger in the world, both of these factoids pale in comparison to what I am about to present to you in the next paragraph.

Today, I finally realized what all of my blogging has been about for the past four years. Not to monetize my efforts. Not to build the brand of my company. Not to win friends and influence people. No way.


All of that stuff, of course, is nice, but none of it comes within a light year to the question I'm going to lay on you in the next paragraph -- the answer to which may just change the axis upon which the earth rotates or, at the very least, provide millions of parents with the answer to a question they have long since stopped asking.

How do you get teenagers to clean up their room?

As the proud father of a 14-year old girl and 17-year old boy, I now understand that all my efforts to help organizations establish robust, sustainable cultures of innovation is a piece of cake compared to the Olympian task of getting my two teenagers to clean their rooms.

Zen Masters cry when I ask them for advice on this subject. Grandparents laugh. Psychologists look wistfully into the distance and mumble very long German words.

I was beginning to think that no one knows the answer, but then I remembered there are thousands of really smart, creative, entrepreneurial innovators reading this blog -- some of whom are actually parents, and some of whom are actually in the Federal Witness Protection Program.

And so, ladies and gentleman, without further ado (adieu?), if you want to join in the crowd sourced, existential fun, all you need to do is write your answer to my question in the comments section below. (If you can't figure out how to do that, simply shoot me an email me (

messy room.jpg

To make it worth your while, I will be awarding fabulous prizes to the three people who submit the most insightful and actionable ideas (according to my big, fat highly subjective opinion).

FIRST PRIZE: A lifetime subscription to Free the Genie
SECOND PRIZE: Free the Genie deck
THIRD PRIZE: Awake at the Wheel

But wait, there's more!

I will present all of your suggestions to Jesse (17) and Mimi (14) -- assuming they will come out of their rooms to talk to me. I will then ask for their feedback and post their replies on this blog, along with an announcement of the three winners, in mid-January.

Multiple submissions are perfectly acceptable, even if the submissions, themselves, (like the rooms of teenagers and the parents of teenagers) are not perfect.

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at December 30, 2011 11:26 PM


I believe the answer is a question: "why"?
Why they should keep it clean? Spend energy to do that? And then make the mess again?
I am father of two children too, and I know the matter. But at the end of the day what is the most important point? That shirts are washed, room is dusted and sheets changed from time to time.
We have few rules, "what is not taken to laundry room is not washed", "sometimes you must pile all your stuff to dust the room" and "once a week you must change your sheets yourself (old sheets in laundry room, thank you)".
Isn't the same thing we ask to our innovators? Keep your way and let me see what you can do.

Good luck!

Posted by: GBorgonovo [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 30, 2011 03:03 AM

I agree with Giorgio that you have to ask 'Why? and "Is it really important?" e.g. for years my son didn't want to change into pyjamas, and in the end I decided I had other battles to fight, so he has slept in his clothes since he was 5. Everyone's happy.

Regarding rooms, we had a real issue about about 4 years ago (when my son was 12 and my daughter 14). I decided to try the contradiction matrix from TRIZ and the principles we used were:

10 Preliminary Action : We stripped the rooms back and they decorated them just as they wanted so they were proud of their rooms. My daughter went for chic goth with black chandeliers and purple silk sheets. My son for a gentleman's club look with deep blue walls and leather-look furniture.

2 Taking Out: All unused/unwanted stuff was taken out as it just clutters. Every year we try to remove what hasn't been used in past year

13 The Other Way Round: Finally when brainstorming solutions for this, I realised that although keeping rooms tidy woudl be nice, what I actually wanted was some help in the house generally. So now the kids help with the cooking and pet care and I occasionally help them tidy up as it is more fun doing it together.

Not saying that their rooms are always pristine, but we have found a happy balance.

Posted by: Rowannorrie [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 30, 2011 05:08 AM

To get teenagers to clean their rooms is simple. Allow them to entertain their boyfriends/girlfriends in their room - and only their room.

We've lived in a house without a "bonus room" or other room - just a great room in the middle of the house. When they want to have friends over the only place where they can entertain their friends without the "rents" being in the room is their own room. You'd be surprised how clean they can make it if they have a girl/boy friend coming over.

BTW - we make them keep the door cracked and we pop in randomly.

Works like a charm.

Posted by: IncentIntel [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 30, 2011 07:28 AM

Great question. Mitch you have a great blog and I love your writing. I was grinning almost the whole time I read this. I don't have any great answers for this question, but my wife always did this magical thing when the kids didn't want to do something by saying "Fine, that's your choice, you don't have to do it.". The magic was that somehow the kids knew that there was a big "but" underlying what she said. But, don't come to me when you have no clean clothes, or can't find your music or favorite shoes, or have ants crawling around cleaning up. I don't know how she did it but it worked with room cleaning, kids who didn't want to go to school or church, and countless other issues.

Posted by: Mark Buchanan [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 31, 2011 10:35 AM

Well, I am a teenager. (GASP!) And, I have some ideas.
First of all: For the most part, teenagers WANT to have clean rooms, but can never find the time to clean. (You know, sports, music lessons, church, advanced classes, managing friends, making sure you look presentable, making colleges aware of your existence, it's big stuff, even for younger teens.)
Second: Clothes are the main problem. Most of the time, we need help creating a system that works for us. This could be detailed including helping us find a CONVENIENT place to put our clothes when we are done with them (which is why they end up on the floor sometimes, we may not have convenient places to put them. If the hamper is in another room or the farthest, most obscure corner of the closet, it's not happening. Sorry. I'm not saying that's right or responsible, but that's what happens.), possibly a schedule for us to wash and put away our clothes, etc.
Third: Even if we're not quite meeting your expectations, it's not going to benefit either of us if you only point out our negatives and never praise us. I know that I sound biased, and maybe I am, but I believe that praise should out weigh (constructive) criticism. Constructive criticism is necessary, but praise is even more important. When we don't feel like we ever match up to your expectations, we probably won't even try. That's the bottom line.
Fourth: If there's really a disaster, help us set small goals. Start a week at a time. Or one load of laundry at a time. Whatever it takes. When we know that we can accomplish small things, and we see that we are making you proud, it helps us want to do better. Small accomplishments are always better than large failures.
Last, but not least: No matter what, make sure that we know that you love us no matter what our rooms may look like. That is what matters most.

Really, take it from a teen. :) I bet if you showed this to your teen, they'd agree. Try me.

Posted by: Whitney Larson [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 12, 2012 11:42 PM

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