Clean Your Room! 8 Steps to Help Your Child Get and Stay Organized

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Clean your room! This single sentence is all but guaranteed to trigger a cascade of arguments in any family with an ADHD child. Kids with ADHD struggle with organization, and their apparent resistance to keeping their room clean causes tremendous stress and frustration for parents and kids alike. It's typical for a parent to send a child with ADHD off to clean his or her room only to check on him or her an hour later and find that nothing has been done. Or to have their child proudly announce that he or she has finished cleaning when in fact he or she has only picked up a handful of items off of the floor. Does he or she not see the mess? Does he or she not care that his or her parents are becoming frustrated and threatening to take away privileges if he or she doesn't clean up? Many parents start to wonder if the frustration and hassle is worth it. Maybe they should just pick their battles and let their child's room stay messy?

If your child has ADHD and cannot seem to keep his or her room at least somewhat clean and organized, then there is a good chance that it’s not simple defiance or lack of caring on your child's part. He or she might have a real weakness in skills related to organization. These kids get overwhelmed when asked to clean up a mess, they struggle to consistently put things away where they belong, or create a logical plan for organizing a space. While it can be tempting to ignore your child's messy room - and there is definitely merit in choosing to pick your battles – your child will benefit in the long run if you help him or her learn the skills he or she needed to create and maintain a clean and organized room.

  1. Keep it simple. Avoid creating a complicated organization plan where multiple steps are needed to put away a single item. For example, avoid boxes with lids that stack on top of each other. Stacking boxes may seem like a simple solution, but in reality they require your child to complete multiple steps including taking down a number of boxes, lifting and replacing lids and replacing boxes in a neat stack (phew!). So, instead aim for clearly labeled, unstacked, lid-free bins that your child can toss things into with one step.
  2. Reduce the clutter. The fewer things your child needs to keep organized the more likely he or she is to keep his or her room clean. See my previous post for tips on helping your child get rid of stuff that they no longer need.
  3. Create a clean room checklist. While the phrase "clean your room" seems like a very clear statement to most adults, many kids don't actually know what this means! To them cleaning their room may literally mean just picking up a few items off of the floor, or shoving their clothes into their closet or tucking them away under their bed. Clearly define the meaning of "clean your room" by creating a clean room checklist. This checklist should be specific. For example: (1) all items are picked up off the floor, (2) clean clothes are on hangers or folded in drawers, (3) dirty clothes are in the hamper, (4) toys and books are in their spots on the shelves, (5) trash is in the trash can.
  4. Tackle only one section or checklist item at a time. The overall task of cleaning a room is overwhelming for most kids with ADHD. So, break it down into smaller chunks by asking your child to clean just one spot in his or her room (e.g., put away all of the toys that are in front of the bookshelf) or to complete one item on the checklist. Then, when they complete that task have them tackle another.
  5. Do it together. If your child hasn't been able to clean his or her room on his or her own so far, then he or she might need you to help him or her with the process until it becomes routine. Helping your child clean and organize can also help you identify and correct pitfalls in the organization plan that might otherwise derail your child.
  6. Take pictures. Take pictures of the organized space and attach them to your checklist. This will give your child a visual reminder of what a clean room should look like when he or she is finished. You can take before and after photos too so your child can see the progress he or she has made!
  7. Don't aim for perfection. Avoid setting the cleaning bar so high that it’s out of reach for your child. Think about what your child's room looks like now and his or her current ability to keep things organized. What would you consider to be a reasonable, modest improvement from the current situation? That's where you should set the bar. Then once he or she has achieved that goal, consider aiming for a higher level of organization.
  8. Pile on the praise. Remember that the task of cleaning a room is hard for your child. Praise his or her hard work and his or her effort. Let them know how proud you are! The more you acknowledge his or her effort the more likely he or she is to clean his or her room again.

Helping your child learn the skills he or she needs to keep his or her room clean and organized will definitely take some effort and planning at the start. But over time both you and your child will have fewer arguments and less frustration, and your child will learn skills that he or she will use for a lifetime.



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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