When a Neat-Freak Shares a Room With Her Slob Sister: What's a Mom to Do?

Mom Moment 15


Disaster. Total Disaster.

I find myself in a pickle in regard to my daughters’ room. Two daughters, one room, one catastrophic mess. Now I’m normally the type of parent to choose my battles, and so long as there’s nothing growing out of the hamper or under the bed, I’d be inclined to let them live in the chaos. Unfortunately, because there are two of them, the parenting gets a bit trickier than letting them live with the consequences of their actions (or inactions, in this case).

Here’s the dilemma: I have an Odd Couple situation on my hands. My nine-year-old is more fastidious; she likes to have things in their place, and is easily upset when her world is disrupted. The four-year-old, on the other hand, has affectionately been nicknamed The Destroyer for her penchant for, well, destroying things.

So I have these two very different little girls that have to share a room. Big Sister wants things to be neat and tidy, and carefully puts her things away when she’s done using them. Little Sister is never happier than when every toy she owns is on the floor, and she sees no reason to pick any of it up because she’s going to play with it again anyway.

One wails that it’s not fair that she has to share a room with her messy sibling, and the other wails if she’s forced to pick up her toys. It’s a constant battle to get their room picked up, and more often than not I just end up pushing piles of crap out of the way so I can vacuum the floor.

What’s a mom to do in this situation? I thought getting organized would help them, so we got storage cubes and bins from Ikea and found a place for everything. My youngest’s favorite thing to do now is dump the containers upside down onto her floor. Then my eldest whines that it’s a frickin mess, but of course she won’t put things away unless she’s made to, because she didn’t do it.

I could go in everyday and clean up myself, but that won’t teach them responsibility and respect for each other and their things. Another option would be to stand there, prison guard style, and make them do it themselves despite the whining and the tears, but that sounds hellish. I could tell the older one to suck it up and either pick it up herself, or take a hint from her pal Tom Sawyer and figure out how to trick her sister into doing the work.

I’ve even considered bagging up everything on the floor and donating it to Goodwill, and honestly, this is usually the only threat that works when I really need them to clean up. Thankfully, I’ve never had to test if I have the guts to go through with it.

Should I suck it up myself and play Mean Mommy everyday at bedtime until things are put away? Will they ever fall into the habit of doing it themselves? Is that wishful thinking? Can I bribe them with candy? Can I bribe them with candy just to get them to stop complaining about their shared living space? Can I have some wine now?

Do your kids share a room? Do you have any tips for creating a peaceful environment? Are you laughing your hiney off at me for even attempting to stop sibling squabbles and messy room syndrome?


Image via Jenny Erikson

behavior, discipline, family, girls, sibling rilvary, toys

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Pinkmani Pinkmani

I shared a room with my brother until I was 10, he was 7. He actually slept in my twin bed with me every night despite the fact that he had his own. I was the messy one and he was the clean one. I was forced to keep my room clean. Having a dirty room wasn't an option because we just didn't live like that. We also didn't keep toys or TVs in our bedrooms because my parents believed that the bedroom is sacred and should only be used to sleep.


Is there anyway you can move all of their stuff into a playroom?

nonmember avatar The Wife

The 2, 4, & 8 year olds I babysit (separate households) are all required to put away any toy they are not playing with before they are allowed to take out a new toy. The only exceptions are the sleep toys (a stuffed animal & taggles blanket). They are pretty good at following this since parents AND babysitters enforce the rule.

As long as toys are in the play area and not in a shared space (living room, tv room, etc) they don't necessarily have to put everything "away away" (in closet or toy chest) but can put it to the side or on a shelf or on their bed.

My cousin is much stricter. If an item is found somewhere it doesn't belong, it is place at the foot of the stairs...the first time...so the owner can put it away. If the item is found a second time (or not put away that day), it goes into her closet until the owner has demonstrated he can be responsible with his things. Third strike, a very public straight to the trash... No negotiating. No retrievals. (Expensive items have been retrieved after bedtime, cleaned and sold on ebay or craigslist).

Short of running a tapeline down the middle of the room, you may find yourself alternating between forcing "The Destroyer" to clean & "Felix" to just suck it up.

My condolences, I feel for you.

randh... randhferedinos

Hmm, I think it depends on what YOUR standards are more than your children's. I like to have the house clean and picked up each night so in case of fire, or other emergency, there is no stumbling or stepping on Legos in the dark. My grandfather was a fire chief and related to us as kids, that the worst fires are the kind where it's so messy you can't find people inside and escapes are blocked by trash, toys, furniture, etc.



When your daughters are grown up they can keep their subsequent dwellings as desired. That's my advice anyways :)

ennui ennui

My husband was a stickler about teaching our kids to pick up after themselves from toddler-hood.  They had to put their toys away themselves.  I have to say, I have very tidy children thanks to that.  Now, my daughter can be on the messy side, so we have to remind her with things like early bedtime and pay Dad a dollar for each mess you leave lay overnight if he finds it.  Works like a charm.

MsRkg MsRkg

Have the child who made the mess clean it up every time she makes one. No if ands or buts. A 4 year old is certainly capable of it. And the more she cleans it , and see that it is something that she does not enjoy doing every time, the less of a mess she will be inclined to make in the future......or find a bigger house, with separate rooms for each child.  This is not that hard a problem.

fave82 fave82

I could not live like that. I wasn't allowed to as a kid either.. It was about having respect for my parents house and for our things. We could take out whatever we wanted but at the end of the night it all went back. And that way our toys weren't getting stepped on and broken and our games werent missing pieces etc. Im definitely not a neat freak, but i like some sort of order. My daughter is only 20 mths.. So obviously she doesnt totally understand.. But every night we clean up the toys she played w during he day and she helps to an extent lol. Hopefully it will stick. If she refuses as she gets older i will be bagging up everything and putting it in the utility room until she can appreciate and respect her stuff and living space.

Blues... Blueshark77

Unless I wanted to face the wrath of my mother I cleaned up my toys when finished playing with them. I am a sloppy adult now, but when my parents made the rules I had to follow them. Otherwise my stuff would have ended up in the trash. You are the mom, you have to make the 4 year old clean up after herself, otherwise take her things away until she's ready to take care of them.

Cel7777 Cel7777

Is there any way you could give each of them a "side" of the room, so your 10 year old has an area that is tidy and organized, and the 4 year old has her side to be a little less neat? I do think that the 4 year old should start cleaning up after herself--at least at the end of the day pick everything up--but if your 10 year old prefers a higher standard of tidiness, it may help her to have her own space that she can keep that way she wants.

Venae Venae

Sounds like the 4 year old has too much stuff.

Wicky... Wickylicious

Sorry but to me it's simple. You are the parent and they are the children. They must clean up after themselves, not make big sis clean up because that's unfair and you are punishing her whilst letting little miss messy off of the hook.



Clean up or lose it.



I have 5 boys and I enforce this because I have high standards of cleanliness in my home. They fast learn that their toys are kept from them for a while if they don't respect our home and the toys.



Easy fixed. Be strong mum !

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