Janet Fishman, J.D. is the president & CEO of HOPE Organizers, Inc. and is a member of the California.com Recommended Business Program, which highlights only the best businesses in the Golden State. To be featured, each business must be highly regarded, have a unique California story, and make a positive impact in their community.
When parents say, “Clean your room,” to their children, they might not be clearly communicating the outcome they’re actually looking for. While it may seem like an argument of semantics, there really is a difference between cleaning and organizing. But do kids truly know how to clean their room or what their parents mean?
The Difference Between Cleaning and Organizing
When children watch their parents stomp with frustration and say, shout, or yell at them to clean their room, they don’t always understand what to do. Kids often think it means stuffing their things under the bed or into the closet, which doesn’t accomplish the goal parents are after. So, are parents giving their kids the wrong instructions?
Cleaning is defined as removing dirt, grime, and dust from surfaces—so when kids are told to clean their rooms, they’re instantly confused by their parents' instruction. What the parent really means is to convey is: “clear your room,” “tidy your room,” or “organize your room.” Yet, at a young age, children don’t know what it means to organize.
Parents must demonstrate organizational skills and get children involved in the process so they understand how to organize. Children need to be part of the decision-making process—choosing where items go, what can be donated, and what can be thrown out. During the process, parents should allow the kids to make their own decisions without trying to influence them; kids know what they want to get rid of. Undermining their decision-making capability by remarking, “Oh, but Aunt Mary gave you that toy; how can you give it away?” can make children feel guilty about what they want. This guilt stays with them, even though a moment earlier they were feeling very confident about their quick decision-making ability. This second-guessing can damage a very good skill and stunt their growth in this area, all while the child is still trying to fully grasp the concept.