Clean up your toys! Pick up your socks! Get the wet towels off the floor!
Sound familiar? If there are children in the house, chances are at least one of them has a messy bedroom.
From the 5-year-old who leaves behind trails of Legos to the teen who hasn't hung up clothes in three years, getting children to clean up their rooms can be a real chore for parents.
About half of parents with children living at home say they nag their kids the most about keeping their bedrooms neat, according to a poll of 1,003 adults conducted for the Soap and Detergent Association.
But while making messes comes naturally for many kids -- Phyllis Diller once said, "Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing" -- there are things parents can do to improve the situation.
The first thing to remember is that kids have more "stuff" than ever. The good news is that there are options galore for storing it all -- with retailers such as Target, Wal-Mart, Pottery Barn, Linens-N-Things, Bed Bath & Beyond and all those dollar stores providing plenty of handy solutions in all different price ranges.
From the time a child is a mere tot, parents can work with them to find ways to organize their belongings and keep their rooms neat. They can also encourage good habits early on by setting an example (picking up their own socks and towels, for example) and also by providing ample storage solutions to make cleanup easier.
For young children, take cues from preschool classes where plastic bins and baskets are easily accessible for retrieving and returning toys, books and art supplies, for example. Parents can even get creative -- using a color coding system (blue bin for balls, for instance) or using pictures of crayons, blocks and other items to label containers.
By setting up an easy-to-use system, parents are teaching children how to manage their own stuff.
"Parents should teach kids these skills because these are life skills. Parents aren't doing their kids any favors by constantly picking up after them. You want to instill in them a sense of responsibility," said Linda A. Birkinbine, who runs a local professional organizing service called Keep It Organized!
Three of her many tips for getting kids to keep their rooms relatively neat and organized:
Manage clothing. "With every change of season, we go through the clothing and weed out what doesn't fit and what they don't like," said Birkinbine, mother of Allie, 9, and Julia, 12.
And she has learned to shop for clothes with the girls -- rather than without them -- and to purchase only what they truly love. That way, clothing gets worn rather than stashed away.
Another necessity -- a clothing bar installed low so that young children can reach it. Pegs and wall hooks also work because clothes can be easily and quickly hung up.
Choose see-through storage drawers for stashing everything from hair accessories to small toys to art supplies. Sterilite, for one, offers several sizes - from a three-drawer organizer that can sit on a shelf or desk to a wheeled drawer cart that rests on the floor. Some can also be stacked.
Why drawers? Boxes with lids have their place for some things, but what often happens is that the child takes the lid off and never puts it back, Birkinbine said. More mess.
Have places for everything - from backpacks to mittens. Establish certain routines such as a weekly "everything-off-the-floor" cleanup. And don't expect perfection (yes, even her daughters deposit clothes on the floor.)
As the preteen and teen years approach, bedrooms begin to take on a life of their own. This age group has accumulated even more things to store - school stuff, sports stuff, books, stereos, computers, CDs, DVDs. This means their storage needs have probably changed at the same time their lives have become even busier and more hectic than ever.
The key - says Jessi Morgenstern-Colon, daughter of professional organizer Julie Morgenstern - is that teens have to create a system that works for them when they are ready. The teen and her mother are the authors of "Organizing from the Inside Out for Teens" (Henry Holt & Co., $15).
"Today, after years of staying organized, I am happy to report that I have succeeded in creating an effective system. But what's most important is that it's my own system - not one that my mother, or anyone else for that matter, tried to force on me. That's why it works," Jessi writes on the Web site, www.organizedteens.com
To inspire and motivate, Pottery Barn also has a catalog and Web site for teens, pbteen.com, and teen magazines tackle the subject from time to time as well.
Of course, there are other reasons teens tend to have messy rooms. For many of them, choosing to live in a messy room is a way of showing independence.
"It can definitely be an independence thing - especially if there is a high standard of organization in the rest of the house, and the teen's room is the one that is a rat's nest," said Martha L. Deed, a retired local psychologist and writer.
"In terms of dealing with it, my suggestion has always been to have a closed-door policy and to establish specific times for when certain things have to be done, such as clearing things off the floor and vacuuming," she said.
But not on a daily basis, she added.
Parents should remember, too, that teens are geared toward independence and experimenting with who they are.
"Their rooms are an expression of that kind of experimentation. If there is a daily power struggle over picking up the clothes, the teen is not going to find out what his or her own standards are but rather focus on the conflict. A neat parent may have a neat child, but if there is a difference in standards then that "neat' child may never learn that he or she prefers a neat room but focus instead on the conflict," she said.
Her advice: At the point where important things are being lost; CDs are being stepped on and broken, and valuable items are being damaged, that's when a parent can step in and say, "Do you want some help with this" - and encourage them to take responsibility and devise a system that works for them.
"But the teen needs to be able to figure out what they need to do and design it themselves," Deed said.
Parents also can set some important guidelines regarding safety and cleanliness. The room can't be a haven for critters and bugs (no dirty dishes or food wrappers). It can't be a fire hazard (clear paths are required so teens and their friends can navigate safely). And the child is not allowed to mess up the other rooms in the house.
Another tip: Don't sweat the small stuff like socks on the floor. It's better to teach your son or daughter the importance of keeping track of things like debit cards, checkbooks, cell phones, etc.
Deed also points out that some parents fear the worse when it comes to messy rooms.
"But a messy room is generally not the sole indication that somebody is falling into a depression or some other emotional condition. There are usually many other indicators such as school grades falling and withdrawal from friends," Deed said.
And she offers one other idea for getting kids to clean up: Offer to help them stage a garage sale in the spring to sell the things they no longer wear, need or want - and then let them keep the money (or donate it to their favorite cause).
"Nothing is as good a motivator as making money," Deed said.
Chipping in for cleanliness
Here are a few other ideas for organizing and getting kids to clean up:
Once kids are old enough, keep a laundry basket in the room for dirty clothes. Teach them how to tell if a garment is dirty or clean.
Give young kids enough time to pick up after themselves, and make it a daily routine. Establish a no-playing-with-toys-while-picking-up rule. You can even set a timer.
For school-age kids, check out the whimsical array of pop-up hampers.
Be resourceful. Use a hanging shoe bag for stashing small stuffed animals. A colorful plastic dishpan for books borrowed from the library.
Tired of finding clean clothes in the laundry or dirty clothes all over the floor? Teens and even preteens can be taught to do their own laundry.
Don't use dinner time as a chance to nag kids about their messy bedrooms.
Try the confiscation approach: If a child does not clean up when he is supposed to, retrieve discarded items and hold onto them for an established period of time.
Some parents even have children "buy back" possessions. A quarter to get back that favorite pair of jeans. Fifty cents for the jersey. At the end of the year, donate collected money to charity.
For older kids, especially, a huge garbage can works wonders. They can use it for garbage. Use it for sporting equipment. Or they can attach a round piece of plywood to the top, cover it with a cloth and use it as a table. It can even be painted. Then they can store seasonal clothing inside.
As long as they remember that they stashed it there.