How I Got My Daughter To Actually Clean Her Room And Everything That Came With It

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I made a deal with my daughter that she could skip a week of camp during the summer and do whatever she wanted – sleep until noon, watch TV, play video games, watch YouTube videos – if she spent part of each day helping me clean up her room.

Technically her room is cleaned every two weeks, meaning that someone comes in and runs a vacuum over the small patch of floor that is showing and maybe picks a few pieces of clothing off the ground and puts them into the hamper. In reality, her bedroom has been virtually untouched for 13 years with a steady stream of new junk coming in on an almost daily basis.

When she was younger, she amassed prized rocks and shells, small plastic tchotchkes from birthday parties and stuffed animals – lots of stuffed animals. As she has gotten older, the things she accumulates are bigger – extra-large stuffed animals won at carnivals and amusements parks, and sports equipment and trophies.

On the week before her 13th birthday, we set out on the herculean task of cleaning out her room.

We were both reluctant to get started so we began with an easy task, going through the bookshelves. We came away with about 75 books to donate and a stack of unused self-addressed stamped envelopes from last year’s sleep away camp just in time for her to bring them to this year’s sleep away camp.

The next day my daughter sleeps in until 11 a.m., eats a late breakfast, cues up Fall Out Boy and we start to go through a small corner of the room where we find:

– A shoebox with valentines from grade school. Yes, there were still candy inside, and, yes, we threw it away.

– Over 50 bookmarks from grade school.

РSponge Bob cake toppers and Darth Vader and Scooby-doo pi̱atas from long ago birthday parties.

– A bag of pants from The Gap that should have been returned 3 years ago because they didn’t fit. We will be donating them now.

– Lots of office supplies – tape, binder clips, novelty erasers.

We make piles of things to keep and things to donate, and we throw everything else into a large trash bag.

When I see a rubber band in the keep pile, I ask her, “You’re keeping this?”

“I might use it,” she says. “You never know when you need a rubber band.” I am about to chide her and then I remember that I have a small bag of rubber bands and other bag of binder clips and paper clips in my kitchen drawer. I guess I know why she thinks we should save it.

We come across a chain with small white plastic circles attached to it. “What’s this?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” she says and throws it away. Clearly at some point it was worth saving. Like many of the random items buried in her room, it no longer holds value.

Under a pile of plastic figures she finds a wind up box we brought back from Paris that plays Frère Jacques. I remember us hunting for that souvenir. There were plenty of music boxes to choose from but she wanted one that played Frère Jacques. I’m worried that she is going to toss it into the trash. Instead, she winds it up and moves it to a place where it can be displayed and exclaims, “I remember this!”

On day three, she sorts through a giant, overflowing basket of stuffed animals. I am sad to see her put into the donation pile a floppy white dog her grandparents gave her one Christmas that she carried around with her for months, and I smile when I see she is keeping the stuffed shark that she brought with her to the Emergency Room when she was four years old.

We tackle the hardest part of the room on day four – the space under her loft bed. There are piles of things there – toys, books, stray Legos and random junk all underneath an extra-large stuffed Minion, Hershey Kiss and dragon. Anything that doesn’t have place seems to get tossed there. Now we need to weed through the piles. We wait until late afternoon to work on it so I can fortify myself with a beer first.

We uncover forgotten treasures – arrowheads from Arizona, seashells from Sanibel Island, Fla., an old copy of The Borrowers that belonged to her great-grandmother that at one time my husband was reading to her before bedtime. There are a surprising number of long-forgotten robots and remote control vehicles that we place in the donation pile.

There are items I can’t bare to part with:

– The hat from her first Christmas outfit

– Her first Easter bonnet

– Handprints of my daughter and our dog’s paw that are made to look like Thanksgiving turkeys

– Short books she wrote in grade school about our dog, her hermit crab and her many, many hamsters

When we are done, we have:

– 6 bags of garbage

– 2 bags of stuffed animals to donate

– 1 bag of robots and remote control vehicles to donate

– 75 books to donate

My daughter looks around the room. Her walls are no longer are covered with pre-school and grade school drawings and she plans to put up posters of The Washington Nationals and Pokémon, maybe even a poster of a favorite band like Fall Out Boy or Imagine Dragons. Her oversized stuffed animals are lined up under her loft bed with nothing underneath them, and all her little treasures are displayed on shelves or in collector’s boxes. For the first time in about three years, I’ll let her leave her bedroom door open and invite friends into her room.

“What do you think?” I ask her. “It wasn’t as bad as we thought, right?”

“It was like a treasure hunt,” she says.

Four years from now, we will do again, right before she turns 17 and leaves for college.

(Photo: Getty)