How to Clean Your Room: A Flowchart for Children…and the Rest of Us

Have you ever looked at your cluttered, grubby house and wondered where to start?

I don't know where to start!

I don’t know where to start!

I think the kids have the same problem when I tell them “Clean your room.” At least, that’s the excuse I make for the crazy choices that have happened when they declare their room “clean.” Stuff under the bed, boxes of random stuff in the middle of the floor, and sometimes piles of stuff shoved behind the door (because that makes it invisible).


I decided to be really, really explicit in my expectations and I drew them up a flowchart, replicated here. Actually, my flowchart formatting skills leave something to be desired…but this is a more formal version of the one I drew up for the kids.

To Clean Your Room, Pick up an item

1. Does it belong to you? If yes, move to question 2. If no, go put it on the kitchen table and we’ll revisit it.

2. Is it trash? Really consider it. If yes, put it in the trash bag. If no, go to question 3.

3. Does it make you happy? Does it fit you? Do you like it/use it/ need it/ want it? If yes, move to step 4. If no, go put it in the big box in the hallway. Don’t worry about what will happen to it next, that’s not your problem. If you’re not sure if it fits, put it on and show me.

4. Next step: Identification

If the item is clothing:

Dirty goes in the laundry room. Clean goes either on a hanger in the closet or folded with other clothes of the same kind. Don’t put a tee shirt in with your socks or put trousers in with your nightgowns.

If the item is a book:

Remember it isn’t yours (a library book, a friend’s book, a school book) it’s already on the kitchen table, right? All other books go on your bookshelf, standing straight up and down with the spine facing your room. The same way you see books in the library or a bookstore. Not piled into a tower, not in the toy bin, not on the floor of your closet or under your bed. Only on a bookshelf.

If the item is a toy:

Same rule as with clothing….all toys go with toys of the same kind. All the Legos go into one bin. All the dolls go on one shelf. If you don’t know what kind of toy you have, put it on the kitchen table and we’ll decide together. No bin should have less than five toys in it and no bin should be too full to fit back under your bed or on the shelf.

If the item is a shoe:

Find its match and put them together in your closet or designated shoe space.

If the item is arts-n-crafts:

Pencils or paper may go in your desk drawer. Paints, colored paper, glue sticks, etc go in our arts-n-crafts cabinet. If you’ve completed the art project, you need to decide if you want to display it, hang it, gift it, or trash it.

If the item is sports equipment:

In our house, swim stuff goes in the “pool bag” which lives in the laundry room. That covers goggles, dive rings, fins, etc. Each kid has a bag of karate gear that stays in the car with their respective belts and their karate outfits go either in the closet or in their pants & tops drawers. During soccer season, Jane had a soccer bag for shin guards and cleats, while her jerseys and shorts went into the shorts/t-shirt drawers.

I’ve found these questions actually take care of most of the issue my kids have. Several leftover water glasses on the bedside table? See #1…they don’t belong to you. All glassware belongs to mom and dad. Put it on the kitchen table. Magazines? Either qualify as books and go neatly on a shelf or are torn up and qualify as trash.

And actually, this is a great start for cleaning my own room, too. Although my very favorite question to ask when cleaning/de-cluttering is “Does this make me happy?” Of all the organizing/cleaning books I’ve read (because this is not a skill that comes naturally to me or one that I enjoy or want to spend much time on at all) the most helpful has been Clutter Busting Your Life by Brooks Palmer…and that one question is a biggest takeaway. If the answer is “no” the follow-up question is, “Can I let it go?”


Here’s hoping that in 2015 we hold onto the people and things that bring us joy…and let the rest go!


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2 Responses to How to Clean Your Room: A Flowchart for Children…and the Rest of Us

  1. Shalin says:

    It would have been even better, if you had represented the steps in a flowchart diagram and the diagram was posted here. Thanks for sharing anyway, I enjoyed reading it!

    • sarahwarburtonwriter says:

      You’re right about the diagram! I drew one for my kids, but am such a “word girl” that I was’t comfortable replicating it in the blog. Thanks for reading & commenting!

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