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Get Your Tween to Clean

Jodi O'Neill of North Royalton, OH, doesn't mince words. "I'm the mother of a very, very sloppy child," she says. The floor of 11-year-old Evan's bedroom is littered with art-project remnants, socks, even leaves he's dragged in from the backyard. And he's not that great at cleaning it: "His idea of picking up clothes is piling them on a chair," says O'Neill.

Should she make him clean his room or let him assert his independence by having it the way he wants? The problem, of course: If you ignore a disaster area completely, you risk housing an incubator for pestilence and plague (or at least mold, dust, and an unpleasant odor). But force your child to clean his room to your specifications on a daily basis, and he may come to view you more as a prison warden than a loving parent.

One answer, depending on how much clutter you can handle, is to let your child's room remain in a state of managed chaos -- as long as he respects the rest of the house. But aside from labeling bins or (the horror!) cleaning it up yourself, how can you keep the mess from getting out of control? Try these tips from Ramona Creel, president of OnlineOrganizing.com:

Have a garage sale. Let your child keep the money his stuff brings in, and you're bound to get him to pare down to something close to the bare essentials.

Keep what's in sight to a minimum. If you have a pack rat, set limits. Are there 25 posters covering the walls? Bring it down to 5, and explain that if he buys a new poster, he must pick an old one to put in storage.

Make cleaning worth it. Stop sounding like a broken record by ordering him to clean his room all the time. Require that it be picked up only for major events, such as when he wants a friend to sleep over or when relatives are visiting, or as an alternative to a chore he hates, like emptying the dishwasher.

Avert your eyes. In the end, you may have to accept that your child's bedroom will never be as idyllic as it was when he was a baby and you were in control of it. Sometimes, the best thing to do is look the other way as you walk by -- or make sure the door's shut.

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