The Highly Effective Trash Bag Approach To Cleaning My Kid's Room

by Sarah Cottrell
Ljupco / iStock

You know what just chaps my ass? When I give my kids the same direction over and over and over again, and no matter how much nagging, they just won’t listen. Wasn’t there a scientific study about how when moms nag then kids tend to do better? Well, not at my house. And that means I had to take matters into my own hands.

For the past month, my 7-year-old and I have been locked in a battle over his bedroom. Specifically, his immense collection of Samurai warriors, origami experiments, puzzles, dirty socks, comic books, and god knows what else is living on his floor, under his bed, in his closet, and deep in his dresser drawers. His room is a damn disaster, and I refuse to clean it because at 7 years old, he sure as hell is old enough to pick up his toys and put them in the toy box.

Do other parents deal with this crap?

After trying everything from nagging, bribing, and turning cleaning into a “fun” game all the way to a family talk about personal responsibility, I was completely out of ideas. And then one night while I was on Facebook, I read a hilarious meme by some famous dad blogger who said he would clean his kid’s messy room with a trash bag. That, I thought, was goddamn brilliant.

So I went to the kitchen and grabbed a trash bag out of the cupboard. Then I set the oven timer to 30 minutes, and yelled up the staircase to my son.

“Hey! I am giving you 30 minutes to clean your room once and for all! If you do not clean all of the toys, books, and laundry off your floor, then I will come up there and throw it all in a trash bag and you will not get it back!”

I waited.

I heard nothing.

I yelled again. “Hey! Do I need to come up there?!”

I finally got a response, “Mooommm! I don’t wanna clean my room!”

“Time’s a tickin’ kiddo! Chop chop!”

The next 29 minutes dragged on forever. I could hear feet stomping across the floor above me, and on more than one occasion, I was pretty sure I heard some displeased mutterings. But I didn’t care — I was following through with this plan because no kid of mine would live like a goddamn slob while simultaneously stomping all over the countless opportunities I had provided for him to do shit in his own way.

The timer went off. “Okay, kiddo! Time is up. Here I come!” It was a like a horrible game of hide-and-seek, except instead of seeking my giggling kids, I was on the search for crap on the floor that I could chuck in a trash bag in order to teach my smug son a lesson.

I went into his room and was met with what I can only describe as an avalanche of stuff — every freaking where.

It took me under three minutes to stuff that bag until it was so full it was threatening to split open. Incidentally, the same Legos that torture your bare feet and will poke through a plastic bag like nothing.

My child cried about how unfair I was being. He wailed about what a horrible house he lives in. He threatened to run away and live with his best friend down the street. But once the tears were dry and his last fiery breath stubbed out, he calmed down and came to talk to me about what happened.

We talked about responsibility and taking care of our favorite things. And then he helped me finish cleaning his room. He wasn’t excited, but he was willing. We washed windows and vacuumed floors, organized his dresser drawers, and put books back on the bookcase.

When it was all over, we made an agreement that if he could keep his room clean for two weeks, without my nagging, he could earn his bag of stuff back. When the time came, we went through the contents together, and all of his treasures that were locked away in the garage for two weeks found proper homes.

It has been only a few weeks, but so far, this was probably the most effective lesson in cleaning his room that my son has ever had. He knows what will happen if his room turns into a stinky trash pit again, and he doesn’t want mom appearing in his doorway with a huge, black bag.

Let’s all pray that it sticks.