7 questions to ask BEFORE organizing your teen’s bedroom

As promised in our last post, I’m writing today about organization strategies I used in the recent clean-up/reorganization of my teen daughter’s bedroom.

Before diving deep into a how-to focused on storage bins and closet systems, though, I want to share some questions I asked myself before and during the project. (I’ll get to those bins and such in Thursday’s post.) After our experience, I’m convinced that asking these questions is the most important strategy I can share with you.

This (sorta) Old Life:  7 questions to ask before organizing your teen's bedroom

Question #1:  Who is this project for?

When it comes to stuff–the things we own, store, use, and maintain–I move more firmly every year into the camp of such minimalists as Joshua Becker, who writes:

“…because we believe the best solution is to find organizational tools to manage all of it, we seek out bigger containers or more efficient organizational tips and tricks. But simply organizing our stuff (without removing it) is always only a temporary solution. By definition, organizing possessions is an action that must be repeated over and over and over again.” (from “Don’t just de-clutter, de-own“)

Like Becker, I believe that the only real solution to clutter is to get rid of it, and that doing so leads to greater “freedom, happiness, and abundance” in our lives.

This (sorta) Old Life:  7 questions to ask before organizing a teen bedroom

Never again do I want to have this kind of abundance in my life.


My journey toward minimalism is mine, and the bedroom is hers.  She is not a minimalist in any way, shape, or form.

And, as I learned whenI began exploring why so many parents and teens struggle over bedroom messiness, that mess is all about the ways in which teens’ bedrooms embody and reflect the developmental challenges and struggles that adolescents are dealing with. (For more info on that, click here.)

While I would dearly love for my daughter to embrace my minimalistic ways and truly de-clutter her room, that’s just not who or where she is right now. Although I believe the best way to organize is to purge, that is not what this project would be about. Because it wasn’t really for or about me.

This (sorta) Old Life:  7 questions to ask before organizing a teen bedroom

This is her room in the old house (before we staged it). If anything, she’s a maximalist, and always has been.

Question #2:  Have I given her time and space to tackle it her way?

It took a long time for my daughter’s room to get to the state it was in. Not really knowing where I should draw the lines on keeping her room clean, I let her draw them. My bedroom was a nightmare when I was her age, and I haven’t turned into a hoarder living in a hazardous waste zone.

You wouldn’t believe the mess this girl’s room was! (Maintaining that spectacular ‘do left little time for room cleaning.)

I’m definitely a choose-your-battles parent, and her room wasn’t something I wanted to go to the mat on.

This spring, though, her schedule got really crazy–and her room crossed some line I could no longer tolerate through a closed door policy. In early May I let her know that it needed to be cleaned before she left for her trip to a national student competition at the end of June. When it became clear that she might not, I let her know that I would finish the job while she was gone if she didn’t get it done. I think it is because I gave her so much advance warning and a chance to take care of it herself that she didn’t protest.

Question #3: What are my teen’s priorities and values?

Before she left for her trip, I asked her a whole lot of questions about what in her room was important to her. While I was dying to completely re-do her clothes storage system so that it would look and function better, she was adamant that the essential structure of it remain the same.

This (sorta) Old Life:  7 questions to ask before organizing a teen bedroom

She also did not want the large built-in desk to be her study area.

This (sorta) Old Life:  7 questions to ask before organizing a teen bedroom

For that she wanted to use a small table she’d tucked underneath her loft bed. And her doll collection had to stay out and on display.

Question #4: What is my bottom line–and how committed am I to it?

I decided that my bottom line is cleanliness. If she wants to live with clutter, so be it. Not my choice, but–like I said above–not my room. However, it is my house and a dirty room creates the potential for problems that impact the whole house and her health. Because of the clutter, it had become impossible to vacuum or dust.

I know I’d cave if she pushed back on neatness (speech and debate is one of her extra-curriculars, after all :-) ), but I can hold firm on cleanliness and the conditions necessary to maintain it. This made my answer to the next question fairly easy.

This (sorta) Old Life:  7 questions to ask before organizing a teen bedroom

This kind of thing made vacuuming pretty impossible.

Question #5: Given my teen’s priorities and my bottom line, what are the project goals?

My initial goal (based on my bottom line) was both simple and hazy:  I wanted her room to be clean!

I quickly realized that a big part of the reason her room was so dirty was that she didn’t have good ways to store and organize all her stuff. Because of that, it was all out, everywhere, which made cleaning a huge chore (that never got done).

Seeing this helped me focus my hazy goal into a clear, specific one:

Create storage systems that will both honor her priorities and make it easier to clean her room.

That’s it.

Would I have loved to turn that wonderful built-in workspace into an awesome study station? Heck, ya. Would I love to have donated away most of that clutter on her shelves to make spare, beautiful, Pinterest-worthy vignettes? Sure.

But I didn’t.

She loves her room because it reflects her–her interests, her desires, her beliefs, her talents, her life. And she wanted it to continue to do that.  I did, too.

This (sorta) Old Life:  7 questions to ask before organizing a teen bedroom

These sentimental items from her childhood needed to stay.

Question #6: How will I communicate and collaborate with my teen during the project?

Honestly, if you can do this while your teen is on the other side of the country, do it! :-)

I know this would have been much more difficult if we had tried to do this together while she was home. The miles gave us distance that helped each of us deal with our separate challenges and discomforts around this project.

Still, I am glad that I was able to communicate with her while I worked on it. At the end of day 1, I casually texted to her that I was painting her room, a color I never thought she’d object to.

She objected to it. A lot.

This (sorta) Old Life:  7 questions to ask before organizing a teen bedroom

I thought this light, neutral gray would be just fine. She wanted her room to remain white. Luckily, I hadn’t painted too much before she convinced me to stop.

As I worked, I realized that I needed to know more from her about specifics. We did most of this communication via text, which allowed me to send pictures and gave each of us time to think (and, if necessary, cool down) before responding.

This (sorta) Old Life:  7 questions to ask before organizing a teen bedroom

I tried not to bug her too much so that she could focus on the competition that took her across the country, but I did bug her some. I’m glad I did, otherwise I would have made some choices that she really would not have liked.

Question #7:  What will happen after the project is done?

As I (literally) sweated my way through four long days of working non-stop on this project, I knew that I was going to be bitter if her room quickly reverted to its former state.

This (sorta) Old Life:  7 questions to ask before organizing a teen bedroom

It took a lot of thinking, shopping, and physical labor to transform this desk area.

I knew I had to think ahead to what would happen after the project was done if I didn’t want that to happen.

Despite my efforts to know her priorities and honor them, I knew I’d likely make some choices she wouldn’t like. I decided that I would have to be OK if she changed anything I did as long as her changes wouldn’t interfere with my bottom line (ability to clean the room).

This (sorta) Old Life:  7 questions to ask before organizing a teen bedroom

And she started making changes immediately. Hey, at least she’s still using those bins.

I also thought about what my expectations of her would be going forward. I decided that a weekly room clean-up would be a new expectation, and that clean-up would mean all garbage thrown away, all clothes put away, and the floor cleared and vacuumed. We’re still negotiating the necessary frequency of vacuuming, but that’s it. She’s been fine with this new expectation.

This (sorta) Old Life:  7 questions to ask before organizing a teen bedroom

Was I pleased to see this on her floor the day after she got back? Not exactly. But as long as it gets picked up by the end of the week, it’s all good. For real.

As I expected, she didn’t love everything I’d done. In fact, some of it she hated. That was hard for me, but it was OK.

I want her room to be a comfortable haven for her, and that’s more important to me than where she puts the bin that stores her lotions and hairsprays. (Even though it was totally cute where I put it!)

Still with me?

It might not matter exactly where the hairspray goes, but it does have to go somewhere–and coming up with those places will be the focus of our next post.

Hope you’ll come back on Thursday to see how we actually did this thing!

This (sorta) Old Life:  7 questions to ask before organizing a teen bedroom

 Your turn!

Got any great insights/tips for working with teens on their rooms? (Cause I sure don’t feel as if this project is really done.)

UPDATE:  Links below will take you to all the project posts:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Questions to ask before beginning

Teen bedroom storage solutions