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My Daughter the Slob

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It's not that she's being defiant. Tidiness seems to be completely beyond my daughter's skill set.

Beth Falkenstein: There are many aspects of my oldest daughter that are proof to me of nature trumping nurture. She's easy going; I can be pretty intense. She's into modern; I like antiques. She can sing like Laura Nyro, Linda Ronstadt, and Patti LuPone; I am not Laura Nyro, Linda Ronstadt, or Patti LuPone. (I can already hear some of you saying "What about her father?" He doesn't sing like Patti LuPone, either.)

teen girl in messy room with annoyed mom

For the most part, I am pretty proud of my teenager's departures from the mommy mold. But there is one area in which we are so different that I'm about to tear my hair out:

She is a slob!

And, well, let's just call me fastidious ("neat freak" is so judgmental). In the early years, it was hard to tell this was going to be a problem. I mean, what three-year-old can fold a T-shirt? Of course Mommy should be expected to straighten up the room while baby watches -- and learns.

But then she got older and I got tired-er. And the room got messier. Now, "put this away" somehow translates as "drop this on the floor," while "clean up your desk" means "put everything on top of your desk." Towels are never hung. Bottles of shampoo are left open. And how I long for a three-year-old to come and fold her T-shirts! I've tried everything: rewards, punishment, bribery, yelling, yelling, yelling. Nothing works. And some of it makes my throat hurt.

It's not that she's being defiant. She can and does clean up her room -- but only when I stand there and point things out. Left to her own devices, tidiness seems to be completely beyond her skill set. It's like she cleaned her room in the dark. That's why I'm starting to believe it's a problem with her eyesight. Maybe those wads of paper on the floor just outside the waste basket are a symptom of myopia. Maybe those drawers left just a half-inch open are evidence of a lack of depth perception. And all that dirt left around the sink ...

Is there such a thing as brown-white color blind?

next: Yuck! Your Kid Pooped in the Pool!
8 comments so far | Post a comment now
Natalie July 20, 2009, 9:31 AM

Yeah…she’s just a teenager. I was like that! Now, I keep *most* of my home clean (at least the part that company sees), and I’m working on the rest of it. Give the kid a break, and give her ONE area to clean a day. Instead of telling her to “Go clean your room”, say “Today, I need you to clean off your desk”. Or “Honey, can you get all your dirty laundry together?” Kids look at a dirty, messy space and feel completely overwhelmed. Try sending her to, and there’s a whole section for kids. Good luck!

April July 20, 2009, 9:32 AM

Make a rule. If it is on the floor or not put away, whatever…then it’s yours. Dispose or donate it. If she doesn’t care, at least there is less junk to put away.

Anonymous July 20, 2009, 10:04 AM

I have a 13 yr old slob also…save yourself the stress and just shut the door.

Ginkgo100 July 20, 2009, 2:47 PM

As an adult with ADHD, I can sympathize with your daughter. Some people (with or without ADHD) have great difficulty breaking tasks into smaller steps. You may not be too far off the mark with your observation that straightening up seems to be beyond her skill set.

You can help her by teaching her to break tasks into steps. Instead of telling her to “clean her room,” you might tell her to pick up all the clothes from the floor and put them on the bed. THEN have her sort them into clean and dirty. THEN put the dirty into the hamper. THEN fold and put away the clean.

I had to learn to do this, and it is still not instinctual. My instinct, when faced with a large cleaning job, is to shrink away, because it is overwhelming. What comes easily to you is completely missing for me! I have to *consciously* think of a step I can use as a starting point, like picking up trash from the floor. (Yes, I often have trash on my floors.) Then I have to *consciously*, and constantly, guard against getting sidetracked by a different job, until I get my current task done.

I do sympathize with you, though. My 5-year-old (with severe ADHD) literally goes blank when I ask him to “clean up the living room.” Even if I tell him a specific task, like picking up all the toys, he is lost; he picks up one or two and thinks he’s done. It’s like he can’t even see the ones in the corner, next the couch, beside the TV, etc. I have to point them out. It’s much more exhausting for me than doing it myself—even with my own ADHD!

If your daughter has more than one or two other symptoms of ADD/ADHD, like abnormal distractibility, constant daydreaming, constant high activity level, stimulation-seeking (always looking for something exciting), extreme intolerance of boredom, impulsivity (worse than her age peers), and “not living up to her potential” in school, you should consider havng her evaluated. Medication can help enormously, but there are also non-drug behavioral treatments that help.

Queen Mommy July 20, 2009, 5:17 PM

This mother needs the meds not the daughter. Mother cites clinical case for OCD, right on down to justifying her behavior and renaming it into less offensive and more palatable language to her advantage — denial!

As for the teen daughter, she poses no problem being kind, bright, creative. If her bedroom sanctuary is the only thing that ires the mother, the mother needs to try Teen Swap with a family who’s teen daughter has a trashed out room with a chaser of drug use, alcohol abuse, promiscuity, and failing academic performance.

Hmmmm. Back off mom. You are making a mountain out of her molehill of messiness.

MARIA July 22, 2009, 5:24 PM


Donna S September 12, 2009, 3:03 PM

Here’s what I struggle with…My 18 yr old daughter’s room is a disaster area….mounds of clothes, empty candy wrappers, half open cans of soda, EVERYWHERE. But she is 18… I want to give her space to be responsible for her own living space, but doing that means it will NOT get cleaned….ever. I’m not exaggerating here… So the struggle is, who gets honored here? Her desire to be lazy and live in chaos, or my need to instill in her some skills and the inevitable sense of calm that comes from some order. Since my daughter IS defiant, it’s difficult to find some reasonable balance…when I ask, truly, in a calm voice, and explain that picking things up now and then is important, I get so much anger, I tend to back down cause it just doesn’t seem worth it. So do I get tough and throw things out (yes, I’ve thought of it), demand that she clean it up despite her protests and wishes or do I deal with it and close her door, meaning that my needs are NOT honored… What do y’all think?
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Wendy P October 26, 2009, 12:26 PM

An 18 year old is different than a 14 or 15 year old. She is an adult and should behave in an adult way. Adults do not trash their living spaces especially if it isn’t even their property!! She obviously is having issues with maturity. I suggest that you say to her that if she wants to treat her room as her space she needs to start paying you rent. Otherwise you have every right to go in there and clean it for her.

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