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The One Time You Shouldn’t Ignore a Messy Room

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On my way back from the bathroom at a friend’s house, I walked by her 13-year-old son’s bedroom and got wide-eyed. She heard my footsteps stall and shouted from the living room, “Don’t look in there! It’s a disaster!” She said they were choosing their battles with him and the bedroom wasn’t one they were willing to fight. I understood, but I know my friend has fought mental illness, so I couldn’t help but think about the link between messy rooms and depression.

Maybe for you, a tidy room is a requirement. Or maybe your kid’s bedroom is a space where he or she gets to exercise more freedom. Maybe you’re like my friend and it’s just not the hill you’re willing to die on. No matter what you’ve decided, here are some important things to know about when a messy room should concern you.

The Link Between Messy Rooms and Depression

I hope this goes without saying, but if your son or daughter has a messy room, it doesn’t mean he or she is depressed. It might just be self-expression, disorganization, or a kid being a kid.

Here’s where the connection between messy rooms and depression comes in. Some of the symptoms of depression—like fatigue, hopelessness, headaches, lack of focus, and trouble making decisions—can manifest themselves in the form of a messy room. If you don’t even feel like getting out of bed, the motivation to tidy up is less than zero. If you’re feeling sick, picking up clothes off the floor isn’t going to happen. And if you have a general sense of hopelessness, what’s the point of tackling that mystery pile in the corner?

How a Messy Room Can Make Depression Worse

If depression runs in your family or your child has shown symptoms, a messy room might actually contribute to the problem. Research on depression shows that as many as two to three percent of children ages six to 12 and six to eight percent of teenagers may have serious depression.

In my own home, a clear countertop gives me peace while a cluttered one makes me very anxious. If your child is overwhelmed by the chore of cleaning her room, or if the job is too much for him to tackle because of all the clutter, it could be sending your kid’s nervous systems into overdrive, leading to anxiety and making him or her feel depressed.

How a Mom Can Help

If you’re concerned that what made it look like an F5 tornado hit your kid’s room could be coming from a deeper place, don’t be afraid to get your child screened for depression. It’s scary to imagine a diagnosis of depression in your child, but hiding from it and making him or her walk that road alone is much scarier.

Since a messy room can contribute to anxiety and depression, work with your child to declutter and simplify. Start small with just a five-minute pickup and offer to meet him or her halfway: If you get the floors clear, I’ll vacuum. And tackle the clutter in common areas so your children will feel less anxious during family time, too.

Where do you draw the line on your child’s messy room? How much freedom do your kids get? 

ASK YOUR CHILD...

Why do you think I like you to keep your room picked up?

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