Living Columns & Blogs

Carolyn Hax: Their rooms, their mess, but stop it here

DEAR CAROLYN: I have two teenagers, 15 and 17. All their lives, I have felt they should tidy their rooms. My husband thinks they should do what they want in their own rooms. Because there are many things we don’t agree on, I chose to let this one go and only ask that they pick things up off the floor so I can vacuum.

Their rooms are filled with trash and food wrappers, old school papers, outgrown clothes, books and various gadgets, toys, art supplies, the occasional dirty dish. My husband says just let it be. So I do.

The new school year is coming up, and they want more clothes, more school supplies, etc. They have difficulty locating the things they already own due to the chaos.

Should I just go along and ignore their rooms? Am I being unreasonable to want a cleaning once in a while?


DEAR C.: Oh these poor poor teenagers. You’ve apparently gotten nowhere with your husband’s bizarre notion of having no say in property you control legally and financially, so I won’t even try.

Instead work with, not against, your husband’s overdeveloped sense of their entitlement. Their stuff, their business, fine. New stuff? Your business. You will only buy what they can prove they don’t already have. No old purge, no new purchases.

Parents can raise good kids by drawing lines in a whole range of places. However, I don’t think it’s possible to get the job done responsibly while drawing weak lines and absorbing the consequences thereof.

Memo to your husband: The adult world they’re about to enter begs you, let them feel that cost.

Memo to you: No cleaning for them except dishes for vermin control, especially if your husband denies you even this bit of parental authority. (One word: Counseling.)

Email Carolyn at