First of all, stop telling them to clean their rooms. From now on, think of their room as 5 separate zones instead of one room. The zones are the bed, the floor, the desk, the closet, and the nightstand and chest of drawers. If you like, you can even separate the last two and make 6 zones.
Second, stop saying “clean”. This means nothing. Set the timer for 2 to 5 minutes and concentrate on one zone at a time. For the bed zone, see how many items they can throw away or put away that have landed on the bed in two minutes. Get excited! Make it kind of fun. Two minutes a day is not too much. Or five minutes if your child is older. If they have managed to clear off the bed, they can learn to make it. Don’t assume they already know how to do this. No fair throwing stuff off the bed onto the floor! And if their beds are clear and made, use the time to scout around underneath the bed to make sure that area is clear as well. Set the timer and put away and throw away for the rest of the zones as well.
A word about the closet and chest of drawers…make sure there is not more stuff than storage area. If the clothes won’t fit into the closet or chest of drawers, you’ll have to get rid of items until they do.
Another way to approach this task is to be very specific about what to do in the zones.
For example, tell your child to go hang up or throw away five items of clothing that have made their way to the floor. No fair throwing clean stuff into the laundry! Or find five toys they don’t play with anymore and get rid of them. You can donate them if they are still good, or throw them out if they’re not. If you concentrate on one zone for a few days at a time and do this consistently, your child’s room will practically clean itself! If the room is an utter nightmare and it would take a team of 4 adults 7 days to wade through, be patient.
Children can naturally make a huge mess, but they don’t naturally know how to clean it up. Be patient and be kind. Don’t try to make your child do too much at once. But be consistent. Also, ask yourself honestly if your room is a good example. If it’s not, start decluttering that room before you really concentrate on anyone else’s room. Most people, including children, feel better in a neat environment, so if you make it a positive experience, and don’t get too perfectionistic about it, you will be surprised how much your children will look forward to these daily cleaning missions.
Your children may not be rebellious, lazy, etc. They may simply not know HOW to clean their rooms. We are not born knowing how to clean and organize. We all have to learn. One last piece of advice…the less you have, the less you have to clean and organize. Get rid of whatever you don’t use or love. If your child is loath to part with things, explain that the toys and clothes (s)he is not using could go to a child that doesn’t have toys and clothes. That sometimes makes it easier to let things go. Now, set your timer for 2 minutes and go clean off the top of your nightstand!