Our other kids that are now grown have pretty much always done their laundry since they were like 13 years old. This son is 17 and probably has only done his own laundry, all on his own, like 10 times in his life. He has a ton of clothes, probably doesn't wear most of them, but I think he tries on a lot of different clothes and if he decides not to wear this shirt or those pants, he just throws them on the floor and they likely just sit there for 2-5 weeks before he starts doing laundry again which usually ends up with him begging for us to help him finish it.

We've already tried explaining that laundry really isn't that hard to do, just throw it in the washer, if there's stains spray some stain cleaner on that part, etc. That it really doesn't take that much time to do it, since most the time it takes to do laundry is the time in which you don't need to do anything since it's in the washer/dryer.

Obviously he has other cleaning issues. I just don't understand how he can care so much about his appearance when he goes to school, but be so dirty in his room with more clothes as the floor instead of carpet. Does he have too many clothes? Should we give/sell a lot of his clothes, because maybe it's just too many choices on what to wear, in that it makes it harder for him to decide? With less clothes he would need to do laundry more, which could mean that maybe he could start forming a habit of actually taking care of his clothes on a regular basis? What can we do, really?

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    Get him a gf. Most men exibit wonders of cleaning acumen when a girl they are into is about to visit the room. Pay the gf $10 to off-handedly mention how her little brother is wonderful because he does his own laundry. Done.
    – user3143
    Dec 31, 2014 at 23:27
  • Sounds like he has enough choices that doing the laundry isn't a priority until he's out of clothes which you probably decide it's time to do the laundry before he's out of clothes ergo you find it more important to do the laundry before him so maybe you do it and this cycle repeats? He'll eventually run out of clean clothes if you stop fretting that his room is dirty. Next time he begs, tell him no do it himself. It could also be that he has no idea how to wash some things and instead of figuring it out he comes to you. I never did my own laundry till I moved out, stupid mistake.
    – Codezilla
    Jan 1, 2015 at 1:39
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    (Posted as a comment because my kids are 5, so no real experience) - Why not (a) remove clothes left on the floor and not give them back without payment and/or (b) charge him each time you do the washing for him ?
    – davidgo
    Jan 1, 2015 at 9:26
  • When my kids were teenagers they got a choice; help with the washing or do your own. They both chose to do their own. I bought two hampers and left them to it. Of course we had a few panic moments - no clean clothes and party in 5 minutes. Well, tough. My son actually gets compliments in his shared flat - wow, he knows how to use a washing machine!
    – RedSonja
    Jul 3, 2015 at 7:58
  • "most the time it takes to do laundry is the time in which you don't need to do anything since it's in the washer/dryer" Provided you own a washer and dryer, as opposed to having to rely on a parent to drive you to the coin laundry. At the coin laundry, you have to remain on the premises as long as your clothes are there. Jul 24, 2015 at 22:39

3 Answers 3


You're focusing on the merits of planning to do laundry more frequently. He is almost certainly already aware of them. What's most likely going on is a prospective memory failure. I have the same problem, but didn't have a name for it until a few years ago. It's very difficult to understand for people with normal prospective memory.

Essentially, he needs some sort of trigger to prompt him to do his laundry at a time that is convenient. For me, the normal triggers happen when I'm getting dressed and undressed. Both of those times are inconvenient for doing laundry, because I'm either about to leave the house, or I'm about to go to bed. So, I need to set up my own trigger.

The best time for me to do laundry is right when I get home from work, so my trigger is putting my hamper where I will literally trip over it after work. Other prospective memory aids could be setting an alarm on a phone, putting a sticky note on a bathroom mirror, etc. The important thing is that it isn't easily ignored. Obviously, just seeing the clothing on the floor isn't sufficient in your son's case.

If part of the problem is clothes he never wears anymore, he needs a convenient place to put those, so they don't get continually recycled in the laundry. We put a too-small box in the kids' rooms when this starts to become a problem.

  • Great answer all around. I hadn't thought of the "invisibility cloak" that appears to be on my kids' hampers, but I must have created it myself by helping them find a quiet corner of the closet for it to typically reside!!!
    – Acire
    Jan 1, 2015 at 13:16

I'm a parent of a toddler and a preschooler, so I'm sure I don't know much about the fun specific issues of raising teenagers. Something to look forward to.

However, this really doesn't sound too different from asking my three year old to clean up his toys. The question is really at its core one of three things:

  1. How do we convince him that laundry needs to be done regularly?
  2. How do we teach him a good system for doing laundry regularly?
  3. How do we help him adapt his situation such that he can get laundry done regularly?

It may be some of each, or it may be just one.

How we dealt with it with my three year old/are dealing with it (very much in progress!):

  1. We tried talking to him to see if he understands why it's important to clean up toys. He does, but he doesn't want to take the time out of playing to do so. That's not something we expect to change overnight, so we're working on that - particularly pointing out when we step on a toy and hurt ourselves, he hurts himself, or a toy breaks, that it is because it wasn't cleaned up.

  2. We worked out a system whereby he cleans up toys prior to changing to a different activity. This means at most one mess is out at a time; and if we're going somewhere fun, he has to clean up before that. Cleaning up before unfun things like bedtime or dinner doesn't work for us, but at least the system exists. For a teenager I would expect a more dialogue-based approach where you help him develop a system, once (1) is accomplished. Help him find a structure that works - whether it's always doing it on a specific day,

  3. My wife bought a lot of generic bins/plastic boxes/etc. for organization. This worked well for us because it not only made it easier to clean up (no piles, just boxes!) but it gave him something more fun to do (tossing things in boxes is more fun than neatly stacking stuff). For him this may be as simple as a better form of laundry hamper; maybe he needs a door hanging hamper, or a toy basketball hoop over his hamper. Talk to him and find out what would work, or take him to the Container Store or something similar (Somewhere with a huge number of hamper options). Dorm room supplying stores are great (ie, Target/WalMart/similar 'superstores' near a major college).

3b. We also are going to do some form of toy-draft after vacation is over where only some toys stay upstairs, and the rest go to the basement. This is basically like a fantasy baseball draft: two boys, each have a certain number of 'picks', in order pick a toy. After ten toys are picked, or whatever, the rest go in the basement. Then, whenever they help with basement things [ie, laundry!] they can pick a toy to swap out from the basement bins and swap it with an upstairs toy that is theirs. With your teenage son, this draft concept may be appealing: he picks his 'top ten' shirts, 'top ten' pants, etc., puts the rest in the basement - not thrown away/donated unless he wants to - and then if he wants to swap in an old item or buy a new item, it replaces something in the current wardrobe; this can be season based or just mood based.

This approach focuses on helping him find a way to do this himself; growing the ability to solve this problem from within, not imposing from without. The one downside is that he may really not care about clothes on the floor. If he doesn't, you may have to either a) live with it, or b) explain to him why you care and why it hurts you. Over time people grow into not wanting floors filled with junk - but it's not necessarily there at 17, and it's not necessarily vital for it to be there.

I would also separately suggest not helping him actually do his laundry, at all, full stop. If he has 5 weeks of laundry and it will take all of two days to do, that's his problem not yours: if it interferes with you doing yours, then tell him you need to book time for a load at a particular time. The biggest, simplest thing you can do is make him live with what he made when it's not really interfering with anyone else - because he'll remember how much it sucked when he lost a whole weekend to doing his laundry, and keep up better next time!


Really? Not much.

If he doesn't "know" (or much more likely, care) about how his room looks, you can't teach him now. He's making a choice, prioritizing, and it's not a high priority to keep his clothes off of his floor. For some reason or other, he is bothered more by the thought of cleaning up than by the mess. He may also have anxiety about the prospect of cleaning up such a big mess. Or not. Be glad he takes pride in his personal hygiene and appearance.

He does, though, live in your house, and if it's very important to you, tie keeping his clothes neatly to something he'll stop getting if he doesn't take better care of them. A reasonable consequence is no more clothes money. Plain and simple. If he works and buys his own clothes now, it's really his business how he takes care of them. It is not a fight worth having. Close his bedroom door when you are forced to pass it.

Finally, don't do his laundry. Don't help him if he's begging, panicking, or throwing a fit. Ever. You are not his laundress. You're his mother. You deserve respect and thoughtfulness. So does he, which means treating him more and more like an adult (with the necessary tools for success in that venture).

Before you adopt this tactic (and I really advise that you do), sit down with him, inform him of your plan, and offer to help him clean his room one last time, going over how to hang his clothes, how to do the wash, etc. Put two hampers in his room: one for dirty clothes, and one for clothes he no longer wants or wears. Empty the one he no longer wants whenever you know you're going to be going to drive by a donation box.

Finally, ask yourself what really matters to you and what you want your son to learn before he moves out of the house, and put your energy there. If you're worried others will judge you by his behavior, don't worry about it; they will whether you worry about it or not, so don't bother. Wise people know mothers don't teach their kids to throw their clothes on the floor or any number of unlikely personal choices their children make. Refuse to feel guilty or disconcerted about his choices. They are his, not yours. Better to have heart-to-hearts about things that can kill him (alcohol/drugs + driving, alcohol/drugs) or severely affect his plans (unwanted pregnancy, toxic relationships, how to disagree with people without disrespecting them, setting good boundaries, etc.)

This is a rather long and rambling answer, but my 4 are grown and married now, with two of them having been terrible with their clothes/rooms. Now they have spouses to motivate them, and I refuse to feel responsible for behaviors I didn't encourage (but I do own up to things I did wrong.) I still have to bite my tongue sometimes, but it's the right and respectful thing to do.

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