The broken windows theory is a criminological theory that states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime. The theory was introduced in a 1982 article by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling.
I have shared this theory with my three children. I’m not sure they completely understood it at the time, as I was applying it to keeping their rooms picked up. I think it’s true though. Once the area starts to decline, in this sense, their bedroom getting messy and unkempt, it usually gets worse and worse until there’s a major cleaning.
Applying the Broken Windows theory to children’s rooms makes sense to me. If you don’t pick up the dirty clothes you put there in a rush or from laziness, it’s likely you’ll add more clothes to the floor. And once several clothing items are on the floor it’s easy to add more. It’s that first and second piece of clothing after the room is clean that makes you think of what you’re doing. That little voice telling you that you’re messing up the clean room and what your action is after hearing that voice that is the most important factor in determining if you will pick up the item(s) or continue to add to it.
I can tell you from experience (my own and my childrens) that once the clean state is shattered, it’s all down hill from there. I’m no exception. My closet is a good example of this. The times that I’ve cleaned it up and made it neat, then did something to break that state the voice in my head said, “Better not do that or it will continue until the whole closet is a mess”. At that moment I can choose to fix it or leave it. If I fix it I feel better. Most times in my hurriedness or poor state of mind I don’t. And I always look back later on and think, “I just should not have left it that way.”
If you can convince your children of the validity of this theory and put it into practice and habit, I think it can make a big difference, not only in their rooms, but in their general thinking about living in an orderly environment.