"It's their room. Let them keep it how they like,"
"It's your house. Make them keep it how you like."
Oy. Here was my advice:
Yes, you have the right to expect them to clean up their room.
No, you're not being unrealistic.
That being said...
When I was little, my mother was haranguing me (again) about cleaning up my room. "You'll clean up the stables, but you won't clean up your room. Well, this is my house!" she railed, incensed. "And this room is just as much my room as it is your room! So clean it up!!!"
Obviously, the comment stuck. And I resented it.
Inside, I knew my room really WAS just MY room. And while the comment ticked me off at the time, often it's not what you say, but how you say it. My father basically told me the same thing, with a calmness and an eye toward taking care of the gifts God had given us. I cleaned up my room, albeit imperfectly I'm sure, but with a MUCH better attitude.
Today, I greatly appreciate the habits (both mental and physical) that BOTH my parents formed in me to TAKE GOOD CARE OF WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN YOU. He who prizes little things is worthy of great ones!
"But, how do you make them DO it!?"
My friend's boys' room sounds similar to mine: three boys; their beds; and one dresser, desk, LEGO table, and closet. My personal "secret" to success in their cleaning up (this is just what works for us) is that everything HAS a place. Every. Thing. Every single item they own BELONGS somewhere, whether it's "shirts in the top drawer, pants in the bottom drawer" or a labeled bin. So, when I demand "clean up," there's no question of, "Well, I don't know where this goes!"
Another big help is their "clothing basket." All my kids have a clothing basket beside or at the foot of their beds (no bigger than an elbow basket, at most!). If today's worn clothes aren't clean, but also aren't hideously filthy and can be played in tomorrow, then they dump 'em in the clothing basket when they strip for pajamas at night (and this is where their pajamas usually also reside -- same rule). Sometimes, the clothing basket DOES pile up, but at least it's ONE little pile that's quickly conquered.
I don't demand a "vacuum ready" room daily. I do demand each night a clear path and space to play, especially if we've recently done a thorough cleaning up (say, for company). It's easier to encourage a two-minute "quick-clean" at bedtime (because that's when I'm in there and see it), then to turn a blind eye for a week and then "Go Vesuvius!" when it's degenerated into heaps of bio-hazardous conditions.
There have been two occasions where I DID "Go Vesuvius!", in a deadly calm sort of way. (It was great!) I coined the phrase, "If it's on the floor, it's out the door, and to the poor!"
For a WEEK thereafter, ANYTHING left on the floor at night after they went to bed (e.g. - clothes, LEGOs, favorite dinosaur, etc.) was GONE the next morning. GONE! I picked it all up in the dark with a flashlight and (unbeknownst to them) put it in a solid, black, lawn trash bag in the garage. It only took a day or two for a vital item to be missed! Waaaaaah! Church pants, bath towels, underwear, LEGOs -- they all disappeared, ostensibly dropped off at the Thrift Shop donation shed.
(Caveat: Items that I deemed TRULY necessary, I either surreptitiously assimilated back into their drawers OR gave them an eye to eye lecture before restoring it about NEVER letting this happen again. )
I have no magic wand nor standard practice that ALWAYS works. But, "a place for everything" and a nightly daily "quick-clean" (usually two minutes or less, with my helping the littler ones [now just our youngest, age 5] while I chirp how quick and easy this is!).
Hang in there!!! Your kids all WILL turn out great, including a fine sense of responsibility in caring for the gifts God has given them, because YOU will have taught them that.
A wise friend of mine once said that if you're not a mean mom, you're not doing it right. Tally ho!
"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9)
"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (II Corinthians 4:17)FOR THEM:
"His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!' " (Matthew 25:21)
"Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor." (Proverbs 12:24)