I am a neat freak and I want my home to be clean and organized – always. I also want to be realistic. With a toddler and a preschooler, the toys seem to multiply along with the peanut butter finger prints. For the longest time, I was trying to keep things as clean as they were before we had kids. I was also trying to stick to the same cleaning schedule but found that I just wanted to bang my head against the wall. After a lot of trial and error, I came up with some tactics that work for me and keep me (mostly) sane while balancing family, work, and homemaking. These tips may not be the right fit for everyone, so please keep that in mind.
1. Clean something each day or most days. I used to take a block of time each week or every other week to clean my house from top to bottom. I tried to do this for a couple years after I had kids and just grew increasingly frustrated. Who has three hours of uninterrupted time each week??? I work full-time and just cannot dedicate this much time to cleaning. Even if I didn’t work full-time I wouldn’t have that much time to set aside. For whatever reason, I was stuck on wanting everything to be cleaned at the same time. When I let go of that idea I found that doing some type of cleaning task daily was much more feasible. Now, I will take 10-15 minutes each day and focus on a task. When I put the boys to bed, I will sweep and scrub the floors or clean the bathrooms. I have not gotten to the point where each day has a specific assignment, but I clean the area that seems to need it the most. With crumbs and potty training, the floors and bathrooms always seem to need the most attention.
I try to utilize the time that I have. For example, if Jeff has the boys outside, I will take that time to run the vacuum upstairs and then I will go outside to join them. I know that I can vacuum downstairs while they sleep, but I obviously can’t vacuum their bedrooms at the same time. I consider the laundry to be part of my cleaning routine. Again, I have found that for me it works best if I just do a load every other day rather than spend a whole day washing, drying, folding, and putting away. This way, nothing piles up and it’s not nearly as overwhelming to put everything away.
2. Random pick-ups. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Legos are the worst. Super fun to play with, but they can take forever to pick up. I try to do several toy clean-ups each day so that it is not so overwhelming at bedtime. This works best on weekends when I am home all day. When the boys take their naps, I clean up their playroom and put things back where they belong. They have to help me with this, but are still learning the concept of picking up after themselves. I do the same thing when it is time for them to go to bed at night. Some days, this is a fruitless effort but I still go for it. Along with this, I try to rotate which toys are downstairs and which toys are in their rooms or the attic. They still get to play with everything, but less toys equals less clutter. I have also found that the boys get a little distracted with too many toys and they don’t play as well as a result.
3. Pick an area of focus. For me, I like to have the downstairs area of our home clean and organized each night. We don’t spend much time in our bedrooms; while I still want them to be neat and tidy, it’s not as much of an eyesore as it would be downstairs. I would say that 70% of my downstairs cleaning is taken care of just by organizing the toys each night. After that, I just wipe down the kitchen counters and dining room table. If the dishes aren’t washed, I will take care of them and put them away in the morning. I know myself well enough to know that I feel much more relaxed when I don’t look around and see a cluttered mess.
4. Little things make a big difference. Just by making your bed and folding the throw blankets in the living room, you will notice a major difference. At the end of a long day, it makes me feel more relaxed when I can walk into my bedroom and see that it is put together. Call me crazy, but it makes my room feel fresh and welcoming. Simply folding blankets can make a space feel much less disheveled. As a bonus, these are things that take very little time to accomplish.
5. Lowered expectations. It may not seem like I have lowered my expectations, but I have. Things are not going to be perfect and they don’t need to be. We live here. If we are playing and having fun, I’m not going to put the toys away at nap time because the boys will want to play with the train track that they built when they wake up. If we are away for the day and are too tired when we get home, then the dishes will be washed the following day. I am trying to teach the boys how to clean and put things back where they belong. So if they pick up their toys and they are not exactly neat, I just leave them where they put them. For me, this has been huge. They are proud of their effort and I need to acknowledge their work. I am still working through my desire to have everything ‘just so.’ There are days and times when some or all of these steps are skipped. That’s okay and it’s certainly not the end of the world.
If you came to my home it would not be immaculate, but hopefully it would not be chaotic. I am all about finding manageable ways to accomplish everyday tasks. After trying many things, these steps have given me the greatest success. For a long time I thought it was just impossible to clean with little kids, but now I know better.
Please do not think that I have it all together, because this is all a work in progress. These are all ideas I got from various people and I would love to hear what you do. If you are struggling to find a cleaning routine that works, don’t worry – you will get there! Like I said, it took me several years to find what worked the best not only for me, but for my family and our lifestyle. What are some of your favorite cleaning tips? How do you clean with little ones?