Keeping the house clean with one or two kids can be a little extra work, but when you have four children five and under and one of them is a new baby, it can be especially challenging! After our fourth child was born, I wasn’t even sure if it would be possible to keep the house tidy enough for my type A personality, but lo and behold, I found a way! This is how I do it.
1. Have an Organized System
I am very mindful about where I put certain toys and how I organize the children’s playthings. I love using baskets and boxes to sort and organize things so that similar toys stay together. I have baskets for the little figures used with the castles and treehouses for imaginative play, bins for cars, blocks, and train tracks, tables with trays of paper and pencil boxes of markers for arts and crafts, baskets with books in every room, and places for all of the stuffed animals. Everything is strategically set up to encourage play and in a way that’s easy to manage and clean. If I notice that a particular set of toys is creating a huge mess but not utilizing a lot of play time, I’ll either reorganize it or pack it away for another time. Rather than having one “play room”, I have found it beneficial to have out just enough toys in each room. I only keep out what gets used.
2. Make Sure Everything has a Home
I know that it’s the little things that add up and make my house feel cluttered. Every single toy, book, and marker needs to have a home or it will end up as clutter somewhere. So when I see some dolls, cars, or magazines laying on the floor, I ask myself, “Do they have a home?” If not, it’s time I found them one! I like to keep a TINY bowl on the counter for little things that need to be put away. That way I’m not running around every time I find a little hair tie on the floor. But once that little bowl is full, it’s time to put the contents away.
3. Spend Time Organizing
The key to keeping everything looking neat and tidy on the surface is to keep everything neat and tidy behind the scenes. This means that when I open up the cupboards, I can easily find my canned beans, AA batteries, and a light bulb for the night light. This also means that when I open up a drawer, I’m not searching through a pile of junk before I can find a paperclip, a pad of paper, and a working pen. To accomplish this, I know that I may need to devote an entire afternoon or even a whole day to reorganizing things. Whenever I have a hard time finding something, I know that it’s time to do some serious organizing! The bonus is being able to get rid of some of the clutter in the process. I am always throwing out things that are too junky or not being used anymore. I will save a few things if I KNOW that they will get used in the future (like hand me down clothes and baby toys from the older kids), but I am very careful not to pack things away “just in case”. Things that get packed away and forgotten just add clutter.
4. Every Time You Move, Move Something with You
I try not to leave a room, pass by a mess, or stoop down without picking something up in the process. For example, if I’m sitting in the living room and I need to go to the bathroom, I’ll pick up all of the cups and drop them off in the kitchen. On my way back, I’ll pick up the random toys on the floor and put them on the counter. The next time I walk by the counter, I’ll pick up the toys and drop them where they go. If I don’t have time for that, I’ll at least put them in my pocket to put away later. I love working in layers and cleaning little bits here and there until the job is done.
5. Clean Every Room You Are In
Instead of having a designated cleaning time, I like to just clean as I go. At the end of the day, there is always a mass pick up and put away time, but I like to minimize that as much as I can throughout the day. When I wake up (or more like when my baby wakes up), I make my bed. It doesn’t have to look perfect, I just make it look decent. When I get the toddler up, I make sure her crib is tidied up. When I’m playing with the kids on the floor in the living room, I’ll pick up the stray toys and arrange the pillows on the couch. It only takes me a few minutes here and there, but by the end of the day the house is in fairly decent shape.
6. Distract the Kids
I love waiting until the kids have moved on to another project before sweeping in to clean up a messy room, because there is nothing more frustrating than cleaning a room that continues to get messy. I also don’t really like the kids to see me clean. I like them to think that things just magically go back to their spots! But seriously, I think that if they see me cleaning, they expect me to clean up their messes, but if it’s just done, they don’t really think about it. It’s also a bit frustrating to clean one room to perfection only to find that the next room is completely destroyed. To ensure that this doesn’t happen, I like to make sure that the kids are engaged in a non-messy activity in another room (even if it means parking them in front of a TV or ipad) while I get everything cleaned. I know that it can seem like a good idea to leave their toys out “in case they want to come back to play with them”, but from my experience, they have way more fun making a new mess rather than delving into an old one!
7. Keep a Mental List of Things To Do
Time is precious, especially with four little ones, and I try to make the most of every minute. One thing that helps me is keeping a mental checklist of the things that I want to get done. When I’m sitting there nursing my baby, contemplating the moments of freedom that I’ll have when he (hopefully) naps for anywhere between 30 minutes to 3 hours, I start to think about all of the things that I want to get done. Even if I know that I’ll only realistically get to one or two items on my list, I still like to think about items three through five that I might be able to get done if I have the time. That way, when the time comes, I don’t waste any time on hesitation.
8. Prioritize the Messes
Once I accept the fact that not everything will not get done on my to do list, I reduce my stress level by at least half of one percent. 🙂 When I’m faced with messes and chores of gargantuan proportion, I know that at any minute the baby will start to cry or someone will want to cuddle, and so I have to choose what things are the most important and what things I can let go of. If the living room is completely trashed and the kids are playing quietly in the next room, then the living room might take top priority. But if lunch time is approaching and the kids are starting to get a little cranky, I know that cleaning the kitchen and preparing lunch must take top priority.
9. Keep a Visible Checklist of Big Projects
I love keeping a white board and dry erase marker on the fridge and keeping a running checklist going of the big and little projects that need to get done around the house. This is especially helpful for my husband on the weekends so that he can see what things need to get done without me telling him what to do. It’s also nice for anyone who visits too. When people come over, I put them to work! 🙂
10. Let Some Things Go
When my husband and I were a couple of DINKS (dual income no kids), we would do all of our major cleaning on the weekends. We would scrub the toilets, wipe down baseboards, vacuum the house, wash the sheets, clean the windows, dust the furniture and a whole list of other ridiculous things. But now we have learned what things are important and what things we can let go of. Our number one priority is keeping the kitchen clean and the house tidy. Everything after that is a bonus. Sure, we may clean our sheets, it just might only happen four times per year. 🙂
11. Spread out the Big Cleaning Projects
Now, just because I don’t clean my toilets every day doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate a clean bowl! It’s just that instead of cleaning them every Saturday, I just clean them when they are getting so disgusting I can’t stand it anymore or if I know that company will be coming over soon. 🙂 I do the same thing with vacuuming, dusting, windows, and any other cleaning project that I don’t tackle on a regular basis.
12. Kids and Cleaning
My four kids are five and under, so at this point, I don’t have any huge requirements for them to clean. From time to time when the mess is small and manageable, and I am there to support them, I will enlist their help. For example, if we’re not in a rush to go anywhere and there’s a basket of dinosaurs on the floor, I will say, “Can you help me put these dinosaurs away?” Then I’ll make it fun by making them talk and say things like, “Please put me with all of my friends, I’m so tired and I want to take a rest! Oh thank you!” But for the most part, I believe that it is their job to play and my job to clean and organize. Gasp! Can it be true??? I believe that if I were to make my little children clean up every single mess that they made that it would a) Take forever and never be done to my specific liking b) Discourage them from making a mess in the first place which is part of the learning process, and c) Encourage them to become mini adults instead of curious, imaginative, and playful children. Because I keep things so organized and tidy, my children are accustomed to everything having a place and I see that they prefer it that way. They don’t usually make a mess just for the sake of making a mess, and if they do, I hold them accountable. The cutest thing was seeing my four year old put away his new toys after his fourth birthday. He had received a big dragon and some robots and he said excitedly, “I know where these will go!” and he proceeded to put them in the big bin with all of the other robots and dragons. This is exactly what I had hoped to encourage! And I didn’t have to beg, cajole, threaten, or punish in order to get it done. 🙂
Having children has changed my standard of clean, and I couldn’t be any happier! I love the messes and I love my job as master organizer. In order for my mind to be able to function and think about bigger things, I need to keep my home neat and tidy. I know that some people may have a higher mess tolerance than me, but in the end, it’s about what’s best for the kids. When my kids see neat tubs of organized toys, they are way more purposeful and engaged than if there was a big messy pile of chaos. And in the end, that’s what it’s all about…being purposeful and engaged in all that we do.