Get it clean and keep it that way. Please, stay with me here. In theory, this is a great concept, right? However, I live in the real world (remember, I have 3 little boys ages 4 ½, 3, and 1).
Let me give you a scenario that frequently plays out at our house. I love to open our home to friends and family. But our weeks are filled with trips to the YMCA, swim lessons, play dates, Mary Kay orders coming in, shopping and grocery trips, dirty little boys tracking in from playing outside, the baby decorating the floor with his lunch, and the like. So our house often has that “overly lived in” look. There is a pile of mail I haven’t opened in 3 days, a stack of paperwork/mail for my husband to go thru and another pile of things for him to fix or replace batteries in. I have yet to cut the tags off the items we bought yesterday so the floor is littered with plastic shopping bags. The boys have dropped their water bottles off on the kitchen counter which is still holding this morning’s breakfast dishes. And the baby is scattering more items around the house.
(I’m already exhausted from just talking about this subject.)
So when we have guests coming over and “daily life” has littered the house, I tend to go into a last-minute cleaning panic mode. It kind of plays out like this… I get uptight with all the “to clean” items on my list and I vent them to Brad. Brad volunteers to help and starts on his tasks. Unfortunately, we both get easily distracted with other things that could use attention around the house which means our initial cleaning to-do list items are not getting accomplished very quickly. Thus, my previously frenzied mental state now turns into an irritable, frantic one and I start getting on Brad that he’s not moving quick enough. He gets defensive. We start bickering and the day gets ugly and our already unpleasant task of cleaning is even more unpleasant.
While our house does miraculously transform into a clutter-free, dust-free abode, this is neither a positive nor effective way for our family to work together.
After our last cleaning frenzy, when the guests had left, and the week’s activities were once again in full swing, I felt such a relief that the house was still spotless. And then, like an epiphany, it hit me. I bewilderedly announced to Brad, “It is so much easier to just keep the house clean once it’s clean!”
As previously stated, it is a great concept, but not always realistic. Here are some tips though, that are helping our household stay on top of the cleaning.
- Give your kids a task. Toys can be really overwhelming. And after picking them up for the 15th time that day, can be a daunting task. I have given that task to the boys. When we moved into our house, I started the rule that before we can go to another level of the house, all toys have to be cleaned up. At that time, Connor was 3 and Dylan was 18-months. It took a while to get the boys accustomed to this rule. Plus, being so little, they were sometimes slow, easily got distracted playing, and often needed help. However, as they got older, this task has been ingrained in them. They may not always want to pick up their toys. However, before they get to do another activity or come downstairs for breakfast or leave for the park, they know all toys need to be put away. This has been a great behavioral method also. Rather than yelling at the boys to pick up, they are told “when your toys are picked up you can join us ”. This leaves the choice up to the child and keeps fit throwing at bay.
- Establish a laundry day each week. Mondays are my day. It doesn’t mean Monday is the only day I do laundry, but by having a routine for myself, I know that is the day’s goal and it keeps me from feeling overloaded the rest of the week.
- Put away purchases immediately. After we get home from the grocery, one or both of my oldest boys unpack the grocery bags for me. They will either lay our purchases on the counter or hand them to me directly. Not only does it get our items taken care of right away, but it gives the boys a little chore to do and we get to spend time together.
- Don’t let dishes pile up. Sometimes it is not always feasible to get the dishes in the dishwasher right after a meal, but I’ve established a pretty good routine that works for our family. I typically run the dishwasher at night. Then after breakfast, as I’m waiting for the boys to finish up, I unload the dishwasher. Depending on time, I may load up dirty dishes then or I load them after lunch. Dinner dishes get loaded after dinner and then the dishwasher gets run again.
- Pick a level of your house to work on each day. Sometimes I’ll just tell the boys, “We are going to play upstairs today. Mommy needs to change our bed sheets and clean the bathroom.” I find this gives the boys a sense of direction or routine for the day and they are more likely to settle into playing blocks or finding a “long term” toy/game to play with.
Start small and stay realistic. If you have little ones, the house will probably never be spotless. And that’s okay. But talk with your spouse about expectations on the level of tidiness each of you wants to see and then divide out tasks. For instance, Brad takes care of cleaning our floors and taking out the trash which are weekly tasks while I focus on the daily tasks like dishes, laundry, picking up. Brad is more than happy to help with other tasks when I ask him. Having the expectation discussion is a healthy way to find out what would make your spouse feel at ease and comfortable without putting too much stress on either one of you.
Likewise, I am a perfectionist so it makes me crazy to have the house in disarray. I have high expectations of what I want/expect our home to look like. However, I cherish the time I get to spend with my boys more than I do keeping an impeccable home. Know your limits and remember that neither you nor your child will reflect on how clean the house was, but you will both reminisce the time you spent together.