Welcoming a child into a home can be a joyous occasion for a family. They might also consider it the last time their home will be anywhere close to neat and organized.
As a baby grows into a toddler and then a rambunctious young child, parents may feel like the battle to keep a clean home is unwinnable. They’ll feel a sense of victory at cleaning the dirty dishes at the sink, only to discover that their son or daughter has used that time to spill their entire meal onto the dining room floor.
You may also feel less motivated to clean. People expect households with children to have messy homes anyway, so it’s easy to make peace with the clutter and sticky surfaces. And when free time becomes a scarcer commodity, do you really want to spend it with a mop?
Still, keeping a clean home with small children underfoot isn’t an impossible task. By establishing a few rules and habits, you can drastically cut down on the messy areas in your household.
If there’s too much kid-related clutter around your home, there’s probably a simple root cause: you have too much stuff.
As children grow, they leave behind a trail of undersized clothes, swings and other baby items they can’t fit into, and toys that no longer entertain them. You may also be swamped by gifts from adoring grandparents or cute children’s items you couldn’t resist buying.
Periodically go through your children’s items to purge anything that no longer serves a purpose. If you plan on having more children, these things can be put into storage. If not, you can get rid of them.
You can involve older children in this process, asking them to pick some toys to give away. They may very well be reluctant to do so, but you can explain that they’ll be helping to make other children happy.
You can also consider limiting gift purchases to holidays, birthdays, or other special occasions, or having a child donate a number of toys equal to the number of gifts they receive. Avoiding an excessive number of toys can also encourage more family activities, such as going to the park or a museum.
Try to keep toy clutter from getting out of control by limiting play areas to certain parts of the home, such as the child’s room and a corner of the living room. You can also set up a “toy checkout,” keeping most toys in storage but allowing a child to pick a few things to take out at playtime.
Children will often leave a book or toy out once they’re done with it and go to pick up another one, eventually creating a massive pile of discarded items. Establish a rule that an item has to be returned to its place before a new one comes out.
Baskets or bins can help organize children’s toys and make cleanup easier. You can also identify areas prone to clutter and look for ways to keep them under control. For example, a wall-mounted organizer by the front door can keep mail from piling up on the table.
Forming a few habits will allow you to dedicate some time to cleaning each day. Doing so keeps messes from getting out of control and allows you to tidy up your home through incremental actions rather than lengthy sessions.
Pick up a couple of things whenever you leave a room. This habit allows you to do a bit of decluttering at every pass.
Sleep is sacred when you have young children, who are often likely to wake up at an early hour. Still, you might want to set an earlier alarm to let you accomplish a few tasks, or assign a certain brief block of time for housekeeping. Even 10 extra minutes can be sufficient to let you clean a small bathroom.
Keep a set of portable cleaning supplies on hand. This can be as simple as a “grab and go” bucket with a sponge, water-vinegar solution, dusting pad, and other materials that let you complete a quick cleaning.
Make a list of things you’d like to accomplish each day, such as cleaning dishes, and a more flexible list of things you’d like to accomplish in the week. If you can afford it, hiring a housekeeping service can provide some much-needed relief at regular intervals.
Put the kids to work
If you have an infant, strapping them into a carrier will free up your hands and allow you to complete some chores. Once a child gets older, however, they’ll usually be happy to help.
Have children start pitching in with cleanup early on, and encourage and thank them when they do. Toddlers are capable of doing several tasks under supervision, including picking up their toys and feeding pets. Older children can help out with things like setting the table, washing dishes, and raking leaves. Consider getting child-sized cleaning supplies such as a smaller broom or a vacuum that can be adjusted to a low height.
A child’s assistance can often make cleanup take longer, but you can make the process fun by putting on music or creating games. One option is to make a square of painter’s tape on the floor and encourage a child to sweep as much dirt and dust into it as possible.
Not every day is going to be especially productive, and you won’t always be able to finish off your entire to do list. Focus on the most important tasks and leave others for another day if you need a break.
You may also have to come to terms with a dirtier definition of clean, especially if you had a sparkling home before your kids arrived. Perhaps you can find some satisfaction in the fact that the floors are swept and the toys are put away, even if there are still smudge marks on the refrigerator.