How to Keep a Clean House When You Have Small Children
Guest Post by Sarah Poirier
As I sit and surveyed the damage after taking down our Christmas tree this afternoon, I found myself mentally making new year’s resolutions for keeping a tidier home.
I imagined spacious rooms adorned with tidy houseplants, my angelic children arriving home from school and placing every one of their belongings in its proper place, and not an item out of place in our spotless home. Can you picture it? A clean house when you have small children as oppose as the messy home that drives me crazy?
In the midst of this blissful daydream of mine, my daughter came around the corner with an armful of her newest treasures from Christmas and proceeded to dump them all in the center of the living room with a proud and satisfied smile on her tiny little face.
Then it dawned on me, who am I kidding?! There won’t be any empty spaces in this home for a few years yet, my children (no matter how willing and able) will not likely always remember to put their things away where they belong, and I haven’t even considered my third child in this equation – my husband. Bless his heart, I love him dearly, but if I find one more dirty sock or empty coffee cup on the coffee table, I think I may scream!
So, in reality, it is unlikely that I will have that neat, clean Martha Stewart-styled home any time soon, and to be honest, I’m ok with that. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t find some semblance of order, cleanliness, and tidiness in our home.
Here are 10 tips that I have incorporated into my regular cleaning routines, to help keep the house clean and tidy, when you have small children, with minimal mess and clutter.
Life-Changing Tips on How to Keep a Tidy Home with Small Kids
1- Try to do one cleaning job each day.
This is one of my new year’s resolutions. So, I can’t yet say that I “practice what I preach”, since currently, I do not do this. But it’s high on my priority list, and I truly think that it will help me feel more on top of things. Pick one job, be it wiping the bathroom sink, vacuuming the downstairs, or mopping the kitchen floor, and try to do one of them each day. It will cut down on the bigger clean later in the week/on the weekend.
2- Declutter, purge, and declutter even more!
Following our cross-country move this past summer, my family and I REALLY learned the meaning of “purge”. That’s how you have to start.
We went all in on this one – rented a dumpster, sold many things, had garage sales, threw out anything that wasn’t useful or that the kids had outgrown, donated many items and clothes, etc.
It was fantastic, and my husband and I couldn’t get over how liberating it was!
Now that we are unpacking in our new home, we are finding even more things that we could have gotten rid of. It might be time to call for another dumpster!
By getting rid of those things that do not bring you joy, and clearing out all the clutter that occupies our minds, closets, and corners of rooms, we move toward that simpler life that we so yearn for!
Basic steps to get started on keeping your house tidy with all your kids stuff
- Go through your children’s clothing every season to see what no longer fits, what could be donated, and what needs to be thrown out. Same with the toys, although that could probably be done every few months or so, as they don’t outgrow toys quite as quickly as their clothes.
- Store sentimental items somewhere else. If you’re like me and find that certain baby outfits hold sentimental value to you, allow yourself one storage tub to keep those precious little items safe. Store it away, but have those clothes removed from the closets, so that they clear space for the everyday clothing.
- Clear out your own clothes. Do the same with your own wardrobe; anything that you haven’t worn in the past few months, get rid of.
- Get rid of any knick-knacks that don’t hold any value (sentimental or otherwise) to you.
- Throw it out! Anything you haven’t used in the past 3 months, and don’t see yourself using anytime soon, get rid of.
How to get the amount of kids toys under control
Purge the toys!
This could be done every 6 months or so, as they don’t outgrow toys quite as quickly as their clothes. This can be done in two ways, both of which have benefits of their own.
- Get the children involved – have them select what toys they no longer play with, and choose a place to donate them to. This teaches the concepts of reusing and giving back to the community.
- The other method would be to go through the toys when the children aren’t around, in order to avoid the “NO! I HAVE to keep THAT!” This can sometimes prove to be the easier method, although you run the risk of having to explain where that suddenly-cherished toy disappeared to.
3- Limit toys in the main living areas.
This was a total game changer for us! Getting rid of all the trinkets and toys in the living room made me feel that we finally had some “adult space” to call our own. The majority of the kids’ toys are now kept in the basement rec room or in their bedrooms. That’s not to say the living room doesn’t have ANY toys, but it is quite limited, and at bedtime, they have to put away any toys that were brought out throughout the day.
4- Get the kids involved!
My kids are 4 and 7 now, so this tip may not be applicable to everyone. If you are still in the newborn/toddler phase, then they aren’t quite ready to help out with cleaning. But at 4 and 7, my kids are at that perfect age, where they’re old enough to be able to help and young enough to still want to contribute and not give me a huge eye roll when I enlist their help.
My daughter loves to vacuum, so she is often in charge of doing that.
My son, on the other hand, loves to scrub, so he enjoys washing windows, wiping counters, or cleaning sinks.
Kids learn by doing, so this process isn’t an immediate fix, and it will likely take twice as long (and possibly make even MORE mess!), but they will eventually learn, and be able to help you.
They will also feel PROUD of themselves for being able to help out and contribute to the well-being of the home. It also teaches them the valuable lesson that the home doesn’t just run itself, and we are all responsible for contributing to it being a clean, tidy, and happy place to be.
It is a sneaky way to get to get your house clean with kids.
5- Make a cleaning schedule.
I am an epic procrastinator, so I tend to need schedules to keep me on track. Otherwise, I’ll manage to find some (seemingly valid) excuse for not getting a job done, especially if it’s something that I don’t enjoy doing, like cleaning. I find having a schedule keeps me on track with keeping my house cleaner, and prevents my home from becoming a total mess.
This doesn’t mean the schedule is carved in stone, but if I break it down day by day (see Tip #1), then I know what needs to be done each day, and I know that all of the bigger jobs are scheduled in at some point. If I want to get really fancy and organized, I will even break it down in terms of how long each job takes me. But that’s a whole other list, like this one!
6- Organize your home
Another lesson that we learned from our move. Things need to be ORGANIZED! I am not the most organized person in the world, and my version of filing papers is to pile them on the counter until the pile starts spilling, and then spend hours one boring evening sorting through said papers and filing the ones I need to keep.
By being more organized and dealing with daily items as they arise (again, see Tip #1) I have a better sense of order in the house and my hutch is no longer the Mount Everest of mail.
I still have a way to go in getting more organized, but finding a spot for items, and teaching your children where those places are, can help toward a cleaner, tidier home.
Must-dos to organize your Home when you have kids
- Clear your kitchen countertops of clutter.
Anything that doesn’t need to be there, either throw out or store away. Small appliances that you don’t use regularly, kids’ artwork, school forms, knick-knacks, etc. Anything that you don’t need on a daily basis, put it away.
The kitchen is the central hub in most homes, so keeping this area clear of clutter and debris can help your home to look much neater and more organized.
- Find a system for keeping/displaying your children’s artwork. Yes, all of those precious pieces of work that your children bring home and proudly hand over to you, they allllll need to be addressed (all 25,876 of them). Whether you want to keep and treasure every piece, keep a select few, or keep none and document them digitally, find a system that works for you and take some time to set it up and get it organized. You’ll thank yourself later on!
- Make the entryways in your home as efficient as possible. This is the first thing you (and others) see when you enter your home, and it can either be a source of gratification and relaxation, or it can be alone of contention that causes you endless stress and annoyance. You want to come into your home and breathe a sigh of relief, you don’t want to walk in and instantly tense your shoulders at the mess you see. Regardless of the size and/or shape of your entryway, try to find ways to make it work for you and your family. Hang hooks for coats, place bins for shoes/hat/mitts/, have a shoe rack to hold all of the many pairs of shoes/boots that kids seem to come with. A small bench or table also helps for efficiency, as long as it doesn’t become a catch-all for everything (as mine sometimes does!)
7- Storage bins are your best friend.
This point coincides with Tip #6. Remember that Mount Everest of mail that I spoke of? Well, it’s now stored in a cute little box on my hutch that I try (keyword is TRY) to empty each day and file away. Storage bins, toy tubs, book shelves, even spice racks – all of these little organizational wonders are great to help de-clutter your home and make it look tidier.
So even on those days where the kids have dragged out every toy from their rooms, you’ve been busy cooking in the kitchen, and it’s just been one of those crazy days, you can quickly do a tidy-up (get the kids helping!) by putting things away in their proper bin.
Choose a few areas in your home where you could add some storage pieces, and you’ll instantly notice a change for the better!
8- Cleaning supplies on each level.
Another game changer for me! Many of you are probably thinking “Duh! Who doesn’t do that?!” But folks, I think I’m a bit of a slow learner because I didn’t think of this until we moved into our new home and I had three levels to clean and maintain.
Keeping a small bin of your regular cleaning supplies, some extra clothes, and a roll of paper towels on each level can make cleaning up so much easier. It’s much quicker to complete that daily cleaning task from Tip #1 if you have the supplies nearby. Because having to run upstairs to get the supplies can sometimes be enough to dissuade me altogether!
9- Teach routines that will help to keep your house clean and your children involved
This is where my years as a Kindergarten teacher come in handy. Routine, routine, routine! This also goes back to Tip #4 of getting the kids involved. There’s no reason why kids can’t help tidy up and put things away, and the sooner you teach these routines, the better.
When my son was a toddler, he loved picking up toys and helping me to put them away.
Now, the enthusiasm has waned a little now that he is 7, and I do see the occasional eye roll coming from him, but because these routines were established early on, he knows the expectations and knows that this is just something we do. It has also helped to model this for his younger sister, so as she watched him picking up toys and helping to clean up, she quickly learned the routines as well and began to pitch in and help.
Developing these early habits to keep your house clean with kids will help so much in the long-run.
10- Finish the cleaning with a daily sweep
My final tip is to end each day with a final sweep of the home. Make it quick, nothing crazy! But pick up those last few pieces of dirty clothes, any toys that might have been missed (the kids try, but they are still kids after all), or that water cup sitting on the coffee table.
By doing a quick final sweep of the home, it prevents those few little things from piling up to the next day and the next day. Before you know it, there’s a big mess, lots of clutter, and you’re feeling stressed and worn out with no end in sight. Hopefully, a little tidy routine just before bed would help to prevent that.
My extra tip for a cleaner and more organized home with small kids? Embrace the mess.
That sounds totally contradictory, doesn’t it? As cliché as it sounds, embracing the mess to some extent can actually help to alleviate some of your stress and anxiety. I know some of you may cringe when I say that, and think that you came looking for solutions and ideas, not to be told to “embrace the mess”.
But these years when the children are small are short and chaotic, and mess is just a part of it all. Incorporating these little tips into your cleaning routine can help you to feel more organized. But the truth of the matter is that life (and your home) will be a little messy for the next few years, so taking the pressure off yourself and learning to embrace the mess somewhat can help to alleviate your stress.
Finally, the ultimate, most realistic secret to keeping a cleaner house with small children? Adjust and prioritize your version of “clean”. Not forever, just for now, while we are in the midst of these chaotic child-rearing years.
By learning to accept that my version of clean is different now than before I had kids has been a big stress reliever for me. I’ve made different priorities for what I want/need my home to look like, and I focus on those rather than worrying about everything being neat and tidy.
It won’t always be this crazy and messy, and to be honest, I wouldn’t change anything for the world. My kids will only be little for so long, and I would rather spend my time enjoying them than worrying about whether or not my home is Martha-Stewart-perfect.
I try my best, focus on what matters to me for a clean and organized home, and I work on letting all the rest go. That being said, I’m off to do my daily cleaning chore now!
Sarah Poirier is an elementary school teacher, freelance writer, and a mom who is seeking a simpler lifestyle away from the everyday “rat race”. Having recently completed a cross-country move, she now lives on her oceanfront paradise in Nova Scotia with her husband and two beautiful, energetic children and is actively pursuing a career in writing. As a writer, she is passionate about finding ways to live a healthier, simpler, and more holistic lifestyle, and building a successful homestead for her and her family.