One of the biggest complaints I hear from parents (right after sleep deprivation) is “How do you clean a house when tornadic children are constantly undoing all your work?” I confess that even now with our youngest being eight, at times our house looks like a frat. party just exploded and had a baby.
I regularly get asked, “How do you do it all?” The short answer: I don’t.
The long answer: laundry is oftentimes waiting to be folded while covering some surface in the house: a couch, a bed, or multiple laundry baskets. My Christmas cards still languished on the counter until half-way through January. Most of my drawers, closets and cupboards are disheveled and unorganized until I can’t take it anymore and pay or punish a child to make it right again. I can never find a sharpened pencil. Like ever. I don’t really have my life together phenomenally well–most days my socks don’t match and I could care less.
Sound a lot like you? Good. We’re all on even ground here then.
So, keeping all this in mind, I offer a few tips to keeping your home clean enough. Enough that you can live with it, not stress about it or feel like you just saw Target vomit all over the floor.
For the record, I don’t trick, cajole or pay my children to clean. I enlighten them that we all make messes together and we all clean together. It’s just part of being a family. I also keep in mind how overwhelming it can be to look at a disaster zone as a five year old and not know where to start. I often offer to help them get started for x minutes, they work for x minutes, repeat.
I do however occasionally offer some strategies to help them cope such as:
- Pick up the biggest things first—it makes it less overwhelming
- Turn around, close your eyes, and pick up the first thing you see (repeat without hurling or breaking an ankle)
- Assign each child a different color to pick up. Sometimes we all work on one person’s room and then help another kid with theirs.
- One of my favorite ways to tidy a living room in less than five minutes is to assign each child a number of items to pick up. This is where having the power of multiple kids that you forget their names comes in handy. 20 items x 4 children=80 less things on the floor. And yes, we have that much stuff.
- Beat the clock-great for competitive kids; therapy-inducing for non-competitive. Use it judiciously.
- When they are learning new chores (cleaning toilets, clearing tables, sweeping floors) I have them watch me once, do it with me a few times and then I watch them do it and then they’re on their own. This isn’t super-regimented but the basic plan.
There is an erroneous belief that the entire house needs to be all clean all the time. Unless we have guests coming to stay, and for sanity’s sake, I subscribe to the half and half rule—only half of the house is clean-ish or presentable at a time. I also have zero desire or resources to allot enough time or moolah to make our home look like what you find in the pages of a magazine. It’s just not a top priority for us right now and I’m fine with that.
I want my home to be clean enough that people feel comfortable but lived in enough that they don’t worry about breaking or touching something. I hope our home is an extension of how I try to be: approachable, comfortable with oneself, not fussy but a place where you can feel at peace and welcome–lived in but not disgusting; presentable without being pretentious. I tell my children that people always come before stuff. Relationships last a whole lot longer than linoleum, upholstery and paint.
There are going to be days when you glance at your home and worry why you spawned in the first place and others when you wonder why your face isn’t on the cover of every magazine on the continent. As I’ve often said before, just do your best. Your home isn’t going to look the same when you have a newborn vs. when you have a house full of teenagers. For the record, both will most likely drive you bonkers but for completely different reasons.
Lastly, sometimes we forget that it’s their home too. An acquaintance told me once that her home growing up was so clean and beautiful that you couldn’t tell that children lived there—that was the way she was raised and she felt it was important to continue. Kudos to her but I can’t live like that. Our home looks like children live here because they do. I don’t feel a need to hide that they exist. There are fingerprints on the windows, Legos under the edge of the couches, their art is on the wall, and the windows have odd gel window clings that were given to them as valentines (is that a thing?)—because they live here too.
Maybe it’s because I’ve embraced that life is messy and unpredictable and have learned to go with the flow that my home reflects that. I see it as inevitable so I welcome uncertainty and irregularity instead of hiding it. Maybe it’s because my own home was so disheveled growing up that I look around and think I am actually doing pretty well, considering.
When we show up at each other’s homes and see the fallout from a toddler frat. party, just shove the toys aside and get comfortable. The best gift you can give a guest in your home is helping them feel welcome and at ease there. And that, dear friend, originates more in your inner serenity than with matching ottomans and throw pillows.
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