It’s not easy to keep up with housework. Things get dirty fast and spills are inevitable. Add a few kids and it’s damn near impossible.
My mother always kept an impeccable house. Raising three kids, a few nieces and nephews and later running a day care from home kept her pretty busy. But you could eat off her floors. And this doesn’t mean that we had a germ free childhood. It was just habit that dishes got cleaned or put in the dishwasher as soon as the meal was done, the stove and counter were always wiped clean and no one wore shoes in the house. My siblings and I had our chores and we begrudgingly did them dutifully. This included the outside of the house, which was our father’s territory. We were forever raking and sweeping. Each spring, before the sand-sweeper truck came (does this vehicle have an actual name?) we would literally be sweeping the sand from our driveway and from the street in front of our house into piles to pick up.
I don’t have the time, the patience or the drive that my parents did. At least not right now. My husband is out late working most nights and weekends are spent running errands and trying to recup some energy. But since moving into our home about three years ago, I’ve been able to set up a routine that keeps the house *close* to the level of cleanliness and organization that I grew up with.
- Don’t leave it until tomorrow – This one is a tough one for me sometimes. Did you ever drop something insignificant and just think, nah, I’ll pick it up later. Yeah, me too. If your motto is ‘do it now’ you will save yourself a lot more time in the future. We have three kids under the age of two and they eat in high chairs in our dining room. And by eat I mean drop food all over the place. It has become my routine to wash them down and put them in the playroom while I clean their high chairs, clean the floor and take care of the dishes. It’s just ten minutes of my time, which is about the maximum I would leave them alone for. But if I didn’t, I would inevitably end up getting ready for a future meal, holding babies in my arms, and realizing their high chair trays have stuck on food.
- Know when to relax – As a (currently) stay-at-home mom with a husband who works outside the home 14-hour days, all the housework and chores fall to me. Trying to get everything done all the time was a definite stressor for me. So part of this journey involves letting some of it go. One thing I’ve given up on has to do with toys. I was constantly picking up toys. Every time I left a room (living room or playroom) I would clean everything up. It became too much. So I just leave it during the day. After the girls go to bed, I pick up everything that’s left. I also refuse to use common nap time (the afternoon) to clean or do chores. The girls are asleep, so I’m either relaxing, blogging, making my own meal or taking a nap as well. It’s amazing what thirty minutes of shut-eye on the couch can do when you’ve been stretched to the point of breaking since 5 that morning.
- Clean in shifts – There are some things that I do everyday (like the kitchen counters and stove) and some that I do when I notice dust (furniture) or other (like toothpaste on the bathroom counter). The refrigerator is something that I tackle in shifts. When a shelf gets nearly empty I take that time to spray and wipe it. This way I don’t have to spend an afternoon emptying the contents, letting out all the cool air, and doing a mass cleaning.
- Be prepared – I know that my twins get most of their food on the floor when they feed themselves. For this reason, we bought a dirt devil hand vac that stays in the dining room. When our oldest refuses to wear a bib a a meal, we just take her shirt off. I lay out outfits for my girls (and for my husband) the day before, whenever I have a spare moment. This saves a lot of time in the morning. And when cooking, I use a lot of foil (it’s washable and recyclable!). I have bacon in the oven right now. If you are a bacon lover you know how messy it can be. I have one dedicated baking sheet that I layer with foil, paper towels (two whole or four half sheets) and a metal rack. Most times, I don’t even need to wash the pan because the grease soaks into the paper towels and I toss them as soon as it cools.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff – I have the same ‘no shoes in the house rule’ that my parents had, but I exclude infrequent guests from this. I just make a plan to vacuum and wash the floors after they leave. My kids do sit and play on these floors. Is my house magazine-ready? Absolutely not. But it is organized, decorated with purpose and not haphazardly, and always surface clean. Some things can’t really be helped – like the oven that was here when we moved in. I did a deep clean once (with some pretty harsh chemicals, before we had kids) but now i just let it be. I’d rather not use those toxic chemicals with children in the house and there isn’t much that can be done with a natural cleaner to rid it of years of abuse. It still cooks my food, which is all I need it to do. And someday we will replace it and be able to keep up with the cleaning.