Having a clean, organized home is important to me. I’m not talking about spic-and-span spotlessness or white-glove inspections, but I do think that a home with organized common areas, clean bathrooms and a well kept kitchen makes everyone in the house feel less stress and more comfort. I also know just how hard this can be to achieve, particularly with the addition of two children. Before we had kids, when the housekeeping got bad, I knew I could catch up on a weekend or clean a bathroom after dinner. If we had guests coming, I could even take a day off work or leave early to get housekeeping done. Now, with two kids, it’s hard. Time is difficult to come by. The house is much messier and far more cluttered, and what little weekend time we have free we find ourselves sort of bleary-eyed and shell-shocked from surviving the week.
While my house is not spotless, I have found several tips and ideas that I have put into use over the past three years that have helped me go from frazzled-new-mom to somewhat-in-control SAHM to two kids and one husband.
1. Use Your Laundry Basket to Organize
Each Friday afternoon, while my kids nap, I get out the laundry baskets. Now, I do laundry on Monday and Thursday, so I’m not using the baskets for that purpose. Instead, I’m using them to sort through all of our junk and clutter and then heaving the baskets all over the house and putting the stuff that has accumulated all week away. I have three baskets – one for the kids, one the parents and one for general household items. I put away toys that have somehow ended up on the kitchen counter and been sitting there for days. I get all of the mail sorted and put in a parent’s basket and headed to the office. I put away shoes, sunglasses, books, magazines, pillows, blankets – just about anything that has come out from its designated space and been shelved on my dining room table, kitchen counter, living room corner or entry hall. I’m always amazed by two things. First, I’m amazed by the amount of stuff we have lying around our house at any one time, and a lot of it is mine and my husband’s. Second, I’m amazed by how quickly I can put it away and how great the house looks after I’m done. We can start our weekend with a clean slate. I find that doing this once a week is manageable and keeps the clutter from absolutely overtaking our house. In addition, I put the kid’s basket outside their bedroom doors, and they help me put away their items when they wake from their naps. They get the biggest kick out of this. I feel like I’m cleaning, but it’s organized and structured – all the items are located in one place (the basket) and we can go to their rooms and deal with it there. This works much better than if I try to get them to take the item from the kitchen and put it away in their room. Inevitably, the item ends up lost along the way, in the bathroom or laundry room, shoved under the sofa, etc. etc. You get the idea.
So, pull out your laundry baskets, re-usable grocery totes, whatever – and get packing and unpacking. I can get most of the house done in under an hour, and the benefit is entirely worthwhile!
2. Do Chores on a Day-to-Day Basis
Okay, I got this idea from a book of my daughter’s – an old Little House on the Prairie book. In the book, Ma does a different chore for each day of the week. I thought this might work for us, since cleaning the entire house at one time is so overwhelming I rarely get around to cleaning anything at all. I decided to baby-step the process and made myself a weekly schedule. Laundry gets done on Monday & Thursday. Bathrooms are Tuesday. Floors are Wednesday. The Kitchen is Thursday, as well. And general upkeep and clutter are taken care of on Friday. Since implementing this system, our house has been kept up much more, I feel much less stress about what and where to clean, and I give myself a break when the one chore is done for the day. The schedule helps me know that all of the cleaning will get done and I don’t feel pressure to do too much in one day. As well, my kids know what we do each day and get a kick out of “helping.”
3. Cleaning Buckets in Each Room
One of the best ideas I ever came up with has been putting buckets of cleaning supplies throughout the house. I know, it’s not genius, but actually doing it will help out a great deal! I can clean the bathroom while my kids take a bath (okay, a quick wipe down), and I don’t have to go hunting for the cleaning supplies. They are there, under the sink. I have supplies in the upstairs bathroom as well the downstairs bathrooms. I have kitchen supplies in the kitchen (rather than stocked in the laundry room), dusting supplies both upstairs and downstairs, and I have a vacuum upstairs as well as down. This means that when I get the urge to hit the floors (or if there is a spill I need to clean up quickly) I don’t have to double my duty by heading downstairs and lugging up the big ol’ vacuum cleaner. Having supplies placed throughout the house has really cut down on the amount of time I spend going back to the cleaning closet or laundry room. Maybe I’m a prima donna, but one bucket doesn’t cut it in this house.
4. Bins, Bins, Bins
I used to think that women who had bins for everything were crazy. It just seemed so out of control. Then I had kids. Now that we are a family of four, our stuff just seems to seep from every nook and cranny in the house. I did try, for a year at least, to keep our medicine and bathroom closet organized without bins. I had rows of items all lined up. Towels were stacked just so. But the amount of medical supplies and bath soaps alone just began to sort of take over. My husband needed his medications. I needed my nail supplies. The kids have multiple thermometers, antibiotic ointments, butt paste and on and on. Finally, I bought several plastic bins with snap-on tops and began sorting. The kids have one bin. We have another bin. I have a bin for my nail supplies. There is a bin for razors and those little hotel bottles of shampoo and lotion we somehow keep accumulating. All-in-all, the bins do not overtake us, but they allow us to keep our items separated enough to make sense and make it easy enough to find. When our kids are sick, I know that I go straight to their medicine bin, pull it out and find whatever medicine I’m in search of. Before, I kept throwing things out because I didn’t want to mess with keeping my closet organized. Now, I just toss it in the bin and have it neatly stored for the next bout of rotavirus. Seriously, I kick myself for not crossing over to the bin-side earlier.
5. Designated Daddy Day
At some point during our weekend, my husband takes the kids to the park, for a bike ride, around the block, whatever. This means that I get at least one hour of unfettered time to get my house in order. I have asked my husband – would you rather do the cleaning or take the kids? He wanted to take the kids. Figure out whatever arrangement works for you and stick to it. If you have to get your sister or mom or neighbor to agree to it, do whatever it takes. Having one hour of alone time in your house is amazing! Put on your favorite music, make a list of what you want to get done (it can be overwhelming if you don’t give it some thought beforehand) and pull out your cleaning gloves. You’ll be surprised by not only how much you can accomplish but also by how much fun it can be. I’m not in love with cleaning house, but I am in love with some alone time, some great music and a nice, sparkling kitchen to enjoy for the rest of the weekend. I do think that housekeeping is a gift we give our entire household. I’m not saying it has to be perfect or sterile (I hate those homes), but living in a mess, with clutter overtaking each room and rings in the toilet, is depressing! If you know you will get an hour or two each Saturday morning to get a few things done, it makes the week much more manageable. So, designate your Daddy (or Mommy) time with the kids and pull out those old college CDs. The house, your family and you will be all the better for it!
Hopefully these tips will be useful for you and your own family. Keeping house doesn’t have to be the ultimate chore. With a bit of forethought and organization, it can even be (gasp) fun. Those 50s housewives may have been on to something – they might have also been having cocktail hour at noon, but it’s worth a try, right?