First of all, I don’t think it’s imperative that the house be tidy all the time. As a general rule. However, for some reason, an untidy and messy house really drives me nuts. I find it difficult to relax or work in a chaotic environment and pretty much would lose sleep over the fact that the house was a wreck. If it was a constant wreck, that is.
Each of us grew up in houses that had a certain level of clutter, mess and organization. We got used to that. More than likely, that is the standard to which we’d like our homes to be kept now. If your mother was very clean and tidy (as mine is) then a mess may be very noticeable to you. If you grew up in a home where clutter, toys, or messes were common and not a big deal, then perhaps you don’t stress about the state of the house. Whatever works for your family and you, keep at it.
If you are like me (God help you) then having children only means that keeping the house clean will be more challenging. It doesn’t mean it can be forgotten for a few years. Here are some tips for those of us who won’t let the idea that we can still keep a tidy house die. Perseverance and endurance to us all!
(1) Revisit your definition of tidy.
First and foremost, we mothers need to revisit what it means to be tidy. Tidy used to mean everything where we put it since the last time we moved it. It used to mean that surfaces were clear, things were in proper boxes and the house was almost always ready for visitors. Tidy now will mean something different. It may mean there are a few baskets filled with visible toys. The toys are in the baskets, but still. You can see the baskets. It may mean that throughout the day there will be times when the house is in full play mode which means, obviously, that the house isn’t always “company ready.” Of course, most company we keep wouldn’t even notice anyway. Tidy will still look as though the house is in order and picked up. But it will be a different picked up order than before.
(2) Work with your children not against them.
After my first child started crawling and pulling things around I was personally offended. Does she not know that I want the house to look neat? Is she doing this to pop my forehead vein? After a while I realised that was not the case, and that I needed to figure out some good systems that let the kids be kids and let the house be neat and orderly, but still be home. I let them throw around their toys, games and blocks while they are playing. When they are finished we all pick them up together. Of course, some days this is me standing over them handing them a block telling them to put it in the basket. Some days they do it happily, some days they run away. That’s life. However, if I let them run wild with things then I make them put it back later. Win win.
(3) Downsize the knickknacks.
One way that I’ve managed to keep the house from looking like an indoor yard sale is to minimize the sit-abouts, tchotkes, and knick knacks. If I want to put sentimental and decorative items on display I do so where they are above arms reach. Not because I don’t want to teach my children to avoid certain things, but simply because the little ones only have so much willpower and 4,356 picture frames, candles and coasters are too much for them to resist day in and day out. Plus, we can’t very well have them touch nothing in the house. On lower surfaces I keep the bare minimum to be pleasing to my eye and it means there are less things strewn about the house. Is it just me or can a child somehow manage to dislocate about 35 things in one trip to the bathroom?
(4) Make daily sweeps.
We clean up after playtime and I do a major sweep after the children are in bed. That’s it. Those two things means that almost every evening (unless it is a particularly busy evening) the house looks neat and tidy before bed. And it really only takes around 10 minutes max each time to do it. I put things back where they came from and that’s it. Two or three days of messes make cleaning and tidying longer so I try to do it every single day so that it doesn’t build up. Remember, it’s much easier to maintain.
(5) Organize well.
If things don’t have a place they end up on the kitchen counter. Or so it is at our house. And if toys don’t have a place they end up hiding where my foot finds them in the dark tempting me to yell bad words that I would forbid my children to say. I have baskets and places for everything. I’m not saying they’re beautiful. I’m not saying everything is labeled – although I love my label maker – but simply everything has a place. This makes tidying easy because each evening as you do a sweep (or as you have your children clean up after themselves with you) you can put up a pile of things quickly when you know where each belong.
Sometimes the house looks fabulous. Sometimes the house looks awful. Sometimes I see spider webs I ignore. Sometimes I have all the kids wiping down surfaces with me. It comes and goes. I don’t feel like a failure if it looks “lived in” but I do think that teaching our children to clean after themselves and tidy isn’t some form of child abuse. It won’t kill them to clean up. It won’t kill me to clean up. While a perfectly tidy house won’t make all our dreams come true, I think it will help us not get too down in the dumps when we are nursing the “I’m-so-frumpy-all-I-do-is-the-dishes” syndrome.