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Housekeeping: The key to contained chaos

By on February 24, 2008

photo by katmere
“Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing.” — Phyllis Diller

The kitchen is sparkling clean. You leave the room for a few minutes, and, when you walk back, there’s a mess. It’s frustrating trying to keep your home clean if you have a family. Even more so if you have young kids. You’ve heard they’re only young once, but that sure doesn’t help much when every day is “Groundhog Day” when it comes to housework. The unpleasant tasks aren’t going to get done on their own, so readers share their tips for keeping up with it all.

TOY LIMITS: I don’t have a schedule; I just do what needs to be done. I have always limited the number of toys the kids can have out at one time, and they have certain areas in the house where they can’t play. The exception to this rule would be Christmas and family game night. At any other time, they are not allowed to bring toys into the living room, kitchen (play dough and paint an exception here) or dining room. Once the kids became school age, I started confiscating things they left around the house. This stuff is locked up, and they have to earn or buy it back. — justpeachy92, North Carolina

LOWER STANDARDS: My motto is if you have kids under age 6 at home, you get an automatic “pass” for housekeeping forgiveness. I learned early on in motherhood that, when my kids were infants and going through several outfits a day, I simply left the clean clothes in a basket in their room rather than put them away in drawers. That extra step wasn’t necessary — a complete waste of time in my case. When my oldest was about 2 months old, I also realized how stupid it was to wash his light and dark clothes separately. It never really made any difference in how the clothes turned out and simply added more work to my already overloaded schedule. — CYork, e-mail

MAKE IT FUN: Have kids clean with shaving cream and washcloths. They can do faucets, windows, mirrors, vinyl floors and carpets stains. They can play games like “Stop and Go” cleaning to music. — Natalie, Wyoming

ROOM BY ROOM: I use a schedule and find that it’s more efficient for me to organize by room rather than job. So, instead of dusting everywhere on one day and cleaning all the floors on another, I’ll dust and clean floors in a certain area on one day. I find it far more fulfilling that way, as there’s one point in the week where each room will be completely clean. — Carla, Ontario

CONTAIN IT: When it comes to the living room, I leave a box at the foot of the stairs to throw toys in every time my son brings one down. When I go to bed, I take the box up, and in the morning, I bring it back down. — Tammy, Virginia

SET A TIMER: Duct tape everything down, kids, too. Sigh. That won’t work, but it sure helps me to imagine it when my house explodes daily. Moving myself to a deserted island in my mind helps some, too. But the honest fact is that my kids attract dirt, mess and disaster. To combat it, I set timers for chore time. They don’t get paid for it. It’s part of being a family. — Missy, Colorado


  1. Amy

    2/24/2008 at 12:26 pm

    When I know birthday season is coming, I start a purge of old toys. The kids and I look through their things and we make decisions about what is and is not really played with and used. Then we freecycle those toys away to someone else. We do this a few times a year, but definitely during birthday/holiday season.

    I also give myself a break with regards to how clean my house must be. Everything is generally picked up, but it may not be completely dusted or scrubbed. Working full-time with three kids…picked up is good enough for me.

  2. julieb

    2/24/2008 at 7:10 pm

    I don’t have any children but these suggestions work well for me too!! Weeks that I am working alot ignoring dust is an easy alternative to stressing about how I am going to get everything done. On weeks I am not working cleaning room by room and putting a few meals ahead in the freezer helps keep things ‘normal’ at my house. Or as my dad used to say “Make hay while the sun shines”.

  3. IntlMom

    2/24/2008 at 11:56 pm

    These are good tips, but the one I like the best is DON’T GET ALOT OF STUFF. If you don’t bring a bunch of “stuff” into the house, there is less mess created.

  4. Marie78

    2/29/2008 at 2:34 pm

    When I was a young child, my mom had us do a purge of toys and stuffed animals in the summer at yard sale time and again in the late fall (to make room for Christmas presents).

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