It happens all the time: you have one big cleaning day where the house is nice and clean, but by the next day it seems like a tornado has blustered through, and all your efforts are in vain. Cups are everywhere, toys are flung about, and no one seems to care about a clean house but you. To top it off, what’s that? The doorbell ringing with a surprise visit from a friend? Great.
We all want a clean house, and in theory it should be easy, right? Just keep cleaning! In reality, that’s exhausting, that’s not working, and you end up feeling like you are never on top of the mess in your home. We all have been there, and that is why I have created a list of tried-and-true ways to ensure your home stays tidy yet functional when you have kids.
The reason your home never really stays clean after a big cleaning day is probably because your home is not functional. Sure, everything can be put away on that big cleaning day, but a home that is not functional is one that cannot withstand the daily activities that happen in it, and therefore it is immediately messy again. What I mean by functional is that your home should be a well-oiled machine that keeps running, while staying TIDY, no matter what goes on during the day. When you have kids, EVERYTHING happens: food messes, toy messes, poop, clutter; all these things need to be considered and incorporated functionally into your home for it to become a tidy, well-oiled machine.
The first thing we need to deal with is toy control. While I can appreciate a place in the home where all the toys are kept all the time; a place where all the playing is done only in one localized area, I have found that this is not functional day to day, especially with very young kids. I am a big fan of having several places in the most visited areas of the home where toys can be neatly and discretely kept. This allows you to go about your day-to-day chores with your kids in sight, while also making toy clean up quicker. Having a toy room can get out of hand QUICK and can take a lot of time to clean. Having smaller play areas around the house is much easier to maintain and more functional, as kids do not realistically play in the same spot throughout the day.
I understand that having sporadic toy areas around the house, although functional, is not necessarily clean looking, and that is why my favorite tip is to utilize functional décor pieces. Items such as decorative bins that can slide under coffee tables or woven blanket baskets with lids that can be tucked away in a corner make excellent toy storage without it looking like toy storage. Also, this allows you to keep only a few toys in each spot, minimizing not only the time it takes for clean-up, but also toy fatigue (you know, I’m sick of this toy, it’s boring!).
Here is an example of the toy storage bin we keep in our living room. We use a crate I had lying around, but since this remains quite tucked away in a corner, I do not mind the look of it.
I find the most popular places to have these toy storage bins are in the family room/den, and near the kitchen. If you have a spare lower cabinet in your kitchen to keep a basket of bowls and spoons that are specifically kept for playing, your kids will go crazy over that! Plus, it keeps them out from under your feet and in sight while you cook.
Functional décor does not only work for toy control, but also for holding diapers and wipes! A drawer in your coffee table, or a basket on an accessible shelf can hold diapers, wipes, and a travel sized changing pad for quick diaper changes. Put these items away immediately when you are done using them to keep it tidy. We have a diaper changing station tucked into an unused drawer of a hutch in our living room.
Have Functional Toys
My next tip is one my two-year-old son taught me, and that is to have functional toys. If you rather have all your toys in one room of your house, having something such as a small wagon that they can pull behind them throughout the day that contains some toys is a great way to minimize toy clutter around the home. One day while watching my son play, I noticed that he put his favorite toys in a little wagon we have and pulled it around wherever he went.
In the morning, allow them to select however many toys will fit in their wagon (or purse, or bucket, whatever they like that they can lug around), and explain that these are the toys they can play with today. You can always switch out toys mid-day, but the point is that they keep their toys with them wherever they go. This tip is a favorite of mine because it also teaches your kids responsibility in keeping track of their belongings. If they lose all their toys, they have nothing to play with until they go find them or pick them up!
Here is an example of some things my son puts in his wagon.
Establish a Routine
A good thing to practice to implement is to teach your kids to clean up toys before each meal and sleep time. That way you will not be stuck with cleaning up after them, allowing you to use that precious nap time to do whatever you want or need to do. Kids can learn this quite early. For example, although supervised, my son learned how to clean up his toys at around a year and a half old. Because this routine is something you do several times a day, your house will stay very tidy.
What Mom Can Do
Now I want to talk about things Mom can do to encourage her kids in her effort to create a tidy and functional home.
1. For starters, always keep your kids in your eyesight. This may seem obvious, but if you can see them, you can see their mess, and either hold them accountable to it or take a mental note of what you will need to help them with when it is time to clean up.
2. Do a five-minute naptime tidy. Set an actual timer for five minutes and see what you can tidy up! Whether that is cleaning up lunch, organizing the mail, unloading the dishwasher, switching the laundry, or putting pillows back on the couch, small steps like this will keep your home looking pulled together. You will be shocked at how much you can tidy in five minutes!
3. This next tip is something that you can be an example of, and that is: if you use it, put it away. I once heard this tip, If it takes two minutes, just do it, and I must say, after implementing this in my home, everything is so much cleaner, and not by a small amount! Help your kids pick up on this rule by explaining to them what you are doing when you implement this tip yourself.
For example, you have made your son a peanut butter sandwich, and when you are done you tell him, I am finished with this knife and plate, so I am going to put it in the sink to be cleaned. Another example would be, We finished coloring this picture, now we are going to put the crayons away in the craft drawer. The more you repeat it, the more they will learn it. We complete tasks around here, we do not leave things messy or for someone else to clean up.
4. Always have meals in the kitchen, at the table, or in the highchair. This is simple etiquette and avoids messes on furniture, carpets, or anything else kids stick their grimy hands on. I understand that it is convenient to just hand them a snack and let them go free, but this does not teach them to be clean. Rather, it encourages them to be messy and leaves you with crumbs to find and clean up, or a couch to spot clean later.
5. Have boundaries. If you notice that the house always looks disheveled because your kids make three story fort mansions with your couch cushions and every single blanket in the home, make a boundary! Don’t compromise your boundaries just because something is occupying your kid. Kids are creative and I assure you they will find something else to do within your boundaries. If they retort with, I'm bored! Great! then you can unload the dishwasher! I often put my son to work when he starts whining out of boredom, and he has a fun time being included in what I am doing, even if it makes my chores take a little longer to complete.
6. Last, and OVERWHELMINGLY not the least, is to have a place for everything. If you have a place where everything goes, you are more likely to put those things away. If you do not know if you have a place for everything, go around your house and gather all the clutter floating around, then start putting those items away. If you find you do not have a specific home for that item, decide if it can be thrown away due to randomness or unuse. If it cannot be thrown away, then make a home for it.
You may find you have a lot of items that are similar, and if that is the case find a small container or permanent home for those items. The dollar store has great organization items that you can use in drawers, office areas, or closets that will be more than sufficient to organize your things. You can even find labels like these or these on Amazon to label your containers. Having random items floating around the home is a big way to keep a home looking messy and unorganized, and it only takes once to go through all those random items and make a home for them in order to remain organized.
Keeping your house always spotless is, in my opinion, unrealistic when you have kids; but with these simple swaps you can be well on your way to a much more manageable, functional, and tidy home without feeling uncomfortable when you have surprise company or like you want to pull your hair out from the mess you're stuck with at the end of the day. A tidy home starts with your determination to keep it that way and a willingness to find what works. As a mom, it starts with you keeping the home neat and tidy, and I am confident that by implementing these simple tips, you will be well on your way in doing so!
What ways have you found helpful in keeping your home tidy and functional with kids? I would like to know!