‘Toothpaste and Oreos’: Five simple steps to a tidier home
How many of you are members of the “Wash the Load Three-Times-a-Charm Laundry Club?” You know what I mean: You throw a load in the washer. Insanity ensues. You return two days later, discover the old (now damp and slightly smelly) load and wash it again. Repeat previous steps. On the third day, you wash it again and stick post-it notes everywhere to remind yourself to finally dry it this time!!!
I am a charter member of this club. Actually, we voted last week to make me secretary. Not sure whether I should be honored or embarrassed.
Either way, I’ve always said that attempting to clean a house while raising children is like brushing your teeth while chomping on a mouth full of Oreos. It just doesn’t work.
I am about to give you an early Christmas present and hopefully provide you some encouragement/tips for the upcoming new year.
After receiving frequent loving suggestions from my precious momma (love you, Mom!) about the cleanliness — err, lack thereof — in my home, I decided to research the simplest and most time-efficient ways to take back my house. And, after studying up on these options/tips, I’m happy to report that we mommas won’t have to choose between housework and the always more important task of intentional child-rearing ever again.
Today, I am sharing my five “Housecleaning/Organizing Tips for Busy Mommas” (and what momma isn’t busy?):
(1) Prioritize your pandemonium – I’m all about lists. Who’s with me?! If it doesn’t make it on my to-do list, well, it doesn’t come close to getting done. So, when I learned of this cleaning idea, I was floored with shocking gratitude coupled with “why-didn’t-I-think-of-this-sooner” relief.
Instead of overwhelming yourself, sit down and map out your tasks. Each Sunday night, I sit and jot down my list for the week (because, no surprise here, your home cleaning needs are going to change week to week). Some weeks you may have had company over and your cleaning needs are heightened. Other weeks, you may have battled an illness and barely made it to the shower, meaning your house looks like a tornado came through. You get the drift.
Start with your kitchen. What needs to be done there? Dishes? Cleaning out the pantry? Sweeping the floors? All of it?
What needs to be done first? What can be left to a later day in the week? Start planning out your tasks. For example: On Monday, I do all dishes and put them away. On Tuesday, I sweep/vacuum the floors. On Wednesday, I clean out the fridge. On Thursday, I wipe the counters down extra well. On Friday, I tidy up the pantry and make a shopping list for the weekend. You get the idea.
Now, repeat this step for every room of your house and chart it out on your weekly calendar. You will not believe how much stress it takes off of you and how manageable it becomes when you are just tackling one item in each room per day!
What gets calendared, gets done, friends!
(2) Accept the role of dishin’ out diva – No, I don’t just mean as the cafeteria lady who feeds all the youngins’ and then cleans up after them, too. What I mean is, involve the whole family in the home cleaning game!
Assign tasks based on age and skill level. Obviously, a toddler cannot do loads of laundry. But, they can be in charge of bringing all dishes to the sink, cleaning up their toys, putting their clothes in the hamper and making their beds. And, honestly, they should be required to do those things to set them up for a much brighter and cleaner future later on.
Consider purchasing (or making for all you talented DIYers) a chore chart for your family. We love this at our house because children are very visual. They love seeing their names and having the ability to “check” each chore off the list as they do it. They receive gratification from performing tasks as much, if not more, than we do!
One of the most important things we can do as moms is instill responsibility and pride in our kiddos. They will be looking to us to see how they should care for their own belongings and home one day. We shouldn’t feel guilty about requiring our children to help maintain a clean home. In fact, we should pat ourselves on the back for helping them develop by learning life skills. Habits, once formed, are hard to break! So, why not create and maintain some really great ones even now!
(3) The “Touch it once” rule – While somewhat self-explanatory, the “Touch it once” rule, if used as intended, will revolutionize your life. Quite literally, whenever you bring in mail, toys, soccer gear, ballet shoes, groceries, newspapers, whatever … touch it once. Put it away or trash it immediately.
I use the following system: Every item that comes in my home is either (a) trash or (b) treasure. If it is trash (junk mail, leftover McDonald’s french fries, or receipts from God-only-knows-where) it gets dumped immediately. If it is treasure (meaning ballet shoes, books, school supplies, aka any items that are not trash), I either take it to its home immediately or (because we all need a “grace” system) it goes in a specific, centrally located bin that I call my catch-all bin. (This is a way to somewhat temporarily circumvent the “Touch-it-once” system while still keeping your house spick-and-span. I’m all about a hack, friends.)
Each night before bedtime, the kids and I sort through any items that got pitched in the “catch-all” bin and put them where they go. It is part of our nightly cleaning ritual and helps jump-start the nighttime routine without having to say the tried and true, “OK, kids it’s time for bed.” Nothing will send a kid running to hide quicker than that age-old ditty.
While this catch-all basket system may seem like a time-thief, it actually saves you inordinate amounts of time in the long run because (a) you are never searching for lost items again and (b) by doing it nightly, you save big time on massive weekend tidying. Also, it kinda becomes a fun treasure hunt, if you will. It’s amazing how you will forget what’s in there even if you placed it there just a few hours earlier.
(4) The 10-minute tidy rule – Ten minutes in momma time can seem like forever right before nap time or it can seem like a second flat if we’ve finally snuck off for some “me” time. In the grand scheme of things, 10 minutes is not a bunch of time, but it’s all you need for a little necessary tidying. In our house, we have adopted a new rule: Before we leave a room, we take a “10-minute-tidy” break. Sometimes it’s shorter than 10 minutes (other times it’s briefly longer). No matter how long it actually turns out to be, those few minutes are vital in maintaining a clean home.
Before you leave a room, look around for the following items: (1) trash; (2) dirty kitchen items (i.e. cups, plates, silverware, etc.); and/or (3) clutter. Take a few minutes and divide it up amongst those three categories, tending to each one individually. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Take each category one by one. Then, breathe a sigh of relief as you head to the next fun adventure. At the end of the day, you will be shocked how much neater/cleaner your home is just by taking those few minutes to maintain the mess all day long!
Quick tip: Busy momma’s secret tools – We need time. That’s really all we need, right ladies? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at my husband and said, “If I just had 20-30 more minutes a day, I could get this place looking great!”
The truth is, we all have the same hours in our days. There’s no real secret to how some keep their houses meticulous and others not-so-much (except for maybe a secret cleaning service) other than priorities. In life, the things that get done are the things we prioritized.
Since we don’t have a lot of time, we need cleaning tools that get the job done simply and quickly. Pick up a Swiffer Sweeper and/or a Shark Lightweight/Cordless Floor Sweeper today! These tools are my two best-kept secrets. They are easy to store, get the job done so fast and are actually manageable to use even on the busiest of days. It takes under three minutes to quickly vacuum in high volume traffic areas and it gives you a sense of instant gratification!
Plus, you can snag these tools at Walmart for under $60 combined (and even cheaper with coupons and deals!) Trust me, friends, when I say the minimal investment will pay you back in dividends over time!
*Commit to taking a quick swipe at your floors after every meal, and you are already well on your way to a cleaner kitchen area!
(5) Give yourself grace – This phase of your life is most likely not designed to be your Good-Housekeeping-cover-spread-moment. That time may come down the road. But, for now, revel in creating happy, healthy kiddos! Even Martha Stewart has her bad days. So, rather than unnecessarily troubling yourself with the pressures of maintaining perfection, free yourself with the knowledge that sometimes a little untidiness means that you are more appropriately spending your time on greater things or tiny souls. Cheers to you, momma! Because there’s no doubt in my mind that you are giving your best every day, and your family is blessed to have you!
To receive encouragement and read more about thriving rather than simply surviving in motherhood, check out Erin’s book, Cheers the Diaper Years: 10 Truths for Thriving While Barely Surviving here.
Erin Brown Hollis is Yellowhammer’s lifestyle contributor and host of Yellowhammer Podcast Network’s “Cheers to That” podcast. An author, speaker, lawyer, wife and mother of two, she invites you to grab a cup as she toasts the good in life, love and motherhood. Follow Erin on Instagram ErinBrownHollis or Twitter @ErinBrownHollis