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Taking care of a household is a lot of work, and that work often falls squarely on the shoulders of Mom. The Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018 Time Survey shows that on a given day, 20% of men did housework compared with 49% of women. This disparity probably exists because moms realize that a cluttered and dirty home is bad for their mental health. Researchers at UCLA found that moms’ cortisol (stress hormone) levels increased when walking through their messy homes.
Especially in families like ours, where kids are homeschooled and both mom and dad work from home, the house gets very lived in. Cleaning it up is everyone’s job, but how do you know what to do, and how do you get everyone—even the kids—to pitch in?
Moms, first we need to realize (and communicate to our families) that no one is ‘helping’ us with the chores. Housework is part of living in a family, and everyone needs to contribute to getting it done. In the UCLA study above, men didn’t have the same physical stress response to a dirty home that women did. The fact that some husbands (and kids) don’t notice or get as disturbed by a dirty home, though, doesn’t mean that cleaning doesn’t need done or that all tasks should fall in the category of ‘women’s work’, even for stay-at-home-moms. If things aren’t divided equitably in your house, the first step to fixing it is talking about it.
Ready to get your house clean and organized with everyone’s help? Keep reading for a step-by-step process to keep your house clean with kids.
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HOW TO KEEP A CLEAN HOUSE WITH KIDS
Step 1: Keep up with the clutter
The first thing to do with when trying to keep a clean house with kids is to get rid of your clutter. After all, it’s very difficult to clean when the surfaces in our homes are covered with stuff. I’ve got a whole post on managing toy clutter, which is the biggest source of clutter in many families.
I like to keep my paper clutter under control by keeping it all together in one spot. I’ve got a large box like this one that looks decorative, but holds all the bills I need to pay, magazines I want to read, and mail that my husband needs to see. When the box is full—it’s time to throw things away.
Make it your goal to have a home for everything and put it back there after it’s been used. A great new motto for your house would be “Don’t Put It Down, Put It Away”. If you have a large home with multiple levels, baskets can be helpful as an aesthetically pleasing way to temporarily store things that need to travel to other floors. (We loved these baskets which fit right on the stairs in our former home). Regardless of whether you’ve stored them in a basket or left them scattered all over the room, take a few minutes every day to re-home items that aren’t where they belong.
Step 2: Take stock of what needs to be cleaned and set up a routine
You might already know what needs to be cleaned and how often you’d ideally do it. If so, putting it together in a chart or checklist will assure that all the housecleaning chores get done. If you don’t know where to start, here’s what we try to do in my house on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. (You can download a printable copy of this chore chart–and lots of other cool stuff–from the Subscriber Hub in my Mama’s Lounge.
As you can see, I have a goal list of things that I like to do each day, each week, and each month. The daily cleaning tasks typically take less than an hour, I try to break up the weekly and monthly tasks so that we’re doing no more than 1 or 2 each day. I keep track of all of our household tasks in the Upkeep app ($1.99). In the app, I’m able to schedule reminders, check when a chore was last done, and even save instructions for doing it.
Keeping up on things with a routine means that each job is never overwhelming. (Yes, this is why I typically wash a load of clothes and run the dishwasher every day.) A routine is also helpful, because when you follow a schedule, everyone in the family knows what to expect, and there’s less grumbling about getting the task done when the time comes.
Resist the temptation to make your schedule rigid. Don’t plan, for example, that you’ll wash the sheets on Tuesdays, or when something else comes up on a Tuesday, you’ll feel like you failed. Aim instead to follow a routine of cleaning something approximately once a day, week, month, or year, and be kind to yourself if you miss a day.
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Step 3: Choose cleaning supplies/products that are safe and easy for everyone to use
If you’ve got small kids in the house, you’ll want to make sure that you (and they!) are cleaning with non-toxic products. The easiest way to insure that your cleaning products are safe is to make them yourself. It’s amazing how much can be cleaned with just vinegar, baking soda and water. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has some great recipes for non-toxic DIY cleaners here. Here is my favorite non-toxic all-purpose cleaner recipe:
1 Part Water
1 Part Vinegar
A Squeeze of Lemon Juice
A few drops of Lavender Essential Oil
Even the littlest kiddo could clean with this safely. If he’s going to help, you’ll want your cleaning products to be in smaller bottles that are easy for tiny hands to use. This little spray bottle holds only 8 ounces and has an easy-to-use sprayer.
Here’s a list of some other products that the whole family can use to help around the house:
- Microfiber cleaning cloths
- Dustpan and hand broom
- Hand vacuum
- Small watering can
- Child-safe nylon knives
Step 4: Store cleaning supplies in a place where the family can easily access them
Obviously, you want to be safe with the types of cleaning products that kids can reach. Poisonous chemicals should be on a high shelf or behind a safety lock to protect your littlest ones from having access.
Your non-toxic cleaning supplies, rags, and other cleaning utensils should be easy for you and your children to find and access, though. If your house has multiple floors, you might consider having multiple sets of cleaning supplies on each floor. I know many families who go so far as to keep a vacuum on each floor and cleaning supplies in each bathroom so that they are always quickly accessible.
If you are planning to have children help with tasks like setting the table, unloading the dishwasher, or chopping veggies, make sure the items they need are accessible to them.
Step 5: Get everyone (including the kids) involved
As I said above, in order to keep a clean house with kids, everyone needs to help. Children should know from the time they are very young that taking care of a home is everyone’s job. Children as young as 2 have the motor skills necessary to complete many tasks. Wondering what they can do? Here’s a list. (Click here to download a printable copy of the image below–and lots of other cool stuff–from the Subscriber Hub in my Mama’s Lounge.)
As I mentioned above, making decluttering and cleaning part of the regular routine and making sure that cleaning supplies are accessible and easy to use are the first steps for getting your kids involved. If they’re still reluctant to help, here are some ideas to try:
- Put on some music: High energy music always makes cleaning a little more fun. I have a favorite playlist I use when cleaning. You can listen to it here.
- Make it a game: My boys are super competitive, so changing anything into a game works well. We often race to see who can finish his job first, pretend to be cleaning robots, or play “I Spy” to discover new things that need to be done. We’ve even done a freezing game with the playlist above where the boys clean like crazy, but freeze when I pause the music.
- Set a timer: Set a timer for 10 minutes, let every member of the household choose a job, and have everyone work as fast as he can. You’ll be amazed at what can be accomplished in a short time.
- Let them know taking care of the house is a family expectation and part of being ‘grown up’: Sometimes, reminding the kids that they have more responsibilities because they’re a valued member of the family who is such a big kid can help with the resistance. Regardless, remind them that running the household is everyone’s responsibility.
- Don’t grumble about it yourself: If you’re constantly complaining about all you need to do in terms of housework and how much you hate doing it, your kids will be more likely to think negatively about chores. Try your best to keep a cheerful attitude yourself, and you’ll help set the tone for everyone else.
I wrote these steps to keep a clean house with kids from the perspective of a mom with school-aged children. You are in the trenches of parenting right now. There is lots of work to do, and not enough hands to do it. You will still benefit from keeping up on clutter, making a list of chores/routine for yourself and your partner, stashing great cleaning supplies where you need to use them, and doing your best to make cleaning fun and fast with music and a timer.
You’ll also likely need to lower your standards a little bit, though. Cleaning in the few minutes that a baby is sleeping is really tough, and baby wearing while cleaning is no fun. Do your best, and realize that the definition of ‘best’ changes in different phases of your life. Hang in there.
Keeping the house clean with kids is a big job that’s important for our mental health as moms, and we shouldn’t have to do it alone. Keeping up with clutter, setting a routine that breaks jobs into small chunks, getting the proper supplies and making them accessible to everyone, and getting everyone (even the littlest ones) involved, can make things more manageable. Do you have other tips to add? Share them in the comments!
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