The happiest life is one spent living with people you love. The only downside to this can be when the people you love aren't terribly tidy. My children are lovely, but sometimes the chaos they create in my house can be a bit much to handle. Don't they understand that there is a place for everything and everything in its place? Clearly the answer to this is a resounding no.
While I'm working on creating responsible individuals who place a value on tidiness, the learning curve is steep and the lessons will probably take awhile to stick, so in the mean time, I've found some simple things that have helped me keep my house calm in the midst of the craziness that is having children. It's amazing what a handful of simple "rules" has done to keep things from getting overrun!
1. Load the dishwasher every night and empty it first thing in the morning
Nothing is more discouraging toward the morale of house tidying than a sink full of dishes. For some reason, dirty dishes are like the slippery slope toward a shame spiral where my house becomes a complete disaster zone and I know I can't be the only one. Dishes are like this terrible, never-ending chore when you have kids, but I've found that the best way to make the process easier is to stay on top of things. For me, this means that I start my dishwasher to run every night as the last thing I do before heading to bed and I unload it first thing in the morning when I wake up. I like to unload the dishwasher while my kids are eating their breakfast and then it's empty and free to fill up throughout the day. My four-year-old is old enough now to clear her own plate and stick her dishes in herself now which is a huge help. It wouldn't be possible if I didn't keep it open and available for her to fill though!
After loading my dishwasher and before heading to bed, I try to wipe down any surfaces that need it. Kitchen counters are the obvious one, but I also wipe down my bathroom counter while I brush my teeth (multitasking at it's finest) and on my way to bed, I carry a cleaning wipe to wipe off anything else that needs it (think: window sills, a sticky spill on the floor in the kitchen from lunch, etc...). Keeping up on surfaces with little touch-ups makes a world of difference.
3. Keep toys in the bedroom to a minimum
I realize that this one probably seems counterintuitive, but hear me out. For many people, it makes the most sense to keep all of their kids toys in the bedroom—out of sight, out of mind. The problem with that is that the bedroom will quickly become overrun with toys that never got put away, because you weren't there to notice them. Also, when toys are in the bedroom, kids will want to bring them out to the main living areas and getting them to return them back to their original places may require a good deal of extra prodding on your part. The system that works best for us is to keep only books and stuffed animals in the bedrooms and the rest of the toys stay out in the main living areas, scattered in bins and baskets throughout the areas where our kids most commonly play. Each child has their own bin, so cleanup is quick and easy for everyone involved.
I always thought this idea was a bit silly, because really what difference is a made bed going to make in the big scheme of things?
4. Make my bed daily
I always thought this idea was a bit silly, because really what difference is a made bed going to make in the big scheme of things? Turns out it's all mental. For some magical reason unbeknownst to me, having my bed made sets a tone of tidiness for the whole day that seems to linger. Whatever the cause, this habit has become one that is particularly useful for maintaining a tidy home.
5. Sort things right away when they enter your home
One of my biggest bad habits that I've had to break is coming home and instantly falling into "relax mode". While this is totally fine to do sometimes, I had begun to realize that the majority of the mess accumulating in my home was in the form of piles on my counter and by the front door. I would leave mail or other odds and ends left in my pockets or purse on the counter to sort through "later" which often came much later, if at all, and empty cardboard boxes in need of recycling by the front door after packages would arrive. When my kids would return home from a sleepover at the grandparents I would just leave their backpacks of clothes and toys in the front entryway for weeks at a time. Now, I try my very hardest to sort everything that enters my home right away before it becomes too overwhelming. I recycle junk mail and empty boxes right away whenever possible and try to also sort through any bag or tote that enters the house.
6. Keep cleaning supplies easily accessible
Keeping basic cleaning supplies scattered in cupboards throughout the house makes quick cleanups much more likely to happen. The fact that I have paper towels and all-purpose cleaning spray stashed in various rooms of my house means I don't have to walk "all the way back" to a single cleaning cupboard when I notice a little mess and it encourages me to clean little messes as I see them and before they get too out of hand.
Sweeping is the absolute bane of my existence, especially with a ridiculously hairy German Shepherd, a backyard forest (the pine needles are NEVER-ENDING) and two pint-sized crumb droppers. It always seemed as though my house was messy even when everything was put away, simply because the task of sweeping was so all encompassing. In order to keep the dust bunnies at bay I was sweeping 2-3 times a day, so for Christmas I requested a Roomba and it was the best gift I've ever received. I still have to sweep up little messes on occasion, but for the most part I just turn on my robot vacuum every day when I leave the house and it keeps things in ship-shape. I'm a big fan.
8. We make our house a shoe-free zone
I know that this isn't for everyone, but living in a wet climate like Oregon, the mud and pine needles that get tracked around the house via shoes can create a full-time job of cleaning in itself (not to mention all the seriously yucky germs that live on shoes), so we've opted to make our home a shoe-free zone. All of our friends and family know the drill and remove their shoes at the door, which makes life so much cleaner for everyone.
9. Consider purchases and purge regularly
When it comes to keeping the chaos and clutter in my home under control, this has been my greatest weapon. Every 2-3 months I do a walk through my house and purge items that we are no longer getting much use out of. I donate or sell the things we no longer need which keeps our home from bursting at the seams. Beyond that though, I also try to be considerate of my purchases. Minimizing clutter starts with simply not bringing unnecessary things into your home. By purchasing things that I truly need and love and cutting back on impulse items I am able to keep things more streamlined.