It's 4pm. There is nothing clean in the entire house. In fact, it's a billion times worse then it was at 8am, because everyone is tired, cranky, and still making messes. Toys are dumped out in every room, and several drawers have been "helpfully" emptied in the kitchen. The table is buried under a mountain of ungraded homework and homeschool books, and dinner isn't started.
This has been my story more then once. Every now and then, by the time 4pm arrives, I have pulled most of my hair out, given up on making dinner, and I am just trying to
not kill anyone survive until daddy gets home.
The last time we had a day like this, I decided that was the perfect moment to clean the bathroom.
What? Why on earth would you try to clean the bathroom in the middle of a chaotic afternoon of whining and misery, you ask? Well, my 2-year-old toddler loves to clean. LOVES it. In fact, he frequently asks if he can help clean the bathroom. Cleaning the bathroom is his favorite, because he gets to stand in the shower without his pants on and wipe down the walls while getting completely soaked. I would provide a photo for proof, but because there are no pants involved, you'll have to take my word for it.
Cleaning is often the tool I use to restore some calm to my home. It calms me, because there is one tiny island of clean in my island of chaos. It calms my toddler because he is having fun, getting attention from mom, and as the icing on the cake, his mom is calmer so he isn't getting scolded. It's a win-win. So how do you get your little ones involved safely and make it fun?
9 Ways to Clean with Toddlers
- Let them scrub the sink. I clean my kitchen sink with baking soda and vinegar. Completely harmless, which means I can put the toddler on a step stool, and let him scrub the sink with the baking soda. Once he's done scrubbing, we use a spray bottle of vinegar to douse the sink. He loves to watch the foamy reaction that results. My sink is clean-ish and deodorized at the end! Or, just give them a soapy sponge and some dishes!
- Clean the shower together. I use a gentle, homemade shower cleaner that is non-toxic, so I spray the shower, then send the toddler in with a cleaning cloth and a cup. He wipes and rinses. He even cleans the hair out of the drain! Usually, I have enough time to clean the sink and tilet while he's in there doing his thing. (Note: please don't do this if you are using a commercially made shower cleaner. Many of them are dangerous for children and can cause skin irritation and other problems.)
- Clean the sink and toilet while they play in the bath. Give them a washcloth to "clean" the sides of the tub with the bath water while you clean the rest of the bathroom. At least 2/3 of my bathroom cleanings were done this way before we had the walk-in shower. Sure, the tub isn't clean at the end, but you can always pull the curtain closed. :)
- Let them put the silverware away. They might not sort it perfectly, but they'll improve over time. You can get the rest of the dishes away while they are working through the forks and spoons. Just make sure to remove sharp knives before turning them loose.
- Time to reorganize the pantry (or linen closet or kitchen cabinets)? Let your toddler help take everything out. They're really good at this part (haha!). Then let them sort the cans while you reload. As you work together, they may even be able to start bringing you the items you ask for. (3 cans of corn, please!)
- Give them a vacuum hose. Seriously. A hose that sucks things up? Bring it on! What I do is work with my toddler for a quick toy pick up (hes usually pretty willing when he knows that vacuum is next), while I scan for things that might get vacuumed but shouldn't. Then I hand over the vacuum and the hose attachment and let him get to work. He cleans around his highchair and his sister's chair pretty well, considering. He also likes to chase dust bunnies. Assuming we have any to chase. Ahem. Sometimes, he vacuums the rug with the main part of the vacuum too!
- Teach them to hold the dustpan. It takes a little practice, but they're SO much closer to the ground then you are. So it's worth the effort. Plus, being allowed to dump the whole thing in the trash has a certain cool factor.
- Let them put away laundry. My toddler has 3 drawers. Pajamas, socks, and undies in the top, clothes in the middle, and things that are too big or or out of season in the third. So teaching him to put away laundry was a matter of showing him how to sort the pants, shorts, and shirts from everything else. He thinks he's big stuff when doing this job, because in our house, everyone puts away their own clothes except the babies.
- Hand them a damp wash cloth and set them loose. They will wipe the coffee table, end tables, cabinet fronts, door handles, even floors. Maybe the things they wipe will even be a little cleaner at the end! If nothing else, they're occupied for a while so you can get something done, and they're learning that cleaning is fun.
The more I have learned to accept the imperfect job that results from cleaning with toddlers, the more help he can offer, and the more he loves it. I think it could be his favorite activity because it's his one-on-one time with mom, since his older siblings usually don't volunteer.
The real win is that not only do things get cleaner when we clean together, but it also gives me some additional time in a day to address my top 3 household stressors. Getting those taken care of make mom happier, and that has a definite trickle down effect!