Let's be honest. Have you ever taken a moment to look around at all the housework piling up around you and wondered where the heck to start cleaning? Of course you have. So have I. Well, as I was loading the dishwasher and putting clothes in the dryer today (for the first of several times) I realized that I have learned something very valuable over the years. No, it's not to hire a maid. Or wave a magic wand. Both of those things appear regularly in my dreams, but thus far have not transferred into my reality. (Or yours, I'm guessing!)
Before I got married and had kids, I would clean my little apartment and do laundry once a week. All in the same night. Dishes were washed 2-3 time a week. Done and dusted, as they say. Ha. How I miss that! These days, a clean house lasts for about 2.3 seconds, or until the kids wake up.
13 years later, I have figured out how to do the things with the most impact first, so that my house always looks moderately ok. It's never perfect unless company's coming, because that type of perfection requires help from my husband and about half a day of dedication. And locking the kids outside while I clean. Sorta kidding on that last one. Ahem. Anyway, there are a few things that really help me maximize my cleaning time and make the biggest impact.
Step 1. Figure Out What Kills Your Mojo
Look, we'd all like to live in a house that is straightened and neat all the time. I function best in a neat, orderly space, but that doesn't really align with my reality right now. So I asked myself this question: What tasks, if undone, make me feel restless and unsettled? When I walk in the door, what messes do I notice first?
Your answers will probably be different from mine, because we're not the same (shocking, I know). But you will have answers. You will have those things that get under your skin more then others. For me, it's dishes, countertop clutter, and unmade beds. If those 3 things are done, I can feel pretty ok about how the house looks. At least enough to sleep at night and maybe write a blog post instead of cleaning during nap time.
Right now, as I write, my dishwasher is running, and the sink is empty. The bed is made and the counters are 95% clear. On the flip side, the floors desperately need sweeping, the sheets haven't been changed in (more then) a week, and there is probably something growing under the couch. But, when I run errands and return tonight, it'll be ok. I won't feel like I'm walking into chaos, because I've identified my top stressors and taken care of them. I will probably even be able to sit down and do something fun and creative (I'm a scrapbook artist by night) tonight instead of cleaning, because I won't be distracted by the state of my home.
Step 2. Double Up
It is entirely possible that at some point in the past, I have been made fun of (kindly, of course) for never walking from one room to the next without something in my hands. This, however, is my way of keeping the clutter from getting out of hand. I call it doubling up. If I need to change over the laundry, I can put away the cleaning supplies on my way there. If I'm changing a diaper, I grab 3 toys that belong in that room and take them with me. I am always, constantly, putting things away as I walk through the house. All day long. It's the only way I've found to stay on top of the mess. (If anyone knows the secret for kicking out "Not Me," please comment. He lives in our house and makes constant messes).
Step 3. Routine, Routine, Routine
I'm not going to tell you to make your bed every morning. You've probably tried that and it either helps you or it doesn't. However, if it is one of your "things," as it is mine, make it part of your routine. Since one of my things is dishes, I routinely empty the dishwasher while I make breakfast. Then I load it after lunch, if not before. Sometimes with 6 of us, we have to run it twice, and unless I run it after lunch, I'm stuck with either handwashing everything that didn't fit (yuck) or living with unwashed dishes in the evening (double yuck).
If laundry is your nemesis, I highly recommend folding straight out of the dryer. When I do this one thing, it all seems far less overwhelming. I let it sit, folded, in the baskets until I have 2-3 full baskets, then I sort into piles and each family member puts their own stuff away. I recently read a genius tip from a woman on Facebook who sets her washer's timer to start a load an hour before she wakes up. Then she puts the clothes in the dryer on her way to the shower, and folds after breakfast. I never knew I needed a washer with a timer, but you can bet it's on my wish list now! Laundry done by breakfast is da bomb.
Step 4. Learn to Ignore Some Things
Ok, ok, I know this isn't really a cleaning step. But it IS a productivity step. Part of being productive is learning to focus on the things that matter most. For example, I finally (after the 4th kid) quit picking up toys every night. I realized that I was using 10-15 minutes of my time every day to do something that will be undone immediately, often within 10 minutes of waking in the morning. Not worth it. Instead, I work with the toddler to pick up the worst of it before he goes to bed (because, parenting), and then I leave the rest.
I try my best to use the time after 8pm (yay for bedtime!) for 3 things, and only 3 things: Time with my husband, things that refresh me, and (occasionally) things that stay done. Have you ever really thought about the percentage of things you do every day that actually stay done (at least for a while)? As a mom, it's probably a very low percentage. We cook, clean, change diapers, and bathe children all day long, then we do it all again the next day.
I don't say that to frustrate you, but to encourage you to consider that sometimes, leaving the toys on the floor to do something that will refresh you is the best choice. Or, if you're feeling like you have a little energy left, do something that will actually stay done (like a home decorating project, taxes, or reading a book). Just choose something that you can get up in the morning and look at with a sense of accomplishment, rather then looking at the cereal already on the floor you just mopped and feeling like yesterday's work was pointless. Trust me, it makes all the difference.
Give Yourself a Break, Mom.
Motherhood often seems like a continual battle to choose what things will fit in the day. It seems impossible to get everything done, doesn't it? It's ok! Find out what gets under your skin the most, and take care of those first. You'll be calmer, have more fun, and your kids will benefit. Focus some time every day on things that will stay done, so that you can see yourself accomplishing something. If you do, you'll be less stressed out about all the things you haven't done. As a bonus, consider having company over once a month. If there are friends coming, you'll be motivated to clean all. the. things. Then you can go back to just your top 3 for a nice long while. And laundry, because there's always laundry (sorry).
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Interested in reading more? Here is where I shared some tips for simplifying your kids chores.