Have you ever seen that sign parents like to hang in their homes?
Please excuse the mess.
The children are making memories.
It’s a cute saying, right? And it gives us some leeway in the appearance of our homes. We’re not just maids, after all! We want to join in on the fun and memory-making, too.
But, at a certain point, the mess starts to take over. It stops feeling like something I shouldn’t have to slave over and starts feeling like a massive, looming to-do list. I find myself distracted, then overwhelmed, then downright discouraged by the messiness. That’s why I’ve learned to stay on top of it as we go, stealing quick tricks from other moms with tidy homes over the years.
1. Make the bed
Seems silly? It’s not! In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg refers to making your bed as a “keystone habit”:
Making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget. It’s not that a family meal or a tidy bed causes better grades or less frivolous spending. But somehow those initial shifts start chain reactions that help other good habits take hold.
Powerful, right? Plus, making the bed makes your whole bedroom look tidier, even if you haven’t gotten to picking up those little socks on the floor.
I used to be one of those people who would save up all the laundry for the weekend and then be married to the washer and dryer all Sunday afternoon and evening. But once we added two more members to our household—messy members—and our laundry demands spiked, I decided to take the opposite approach and try to tackle it each day.
Sometimes, this just means sorting if there’s not enough to make a full load. Other times, it’s getting some clothes into the washer and finishing with drying and folding the next day. But each and every day, we work on laundry.
3. Dishes after each meal
This one is probably the toughest one for me, but I see other women with tidy homes making dirty dishes a priority: getting them off the table and into the dishwasher right away. And it does make sense. After all, a sink full of dirty dishes is an eye-sore that makes the hold kitchen look dirty!
4. Clear + wipe countertops
If you’ve ever put your house on the market, you’ve probably had a realtor tell you to clear off your countertops. Clean, decluttered counters make the whole kitchen look tidy and spacious.
5. Deep-clean one item or area
I know lots of moms have someone come through their home once or twice a month to help with deep-cleaning, but I’ve found that I’m pretty well able to keep up with the heavy-lifting if I force myself to pick one thing to focus on each day. Monday, I might dust. Then Tuesday, I vacuum. Wednesday, I mop, and so on.
The downside is that the whole house isn’t ever clean at once, but I can live with that.
6. Put things where they belong
Maybe the biggest secret I’ve gleaned from friends with tidy homes is that they put things away. And they make their kids do the same! Everything has a home, and things return to their home once we’re finished using them.
7. Get the kids involved
Speaking of the kids, I’ve been battling with mine for years about cleaning up, and what I’ve discovered is that you have to teach them how to clean up! Way back when, I used to command A to put her toys away after letting her play for hours and make an out-of-control mess. But over time, I’ve learned:
- Make kids put one thing away before dragging out another (no puzzles until the blocks are in their bin!).
- Give them a very specific, manageable task: “Would you please get all the stuffed animals from the floor and put them in this cubby?”
- Entice kids with incentives. I often ask my kids to put any remaining toys away right before dinner and bedtime, telling them that dessert is a privilege for those who help clean up.
Have you heard of minimalist families who make the rule that if something new comes into the house, something else must go? That might be a little extreme for some of us, but staying on a constant hunt for unused items keeps our homes from looking like we belong on an episode of Hoarders.
9. Consider uninvited guests
Growing up, friends and family were always stopping by our house unannounced. My parents had a kind of open-door policy that, I can see now as an adult, must have put some pressure on them to keep the house reasonably tidy and the refrigerator stocked.
Even though I don’t often find myself with unexpected guests, I’ll still ask myself, “How would I feel if someone walked into my home right now?” If the answer is embarrassed and apologetic, I usually get my butt into gear and tidy up. Embarrassment is a good motivator!
Do you have any special tips for staying on top of things?
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