Cleaning has never come naturally for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I grew up doing chores. I was responsible for keeping my room clean, vacuuming the living room on weekends, and doing the dishes every night after dinner.
But learning to clean a bathroom, appliances, shampooing carpets, and properly scrubbing and caring for laundry and outdoor cushions was a whole new genre of cleaning that was thrown at me after we got married.
Cleaning Like A Small Girl
In college, I lived with incredible roommates that, in all honestly, spoiled me a bit with cleaning. My senior year roommate eventually asked me to help out by putting my dishes in the dishwasher right after I used them rather than letting the sink pile up.
Growing up I was so busy running around with friends and at soccer tournaments to do much more. In college, I was busy with classes, working as an RA and at internships, with church activities, eating in the dining halls, and keeping up with friends to put much of a thought to it.
That mindset kind of continued our first year of marriage as I worked and started my MBA as we learned the dynamics of living together and shopping for, cooking, and cleaning up homemade meals.
And Then There Were Kids…
Kids are such a beautiful gift, but hot dang they’re messy.
Our first came while I was still working on my MBA. I was learning to feed her, clean her, strap her in the car seat the right way, and minimize screaming, for the love, on long car trips.
Any first baby is a lot to figure out, but one of the things that surprised me most was how much they add to the cleaning routine. The dirty diapers, pooped-on onesies and car seats, baby food stained everything, and feeling like your world as you know it is covered in crumbs. And toys. And baby gear.
I had no idea so many treasures could be buried under a couch cushion.
We traveled between Tennessee and Nebraska as we added baby number two since my degree was online and my husband had work in both states. Our plan was to do this until our oldest started school to maximize time with both grandparents. While I’m incredibly thankful for this time and wouldn’t change it for a thing, commuting back and forth felt like I could never get settled or feel organized in either spot.
With my oldest about to begin Kindergarten and expecting our third, we settled down in Nebraska a couple years ago. I was sad to move away from my parents but excited to finally have a place to get organized, to feel settled.
Then we had a baby.
And Then There Was School…
We got the house decorated and while, admittedly, it was easier to finally get their clothes organized and labeled in tubs and get the toy mayhem under control, adding school supplies and projects they brought home to the mix added another facet to the cleaning routine.
I decided, like most Kindergarten and Preschool parents, that EVERYTHING HAD TO BE KEPT BECAUSE NO ONE DOODLES THIS CUTE.
That resulted in our desk room looking like this.
And Then A Traveling Spouse…
My husband’s travel significantly picked up after we got settled here, as he accepted a new position. I recorded a podcast recently with a friend Catherine Boucher — ‘When Your Spouse Travels’ — about how we’ve learned to adjust to the childrearing routine while he’s gone, but cleaning was a whole different story.
We ended up hiring a cleaner for the sake of my sanity because one can only do so much. Even with added help, though, our house still felt a mess.
I felt like there was no way to keep up with the never-ending crumbs on our birch hardwood floor, our dishes, everyone’s laundry, keeping the basement and bedrooms picked up so that the cleaning people could even vacuum.
We all — my husband, myself, my preschooler, and our baby — were here at all hours of the day and my kids just weren’t at an age where they could significantly help.
My Breaking Point
I know being a mom and homemaker was my full-time job, but something had to give.
Bigger house, more kids, and greater spouse travel = bigger level of crazy
Last year for Christmas, I decided to ask for a gift to our family that would make all of our lives easier, the Roomba.
I had seen it at one of our friend’s house with little kids, heard them talk about how they ran it every morning after they drove to work using a prescheduled setting, and basked in the glory of coming home to a spotless floor.
While the initial invesment was high, for us it has been incredibly worth it.
- A smuggled sleeve of Ritz from the pantry ends up all over the hardwood? Run the Roomba.
- Friends call and say they are in the area and want to stop by in a bit? Quick floor pickup and run the Roomba.
- Parents are staying in the basement over Christmas? Quick toy pickup and run the Roomba downstairs.
- Trying to fill a rainy summer day? Have your children clean their rooms and run the Roomba upstairs.
The Roomba has saved my sanity. It has made me love my birch hardwood floors, like I did at the open house, again. It has made me feel like I’m not sweeping and vacuuming all day, errday. If you’re on the edge of cleaning sanity, I’d highly recommend saving up for one.
Cleaning Tips I’ve Learned As A Big Girl
While recognizing many of these are common sense cleaning tips that many of us learn in elementary school, implementing them at home, consistently, and with my kids has helped lighten the end-of-the-week cleaning load tremendously. And a lot of the crazy.
First, have your children clean before screens. If they start hurling the, “Can we watch something?!” on repeat at you, make them clean first. Whatever their messiest room is (toy room, bedroom, etc.), have them get everything off the floor and put away before TV time. This teaches them you work before you play and I can’t tell you how much this has expedited the process.
Second, ease up on the meal prep if your situation if life calls for it. My husband travels so much I rarely make full-out homemade meals. Even when he’s here, I’ve learned not to do it regularly because he often has meetings at night. I save them for the weekend, when the schedules allow, and always try to double up when I do to have a backup for another night everyone is home.
Third, I pick up as I go. I often would think, “I’ll get to putting away laundry, filling the dishwasher or straightening the table later.” You know what that led to? A whole lot of stuff to do on the weekends when you want to be doing anything other than that. Now, I try to pick up as I go.
If I see something in the living room that belongs upstairs or downstairs, I put it on the stairwell. Next time I walk on that staircase, I take it to the right spot. Or to the right room, at least.
If a floor is feeling dirty, I take all the dishes to the sink and then grab a grocery bag and do a quick trash sweep. Half the battle is won. If I see school papers all strewn about, I hang a favorite and file any keepers to avoid desk mayhem.
Lastly, I drop my kids off at school. I know this is different for many families. We know many amazing parents who homeschool their kids seamlessly. We are not one of them.
Last year, I noticed an added window to get a small cleaning project done when my oldest was in Kindergarten and my younger two napped. This year I’ll have two gone all day and may get to those long overdue organization projects. Either way, having fewer people here all day means less mess.
What Embracing My Job Has Taught Me
I never dreamed of being a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM). I dreamed of being on the Women’s World Cup soccer team. I dreamed of working my way up the corporate ladder to manage a Human Resource department at a Fortune 500 company.
At the current chapter, though, commuting to see grandparents and now raising three littles with astronomic daycare prices, I’m living a different dream. One that is very different than what I had envisioned, but is just as important. And even more beautiful.
I used to be bogged with self-imposed guilt that I wasn’t doing my job right. A perfectionist at heart, I thought I should have rooms more color-coordinated, a homecooked meal on the table every night, and the house not looking like a college dorm room at all hours. Because that’s what SAHMs do, right?
When I didn’t, I felt like I was failing. I hadn’t taken any college classes for this gig. There was no boss giving me feedback. Early on, it felt like I was drowning trying to figure it all out as I also created life and learned parenthood.
Learning to clean like a big girl truly has alleviated my fears that I’m a hot mess housewife. We’re also at, for the first time ever, a semi-easier parenting chapter where my kids can play independently, most of the time at least. Getting settled in one place has also made a tremendous difference.
I feel like I finally have time to breathe. To organize. To decorate right. To sync our family iCalendars before the school year begins rather than going to drop the girls off on non-school days.
I feel like I finally have time to proactively clean rather than having the, “What in God’s name happened?” feeling on days I need to straighten because of visitors or cleaning help. Yes, clean before the clean is a thing.
I feel less guilty about tackling other projects — organizing the pantry, tackling the desk room, etc. — when the house is in order because we are ALL in a much better, calmer place.
There were days in early SAHM life that I thought I’d never say that until the kids went to college.
If Your House Feels A Mess
If you are in that messy phase whether it’s due to long work hours, summer with kids at home, a newborn, or traveling spouse, try to stay outside as much as possible, get one task done in the morning (throw a load of laundry in or straighten the bathroom counter), and even more importantly, remember to give yourself grace. Everyone’s house has the closet hiding all of the returns, trash, and things they’ll clean someday. Absolutely everyone.
Remember your number one job is NEVER to keep your house looking spotless, Pinteresty, or smelling like Martha Stewart got cracking at 5 am. Never.
We’re restarting chores for the kids next week as the school year begins. What system do you use to adjust with ages? To ensure consistency?
If you’ve made it through crazy, messy house periods, what other cleaning hacks or tools have helped you regain control?