Cleaning House with Small Children

All the books say not to worry about cleaning when you have small children. One of my favorite books, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, has this poem as a tear sheet:

Babies Don’t Keep

The cleaning and scrubbing
Can wait ’til tomorrow
For babies grow up,
I’ve learned to my sorrow.

So quiet down, cobwebs.
Dust, go to sleep.
I’m nursing my baby,
And babies don’t keep.

It’s a lovely poem I definitely agree. No one expects for you to have a sparkling house when you have little ones running around un-cleaning everything you’ve just picked up. You shouldn’t expect that of yourself either–it’s just setting yourself up for failure.

You do need to clean though. Yes, you can put off the laundry for a day or two, but eventually everyone is going to run out of underwear. It’s just an inevitability of life that you will have to vacuum before you baby starts ingesting more hair than the cats that shed it. With that said, it’s not always easy. Some days I feel like leaving the house just to avoid the mess. So I came up with some tips for how to keep your house clean with little ones. It’s far from a complete list. Some of them may just not work for you at all. For me though, they’re things I wish I would have known 3 years ago when I was just starting in the business of being a stay-at-home mom.

So here they are:

Tips for Cleaning House with Small Children

  1. Make a to do list. It can be in your head or it can be a physical list, up to you. Towards the end of my pregnancy and shortly after Twig was born, I found it helpful to keep a running list on my white board so I wouldn’t forget everything in my pregnancy- and post-baby-foggy brain. And you don’t need to keep them in order of priority unless that’s helpful to you. For me, that was too much of a hassle. On Monday changing the cat little box could be just something that needs to be done, but by Wednesday, it’s number one of the list. Things change too much to try to keep an order.
  2. Multitask. Accomplishing anything when you have a baby is difficult. It gets, in ways, more difficult when that baby becomes a toddler. How do you get around this? Multitasking. I frequently wear Twig on my back while I vacuum because she’s crabby and I know it’ll help her go to sleep (or at least stop crying while the vacuuming is going on). Peanut helps me push the laundry basket downstairs. Sometimes I’m getting a bit of me-time by watching a show and folding the laundry at the same time. When I’m waiting for dinner to finish simmering, I can unload the dishwasher. Life just can’t be devoted to just one task at a time when you have little ones running around.
  3. Keep projects quick and small. One big thing I’ve learned: if I do one load of laundry every day, I never have huge piles of laundry all over my living room waiting to get re-dirtied by Peanut throwing them around or Twig spitting up on them. When I’m walking upstairs to change a diaper, I take the books that need to go upstairs with me. When I look at my family room and it’s a mess, I pick up all the things that should go in the bathroom and take them with me when I’m heading up there anyway. When the toilet absolutely needs to be cleaned, I can clean just the toilet rather than the whole bathroom. I’ve always thought of cleaning as something you do all in one big spurt and be done with it. While that works for some people, it just doesn’t work for me. I couldn’t tell you how many hours a day I clean because I’m constantly cleaning, but it just ends up being 5 minutes out of the hour every hour rather than 2 hours straight.
  4. Enlist in some help. It was really difficult for me to ask my husband for help when Peanut was small. I always thought of the housework as part of my job as a stay-at-home mom, whereas his job was to go away for 40 hours a week and make money. Now I’m starting to realize that, for us, the bulk of the effort is still mine, but it’s alright to ask him for help. Beyond that, he’s happy to help me. Now we’ve gotten into the habit of him asking me every night after we read books to Peanut what needs to be done. I’m not going to make him spend his whole night scrubbing the tub, but he can definitely do the diaper laundry for me. Which brings me to my final tip:
  5. Decide your priorities. For some people, I’m sure dusting is high up on the list. For me, not so much. Meaning not at all. Why does it matter if the top of the picture frame, which I can’t even see, can go ahead and stay dusty. Same goes for scrubbing anything until it sparkles or cleaning the walls. Well, maybe I do occasionally clean the walls because they have spaghetti splattered across them. 😛 For me, it’s all about functionality. If I can’t walk 3 steps without hurting myself on a toy, I need to pick up that room. If I can’t find a burp rag, I need to do laundry. So on and so forth. If it’s not something you particularly care about or care to do, go ahead and stop doing it (or do it less often, if it is something that truly needs to be done). If you hate folding laundry, stop doing it. If you don’t want to clean the toilets, don’t scrub them until they shine daily.

5 thoughts on “Cleaning House with Small Children

  1. It does feel like you’re constantly cleaning, doesn’t it? I find it helpful to have the same tasks to do on a certain day. For example every Thursday I clean all of the floors (vacuum, mop, sweep.) Mondays are bathrooms, the kitchen gets cleaned almost every day, and dusting gets done on Friday if not done on Thursday. I get serious mom guilt about it but I also feel guilty when it doesn’t get done.

  2. Do you think it is extravagant to ask for a quiet vacuum cleaner from my husband? The one that we have is very loud! My daughter is not easy to put to sleep and easily woken with noise. Many times, I found myself free to vacuum the floor when she’s sleeping but I don’t, because I don’t want to wake her up. Then I would feel guilty when she picks up hair and dirt and small items from the floor and straight into her mouth. Bad mommy.

    • Something that I really like about our budgeting system is that I can actually buy the things I want without feeling guilty. I just have to put it in the budget. Maybe start putting a bit extra in the category that a vacuum would fit under for you (for us, it’s simply called “home”) and after X amount of time, you’ll be able to get the new vacuum that quieter.

      For now, have you tried vacuuming while babywearing? Or while she’s wake and happy?

  3. Pingback: My Chore List | Adventures of Lactating Girl

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