Dirty clothes. Toys. Breakfast dishes. Clean clothes. Lunch dishes. More toys. Craft projects. Multiple stacks of books. Dinner dishes. And on. And on. (And on).
These things scattered about our tabletops and floors fill our days. And we are thankful for them because they remind us that life is being lived in our homes. I’m sure you’ve heard before to be thankful for dirty clothes because they are soiled while our children are off having adventures; be thankful for dirty dishes because they mean that bellies are full from a meal (and hopefully good conversation) shared together around a table; be thankful for toys and crafts and books because they are signs of creativity and learning.
Even as we are thankful for all this proof of life in our homes, we don’t want to be overrun by it. The idea of a tidy home may be one that is scoffed at and written off as impossible with little children afoot. But it is possible.
I was never especially tidy growing up. It’s really only been the past few years that I have began to see what a difference a tidy home can make. It makes a difference to my husband. To my children. And to me.
A tidy kitchen is an invitation to cook.
A tidy bedroom is an invitation to relax.
A tidy living room is an invitation for toys to be spread out.
A tidy dining room is an invitation to linger over dinner with good company.
My children are (almost) 4, 2, and 4 months. They have lots of things. I love to cook and create. My husband is not lacking for stuff either. These are the steps that I take that help me to tame the mess. I hope they help you too.
5 Simple Steps to a Tidy Home
1. Don’t have so much stuff.
Stuff just seems to grow and grow even as you try to be intentional not to mindlessly accumulate things. We had a yard sale three years ago and will be having another one tomorrow.
Take a good look at what is actually used on a daily or weekly basis. Keep what you love and what really serves your family well. Give away or put away the rest. Having less is one of the simplest things you can do to make keeping your home tidy a possibility.
A word about toys. My kids have an abundance of toys but they really only consistently play with certain ones. Over time, I have significantly pared down their collection and I will be reducing it again tomorrow. I keep a box of animal figures, a crate of books, and a pail of swords/guns/nets on our fireplace. They also have a tool bench in the living room that gets a lot of use. All their other toys like legos, tractors, blocks, and balls are shelved in their room so they can pull it out when they want but remain neat in the meantime.
2. Give everything a home.
But then you say that it’s not always that simple. Much of the stuff is needed and useful. I can’t just get rid of it.
I’m there too.
Give everything a home so that when it’s time to tidy up, everyone knows exactly where it goes. Being able to put things away, leaving behind uncluttered surfaces, goes a lot way in creating a calm and peaceful atmosphere in your home. And lets not forget, putting things away in their respective homes means that you can find it when you need it. Even small children can learn the benefit of this habit.
Get creative about storage options.
- Re-purpose plastic containers from your kitchen that don’t get used often.
- Clean out that closet in your hall to make better use of its space.
- Utilize forgotten spaces under couches or beds and the space on the back of a door.
- Visit a thrift store to get baskets to organize and contain things.
3. Work hard.
A tidy home won’t just happen. You will straighten up one day only to find that you have to do it again the next (hour).
It will take consistent effort. Things worth having don’t come for free, right?
Cleaning up after a meal isn’t something I typically want to do, especially since I am usually the one to prepare the meal. However, my habit of leaving the kitchen messy until it was time for me to be in it again was not serving my family well. I couldn’t cook when I needed to because I had to clean up first. This was a problem for breakfast in particular. The extra time cleaning up meant that my husband wasn’t able to get to work as early as he needed. Knowing the value of having a clean kitchen helped to motivate me to develop a habit of cleaning up immediately. Now it is easier and faster since I’ve become accustomed to the task. And honestly, I’ve started to enjoy it a little because it’s five to ten minutes of just me in the kitchen while my husband does something with the kids. Ahhh, quiet.
4. Work smart.
Yes there is a need to work hard, but working smart increases the impact of your hard work.
Schedule pick up times into your day. Have everyone pick up just before mealtime. Do a sweep of the house before bed.
Pick 2 to 3 chores to do consistently that make a big difference. For me, vacuuming my two main rooms is a quick chore and I think it goes a long way to making things look tidy. For this reason, I vacuum at least every other day, sometimes everyday. I also keep a container of Clorox wipes in each bathroom. The convenience of being able to grab a wipe and clean a surface quickly is worth the extra cost of buying the wipes. Another thing that I think makes a big difference is having a clean kitchen table. And I will just say that wiping off the tabletop is not something I am consistent with right now, but I want to be. Maybe in your house these chores would make a big difference or perhaps a quick mop, fluffing the couch pillows, or something else entirely.
5. Enlist help.
Teach your kids to be responsible for cleaning up after themselves. You can start helping kids learn this habit when they are still quite little. Show them and work together cleaning up. This applies to toys, art, mealtimes, clothes, etc. It is a skill that will serve them a lifetime.
Let’s talk toys. We have a couple of rules in our house that help with toy sprawl not becoming out of control.
There are some toys and activities which involve small pieces or are especially prone to being messy. Legos, dry beans, play-doh, art materials. With such things the rule is that they can play with them in one area but cannot carry them about the house. If they start to wander it is time to clean up.
Another rule we have in our house is that before the kids can get out a different toy or go play somewhere else, they need to pick up what they are finished with. This practice keeps the mess from being too overwhelming if they had to clean up everything at once. It also provides good motivation to pick up their toys.
A brief word about husbands:
I remember a former pastor’s wife telling me once of how it used to drive her crazy that her husband always left his dishes in the sink instead of putting them in the empty dishwasher. Rather than constantly nagging him, though, she decided to make it into an opportunity for her to find joy in loving her husband by putting the dishes away without complaining. This has always stuck with me and has been such a great reminder that I can love and serve my husband in the simplest ways. It’s not so much the dishes for us, but that he can’t seem to remember where the laundry basket is. Look for ways to give grace and serve without grumbling.
Childhood is fleeting. Fun and learning almost always means a mess. I’m in no way advocating not making a mess or spending so much time cleaning that you forget to enjoy your family. Rather, these are steps to take in the midst of all that fun and learning. It all goes together. Fun leads to a mess. Cleaning it up leads to a space to have fun later.
As always, this applies. Let’s continue to strive for improvement and remember that no one is in a place of perfection. We are all in it together!