Cleaning House With Kids Underfoot

Have you heard this before?

Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.  – Phyllis Diller

Or how about this one?

Cleaning with kids in the house is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.

While entertaining (and a bit true), these quotes make cleaning with small children (or big ones) underfoot seem absolutely pointless. Does this mean that you are relegated to a messy house until your kids leave for college? Absolutely not! Your house may not be perfect 100% of the time, but following these 7 tips will help you keep your sanity as you attempt to keep a tidy home that is still filled with children.

1. Have Less Stuff

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The average U.S. household has 300,000 things… that means there is a lot to have to keep in place or put away every day. Reduce the amount of stuff that you have, and you reduce your cleaning load. If it has been several months since you’ve discarded any household items, clothes, or toys, think about taking one room or area of your house at a time and purging some belongings. For a step by step process on how to do this best, read 31 Day Organization Challenge: House Edition!

A corollary to this is to have less stuff out. If your child just can’t part with any toys, it’s time to rotate. Put toys and books in bins, boxes, or baskets, and rotate the toys on a weekly basis. This keeps your child from going overboard from having too many toys out at once, and it makes cleaning up easier.

If you have too much stuff around the house, consider donating some of it to charity. Go through the house room-by-room and collect things that you no longer need. Eventually, you’ll be able to eliminate a fair amount of clutter around the home. You might even want to get rid of some large items that you no longer use, but are taking up space. For example, if you have an old boat that is just sitting in the garage, consider doing a boat donation. Not only does this provide tax benefits, but it gives you more room to store things in your garage, getting them out of your home.

2. Everything Has a Place

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If you want everything put away at the end of the day (or week), everything has to have a place to go. Horizontal surfaces like counters or the floor do not count! Except for large items like a play kitchen, everything should be off the floor. If you’ve reduced the number of items that you are keeping, and maintaining your house regularly, you can buy a few more containers for the items that are left so that everything has a place.

Go one step further and label the bins, baskets, or containers to make it even easier to put things away — so that everyone knows this bin is for blocks and that bin is for cars, etc.

3. Involve Your Children

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This is probably the most important tip: You cannot keep up with all the messes that your child is going to leave behind as they go throughout the day. If your child is old enough to make that mess, they are probably old enough to help clean it up (with help or direction).

If your toddler is destroying their room every day, they probably have access to too many toys, and it’s time to start a toy and book rotation.

4. Clean as You Go

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Don’t leave a mess for later! Try to clean it up before you leave the area. Here are some good cleaning habits to employ for yourself and your children:

  • After you or your children are finished eating, take dishes to the sink or load them straight into the dishwasher. Preschool-age children and older can take their own dishes, and with a small amount of instruction, put them in the dishwasher, too.
  • After use, put pots and pans in the sink with hot soapy water to soak, making clean-up easier later.
  • Start the dishwasher as soon as it’s full. Put away dishes soon after the dishwasher stops… leaving it ready to receive dirty dishes again.
  • Keep a wet rag or disinfecting wipes (like these Clorox or Seventh Generation wipes) handy to wipe up quick spills at the kitchen table or counter.
  • Before your children get out another toy, book or activity, have them put away what they were using before.

5. Clean In Spurts

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Nobody likes cleaning for long periods of time. Avoid this by cleaning in 5-10 minute increments throughout the day. The easiest way to do this is to hook the cleaning to something that you are already doing. For instance, do a cleaning spurt before lunch, as a pre-requisite for screen time, after dinner, before bed, etc.

6. Reduce Overwhelm

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“Just pick something up and put it where it goes.”

Such a simple directive — yet so hard for children. Smaller children are often completely overwhelmed by the task of “cleaning their room” or “picking up their toys in the living room.” Avoid the paralyzed-child-staring-at-the-mess syndrome by breaking down the cleaning task into smaller bits.

  • Use one-step instructions. For example, “put away the books.” Don’t give any further instructions until that one task is done.
  • Help your child. This is especially helpful for toddlers, preschoolers and lower elementary age children.
  • Have a race. Race to see who can put their pile of toys or books away fastest.
  • Challenge your child with a time. For example, with a big smile and a twinkle in your eye say something like, “Let’s see if you can have all these cars put away before I can count to 20: 1… 2….”
  • Pre-Sort Items. If you have multiple children, divide the clean-up task. This can be done verbally: “Sister cleans up books; brother cleans up puzzles, etc.” This can also be done physically. If the room isn’t too messy, choose a spot for each child (like a couch cushion or their bed if they share a room) and start tossing their clean-up assignments onto that spot. That makes their visual field of cleaning smaller and less overwhelming.

7. Assign Chores

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If your clean-up routine needs some more organization, try various ways of assigning chores. And remember, these assigned chores can be for adults, too.

Chore Charts

This can be as easy as a piece of paper that lists daily household chores, or it can be chore lists for each child or family member. Make it fancy with magnets, tabs, or other markings that indicate daily completion. For non-readers, be sure to include a picture of the task. If desired, tie chore completion to a reward like screen time or allowance.

If looking at all the fancy, DIY chore systems on Pinterest has sucked up all your actual crafting time, try this pre-made Responsibility Chart from Melissa & Doug, and be sure to check out lots of other chore chart options in Making Chores Fun with Chore Charts!
Chore Wheel

Make the tasks rotate with a chore wheel. For a quick and easy version, write your children’s names equally spaced on the outer edge of a cheap, plain, paper plate. Trim a second plate so that the names are visible when the plates are stacked. Write chores on the trimmed plate under each child’s name. Attach the two plates in the center with a brad, and now you’ve got a spinning, dynamic, chore chart.

Chore Sticks

Get the whole family involved. Write the desired chores on craft sticks (natural or colored; to prevent bleeding, use a ball point pen or a paint pen). When it’s time to clean-up, everyone grabs a stick and cleans until either time runs out or all the sticks are gone. Keep the sticks in a divided pencil cup so you can have a “To Do” and “Completed” side for the sticks.

Alternatively, write the chores on plastic balls and keep the balls in a basket for clean-up time.

Hopefully these 7 tips will keep you on the path to a tidy and clean home. These tips are especially helpful for those times when your kids are home 24/7, like during school breaks, before they enter school, or if you are homeschooling.

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Looking for more ways to keep a clean house with kids?
Check out Get Your Kids to Do Chores and Enjoy It.

Photo Credits: Stefani



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Stefani Mons
Stefani Mons
Stefani was raised in California; with her husband hailing from South Carolina, they've settled in the middle and are now raising three Texans. She loves classical homeschooling, great books, period dramas, modifying recipes, simple living, deep thinking, and cuddling up with her family to watch silly YouTube videos.