I don't know about you, but my kids are not the type to sit and play quietly on their own while I tidy up the house. My oldest daughter (soon to be four) is my constant shadow - if I'm not sitting on the floor playing princess or barn with her she likes to get involved in whatever it is that I am doing. Whether it's cooking, putting the baby down for a nap, or cleaning - she's there too.
As much as I love her company (I don't think I've laughed more in my life than since I've started regularly conversing with a three-year-old), it's been a real learning curve for me - especially when it comes to keeping the house clean. Although I'd say it's still messier than I'd like 75% of the time, I've found some strategies that have been really helpful to keep the house clean and my sanity intact with young kids.
1. Wake Before Your Children: While I don't always do this (especially as my nine-month-old is just starting to sleep through the night), I've found on the days that I wake and get myself together before my children are up I have more time and (surprisingly) energy to keep after the toys, laundry, and dishes that accumulate during the day. Instead of spending my infrequent free moments grabbing a lightning quick shower or eating breakfast, I have time to keep my house from looking like a bomb went off.
2. Have a Routine: I try (within reason) to have a pattern to our daily activities. One thing that has really helped on the cleaning front is to build time for one daily chore into that routine. That way my kids know that that half hour or so of the day after lunch time is for cleaning and don't expect me to entertain them. Well, that's not true, I'm always entertaining them - usually when I clean I'm pretending to be Cinderella or singing a song from Frozen, but they don't expect me to drop the mop and play with toys.
3. Put Things Away Before Starting Something New: There are days when we've finished playing with a toy, only to turn around and pull out another, and another, and another until the family room is completely impassable because the floor is littered with every toy we own. Being mindful about putting away the farm animals before getting out the blocks makes a huge difference and is a good habit to develop with your kids.
4. Involve the Kids: Of course, I don't expect my nine-month-old to pick up the vacuum any time soon, but my three-year-old loves to help out with the chores. We have both a vacuum and mop that collapse to be just her size and purchased her a kid-sized broom set so that we can sweep side by side. It's often more of a hindrance than a help - simple tasks can take double or even triple the amount of time to complete, but I think it'll be worth it in the long run. Right now she thinks cleaning is fun, and I'd like to keep that notion in her head for as long as humanly possible. One of the hardest things was letting her sweep with me - she'd just take my pile of dirt and swish it all over the house. We realized she didn't quite get the concept of making a pile, so we got creative and started taping a square of painter's tape on the floor for her. She enjoys the challenge of trying to corral all of the dirt into it and leaves my pile alone - win, win!
5. Be Flexible: I think this is the constant lesson that I have to teach myself as a parent. Some days the baby is fussy and won't go down for a nap or hang out in the Ergo while I vacuum. Some days my preschooler needs some extra attention or it's a really nice day and we don't want to be cooped up inside. Some days I'm just too darn tired after a night of many, many wakings. On those days the dishes pile up and we start to get buried alive in a pile of laundry and it looks like a toy bomb was dropped on the house. On those days I always try to remember that the days are long but the years are short, and that my kids aren't always going to want to play with me or ask me to tell them a story or snuggle with me on the couch. But the dishes will always be there.
When my kids look back on their childhood, maybe they'll remember a messy house, but I hope that they'll remember a messy house that was full of love.
Do you have any tips on keeping your house clean with kids? I'd love to hear them!