It's only taken me four years, but I think I have finally figured it out: how to clean with toddlers underfoot—without losing my mind. It's hinges on just one tiny principle:
Cleaning where they are.
1. Move happy toddlers, who are fixated on some toy or game, to a different location because I have a set agenda of housework that I am trying to follow for that day.
2. Make toddlers who are keen to move and do something else, stay with me because my job is not yet complete.
But this almost never works. It causes unnecessary frustrations to both parties. Part of the art of learning to live with toddlers is allowing yourself to go with the flow, to adjust to their rhythm, to take some (but not all, obviously) of your cues from their desires for the day.
Here's how cleaning where they are works: if you have a moment where toddlers or young kids are playing happily by themselves, take that moment to do whatever tasks needs doing that keeps you in their line of sight. Sometimes this means doing something less important or less pressing, simply because that's all that needs to be done in that particular room. But it's okay. Everything on your to-do list needs to get done at some point.
And then the second half of it is similar: when toddlers need moving about, when they are getting fussy in a particular place and need to be doing something else, rather than making them wait and wait, simply stop what you are doing and move right along with them. The hardest place for me to do this is at the kitchen sink. My kids always seem to want to leave the kitchen as soon as I am getting into those dishes. But you know what, it's okay to do one load, and finish the rest at snack time. I promise. Sometimes, for sanity's sake, even the cleanest of Moms needs to simply go with the flow.