Realistic Ways to Keep a Clean House

A few weeks ago I was rushing to get kids out the door and we couldn’t find anything we needed to get off. It slapped me right in the face that my house was a complete wreck. I felt dizzy with reveries of old food glued to the kitchen floor, piles of clothes, sharpie murals, sleeves of crushed crackers, bath toys, and sand toys and toddler toys and. Toys EVERYWHERE. And in that moment it felt like every noise making gizmo in the house went off in my brain and started playing all at once. And then I kinda lost it on Mitchell and started throwing a tantrum about how much work it is to clean up after these little brats every day and how am I supposed to keep up on it all and and and…!!

Luckily I’m married to a really great person who just kinda got out of my way and let me have my rant and then when things calmed down pointed out to me with a little smile that I was being a little out of control and teased me to the kids with a grin that “Mom can be a little scary sometimes.” Which was fair. And then we were happy and all the noisemaking toys got turned off in my brain.

BUT I realized in my evening prayer that night that I need to make some changes. Pre-three children I hovered between a C and an A- on any given day in the cleanliness department. Lots of days even an A depending on who was grading. But last June sent things into a bit of spin in the house keeping department when baby #3 arrived and I have hovered somewhere between a D- and a high B ever since. Moral of the story is I WANT to change because I LIKE a clean house and I actually do believe that “cleanliness is next to godliness.” It’s important. And because I want to become the best version of myself I made a decision in my planner that night that I am going to work on it.

SO I commented to my sisters about all this- how I want to have a cleaner house but I feel 6 feet under right now because of my three little angels/hooligans and they both suggested that I talk to our sister-in-law, Sara Davis. This ended up being inspired.

Sara is the mother of four really cute kids that are spaced similarly to mine. She has one in kindergarten, two in preschool and her youngest is 1 and ½.  She is one of those people that is just naturally clean. You go to her house on any given day and things are in order, despite four little children living there learning how to be humans, the house is clean. SO she let me come over one afternoon and she shared with me her magic.

And it has been magic. A lot of what she shared has made me really rethink my daily habits. Each piece of advice she had is pretty ordinary but actually doing it is where it becomes extraordinary. And that’s Sara for you. Every day. With four children. And it works. I have sought cleaning advice before but it’s decently hard to find and to be honest a lot of it is written by a lady with a sun hat who has glass tchotchkes on the low shelves and rakes her carpet every Tuesday and Friday and once before the Sabbath. And I want to pull this lady aside and say “These tips are nice BUT you don’t have people opening cake mixes and apple sauce jars in their beds. And while you’re cleaning that up they’re upstairs scattering a jumbo pack of toilet paper and unrolling it into Jane’s crib, that she’s napping in. (True story.) So while your advice is nice, it’s just not going to work. ” And then this nice fictional cleaning expert in my mind rubs my shoulders and says “You’re right. You’ll just have to wait until your kids are out of the house.”

You may already be doing all of these things that Sara suggests, which if you are then you are probably sitting in your clean house feeling at peace, but for the rest of us, here is a list of very practical day to day things that might be able to help you out in the face of the day to day messes.

-Make your bed every morning right when you get out of bed.

Sara told me about a famous Navy seal, Admiral William McRaven, that teaches that if you make your bed every day it will give you a small sense of pride and set the tone for the rest of your day and your life. Here is the video of the speech if you’re looking for a short pump up. Honestly watch it. It’s really good.

-Cleanliness is a lifestyle.

Do a little bit all the time was kind of a common theme to her advice. When there is a spill or a mess you should clean it up immediately. If papers are brought into the house deal with them right then. When you take off your shoes put them where they go. If you make cleanliness part of your life then you will spend less time “cleaning” and more time just living. I kinda fall into this pitfall where I just leave things out thinking that on my big cleaning days I’ll get to them. Then what happens is I live with the mess until that day. My house is only completely clean once a week when I’m done cleaning on that day. Sara taught me about maintaining it all the time.

-A place for everything and everything in it’s place.

It’s the oldest mantra in the book but it actually works. Make sure that everything has a place that is functional and that is regularly put back in its place. If you buy something new then the moment it comes in the house choose that thing’s place and then maintain it. I thought I was doing this but I’ve been noticing things that really don’t have a place or that don’t have a very functional place.

-Ask yourself “Does this thing bring me joy?”

Sara heard this somewhere but believes it’s really true. She goes through things regularly and gets rid of stuff that just does not bring her joy- toys that the kids don’t really use, things they don’t need, clothes they don’t wear. Don’t just hold on to things for the sake of it. Continually get rid of stuff you don’t use so that it is not cluttering up your life. My Mom says “Has this fulfilled it’s purpose?” So if she wore the shirt for 10 years and liked it but it’s just not really working anymore she feels happy that it fulfilled it’s purpose for a time and now can find a new home.

- “Touch it once”

Sara’s Dad used to say this to her growing up. It means, if you are bringing a coat into the house, instead of throwing it down on the chair just “touch it once” and go hang it up. Don’t leave it out to deal with a 2nd time later. The same goes for groceries, and anything else. Just immediately deal with it, put it away, throw it away or whatever needs to happen. Don’t put it off by just putting it somewhere it doesn’t go. Touch it once.

- Laundry Once a Week

She does her laundry on Mondays throughout the day. Something I had never heard of is “hand ironing” which she learned from her Mom. When the clothes are hot out of the dryer she pulls them out and immediately folds them or hangs them up so that they aren’t wrinkly. She does this for each load. If she isn’t there for when the dryer stops she just turns it on again for a few more minutes until the clothes are hot again. Am I the last to know about this? It seems obvious but I guess I never saw this done so didn’t think of it.

My method has been to do all the laundry (once a week if I’m on the ball) and just leave it in a humongous pile on the laundry room floor until we are left with absolutely no more underwear and are forced to spend 2 hours putting it all away. All the clothes at the bottom are completely smashed but there is absolutely no chance I am going to iron anything. Mitchell is on his own with that. (I did recently get a steamer on Amazon which was life changing.)

She pointed out that there’s not just one way to stay on top of laundry. This method just works for her. She has a friend who does one load every day and that seems to work too.

-Dishes & Meal Cleanup every night

Her system is to clean up each meal while it is happening. So during breakfast she cleans the kitchen and immediately washes out bowls, cleans up messes and puts things away. While she is making lunch she is cleaning it up. i.e. she takes out mayo for a sandwich, puts it on bread, and then puts it back in the fridge. etc. At dinner she and Taylor, her husband, take turns doing the dishes and they don’t do anything else until everything from dinner is put away. She sweeps the floor and wipes the counter as part of “doing dishes.”

My method has been to clean up everything once at night as part of dishes but I’ve been cleaning up during meals and it has really helped reduce chaos.

-A Nightly Sweep

After the kids are in bed she recommends doing a quick sweep of the main rooms and putting things where they go. She says that it takes 5 minutes or so and then they have a clean house to themselves to enjoy for the night.

-Deep Cleaning Day

She designates one day a week, for her it’s Friday, where she deep cleans everything. Scrubs the toilets, windexes glass, mops the floors, vacuums all the rooms, cleans out the fridge, etc. She chooses Friday so that on Saturday she can work out in the yard.

- Dealing With Toys

What works for her is she has a toy room and on Tuesdays and Saturdays she puts all the toys away with her kids. She uses Ikea cube storage and sorts cars, dolls, dress ups etc into these bins so that they are more usable for her kids. She said that some people have one big toy bin (me) but to her it makes the toys less usable because they don’t have them all together or can’t find their favorite things. Cleaning up toys twice a week is realistic for her but she says everyone will be different.

-Get Your Kids To Help

Sara said this is a hard one cause for her it can be a lot easier to just do everything herself rather than try to motivate and teach littles to clean. Her Mom would turn on music and maybe offer a treat if you passed inspection and got everything done. Sara remembers that she tried to make it fun and that would help.

I loved talking with Sara and noticed that the way her Mom did things was a big reason for the way she runs her house. She has a really great (and clean!) Mom that set an example for Sara that she followed, without even really thinking about why. It stuck out to me because so much of that is also true for me. I find myself in a moment with my kids and I feel like I AM my Mom. A memory brushes my cheek of the way she put me to bed or how she would cut her apples, or comb through my hair. And it reminds me again that sometimes what I am doing every day feels really small or forgotten or lame but to these little people that are mine, what I am doing every day matters A LOT. Who I choose to be and how I choose to do it makes ALL the difference to them.

SO moral of the story is THANK YOU to Sara Davis for your wonderful and motivating advice. I am lucky in the family department. Leave any other suggestions here in the comments and if you have questions I’ll tell Sara to answer them. ;)