A few years ago, a friend visiting told me my home felt like a “big hug.” I thought a lot about that comment and my husband and I decided to make an ongoing effort to create a home environment that would feel like a “big hug” for all who entered. Part of providing that is having the space relatively clean. Such upkeep has not always been my strong suite. In fact, as a kid, even young adult, my living space was anything but. We’re talking cups caked in leftovers for months, a deep “carpet” of clothes…you get the idea. Gross.
I was actually taught to clean though. I still don’t claim to be any kind of house-keeping master (my sister gets that award), but as a researcher, teacher, and now parent, I have gathered some strategies that help. As I recently watched my 2 year old daughter clear her place and wipe her table after a meal, my heart smiled and the thought occured to me…maybe I have a few tools that could help others in this arena. Here is my toolbox for cleaning with kids:
1. Everything has a place. This may seem obvious, but I find messes creeping in when something new enters our home and we have yet to find it a set space. Antidote for a hoarding: if you don’t have a place for it, let it go.
2. One activity at a time. Provide some limits so that when your child finishes playing with one toy or set of toys, s/he cleans up before heading to a new activity. Okay, this is the ideal and who is so on top of their kid(s)’ activities that this can be upheld at all times? Work toward this goal though. Allowing every toy in a room to be rolled out before you try to clean up tends to lead to you and your child feeling overwhelmed.
3. Offer 2 Choices: Do you want to put the chalk away or wipe down the board first? Are you going to gather triangle or square magnetic tiles first? Your child may propose a 3rd option and if you can live with it and that option moves things forward, I see no reason to object. Limited choices simplifies and helps speed up the decision making process.
4. Make cleaning fun! This can be a wonderful way to provide your child with positive attention by letting him know you are watching and appreciate his work. Playful language like “put the blocks away quick as a wink!”, singing or listening to a clean up song (here’s our new favorite), or choosing encouraging language, especially to acknowledge when he does clean up (e.g. “Our floor looks so clean where you swept. I appreciate your hard work.”)
5. Rotate toys. Maybe look at them like a seasonal wardrobe- pull out and put away a toy or two each week. When something isn’t getting much use, maybe lend it to a friend who you know would enjoy it. Getting out toys that have been out of sight for a while tends to make them more interesting. This keeps things fresh, more intriguing and allows fewer items to be available for making a huge mess around the house.
6. Build cleaning into your routine. Have little tidying tasks that become habitual. Ex. Everyone clears their own dishes as they leave the table after each meal or make your bed as soon as you get up each morning, before leaving the room.
7. Include your child in cleaning when she shows interest. When your child expresses desire, find a way to let her help! Research has shown it pays off to welcome little ones’ help cleaning. They will learn to appreciate and be more willing to help later in life. If they are shooed away at a young age, the motivation will be gone later in childhood when you want your child to clean. NPR produced a great story about this you can read about here.
8. Keep your eye on the prize. There are always more tasks to be done, another floor to mop or dish to wash. As you navigate the care of your space and family/work/health, keep a balance. Sometimes you can’t get sufficient sleep, all the dishes from dinner washed and read your child a bedtime story. Even the perfect routine gets interrupted. Be flexible enough to choose one or two elements to relinquish on those nights. Dishes can wait until morning. A good night’s sleep and story usually can’t.
There are tons of ways to get a house clean, but it takes the whole family to keep it clean. You can often find cleaning tools for little bodies in the local grocery, book, department or even dollar store. I also really like For Small Hands for their quality and variety for both indoor and yard care.
Maybe you find housekeeping a breeze. If so, I kowtow to you. But if not, hopefully you’ve just nabbed a skill or reminder to help make your life a little happier and easier. I certainly know a clean space helps me feel more at ease. May you find a little more peace in your week ahead!