Don’t worry. I haven’t just tricked you into reading a post about how you should get over wanting a tidy house and just enjoy your children while they’re young. We’ve all heard them, read them, replayed them constantly in our minds: Those guilt-inducing words of wisdom, usually unsolicited, from your mother, your co-worker, the clerk at the grocery store.
“They’re only little once. Don’t worry about how dirty your house is.”
“Ack! As much time as we spend together, you should know me well enough to know I’m type-A, I can’t stand clutter or dirt, I played Legos ALL MORNING, get off my back already!” I bark, as she scans my rewards card. I’m just not one of those people [I wish I was] who can just let go, just hang out at the park for hours or color, and soak up every gorgeous moment of my children’s existence without even reaching for the video camera. But I’m not. I’m a multi-tasker to the death. So here’s what I’ve learned I have to get over if I want tidiness and parenting peace, because to me those things are interdependent.
- I can do it better than my spouse/child/mother/anyone. This may be true to a degree. Maybe your spouse doesn’t load the dishwasher right, or your preschooler stashes his socks under the baby’s crib when you ask him to put his clothes away. Or your mother refuses to put the Corningware back in it’s proper spot in the cupboard, like she’s playing mind games or something. But the thing is, you can’t do everything and do it that well. You’ll burn yourself out if you keep up the ‘no thanks, I can simultaneously nurse the baby, load the dishwasher, and call the cable company’ charade, and soon you’ll find you’re off your game. Try accepting help with the things you’re not so type-A about, like putting away toys, or gathering the household trash, and defend your territory on things like towel-folding. No man can fold towels correctly, just sayin’.
- I don’t care if no one else can see the dirt, I know it’s there. This is a rookie mistake, and most stay-at-home parents figure this one out stat. Don’t do the cleaning no one cares about, at least not often. Forget dusting the light fixtures [chandeliers, if it makes you feel fancy]. If everyone can see their plate at dinner, you’re good. If no one noticed they’re dirty, they’re not going to notice you’ve cleaned them. See where I’m going with this? Go for the things that your family or playdates will notice or even comment on [read: judge you for if you don’t do] like keeping countertops clean, and staying on top of dish and laundry cycles – the trifecta of clean, in my opinion. Note: If you’re using those little tools that come with your vacuum, you’re working too hard. I don’t even know where most of mine are anymore! And if you’re using a Q-tip or toothbrush for any sort of household cleaning, get help without delay.
- Everyone fakes it. Everyone knows someone who is like some sort of domestic goddess. She has at least 12 kids and a husband who works long hours, but she volunteers, bakes, and keeps a spotless abode. Mommy urban legend. Ever look in her pantry? Her closets? The basement? Of course not, that’s just rude. But take notes next time you visit her for a play date. Look for candles burning, a half-used bottle of Fabreeze tucked in behind the crock-pot. Does she have cookies baking a lot? Supermoms are among us, I’ve seen them, they’re real, but tidy can be easy to fake if you work smart. Here’s my fake-clean routine: First, open the windows if the air outside is less humid than inside, then light a couple of candles [go for scents that say ‘I spent all day cleaning my house’ like ‘fresh linen’ or ‘citrus something or other’ Note: if you know of a candle actually named ‘I spent all day cleaning my house’, please share, thanks]. Spray down the worst surfaces with a pleasantly-fragranced non-toxic cleaner, then do a spot-sweep of high-traffic floors with one of those brooms with the dust-pan built in or an electric floor sweeper gizmo. Tidy toys and clutter into a laundry basket as you go, or bribe your toddler with marshmallows to help out [kidding, I’ve never done that]. Wipe down the surfaces you sprayed and stash the basket of clutter behind a closed door. If you have time, vacuum the most visible carpeted areas to freshen the room and give the fibers a nice loft under foot. Ha! Just kidding on that last one. Throw on some ready-to-bake cookies instead, even if you’re not having company. 🙂