5 Steps to Keeping Your Home Clean and Organized

This is the first post in my 10 post series, 10 Areas to Master For Managing a Household. Join me every Thursday for a new installment!

Grab a coffee or make some tea and read this like we are hanging out in my kitchen. It’s a long one, it will probably be the longest in this series, but totally, totally, worth the read I promise.

This is probably the #1 complaint from pretty much everyone. No one likes living in a mess. I know you don’t need me to tell you this because you probably know, but having a messy house makes just about everything take longer. In my Facebook feed I see stories about moms taking ages to leave the house because one kid can’t find socks to wear and another has no idea where he put his library book (or whatever) and mom can’t find her keys, etc. How frustrating. I have friends that tell me they walk into a messy kitchen and decide to order in because cleaning it is such a major undertaking.

The solution to this problems is to set up routines and a handful of house rules. It will take about a month before they feel like habit to you and your family. You will absolutely 100% have to remind your kids and your spouse and even yourself of new house rules. There are going to be times when you just don’t feel like taking the 10 minutes or 30 minutes or 5 minutes or however long the task at hand will take, but I promise you that if you do it, future you will be so thankful.

We all have different houses, different living arrangements and different trouble spots, but there are some universal issues. We all need to keep some of the same things organized and easily accessible; clothes and shoes, keys, toys and school items, paperwork and our kitchen basics. There will be some specific things in my home that are not relevant to yours, and there will be some things you need to brainstorm solutions to that I have never had to think about. This is the week to do that.

If you are familiar with the Flylady system, you will see some elements of that in here, but that’s all it is, just a few little pieces. Just like you may read this, implement it in your home and tweak it to fit your own needs over the course of weeks and months and years it will become something all together different. I started with the Flylady system back in 2001 and there have been more tweaks and changes than I can even remember. Your approach will also need to be changed every time you move and every time your life changes (the addition of a baby, a job or volunteer work, etc) and that will come naturally to you once you have some kind of structure in place.

In this post, we’ll go over the 5 big things:

Routines, ‘daily’ chores, laundry, house rules and kid’s chores.

1. Create two simple and easy to manage routines, one that happens when you first get up and start your day and one for the evening. Depending on how your evenings work, this will either end with you going to bed or with you doing whatever you do to decompress at the end of the day (more on that in another post).

The concept of morning and evening routines comes (to me) from the Flylady system, but again it has been modified. With a firm evening routine you will never wake up to last night’s dishes or a child claiming to have run out of clean socks or be surprised with an appointment. With a firm morning routine you will never stand in front of the pantry at 5pm with no idea what you’re making for dinner.

Everyone’s routines will look different, but I will give you a basic idea of what mine looks like.

Every morning after I wake up, I make a cup of coffee, brush my teeth, wash my face, do a 5 minute face, get dressed, and then make more coffee. 😉 I help my husband get ready for work, make our bed, wake the kids and gather all the laundry in the house and pop it in the washer. Thanks to meal planning, I have already planned breakfast (and often did all the real work the night before), so I warm that up and feed the kids. I usually make a smoothie for myself and then do a super quick (like, I’m talking 5 minutes quick) clean up of the bathrooms. I literally just clean the mirrors, wipe down the counters and wipe down the toilet. Done! I supervise the kids while they do their chores after breakfast and help them get ready for the day. They have some morning chores and some evening chores just like me. Their morning chores include making their beds, feeding the guinea pigs breakfast and cleaning up after themselves at breakfast. Around this time I move the laundry to the dryer and we start our homeschool day with our morning basket.

I like to do my evening routine between after dinner time and bedtime because I like to move on to hobbies once the kids are in bed. The evening chores the kids are responsible for begin after dinner. Our oldest clears the table, rinses dishes and stacks the dishwasher. Our daughters tidy up whatever messes have happened in their room, and tidy up the guinea pig enclosure. We prepare a bedtime snack for our guineas and play with them a little before picking up the common areas of the house. The school area is cleaned up when school is done, but we pick up anything lingering and then one of our daughters will do a very quick vacuum of the open areas in the living room (no moving furniture or anything). While they are doing those things, I give the kitchen a once over. I clear off the counter and wipe it down, I make sure the kitchen sink is empty, the table is wiped down and the sink is empty and clean. I toss that day’s dish towel in the laundry and give myself a new one. When I used sponges, I’d replace them once a week, but now that I knit them, I also put that day’s dish cloth in the laundry and give myself a new one. I also sweep and mop the kitchen floor. Around this time, my littlest one has a bath, followed by my middle having a shower. During this time, I do a light vacuum of the rest of the first floor and I check my planner and wall calendar for tomorrow’s happenings. I will go over planner details in my planner post in this series, but just a glance at your planner will keep you aware of what’s going on the next day. Establishing the habit of checking your planner every night also shows you things that are happening later in the week. Once the kids are in bed and I have read stories and tucked them in, I sweep both bathrooms and if there are any little messes, I deal with them then. Then I have a shower, remove my makeup and do any girly stuff that needs to be done. Maybe a face or hair mask, or I’ll redo or touch up my nails, things like that. From then till I go to bed, I knit, or blog, or work on videos and hang out with my husband. Sometimes we play pool or help each other with our projects or play games together.

Different lifestyles will change this list, if your kids are in public school your list will look totally different and taking the kids to school will be on it and you’ll likely have the rest of the list done after you get home. When I had a bigger house and when I had a small apartment, my list looked different. The idea isn’t to have the same routines as me. I wrote it out to show you the concept. Every evening, set up your day to be great by waking up to a clean house and everything you need and then jump into your day!

2. Identify how many days a week you can give 30-45 minutes to cleaning, and then divide your home up into that many areas. So, if you have a lot of activities on say Tuesdays and Thursdays and you like to have a family day on the weekend, that leaves 4 days a week that you have time to really clean, so you’d divide your home into 4 areas and deal with one on each of those four days.

I have written before about ‘grown up chore charts’, but essentially all you need is a list of all the tasks to be done in a certain area either laminated or in a page protector sleeve so you can cross them off as you do them. Mine have evolved over the years, and if there is interest in seeing them, I’ll post them. The purpose of them is to walk into an area of your home on the assigned day and know exactly what needs to be done. Some things don’t need to be done every time you clean that area, but they should at least be checked. I don’t wash the curtains in my daughter’s room every week, but I do check them for hair chalk or marker or whatever so if they do need to be washed, I do it.

In my current plan, I like to devote my weekends to school prep and personal projects so I do not schedule must do chores on the weekend. I have some heavy school days and some light school days, but I know for sure that once a week, I am out all day with friends on a field trip. So that leaves me 4 days a week that I really have time to devote to focused cleaning. My current home is divided into four areas; 1 – school room and living room, 2 – kitchen and bathrooms, 3 – girls’ room and the master bedroom, 4 – office and garage (& outside if necessary). I also do family paperwork on Saturdays and call it ‘desk day’. Your lists to begin with do not need t be overwhelming, they can be totally basic, the idea is just to start and add more as you get into it.

When I get into conversations about this, people cannot understand how I do large areas on the same day and fit it into a fairly short period of time. The answer, honestly, is that if you stay on top of these areas every week and you incorporate trouble areas in your morning and evening routines, they are never out of control. Take cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms for example, since I take care of daily messes every night, my kitchen and bathrooms are pretty much always clean. So on the day assigned to them I do not have any messes in the way of cleaning, all I have to do is clean.

Desk day is really just about taming the paper monster, and that is a very personal and different creature for all of us. My general suggestions are to keep a main landing area for family paperwork as it comes into your home and a more involved system elsewhere. A kitchen binder is a good start, one thing that can work in many different situations is to use page protectors in a binder, one protector for each category of paper. For example; bills, utilities, school, medical, work…). You get the mail from the box, bring it to the kitchen and open it. Envelopes and garbage papers go in the recycling and the important bits get put in the binder right away. Every week on desk day, you take your binder to your home office or closet or where ever you choose to build your filing system and file it all away. Your empty binder goes back in the kitchen and voila! You’ve tamed the paper monster!

3. Laundry! This can be partially dealt with in your daily routines and possibly even in the sectional cleaning plan you make in the previous point, but laundry is absolutely not something you can deal with ‘later’.

Personally, I do one load every day of our daily clothes, I do the sheets on the bedroom days and towels on the weekends. Every morning as part of my morning routine, I gather everything from all the bedroom hampers. Since I do this every morning, there is never more than whatever we wore the day before in the hampers, with the possible addition of some pajamas or face cloths and that sort of thing. There is never more than a load between the five of us. The washer runs while I do the rest of my morning routine and then just before I start the school day, I move it to the dryer. When we break for lunch I put it away and I don’t find it as tedious as folding and putting away an entire basket of one person’s clothes because you basically put away a single outfit and move on to the next closet.

Another thought about laundry is less about doing it and more about where your family’s clean clothes go. Most of our clothes are either hung up or in baskets. This also makes it really simple for kids to help put away laundry if that’s a task you want to delegate.

If you have a larger family, you may need to add a second load in the afternoon. You may hate this plan if you like to separate your clothes, but let’s be honest. If you’re having issues keeping up with the laundry, does it really matter if you wash your jeans with your kid’s leggings? I swear, it doesn’t. If you want to do your whites in a hot load with bleach you can modify this to have a basket in the laundry room that you put the white items into each morning until have enough for a load.

4. Set up a few simple house rules for the things that make you crazy. In most homes that’s lost keys, mail/paperwork and library books, but it could really be anything. In homes with babies that use pacifiers, keeping track of those is a big deal. I remember, I swear, and I know it can be maddening.

This is one of those details that is really going to be specific to your life and your family. For us, library books were the main issue. To solve this, we decided on a specific place for them to live and I politely reminded everyone 10,000 times. When one of the older kids was done reading a book, it went back in the basket and they could take out the next one. For my littlest who goes through several bedtime story-style books every evening, I took it upon myself to make sure she’d returned every last book she took out. Why? I did it because after a couple of weeks of this, she made sure that she returned all the books on her own!

Whatever your new house rules will be to keep things in their place, you will not only have to be diligent in enforcing them but you have to follow them as well! This is a point of contention with some parents and I’m not sure why they do not like to take some of the responsibility in this. Children learn by example, and we all learn through consistent teaching, redirection and correction. So when you have allowed your children to leave library books laying around the house for years and one day you tell them that all library books are going to be in a central location, it can’t be surprising to you if your children either forget or assume you will not follow through. So, staying consistent for a decent amount of time will show them that this is something that is important enough for you to follow through over time on. Honestly, aside from your consistency showing your children the rule matters to you, it will become habit over the course of a month or so to just continue following the rule. Seeing you following your own rules makes them more ‘real’, or at least that has been my experience.

5. Delegate age appropriate duties to the children of the house, especially for things they are usually responsible for the loss of or mess making with!

This also ties in with setting some basic house rules that would apply to them. If you’ve read my Positive Discipline series, you know I’m not a big fan of reward charts and the like, but there is nothing wrong with laminating a little chart to help them remember what is expected of them and putting stickers on each task they have accomplished, much like the way I track my own chores.

There is a difference between age appropriate chores your children can do to help within the household and chores you’ll teach them as they get older. The age appropriate chores I’m referring to are the kind of thing they can take off your to do list. I understand that toddlers and under are not going to be much help and that’s a season we all go through, but even preschoolers can do simple tasks. What duties you give them depends on their personalities, their maturity levels, and what they are physically capable of. Kids love to feel accomplished and to really help out, so never assign a child a task they can’t actually accomplish. Some examples of age appropriate chores; very little children love to help put groceries away, older grade school kids may not be able to properly make a bed, but they can absolutely take the sheets and blankets off a bed! You can also make certain chores more child friendly, like using baskets and low hanging rods for clothes so kids can help put away laundry.

They can learn more difficult chores by watching and ‘helping’ you when you do your detailed cleaning. If you make this routine, or you take children aside as they get older and specifically show them how to do certain tasks, you’ll not only be delegating more of your workload, you’ll be teaching your children important life skills. I know a lot of children are not happy about chores, and I think the way it’s gone about is the reason behind that. If chores are just a part of daily life in your family, it’s really no big deal as they get older. If chores are ever used as a punishment or the grown ups complain about them or they are put off for so long that they become overwhelming, of course kids are going to have a negative outlook on helping out.

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