Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How to keep your house clean while living with children ... and other life mysteries revealed

This is the second post in a series I am doing on parenting. You can read my first post here. 

I'd like to submit my written excuse as to why I am late on publishing this second post … I had such a great post in my head all week but it never quite made it to the keyboard. You're never gonna believe this, but I was actually… parenting . I hope you agree with me, that parenting well should take priority over writing about how to parent well (if I had to choose ... which I did ...)

And lest you think I've gotten to the place this week where I could do both the parenting thing AND write about parenting ... I'm actually voice texting this post as I watch my two youngest take a bath.

And you don't even want to know what I accidentally just voice texted into this post. It sounded nothing "are you kidding me, who is freaking pooping in the bathtub?!".  I promise. 

Anyhoot ... This post is going to be about keeping your house clean in spite of the fact that you have children living in it. I've read some funny quotes about how difficult that can be ... something like "keeping your house clean while raising kids is like making a smoothie with the lid off". Or something like that . And honestly, the statement is a little too accurate to be funny to me.

hayden, doing what hayden does best

However , the cold harsh reality is this : we really don't have a choice. I mean, what's the alternative? Never clean your house ?

I have met people who have chosen this route, and as you can imagine, the results were disastrous. Sure, you might be able to function (as long as there is a clear path between the piles of laundry and toys and garbage leading to the front door) .. but what a chaotic way to live . I'm not saying you should have floors so clean you can eat off of them - but isn't it a nice feeling to know where clean underwear can be located? Or where your kids' homework can be found ? Or that a friend stopping by doesn't feel they have to spray the toilet seat with Lysol before sitting down ? I rest my case . 

Let's get this cleaning post started.


This is my first strategy when it comes to keeping The Rice Ranch clean - in spite of the fact that we have eleven people living here. 

This method is based on the phrase "divide and conquer", and it was motivated by the knowledge that one person (namely me) cannot possibly run this ship myself . I probably just totally mixed my metaphors there, but you get the idea : many hands make light work. And also keep Mommy from turning to liquor.

Here is our strategy in a nutshell : The Rice Ranch is divided up into "zones", and each member of the family is in charge of a zone. Smaller children might team up to take on a zone, whereas our teenagers can each handle a zone themselves. And because a lot of effort is needed to keep the kitchen clean, three teens are assigned to that zone.  

We have a dry erase board hanging in our laundry room that details who is in charge of each zone, and what is expected to be done in each particular zone. We have tweaked and tweaked and tweaked again to make sure that too much work isn't falling on one or two children ... because we have a large age span amongst our kids, we try hard to make sure the tasks are age appropriate. But you would be surprised what small children can do, if given instruction. 

Here's an example of a few zones, and who does them, and what they do....

Downstairs Bathroom : Noah (age ten)

Clean every morning after breakfast. Make sure there is toilet paper, wipe down the sink and countertop with cleaning spray and clean the mirror with windex. Clean the toilet bowl with a scrub brush and wipe down the rest with lysol and a paper towel. Sweep the floor. Keep tidy during the day.

Kitchen : (Abigail, Jonathan and Tyler)

Rinse dishes. Empty and load dishwasher in the morning and at night as needed. Wipe down counters and put food away. Sweep floors. Help clean up at breakfast, lunch, and after dinner. (Mom deep cleans the fridge, but be willing to help.)

And so on, throughout the house.

Every morning after breakfast, our children do their zones. Each child has a zone they are responsible for vacuuming or sweeping - that way our whole house is vacuumed and swept every day, making for beautiful wood floors and clean carpets on a regular basis. It takes each child maybe five to ten minutes max to do this, and we save a ton on carpet cleaning. The carpets in our house are cream colored, and they look brand new. (Downstairs are all wood floors.) We have a "no food or drinks" in the carpeted rooms policy, and absolutely no shoes allowed on the carpets. Violators will be tarred and feathered. Just kidding. Sort of.

I realize many of my readers have small children, as opposed to teenagers AND small children.

I'm going to use this space to vent for one teeeeeeny tiny second if you will allow.

I have people tell me all the time that "things are probably way easier for you because you have teenagers."

I have never actually laughed in anyone's face when they said this. But I have been sorely tempted.

I have also noticed that the people who say these things.... have never had teenagers.

What I am about to say is in no way meant to be a slam against my teens - they do soooo much to help around the house, and I do realize what a blessing it is to have built in babysitters when I need them . And I also realize I have some of the BEST teens on the planet. They are kind and courteous and thoughtful, and they love our family and love Jesus with all their hearts. I couldn't ask for better kids.

However ..........

Teenagers are bigger.

I don't know if everyone realizes this.

And bigger means .... they wear bigger clothes. Three teenagers living in the house wearing bigger clothes, means exponentially I have a lot more laundry. And while they may not burp up their food onto their clothes (well, not daily), they are still messy. AND (I have found) they like to change outfits often. (Yes, even boys do this as teenagers.) AND I wish I could say that the outfits they wore until twelve o'clock, when they decided to go play basketball and get all sweaty and smelly, could be folded up nicely and placed back in the drawer for future use ... but that ain't happening here. Teenagers make a LOT of laundry.

Bigger also means teenagers eat more. A lot more. Now I know that we grow 'em skinny at The Rice Ranch, and I know our teens do not eat what, say - gigantic sized teens - eat. However, they do eat more than they did when they were 7, 9 and 10 ... and that means Mom makes a lot more food.

Bigger also means .... dare I say it ? ... bigger problems. When our kids are little, they can be told "no" and given consequences immediately if they disobey. But teenagers (can I get an amen??) have bigger mouths. This is NOT to say we allow backtalk or sassiness here in our home. But still -teenagers can reason ... and "discuss" ... and defend ... and excuse ... and all of this takes up a lot more time than it did at age five. For example, I've never stayed up til midnight talking to my five year old about the deeper things of life. Like what having a good attitude and a servant's heart truly means, and how to avoid pitfalls on the internet, and how to keep yourself pure in a very ungodly and unpure world. Those conversations just don't go down (yet) with my 5 and 7 and 10 and 12 year olds. But they are a regular occurrence here with my older kids.

So I said all of that to say ---- please think again before you talk to a mom with teenagers about how "easy" her life is. I'm beyond grateful for my hard working, wonderful teens, and I realize they do SO MUCH when it comes to helping out. But "easy" is not a word I would ever use in the same sentence as teenagers. Unless I was talking about how easy it is for three hungry teenagers to demolish a plate  of cookies in one setting.

OKAY, rant over :)


This practical idea, gleaned from one of my favorite large families, has helped me SO much.

I have lots of friends who can function in chaos. There can be dishes piled on the counter and laundry piled on the couch and they can plop down comfortably on the couch to read a magazine without a second thought. I'm not one of those people. I am totally an out-of-sight-out-of-mind person, and unfortunately that also means that if everything is in sight, I am losing my mind. I can't think when there is clutter all around me.

To combat this (because if Mama aint happy, nobody is happy), we have regular "five minute clean-up" sessions in our house. No matter what everyone is doing (well, except maybe using the bathroom), if Mom calls out "five minute clean-up", we all drop everything and straighten things up.

This goes beyond assigned zones - we just all pitch in for five minutes to bring our house back to order, and then we resume what we were doing.

You would be amazed how much can happen in five minutes, when lots of people are pitching in to help. Toys get gathered up quickly and placed in their proper baskets, dishes get tossed into the dishwasher, pillows on couches are plumped (is that a word?) and chairs and barstools are straightened. Order is restored.

This is not a deep cleaning job, but rather a "tidy things up" effort, and we don't prolong it. We may have three of these a day, or we may have one, but these quick bursts of energy really go a long way to keeping order and sanity in our home.


This is pretty self-explanatory, but I'm going to explain it anyway. Because maybe you are like me : without a plan, I default to messy. I am not a natural organizer, and I have a hard time remembering where I put things on a regular basis. (This is why I have a Caleb : he keeps a running inventory of every single item that ever entered The Rice Ranch in his head. No joke.)

I like things tidy. (Did I mention this ?) But if I am not careful, I will "tidy things up" by stuffing important things into soon-to-be-forgotten crevices, keeping them virtually hidden for years. Things like, oh, I don't know : keys, wallets, credit cards, library cards, checks, bills, iPads, cameras, you-name-it. This may or may not have caused significant "discussions" to take place between the owners of said items over the years.

I have to stop for a second and confess something here : I'm still working on this one. It helps that we have built-in cubby holes over a little counter top desk in the kitchen. This is the place I generally "stuff" stuff. If anyone is looking for something valuable that can fit into one of the cubby holes, chances are Mom put it there. However ... sigh ... I still have lots of hiding spots (apparently) for all the things people leave lying on counter tops. Probably not a day goes by that someone isn't calling out "Mom, where did you put my (fill in the blank)", sending me scurrying frantically around the house, opening drawers and searching through cabinets for whatever is missing.

The upside of this, is that I've been forced to organize things, so that the number of potential "hiding spots" in our house could be reduced to less than a dozen. For the most part, our cabinets and closets and garage have been designated for specific uses, and if something is lying on the floor or counter top we can say "put this where it belongs" and it has meaning.

Mail that comes into the house either gets trashed (if it's junk mail) or filed in the cubby hole (if it's something we will need during the next week, like a coupon) or given to Sam immediately when he comes home (if it's a bill.)

Toys go into specific clear plastic tubs that are stored on shelves in the garage ... action figures in one box, dollhouse furniture and barbies in another box, legos in another, and so on. Sports equipment is stored in several large rubbermade containers in the garage, stuffed animals all make their home in a large tub in Abigail's room, as well as a toy box with a lid in the garage, and all miscellaneous toys go into one small basket in the family room.

When the children are done playing with one type of toy (like legos), they have to clean those up before getting down a new set of toys. This not only keeps the house (relatively) clean, but it makes playtime fun for our kids. They don't have to sort through a big pile of things shoved into random buckets to play with all the Rescue Heroes - they're all in one box on a shelf.

(By the way, if you've never read "The Messy Room" by Stan and Jan Berenstain, I encourage you to do so. That simple children's book changed my life over 25 years ago, and I am still using the wisdom found there today :))

Okay, well it's nearing dinner time here, so time to wrap this cleaning post up.

I'm sure many of you have time-proven tips on keeping a tidy home while raising children... I would love to hear your ideas in the comment section !

Stay tuned for part three, where I discuss How To Stop Small Children From Destroying All The Pretty Things in Your House. 

See you soon !!


Csmithfamily09 said...

Hands down the best thing I ever did to make cleaning easier was to get rid of A LOT of stuff. Less stuff means less mess. I've made attempts at getting rid of things, especially toys, for years but recently I got really serious, and ruthless.
Anything I didn't display with love or use constantly was on the chopping block. I got rid of nearly half of our belongings. It's amazing! So much less mess.

kara said...

Enjoying these parenting post!! Keep em coming!

Unknown said...

Thanks Pattie... We have a chart that works great ... And the kids love it too... Bc they don't feel overwhelmed... They know what they are suppose to do, and it's easier to get the job done.

Grammi Faith said...

So happy you are following in your Mother's foot steps. ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha Please forgive me for laughing so hard at my own joke.

me said...

Thank you for putting into words something that's been brewing inside my mind for a while. Teenagers are big!
One thing I try to do to tame the laundry monster is to have my teens take over their own laundry in Junior high. They get a personal laundry basket, and then they are in charge of their clothes. Does this mean that my kid has to live without their favorite thing because they forgot to wash it? Yep. They also learn pretty quickly that jeans don't need to be washed just because they wore them for 3 hours.
The trade off is that they do not have to help with the rest of the house's laundry. (Unless it's a laundry crisis... sometimes 10 loads pile up in an instant!)

I need to institute a better over all plan for cleaning - my usual schedule hasn't worked for a year or so. I might try the zone idea. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all the tips. :) I love the zone idea. We have done similar but I think we need to try that again. :)

Anonymous said...

I really like the parenting posts! The five minute clean up is sticking out to me as a real way I can delegate some of the cleaning that needs done. The picking up part would be out of the way quickly and I could get the other stuff done without taking all day to do so. Teenagers are hard to raise, even the good ones! I understand all too well about them being "bigger" and creating more laundry and larger meals...my son is 6'5" and possibly still growing. The biggest challenge is the one of "growing" their minds, teaching them to be mature adults. I love using the cleaning responsibility as a part of that growth towards maturity. I am guilty of just doing it myself to get it done, but this post has me re-thinking my (non)strategy!

Joy said...

I love posts like this!! Thank you so much!! I have to say, I totally agree with you about the teenagers! I only have four kids right now, but the age spread is 3-15.

I can't wait to read more posts like this. Love your blog!!

lindley said...

Great nuggets of wisdom every time! Thanks, far away friend!

Anonymous said...

:) In the very last picture..what are those in the bowl??

Patti said...

decorator balls :)

Sandy Cook said...

I didn't comment when I originally read this post because I was too busy making excuses for why my husband and 15 year old son would not be able to help me. Fast forward a few weeks, and I was at my breaking point. I work full time between two jobs, my son goes to a academically challenging private school, my parents are aging and having surgeries and needing more care and support and suddenly I was about to snap like a beatnik at a poetry reading. Or like a crazy lady.

After a particularly bad week where I felt paper thin and about to wear through in spots, I had a Come to Jesus talk with my husband., and then my son. The result was each of us have a zone now that is thoroughly cleaned every Saturday. As I type this (at work, no less. But hey, other people get smoke breaks, I take a blog break!) my bed is made, the kitchen is clean and the house is tidy. Husband is now responsible for dinner the two nights I work til 6, and my son is responsible for kitchen duty those two nights so I can go to the gym. Today is only Day 4 of 'The New Family PLan', but I am calmer and more at peace than I have been in a long time.
Thank you for the gentle reminder that no mater the age and how busy our lives get, there are basic life skills that must be taught/learned. I love reading about your life and lessons learned.

Patti said...

That made me so happy !! Thank tou for sharing . Xoxo