You Can't Have Little Kids AND a Clean House (Without Going Insane)

My brother-in-law once confessed to my husband that for years, he hadn't been able to understand how we lived the way we did. Meaning, why my husband and I had allowed our house to become buried under a shitstorm of baby-related furniture and toddler toys, to the point where the floor had essentially been replaced by an unpleasant, garishly colored sea of Fisher-Price.

The reason he finally shared his once-judgmental attitude was because after his own son was born, my brother-in-law -- who is the neatest, most cleanliness-focused person I know (I suspect the fact that he's a mortician has more than a little to do with this) -- had to face the fact that once you have a baby, you have two choices. You can succumb to the influx of clutter and chaos ... or you can go completely out of your goddamned mind trying to keep a death grip on the spotless child-free home existence you once enjoyed.


My nephew is 2 now, so he's past the days of bouncy seats, exersaucers, swings, and various other infant-related clutter. But he's well into the Fruitfly Attention Span stage, which involves diving face-first into one activity, then abandoning it altogether for something else. Cars, Duplo blocks, crayons, and various other detritus get strewn across the floor as he goes, and I am all too familiar with the fleeting sense of calm my brother-in-law enjoys at the end of the day when everything can get stuffed away in storage containers. For that brief post-bedtime period, the house is clean -- but there's no sense in hoping it'll look that way for very long.

In our last house, our living area was so small I had to really make an effort to stay on top of the clutter. Amusingly, I have a time-lapse video from 2009 that shows what that looked like:

It was sort of like trying to keep the tide at bay, you know? Things would spread out, get picked up, then spread back out again, over and over. I guess some people can keep a clean-surface'd house with a toddler and a mobile baby, but I have no idea how. A special playroom, maybe? In a separate wing of the house? Staffed by a stern nanny?

Now that my boys are 8 and 5, they aren't really any less messy than they were when they were toddling, diapered babies. In fact, they may be even worse, what with their millions of painful-to-step-on-Legos and half-finished doodles of Pacific Rim kaijus and bits of wire from mysterious electronic projects and abandoned socks (seriously, WTF is it with the socks?). BUT: they are wonderfully, GLORIOUSLY old enough to clean up their own crap.

I highly recommend older children clean up, for reasons such as being able pick up after themselves and not juicily expelling bowel movements into their own pants, but of course there's a flip side to parenting kids who are perfectly capable of putting away their things, and that's the nagging. Oh, the nagging I do, day in and day out. I do not enjoy being a nag, but that's the only way things seem to get done around here. Even my husband recently told me that it's not that he's opposed to helping out with household chores, it's just that he needs "multiple reminders."

I don't succumb to the mess anymore, because despite the annoyance of having to nag, it's actually possible to manage it now. I think it's like many other aspects of parenting: the first few years are really all about survival, and during that time, certain things will inevitably fall by the wayside. Like having visible carpets, for instance.

These days, my home isn't exactly Pinterest-worthy. I don't have exquisite modern decor or photo-friendly minimalist themes, and every room in our older house is a work in progress in some way. But I feel like we've reclaimed a sense of balance between the kids' stuff and our own, and there is pleasure in that. I like the sense of calm a decluttered room brings, and I like that my boys can actually contribute to this feeling now ... even if I have to remind them. (Multiple times.)

Have you found that it's easier to keep a clean house with older kids?

Image via Linda Sharps

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