I am not a clean freak. I prefer my house to be clean. But I can function just fine (for a while, at least) if it’s not. In fact, it doesn’t feel like my house is ever COMPLETELY clean, since if the kids and I have cleaned two of the bathrooms, the high likelihood is that the other three need a scrub (yes, that means we have 5 bathrooms…that might be part of the problem). I do not have a compulsive need to deep-clean every surface of my house on a weekly basis, as several of my friends do (which is both a blessing to my sanity–hello, 7 constantly-mess-producing children–and a curse–I know that if I were compulsive, my house would, indeed, be cleaner).
HOWEVER, I feel the most mentally at ease and–there’s no better way to put it–okay with myself as a human when my house is picked up and reasonably clean. And that is what today’s Mama Life Hack is supposed to help with.
And it’s so simple, so obvious, so ridiculously basic that I fully expect every comment on this post to be some iteration of “DUH, Abbie, or “Why didn’t I already think of that?”
But first a little back story. We clean every morning. After Bible reading and before we start school, the kids all do their “morning routines.” For the girls and Theo, this involves unloading the dishwashers, picking up the common area (living room/dining room/kitchen/stairway) and putting away any toys or books we’ve gotten out (even though this process generally happens between 8 and 9, there have been children up and playing since 6:30 usually, so, yes, there’s already at least some mess by the time the sun comes up).
The older boys alternate day-by-day with: 1) loading the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher/cleaning the sink and surrounding counter and 2) sweeping the kitchen/dining and wiping down the island, stove, counters.
(I include this detail because I get a lot of questions about what kind of chores my kids do at which ages).
During this time, I flip laundry, feed the baby, answer emails, etc. I’m not cleaning alongside them, necessarily, but we’re all doing something productive.
This way, we start our school day with things in the spaces we use most under reasonable control.
Fast forward to the end of our day, and MOST (not all, but most) of this work has been completely undone. Pencils have been sharpened to nubs and dropped on the ground (thank you, Theo), papers have been shredded on the floor (ahem, Theo again), lunch has been made, snacks X 7 have been eaten…twice (goodness, that’s a lot of food), books have been hauled out of lockers, bathrooms have been strewn with toilet paper (among other things #ew). We try–oh how we try–to put things back as we go. The food gets put back at lunchtime. The paper mounds get picked up. The bathroom gets de-TP’d. But when the focus is on learning, not cleaning, and there are still more messes to be made, it’s inevitable that we miss a pencil or 6, and there’s a doll or 3 under the couch.
Oh, and then there’s dinner. I do simple food: Taco soup, chicken tortilla soup, chicken and squash grill, spaghetti, chicken pot pie (my most-well-loved-by-readers recipe). But there’s still some cooking debris that’s inevitable with the process of refereeing 7 kids while preparing food for them (although to be fair, it doesn’t feel like refereeing 90% of the time; they’re honestly usually playing happily, reading, helping me cook, or doing something outside).
My point? Despite our best efforts, our main living areas are still at least a little bit messy at the end of every day.
And I’m tired. And not the least bit interested in starting all over again with what feels like (no IS) a never-ending process.
One day, as I was expressing to Shaun my frustration with the amount of work yet to be done at the end of the day versus the amount of fortitude left with which to tackle it, he said, “We just need to set a timer for after dinner clean-up and get it done.”
At first, my emotions rebelled against the simplicity of the suggestion. It couldn’t possibly be THAT easy.
But then, I remembered an article I read once about a mother of many (also a homeschooler) who instituted a 5:00 PM clean-up train, in which each member of her household was required to fall in line as they snaked through the entire house picking up errant socks and books and general life detritus. It had sounded intimidating (even though she said they enjoyed it) to me at the time, but I could see the appeal in ending each day with a picked up house.
And so, despite my temptation to sulk, rather than truly look for a solution, I said, “Okay, let’s try it.”
So, we did.
And it worked.
So, we still do.
Every night at 7 PM, our trustworthy Alexa begins chirping to let us know that it’s time to clean. And we get to work. Everyone but Honor pitches in. (Still trying to figure out how to train an almost one-year-old who doesn’t walk to throw away his own diapers).
The smaller kids repeat a version of the picking up routine they do in the mornings, every now and then with the addition of a rug vacuum. And the older boys and I usually tag-team the dishes + large pan scrubbing + sweeping. Shaun helps with picking up, redirecting wandering attention (AHEM, Theo and Twins), trash duty, or whatever else needs doing.
Gittin ‘ur dun. P.S. She’s standing on my fave kid stool of all time.
We turn on music. We might even boogie down a little. But mostly, we work. It takes 20-30 minutes with all of us hustling at our respective tasks to take the main living area from cluttered-enough-to-be-stressful:
The milk is out. Dishes are piled in the sink. The island is strewn with leftover…stuff. And I do believe there are containers of garlic powder and cayenne on the sofa table???
Don’t be deceived. This is clean-from-a-distance. Some nights, I have time/energy to wipe down the cabinets or rearrange the fridge if the dishes are light. Most of the time, though, this is simply main surfaces wiped down, floors swept (not mopped), dishes done, and clutter put away.
It’s not deep-cleaned. But do you know what it is? Stress-free!!
Half an hour of corporate cleaning makes my brain go AAAAAAHHHH every single night, and it’s glorious.
Now, obviously, I have lots of helpers, and some of my kids are older. But that also means that I have more mess-makers. And I can tell you that, after years of training the little ones, they are finally starting to get it. (So, if you only have wee ones, there’s still hope). The olders were gone the other night, and Della (7), the twins (5), and Theo (3) managed to help with dishes, pick up and vacuum the living room, put away toys, and throw away trash quite proficiently.
MOST of the problem with everything feeling so overwhelming was my assumption that–even though I require my children to help throughout the day–once it hit evening time, I was completely responsible for setting everything right. (No clue why). And, given how tired I usually am, many nights, that just wasn’t happening. With the result, of course, being a more cluttered and stressful start to our mornings.
The oh-so-subtle shift from: this is MY responsibility to this is OUR responsibility and let’s see how quickly and joyfully we can knock it out has done wonders for my energy levels, motivation, and attitude.
The kids don’t mind a bit. In fact, because of the music and camaraderie, they actually–gasp–enjoy it.
Another important part of our evening routine: the older kids’ reading the children’s Bible to the oh-so-attentive littles after we clean.
So, there you have it. The little cleaning trick that has revolutionized our nighttime routine.
Notice that it’s similar to the other mom’s idea but not identical. Different time. No conga line. BUT. The elements of togetherness, fun, and work are still present. And I think those are the keys.
Let me know if you give this a shot or if you already do something similar. I can’t believe it took me so long to implement this (thanks, Shaun), but I’m so glad we did.
P.S. I’m working on a no-sock-left-behind system that my Instagram peeps helped me devise, and I can’t wait to share it soon.