Have you ever heard the phrase, “Keeping a clean house with kids is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.”
With three kids five and under, I have tried the whole, “embrace the mess” mantra but truth is, it just isn’t going to happen.
And if you feel the same way, I’m glad you’re here!
Science has proven time and time again that too much clutter and disorganization in our homes causes stress and anxiety.
And too much stress can really wreak havoc on our waistlines.
I relate everything back to the number one struggle I hear from moms about not exercising or eating healthy.
“I just don’t have time to exercise or prepare healthy meals.”
Think about it, if you want to squeeze in a quick home workout but you can’t find one spare inch on your floor to do a workout because it is covered in toys or mess, you are not going to be very motivated to exercise.
When trying to keep your house clean with kids, creating systems that are easy to follow and easy to understand will help the entire family work together to keep the house clean and tidy.
A little extra time up front will save you HOURS later!
Hours that could be much better spent on more important things than looking for what you need all day.
Keeping your house clean with kids is an overwhelming task but with simple systems in place, consistency and practice it really doesn’t have to be complicated.
If you stick with me during this post, I am confident you will find the motivation and tips you need to finally get to the bottom of keeping your house clean with kids!
Tips To Get Your Kids On Board
Kids are great at laying the guilt trip hard when it comes time to clean up their stuff.
And sometimes it feels easier to just pick up their stuff by yourself than spend 20 minutes arguing just to get them to put their stuff away.
However, teaching our kids to pick up after themselves is one of the best life lessons we can teach.
So, how can you get them motivated to pick up after themselves?
Here are a couple tips.
1. Take Toys Away
I know this may sound harsh…BUT, it works.
In our home, if my kids don’t want to put their stuff away, I take it away. Simple!
After holding onto their favorite toys for a few hours or even few days, they are much more willing to help.
I can almost promise that you won’t have to do this very many times before they get the hint!
2. Take Other Privileges Away
Our kids don’t get any screen time, treats or anything else that is considered a luxery unless they have picked up after themselves.
It does not have to be perfect but they do need to make an effort to put things back where they belong.
3. Make it Fun
I enjoy listening to music when I clean and my kids are no different.
When we have big messes to clean up, I turn on some music and make it a cleaning party.
It takes the argument out of the chore and gets everyone involved.
And sometimes we will even make a game out of it to see who can put the most toys away the fastest.
If you have competitive kids like mine, it works almost every time!
4. Use a Kids To-Do List
The first day I put this daily to-do list for my kids, they were SO excited to put thier check marks in each of their boxes.
They raced around the house trying to do everything at once just so they could check things off.
I couldn’t believe how simple it was yet so effective.
5. Start Young!
My 18 month old gets so proud of herself after “helping mommy” put things away.
If I am doing laundry, she insists on putting the clothes in the washer or dryer and pushing the buttons.
If I am putting groceries away in the pantry, she wants to take them out of the bags and hand them to me.
In my experience, the younger they are, the easier it is to get them in the habit of putting things away.
20 Simple Solutions To Keeping A Clean House With Kids
Let me first remind you that life with kids is inevitably messy, complicated and overwhelming at times.
Your goal should not be to have a picture perfect home at all times.
Instead, a home that runs like a well oiled machine and you aren’t waisting time, energy and mental capacity constantly trying to find things you need.
1. Evaluate Your Expectations
We all have different thresholds of cleanliness.
It is important to communicate your expectations of cleanliness to your family so everyone has a clear understanding of how your home should be kept.
However, make sure these expectations are realistic for the stage of life you are in.
For example, if you are a working mom of three kids and gone 10 hours a day, your expectations may look different than a stay at home mom who is able to devote a little more time to keeping up with her house.
Too high of expectations can really set you up for a lot of unneeded stress!
2. Keep Things In Perspective
Let’s face it, looking at professional organizer picture perfect homes is fun and inspiring.
However, it is most likely not realistic.
As a recovering perfectionist, this is a hard thing for me to grasp at times.
However, it is important to remember that these perfectly photographed homes are not realistic for MOST families.
They basically “do it for the Gram” which there is nothing wrong with but just don’t let it make you feel overwhelmed or discouraged.
Choose progress over perfection and functional over fancy!
2. Everything Has a Home
How often do you hear, “I didn’t know where ‘X’ went so I didn’t put it away”?
I have found the best way to get my family to put their stuff away is to create a “home” for everything.
For example, every toy has a box or basket to go into so it does’t just pile up on the floor.
Things are labeled so everyone knows where to put stuff back so there is no excuse for it being left out.
My kids have their own hampers to put their dirty clothes in and they know what drawers to put their clothes away in.
It is easier for family members to put things away when they have a place to put them instead of just throwing everything in piles.
3. Always Take The Extra Step
How often do you fold laundry only to leave it in piles?
Or maybe the laundry doesn’t even get folded and just piles up in the laundry room.
I grew up hearing the saying, “If you’re going to do something, do it right the first time.”
Sometimes I have to put myself in check because I will fold the laundry but then leave it in the laundry room or just put it on the dresser instead of where it belongs.
It literally takes an extra couple of seconds to put things back in the correct spot.
Doing it right the first time will save you a shocking amount of time and frustration later!
4. Tidy Tubs
I have several “Tidy Tubs” around the house.
If I don’t have time to put something away immediately (which I try not to make a habit of) I put it in my tidy tub and empty it at the end of the week.
But if it gets too full, I make time to empty it immediately.
My girls also have a couple of their own little boxes that they can keep a few of their little odd and end toys that would otherwise be loose all over the house.
These don’t take up much space and it gives them the feeling of ownership.
5. Use a Toy Rotation System
This is one of the best solutions I have found for both keeping the house clean with kids AND keeping my kids from getting bored of toys.
Toys in our house are not a free-for-all.
We have toys that are kept in the playroom for everyday use like their play kitchen toys and baby dolls.
But most of their toys are kept organized in a toy closet.
Before I created a toy closet, I kept them in a place that was out of site, out of mind.
If they want to play with something from the closet, they must put something back.
This prevents the house from being completely overrun by toys and it also helps keep things organized since they need to put one thing back in it’s home before getting something else.
6. Use the “1-in, 1-out” Rule
To keep things from piling up, we use a “one-in, one-out rule”.
Sometimes it is even the “one-in, two-out rule.”
This goes for anything in our home, not just toys or kids stuff.
Simply put, if we bring something new into the house, we declutter at least one old thing.
Not only does this prevent the clutter from piling up, but it also forces us to reconsider if we really need something or not because we know something else will have to go.
7. Create Cleaning Routines
Cleaning routines are a game changer in keeping a house clean with kids!
Trying to thoroughly or deep clean your house with kids is like brushing your teeth while eating oreos.
It’s basically impossible and feels completely overwhelming.
Cleaning routines will help you feel less overwhelmed by how time consuming cleaning can feel.
My cleaning routine consists of designating a different room or task in the house to clean each day of the week, weekly or monthly.
For example, Monday’s are typically the day I scrub the floors.
Because this task is pretty time consuming, I choose Monday’s where I feel the most energized and motivated.
On Tuesdays I typically clean all the bathrooms minus the showers which I do every other Tuesday because it is more time consuming. This only takes about 20-30 minutes.
Breaking up all your cleaning tasks into smaller chunks will help you constantly stay on top of keeping your house clean without feeling overwhelmed.
Here is quick example of my cleaning schedule:
8. Make Purging and Tidying Part of Your Routine
The more stuff you accumulate, the harder it is to keep your house clean and tidy, especially with kids.
As you are tidying up, pay attention to things that have not been used in a while and consider donating them.
For example, if you see toys that your kids have outgrown and haven’t touched in a while, it’s probably time to get rid of them.
Tidying should become second nature.
And it is much easier to keep things tidy when everything has a home! (See #2)
9. One Touch Rule
The “One Touch Rule”simply means you only touch something one time when putting it away.
For example, if I pick something up, I must put it back exactly where it goes and not put it somewhere else where I will have to touch it again to put it away later.
This will help prevent you from relocating your mess instead of removing the mess.
Taking the extra few seconds to do it right the first time will save you triple the amount of time later.
10. Keep “Like” With “Like”
From kids clothes to toys or food in your pantry, learning to keep things categorized with help you find exactly what you need, when you need it.
I have gone back and forth a hundred times on whether to keep my kids toys categorized or not.
My kids are only ages 5, 3 and 18 months and getting them to organize their toys felt impossible.
However, after going back and forth with this, we have decided that keeping like toys together prevents A LOT of meltdowns later when they can’t find what they are looking for.
It also prevents a lot of mess.
The easiest way I have found to keep toys categorized is to have less toys available for them to play with at one time. Hence the toy rotation. (see #5 above)
For the longest time, we would just throw everything together in baskets at the end of the day and call it a night.
Now, we have less stuff out at one time which makes cleaning up a lot faster and easier and it forces us to clean as we go.
Keeping everything labeled also helps them know exactly where things go.
If they can’t read, make picture labels.
11. Have a System For Papers
Paper piles accumulate FAST!
And if you don’t stay on top if it, you will be drowning in paper clutter in a week.
I have file folder boxes for paper memorabilia for the kids which I use for saving any school work, art work in or any other paper work I want to save.
I use a filing system for incoming paperwork, outgoing paperwork and miscellaneous paperwork or bills that might need to be filed.
When we get school schedules or calendars, I immediately transfer the dates to my kitchen wall calendar or phone and then clip the calendar to the front of my file box in case I need to reference it for anything.
We go through the mail every day and put it where it needs to go so it doesn’t get lost.
Once we are done with it, it immediately gets filed or shredded.
Avoiding the “toss and go” habit will save you a lot of stress later.
12. Less is Best
If toy clutter is overwhelming to me, then I can assume it is overwhelming to our kids too.
And more toys doesn’t necessarily equate to happy, more self entertained kids.
I see this because when the playroom is a mess, my kids will find something to play with and take it to another room in the house, probably to get away from the clutter.
With less options, they can practice using their imaginations more, find what they are looking for, and can easily put things back where they belong.
13. Declutter Your Entire House …Ruthlessly!
Block out some time one or two weekends, get your husband to take the kids for a little while and go through your entire house and especially your kids rooms and their toys.
Start with one area at a time and just go for it!
I suggest making three piles, one pile for things you might be able to sell, one pile for things to donate and one pile for trash.
I know how hard it can feel to get rid of baby stuff because it feels sentimental.
However, if it is not being used, it is simply taking up mental AND physical space.
Donating or selling your favorite things to someone who can use them will make you feel better than looking at clutter every single day!
It is also good practice to declutter before birthdays and Holidays to make room for any new toys or clothes they may get.
When I am pushed for time, I set my timer for 10 minutes and pick a room to tidy up as quickly as I can for those 10 minutes.
If I have a little more time, I’ll set my time for another 10 minutes and either move onto another room or continue where I’m at.
My personal goal is to keep my house in such a way that it shouldn’t take longer than 10-20 minutes to tidy up a room.
Fun fact, I do this with my workouts too!
When pressed for time, I force myself to do AT LEAST one round of 10 minutes.
More often than not, I realize I actually have time for two or three rounds of 10 minutes which creates a super effective workout.
15. Clean as You Go
The absolute best way to keep your house clean with kids is to clean as you go.
Letting messes pile up will cost you a lot more time than just putting it away correctly the first time.
Staying on top of the mess is easier than trying to play catch up.
Maintenance and consistency are key!
16. Evolve and Change
Your cleaning routines and systems will constantly be changing to find what works best for you and your family.
Take note either mentally or on paper of what is working and what needs some adjustments.
The upfront work of getting organized can seem impossible but the pay off is well worth it when you have more mental and physical space for things that matter most!
17. Learn to Accept What You Can
It is impossible to have a minimal, simple home with kids.
Which has been a VERY hard thing for me to accept but it is also such a blessing.
However, the mess doesn’t have to leave you in constant stress either.
Finding the right balance for you and your family takes time, practice and consistency.
18. Consistency and Practice
If you haven’t been strict with cleaning routines or systems, you may find some pushback from your family.
However, just like with anything in life, consistency and practice will eventually pay off.
Don’t give up. It like won’t happen overnight or even over the span of a few weeks or months.
But stick with it and don’t let the frustration cause you to give up.
Remember, if you have stuck with me this far, you read this post because you are struggling in some way to get your home and life in order.
The stress you feel from your home is far worse than the stress of taking daily actions to get it to a place you can relax and feel confident.
Final Thoughts on Keeping a House Clean With Kids
Cleaning your house shouldnt feel like a never ending task.
But keeping things tidy does require consistency. I find the number one reason people struggle with finding time for themselves or their health is not having time.
By creating systems in your home, you free up both physical and mental space for things that matter most.
And remember, consistency beats perfection and functional beats fancy!
What do you struggle with most with keeping your house clean with kids?
Brooke is a certified Prenatal and Postnatal Exercise Specialist with a Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology-Exercise Science. She is also a mom of 3 girls with more than 15 years of experience in health and fitness. Brooke’s goal at Struggles of a Fit Mom is to help motivate, educate and inspire other busy mamas who struggle with finding time, energy and motivation to take care of themselves in the chaos of motherhood.