How to Keep a Tidy Home With Untidy Kids (and spouse)

I’ve been hearing the same phrase a lot from my friends with kids and significant others lately: “I’m so disgusted with my house. My family creates so much crap and clutter and it makes me crazy!”

Sound familiar?

Especially if you’re an organized person yourself, and even if you’re not, the constant battle to keep up with stuff that’s never put back in its place is enough to drive you over the edge. Or at least to a cocktail with your single friends. Ahem, I’m waiting by the phone.

Still, with a few essential systems, some diligence, and the right mindset, it really is possible to have a relatively uncluttered home and even more importantly, serenity.

Now, I know that advice coming from a single gal who has the luxury of not having to clean up behind anyone but herself may seem unhelpful at best, and condescending at worst. But I write this from a place of empathy, hope and practice, because I know first-hand how changing our state-of-mind and simplifying our daily habits and systems can transform how we feel and perform.

And even more than an uncluttered home, what you can achieve, even with the messiest of families, is a serene state of being.  

How to Keep a Tidy Home

Here’s how to keep your home tidy and serene:

1. Acknowledge that your life right now with kids is complicated and messy and that your space will reflect that to some degree.

That’s ok. It’s the season that you’re in right now, and down the road you’ll be able to have the minimal kitchen with bare counters that you dream of. Be grateful for right now. You may end up missing all of that commotion someday.

2. Keep only what’s essential.

Identify, with your whole family, the things that bring them joy or are truly useful and used often. Teach the kids that those toys, games, art supplies, books, gear or clothes that they don’t much use or care about can go to someone else who does, and getting rid of them will make more space for enjoying the things that they keep. Then purge, purge and purge some more. If you’ve not done this in a while and it’s a big task, break it into categories. Perhaps one kid at a time, or all books one day, clothes the next, etc. Then take the kids with you to the donation center or charitable organization so that they can feel good about helping others and less stressed about giving their things up.

3. Create designated spaces for everything you keep.

Get each family member to help in identifying where they’d like to house their things, so that the system works for them and they know that they have a responsibility to keep using it.

  • Get creative by employing bins in their favourite colours in their rooms – and keep like with like. For example, all Lego together, all art supplies, all stuffed animals, all hair accessories, etc.  Open bins and baskets contain everything are are easy to toss stuff into, and labels on the front will help keep everything separated longer.
  • Hang a hook plus a cubby or crate or basket at the entryway for coats, boots and bags for each person, and establish the rule that outdoor wear stays at the door and is hung up and put into their spot.
  • Wrap shoe or cereal boxes in pretty paper or have the kids paint them, then tuck them into a freestanding dresser or even onto open shelving near the entry. Label them as needed for the stuff that gets dropped on the way in, or that’s needed quickly on the way out. Designate these boxes as the one spot in the house to keep all of the important things like school papers, party invitations, lunch money, keys, takeout menus, tools and other needed ‘junk’ like batteries, phone chargers, etc.
  • Give each person a drawer in the bathroom, or again, employ the shoebox trick to designate a part of a drawer to each person. Have them keep all their individual grooming products there and not on the counter.
  • Have a dirty laundry hamper or bag in each bedroom and the main bathrooms. Get kids (and adults!) in the habit of always putting their clothes away when they take them off. Either hang them back up or put them in the hamper. No leniency here.

4. Allow them to make a mess, but teach them to clean up after.

Once kids hit a certain age, they’re capable of cleaning up after themselves. So allow them to have fun and make a mess doing so, but instill in them the habit of cleaning up immediately after they’re done.

5. Clean as you go.

This is the trick to a tidy home whether you have kids or not. Taking one minute to clean up after breakfast is way easier than a full kitchen clean up that takes an hour before bed.

6. And also do a quick tidy before bed.

Take a scan for the inevitable lost homework, remote control and favourite sweater and put them into their places before you hit your pillow. Turn the dishwasher on and wipe down the cupboards. It will make the morning so much more pleasant.

7. Set weekend chores.

As a family, take 30 minutes every weekend to deep clean. That means tidying, dusting and vacuuming everyone’s individual rooms, and then working together each with a designated chore in the main areas of the home. Make it fun by letting a different person choose the music to work by or the activity to do after the work is done. Splitting up the tasks will simultaneously increase family together time and decrease cleaning time.

8. Zen out.

We both know that even with all of these systems set up, there will be chaos from time to time. When that happens and you feel the agitation level rising, shift your perspective. See the tidying time as a chance for you to practice deep breathing. Have a positive mantra that you say to yourself while tidying that boosts your self-confidence and spirit. Get a squat and lunge in with every item you pick up. Throw on your headphones and listen to that podcast or audiobook that you never have time for. Accept and enjoy this unexpected diversion from your day and treat it as time for yourself to be productive and/or decompress, instead of get worked up.

So, want to have a more serene week next week?  Follow the steps, and print this FREE Family Chore Chart. The chart (which also includes guidelines for respecting the home and each other) will help you get your whole family on board. You can fill this out seasonally so that everyone has the same chore to do every weekend, or change it up weekly if you want to spread the jobs around.