Cleaning House Without Hired Help

We’re going to start 2014 with a theme week on housekeeping.  When Anna suggested that we share how we manage to keep our houses clean without cleaning ladies, I read her email twice, looked around my messy living room, laughed ironically, gulped, and emailed back, “Sure!  Why not!”

My house is not perfectly clean.  In fact, it is not as clean as I’d like it to be.  In fact, when we hosted friends for a cookie decorating party before Christmas, my kitchen counter was still littered with batteries, random ornaments-to-be-fixed, J’s baby book (out to record her 9 month stats after a doctor check-up), and the latest issue of First Things when our guests arrived.  My friend graciously swept them into a grocery bag for me and said not to worry about it.  It was humbling for me and good for her to see that even stay-at-home moms don’t manage to stay on top of counter clutter.  Many of you probably do, but I don’t.  So I’m starting off housekeeping week by telling you that I don’t do this as well as I’d wish!

I wish I could give you a handy cleaning schedule that ensures that every bathroom is thoroughly cleaned and every shelf dusted on a weekly basis.  When I had only one child, I had a schedule like that, and you could have eaten off my floor.  When I had two children, my husband was working at a high-power law firm, and we did have a cleaning lady come every other week for a few months in there.  It was lovely.  But by the time we had our third, my kids were producing more pictures than I could file away in a day, there was no more money for cleaning ladies (though my church friends did hire me one for a shower present when S was born!), and our house started looking more lived-in and less magazine-ready.  Now I clean when I can, assign more tasks to the kids (which means the bathrooms aren’t as spotless as when I did them–and the windows are only clean as far as the four year old can reach), and accept that my house doesn’t get dirty on a weekly schedule.  It’s more of a daily struggle.

With that long preamble, here are some ways that I’ve managed to keep grime at bay, realizing that we have to live in a “clean-enough” house for now…

  • I like the house picked-up every night, but the kids do most of the tidying.  Part of our evening routine is putting all toys and books away.  I supervise, but the kids do the legwork.  I clean up the kitchen daily and run the dishwasher every night so that clutter doesn’t pile up in the sink.
  • I’ve simplified our cleaning supplies.  I use the recipes in Cheryl Mendelson’s Home Comforts to make my own all-purpose cleaner and window cleaner.  I keep Clorox Wipes on hand for emergencies like when someone dumps the potty chair on the floor in the middle of dinner prep hour and I don’t have time to do a full scrub-down of the bathroom.
  • Have company over often.  It forces me to keep the house closer to my ideal if I have it company-ready on a frequent basis.  Hosting a weekly church small group is the best way I’ve found to have a clean house.
  • We have a roomba (which my husband found deeply discounted on woot!).  Now, I don’t think you necessarily need a robot vacuum to keep your floors clean, but it has helped me in two ways: First, we create crumbs and dirt constantly, and a daily run of the roomba helps catch the stuff I miss in my hourly sweep-ups.  Second, our roomba will indiscriminately suck up any little things in its path, so it’s a good incentive for the kids and me to pick up any puzzle pieces, small crayons, lego pieces, or other things that we don’t want lost.

Anna will be sharing her housecleaning strategies on Wednesday.  In the meantime, how do you clean house?  Does a schedule work for you?  Do you use a chore chart?  Any tricks of the trade you want to share with the rest of us?

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5 Responses to Cleaning House Without Hired Help

  1. Lisa Cirricione says:

    I love your honesty Emily! I only have two kiddos and find the same as you, we have a (hopefully) clean enough house! One of my tricks is to set a timer at the end of the day and tell the kids I will be going “shopping” at the end of the time for any toys left out of place & assign chores to them. Also, the kitchen counter clutter as a homeschool mom is here to stay, company or no company and I try not to worry about it if the house isn’t perfect for guests, I never mind when I am a guest, I am just happy to be enjoying their company 😉 Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jackie DH says:

    Wouldn’t it be nice if houses got dirty on a schedule. 🙂 Our house is definitely not as clean as it used to be, and as I write this I realize that I didn’t empty the potty at all this morning. On the plus side, C. had an accident-free morning.

    Anyway, I have found a few things that work well for us.
    1. Norwex products. They seem pricey at first, but they last a long time. I don’t have all of their stuff by any means, but I have the basics (window, counter, and dust cloths) and the girls use them for their jobs on a daily basis. Because they’re used with water, I never have to worry about too many chemicals, spills, something getting in someone’s eyes, etc.
    2. I do use chore charts. This is our third version, and it’s the first one that hasn’t seemed like a ton of work for me. Each of the girls has a morning, afternoon, and evening job (different almost every day) and is responsible to do it independently. They don’t have to mark anything off, but since the chart is laminated I can make a mark if something is not done and it comes out of their allowance at the end of the week. Occasionally they might get away with not doing something and I won’t notice, but most of the time I do. The charts hang on the refrigerator so they’re always accessible. The girls have really liked the fact that they do different things on a daily basis. I try to update/tweak them every six months or so and to add one new job that I want them to learn how to do.
    3. Most Saturday mornings we do family cleaning for an hour and a half or so and the whole house gets (mostly) cleaned. All the floors are vacuumed/mopped/washed and the bathrooms cleaned. It might not work for everyone, but it works for us and because everyone knows the drill there is less grumbling.
    4. I try to keep a list of extra jobs (clean the refrigerator, oven, etc.) that need to be done periodically and date them when I do it. That way I at least have a sense of when something hasn’t been done in a while. I tried a schedule for awhile, but as you note, schedules don’t account for someone spilling OJ in the fridge. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Emily says:

      Having a list with when I last did something sounds much more realistic than a set schedule–it gives accountability with flexibility. Nice. I will have to start one when I get home!

  3. Sarah Fuller says:

    Thanks for being so honest – it sometimes feel like there’s a stigma around mums not being able to keep their houses clean all the time, but we do have lives too!

    Getting the kids to clean up their own messes isn’t just good for keeping clutter out of the kitchen but it’s also a great way to inspire good habits that will – hopefully – last them through their life.

    I’m always alright at cleaning up spills and messes but it’s the less obvious stains I always forget about, like the inside of the oven or the vacuum filter. Having a schedule of those jobs and ticking them off with a date sounds like a good idea!

    Can I ask, what kind of things do you use in your home-made cleaners? I tend to use baking soda, lemon and vinegar a lot, but wouldn’t mind some more suggestions.

    • Emily says:

      I use the recipes in Cheryl Mendelson’s Home Comforts. My all-purpose cleaner is water, ammonia, and liquid laundry detergent, if I remember correctly. My window cleaner is ammonia, rubbing alcohol, and water. She gives the exact proportions in her recipes. I do use straight-up vinegar for scrubbing hard water residue and a lot of stains.

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