Let’s be honest here—keeping a tidy home is not easy when you’re a parent. It is possible, but somewhat far-fetched. If you’re like me, you need to know how to keep your house clean and tidy, so here are some humorous and sarcastic and realistic (and actually helpful, because I won’t leave you hanging) tidy home tips for parents.
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I consider myself a very organized person. Sure, there are some areas that are a bit of a mess, but even those areas are organized.
Recently, we watched “Tidying Up” on Netflix. Watching it, I realized that I already do most of what Marie Kondo teaches. My family, on the other hand, does not have the same personality as me when it comes to organization. I am the only one who really knows where anything is, so when they help clean up, things get mixed up and out of place.
This is just reality for most of us.
How to Keep Your House Clean and Tidy — Realistic Tidy Home Tips for Parents
Admit it. We all want a tidy home, but we all have these questions of how realistic it actually is to keep things tidy when you have…kids. Here are some of the most logical ways I could think of to keep a tidy home when you’re a parent:
(Don’t worry, this is a humor piece—read to the end for some real tips!)
Live Alone: No Other People, No Pets…Alone
One of the biggest roadblocks to a tidy home is the people and pets living in it.
Just imagine how much cleaner your house would be without all the extra laundry, toys, dishes, hair, beds, fingerprints, paperwork…everything would have a place and no one else can move it, hide it, add to it….
I can have the whole house clean and tidy for about 5 minutes, and then someone comes home. And, fellow parents, let’s not forget to mention how, when you can’t clean with the house empty, you can manage to tidy one room while the kids untidy another room. It never fails!
Thinking of getting the kids involved in cleaning? Good luck! Mine said they want nothing to do with it. I probably should have trained them from birth, but I didn’t.
If you really want a tidy house that looks as if no kids live in it, live alone! Then you only have to worry about you, your goals, your things, your schedule.
If you decide not to live alone, get your own small apartment to “escape” to when you need tidy surroundings; or you just allow your pets and children to play with things that are breakable so you can purge more easily….
Never Stay At Home—This is a Museum, Not a Place to Live
If you aren’t home, you can’t mess things up. It’s the most logical solution to keeping a tidy home. Obviously.
Find anything and everything to do outside of the home, and only come home once in a while to look around and admire the tidiness, then leave again.
Treat your house like a museum, not a place to live in. If you want a place to live, try the next tip:
Live in a Hotel
Just live in a hotel. You’ll have cleaning services available. They’ll keep it vacuumed, will make your bed, might make your breakfast, wash your sheets, and some will even fold your clothes and keep things neat and tidy.
Eat Out, Always
Dishes are one of the biggest things to pile up and make the house messy. For me, if I’ve managed to keep the whole house clean and someone leaves a dirty cup in the wrong place, everything falls back to chaos.
No dishes = sanity and clean house.
So go eat out. Let someone else do the cooking and the consequential cleaning.
If you do need to eat at home, make sure it’s very simple…like pizza takeout…so you can just use a disposable paper plate at most and avoid all the dirty pans, dirty plates, and dirty utensils.
Get a Maid
Even if you manage to stay at home alone, rarely come home, and only have simple snacks and things, you still need to take out the trash. Hire a live-in maid (sort of like a house nanny)!
Your maid can take care of anything else that you don’t want to, so nothing stays out of place. Ever.
Quit Your Job in Retail
Working in retail can be way too tempting. You can see all the new, exciting items come in. You see all the items that go on clearance or on sale. Trust me. I worked retail, and that is what kick-started my couponing and “stocking up.” If you don’t work in retail, you don’t need to know what items are new or what is on sale, so you won’t be tempted!
Instead, get a job that has nothing to do with products and just makes you so completely exhausted that you go to sleep as soon as you get home. No dinner + no reading books + no enjoying your home + just sleep = no big messes and a tidier house!
Burn All The Mail
Junk mail…bills…letters…just burn it all. Paperwork piles up so quickly; it is one of our very biggest hurdles to keeping our home tidy, and it never seems to cease. We are constantly getting more in the mail. I just want it gone! You could go ahead and shred it, but burning it will leave you only with ashes, not more paper scraps. (In case you still haven’t realized that I’m still joking, this is a joke…don’t do this.)
Don’t Let Family Buy Gifts
If your family tries to give you any physical gifts like toys or books or groceries or kitchen appliances or cash…just give it back. You don’t need all that in your house. You’re already eating out and not cooking at home, you aren’t even living at home so you don’t need toys, and checks work just as well as cash.
Don’t Wear Things More Than Once
Laundry piling up? No time for that. Just wear each outfit once, wash it, then donate it and buy another outfit for the next day!
You’ll be helping others by giving them nice clothing, and you won’t have to fold or store clothes! Imagine how neat and clean your dresser drawers and closet will be!
Replace Your Kids’ Toys
Toys are the worst. The kids just throw them everywhere and make big messes. They break things and forget about half of the toys. The toys cause dissension in the house. Get rid of them!
Replace all of the toys with sticks from outside, rocks, disposable spoons, and other items you don’t have to store in your home.
Have a Hobby? You Don’t Need It!
All of our hobbies in this house have caused us a lot of clutter. We have puzzles galore, art supplies everywhere, lots of tools…if you just get rid of the hobby, you can get rid of the things that go with the hobby and reduce all your clutter!
Giant Storage Ottomans Are Amazing—Get One…For Each Room
Still have lots of things? No worries! I have just the solution for you—a catch-all for anything you have left:
Buy a giant storage ottoman or hope chest for each and every room of the house.
Now you can just throw whatever is around the room into the giant storage bin and you won’t have to look at it anymore! Bedroom? Throw your blankets into it. Kitchen? Use it for your paper plates. Bathroom? Use it for all the extra toilet paper. Living Room? Use it for more blankets (because we can’t get rid of blankets…they keep us warm).
Turn it into a game with the kids. Tell them the Ottoman Monster is hungry and they need to feed it anything and everything they find on the floor. Literally, just throw everything into the giant bins. #Genius.
But in all seriousness…here are some real, practical tips for keeping your home tidy as a parent:
Of course, that was all a ruse. I love my family and wouldn’t want to spend a day without them. I love my home. It looks lived in…because it is lived in. I love my life and my things and my personality and hobbies and all that we have been blessed with.
Is the house getting messy an issue for us? Oh yeah. It’s nearly impossible to keep a house tidy when you have kids. But it is possible to keep the house decent.
Watching “Tidying Up,” you will even hear Marie say her house gets messy sometimes. It’s just life! And you can’t have joy in tidying if things never get a bit messy.
Over the years, and having helped people tidy and organize their homes in the past, I’ve learned some things that really can help to at least sort of keep up with it all.
Purge Once a Week or Once a Month
You’ll always get more paperwork. Your kids will come home with crafts. You’ll have to go to the grocery store. You’ll end up with gifts. It’s just life.
Things can pile up, so planning regular purging is important. You can do this by emptying out a whole room (if you are doing a deep-clean and haven’t in ages) or just by sorting through small areas at a time (like under the kitchen sink or in the bathroom closet).
As you purge, make piles: keep, toss, donate/sell. Sometimes I will even sub-divide the “keep” pile into things I need and things I want and things I am maybe not so attached to and need to think about more.
If you go through your things regularly, you’ll know better what you already have so you don’t buy things multiple times and it will help you determine which items you really never use. This is especially useful when you regularly go through food items and medication.
Everything Needs a Place
Not only does everything need a place, but everything needs its own place. Junk drawers may come in handy, but they can also cause more chaos in the rest of the house. The more items you have that don’t have a place and don’t really fit anywhere, the bigger issue you will have keeping things tidy. After all, if something doesn’t have a set place, you won’t know where it goes back and it’ll get put in another temporary or messy location and start piling up again.
This place for each item should also be logical. Art supplies probably don’t belong in the bathroom closet.
Think of a kitchen, for instance. Plates and cups and things you use more should be more accessible. Fancy or seasonal dishes should fill the higher cabinets.
I like to keep my pots and pans neatly laid out (as much as possible) in the lower cabinets. I don’t necessarily mind if my kids get those out, so I don’t mind having them lower down. I also have my larger items that I don’t use often lower down, because I don’t always like to bend over for them (and, logically, they won’t fit in the cabinets above because those cabinets aren’t as deep).
All of the plastics are in the same cabinets. That means all of my plastic food storage bins are stacked neatly in the same cabinet as the kids’ plates and cups. They are accessible enough that the kids can get their own dishes, but high enough that they won’t just dump it out all the time.
Knives are something I definitely wanted out of my kids’ reach. My boys are crafty and I’ve caught them using a step stool on top of a 3-step ladder to reach top shelves, but having the knives up high still helps prevent them from getting into it. I keep my knife block up high on a shelf, then I have a plastic storage container even higher than that with the sharper knives that don’t fit in the block.
Cups typically should be somewhere near your water source. Mugs should be somewhere near your coffee maker. Plates should be in the easiest place to reach. Hot pads should be in a small drawer near the oven. And pots and pans should be somewhere near the sink and the oven.
Utilize Small Baskets, Boxes, and Shelves
One thing I love to do that is so very helpful to keeping things tidy and making sure everything has a place is to use small baskets, boxes, and shelves. When you throw a bunch of little items into a large drawer or cabinet, everything will move around, pile up, become hard to look through. When you organize the space into smaller areas so everything stays where it belongs and doesn’t mix together, or to utilize as much space as possible, things will stay so much neater.
Use shallow baskets in kitchen drawers, bathroom drawers, desk drawers, and even your nightstand drawers. Use baskets in closets and cabinets. Use bins under the bed if needed. Use locker or cabinet shelf organizers in cabinets or closets with tall drawers, so you can utilize as much of the space as possible.
Since I like to bake and cook a lot, I like having my measuring cups and small tools (like vegetable peelers) easily accessible. I keep them in an organizer with pull-out drawers in one of my cabinets, and it makes accessing them so easy.
In my pantry, I use baskets for smaller items, a hanging shoe organizer for the kids’ snack foods and plastic bags and food storage bags and straws, and I even have a small bookshelf in there where I have items sorted where the kids can access them. The bottom drawer of the bookshelf is kid-friendly lunch supplies like peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, and Nutella; the middle is for breakfast items like oatmeal, cereal, and pancake mix; and the top is for snack items like microwave popcorn, boxes of crackers, and juice boxes). On the top of the little bookshelf, I have another organizer that has two shelves, and that is where I keep all of my spices and things. (Actually, I have spices in more places too…the pantry is one area that tends to overflow because I am big on cooking and baking and creating unique foods, but shh…that’s where the realistic-issues-meet-tidy hacks comes in and I do the best I can with what I have and won’t get rid of.)
Place Items So You Can See Them
If you can’t see everything you have, you probably have too much and surely don’t use every item you own. Sometimes you will have items for years and not even know it. I know I do, especially with kids. However, as much as possible, store items so you can see everything.
That means you need to purge, then utilize those smaller boxes and shelves to allow you to keep everything visible. I have a lot of things, but, whenever possible, I try to place things in single rows rather than fill up a cabinet or closet all the way to the back. Sometimes I have to fill it, and I’ll use shelves and bins to keep things visible, but I really try not to have more than one row of items, so I can see everything and take it in and out with ease.
Store Seasonal Items Away
Sometimes, finding a space for all your seasonal items is challenging, but it is important. Keep seasonal items, like decorations and clothing, stored away when they are out of season.
With only seasonally-appropriate clothing (and one or two items for “crazy weather” days) in your closet, you’ll have less to sift through and things will stay tidier. You’ll also have more room in your closets if you have boxes of decor stored away in a basement or attic or shed.
Digitally-scanning paperwork that is important, but that you don’t need to store the originals of, can be very helpful. We have both a ScanSnap and a Neatdesk for this purpose (though we have not tried out the Neatdesk yet). We try to remember to do this for business receipts, medical paperwork copies from the doctor, etc. You can then shred the items you don’t need anymore.
Note: do not do this for paperwork that cannot be scanned (like your will) or that you need the original copy for (like your birth certificate). That would be baaaaaad. Just don’t do it, okay?
Label Things and Get the Family On Board
One of our biggest issues in our home is that I am the only one who ever really knows where anything is (even if my 5-year-old is the one who hid it). This causes family members to place things back where they don’t belong or just leave things out because they can’t find the home. It turns into a big mess.
The whole family should know where items go. If you can, label some items in your house. Make sure everything has a clear and logical place and that you can see each item so it is easy to find and your drawers don’t get emptied by little hands searching for bandages.
Tidy the house together as much as you can. When you are finished, do a final walk-through with everyone. You can even schedule monthly “exercises” to make sure everyone is aware of where things go. I’m talking set up a full fire-escape-plan-style diagram, blueprints, and routine that everyone can familiarize themselves with and learn to do quickly. This will help so much for clean-up time if you can manage it. This is my personal goal…once we get some of these boxes of “sell it” items out of our house….
Lock Up Certain Items
There are certain items that my boys get into a lot…certain items with tiny pieces…and dump all over, making the house a complete mess. These are items like puzzles and board games and math manipulatives we use for homeschool. To avoid them getting into these things and dumping them out, we installed locks on some of the cabinets and doors, so they need to ask for the key to access them.
Do More, Buy Less
One of our biggest issues is the massive amount of “things” everywhere, either that I bought or that our loads of family has purchased. I’ve been trying to encourage family to buy fewer things for the kids and, instead, give more experiences. This past Christmas, my boys received a museum membership and we have been having so much fun with that (just in time for Star Wars Science Day!). By far, it was one of my favorite gifts, because it was something more than extra plastic toys and dollar store items that we don’t have room for.
Another issue that is big for me is “retail therapy.” I am one of those who does not like to stay sitting in the house all the time. We will end up going out to a store “just to look around” (*clears throat*…Target) and come back with bags of items that, while they were a great deal, were really not things we needed.
Sometimes retail therapy can be helpful, and sometimes you really can find great deals on things you need, but you are much safer doing less expensive and less tempting things if you need to get out of the house. You can go to the museum, go for a walk or on a hike, head to the park, go volunteer somewhere, but don’t automatically head to the store “just to look.” It’s dangerous.
Rent Items When You Can
While this isn’t something that I personally do usually…because I’m a germaphobe…you can often rent items for your home instead of buying them and storing them forever. Rent books from the library instead of buying them and storing them at home. Rent toys and board games that you can switch out regularly instead of buying every type of toy all at once. Some online stores allow you to rent clothing. You can even sometimes rent household items like small appliances, tables and chairs (like when you are expecting guests and need a folding table and extra chairs), dishes, curtains, and other furniture. Ask around in your local area for various item libraries.
What are some of your favorite tried-and-true, family-friendly tidy house tips? Did you try any of these? Have they helped you? Are there any other “funny” suggestions you have for keeping your house tidy as a parent? Tell us in the comments!