Does it feel like your house will never be clean again? I have found that during different stages of my mothering journey, my house is different levels of clean. It’s all about realistic goal-setting. For those wondering what those stages are, or about to enter those stages, here they are.
Stage 1: Newborn stage
Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy.
Cleaning at this stage is about preventing infection, providing clean clothes so the baby doesn’t get a rash from being wet for too long. (Babies wet in so many areas for so many reasons.) Things like puke, poop, and yes, blood, are the main concerns for both you and baby. Having clean dishes is also nice so that mold and rot aren’t present takes priority. Also, getting everyone fed is a major household duty. Recruit as much help as you are comfortable with having around, and say yes to everyone bringing food.
Cleaning concerns that are ignored during this phase: windows, bathrooms, ironing, sweeping, moping, dusting, bed making and general pickup. Changing sheets/laundry/cooking/and other chores are only on an desperately needed basis.
Stage 2: Mobile baby stage
Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy…with new challenges.
So your baby is eating a little less often and you may be getting 3-5 hours of sleep at a time now if you are lucky. Well, once you start to think you are moving out of survival mode, cleaning needs of your house pick up.
Cleaning at this stage is all the above, plus the added sweeping, moping and general pick up things from the floor to the cleaning necessities. Also, depending on when solids are introduced, cleaning baby food off floor, high chair, walls and ceiling (and something else wet to clean off baby) are added to cleaning regimen. This is my favorite stage to own a dog, provided it doesn’t shed or bark during nap time.
Stage 3: Massive toy immigration and learning phase
Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy, and provide an environment for the work of play.
Toys and books are starting to overrun your house. Things are coming into your house from grandparents, aunts and uncles, and your own personal shopping raids as your child is starting to delight in everything around him or her. You have been through a Christmas and a birthday with this child and it is very evident they have stuff now. You start reading your toddler books, and start forming all these ideas of stimulating their learning so they will be the smartest child ever, or maybe even keep them occupied for a precious 5 minutes so you can sip some tea.
Cleaning at this phase will be all of the above plus organization for this massive amount of junk for all this incoming delights. Helpful tips for this stage: keep this stage under control as much as possible. Might I recommend you read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up or Simplicity Parenting during this phase now that you are getting a bit more sleep. (I confess I haven’t actually read Simplicity Parenting but I’ve read about it and perhaps will someday. The main thesis that I gather seems to fit this post: less is more.)
The more intentional you are during this stage will manage your stress level, and the stress level of your baby. This is the stage where you have the brain power to come up with a plan. Just remember: less is more. Less toys means more time playing with your baby. More toys means you will be spending more time cleaning than any human wants to do.
We have a simple rule in our house: the person who cleans gets to decide what stays and what goes. When your child gets old enough to clean their own stuff, they can decide what to keep and what to throw. Until then, that’s the cleaner’s job. Also, unless relatives come over to your house to clean up, they don’t get to decide how many/which toys you keep either. (Although please always be gracious and remember to be thankful!) Bloggers on the internet, and minimalist authors you read don’t get to decide or judge how much you keep either. The person who cleans gets that responsibility, and now is the time to be proactive and take the bull by the horns.
Stage 4: “I help!” stage
Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy, provide an environment for the work of play/learning by allowing chores to be done terribly by your child.
Your child is able to pick up bits of toys, help dry silverware and put them away, and wants to stir cookie dough. This is a very messy stage. If stage 3 hasn’t been dealt with, this will be an increasingly stressful time. Consider paring down even more the toys in the house to a level that is not so overwhelming for you and your child to tackle together. Also, it is entirely possible that during stage 3 or stage 4 you are also going back to stage 1 with a new child in the house. This may happen several times. If possible, get through stage 3 with a gold star before going back to stage 1 again.
This is one of the most emotionally exhausting phase because your child will be so eager to help and so much child training can be accomplished but it will cause you to bite your lip to the point of bleeding sometimes, and your blood pressure will be sky high as they destroy your things with great intentions. But if you make it and do it well, all further stages will be more successful. It might be the messiest stage yet, but the most important. Keep telling yourself, why do this chore in 5 minutes when you could in 20 with a child?
The worst thing you can do at this stage is put your child in front of the television so you can clean, and sending the message loud and clear that cleaning is your job, and your job only, and you don’t think they can do it, in fact you won’t let them do it unless they can be perfect, which they can’t without practice, which you won’t let them do. Each chore you do with your child returns back to you with dividends.
Stage 5: Actual help with cleaning, sort of.
Objective: Keep everyone alive and healthy, provide an environment for the work of play/learning by allowing your child to do chores, sometimes unassisted, with a billion reminders.
This is the stage of chore charts, consequences, rewards, hands and knees, begging and pleading, for-goodness-sake-pick-up-your-socks, with your child. This is a large transition time for the whole family as children start to take on some responsibility, and you get a small glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel and you start to dream that your house will have things like clean toilets and washed windows. This glimmer gives you a passion for clean you haven’t felt in years. But it’s just a glimmer, mind you, because every time you plan to do one of these larger cleaning items you really are just spending the majority of your time motivating your child to carry some of their weight to some capacity. This makes it an emotionally frustrating time because you think you are almost in the place to have a clean house but your kids literally don’t care. They have no idea what their house looks like clean. This is a time to pour vision into your child. Cut some garden flowers, and put them in a vase. Light candles. Focus on making things beautiful, and encourage your child to catch this vision of bringing beauty to everything they encounter.
Start letting them use nicer dishes sometimes, and bring out the table linens. Passing on vision and inspiration during this time of why we clean, and what our house could look like are important.
Stage 6: Always running, rarely home
Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy, provide an environment for the work of play/learning by allowing your child to do chores unassisted, with some reminders, as their schedule is constantly interrupted and their play time dwindles as they are always going places.
Piano lessons, Tae Kwon Do, ballet, or soccer. Your child has stuff to do, thousands of papers that need signing and organization, like a weekly mortgage contract kind of paperwork level. They will forget chores still because they are cut off to do this or that. Just like the stage 3, your house will be reflected by how well you manage and limit the outside the home activity level. This is a good time to teach your child what it is like to live within your means, both in the area of money AND time. This is a good time to go over visual schedules with your child, and have them see that there are so many hours in the day, and chores still do need to be in there. Do they want to give up some activity so they can have an afternoon to just play with Legos? As your child matures, they will begin to wrestle with the fact that many adults still wrestle with: the limitation of time and the need for white space on our calendar. If there is no white space, your house will show it. Both parents and children’s attitudes will show it. This will take family meetings, parent meetings, limitations set, and lots of time devoted to teaching your child and yourselves how to balance.
Stage 7: Always hungry
Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy, provide an environment for the work of play/learning by allowing your child to do chores unassisted, with some reminders, as their schedule is constantly interrupted and their play time dwindles as they are always going places. Also, they will always be hungry.
During this stage, you will find dishes everywhere, the fridge unexpectedly empty, and in addition to the activities of stage 6, you will have lots of cooking time, clean up time, and meal planning/grocery shopping time too. Also, you may need a part time job to pay for all this food. This is a great stage to assign certain meals of the week for your child to cook. Hopefully your child has been doing some cooking and baking up to this point, starting in stage 4, but training them to plan a whole meal every week and grocery shopping trips will be educational and eye opening. And it will take time to teach them. And it will be messy. Clean up from these meals will be nightmare-invoking.
Stage 8: Silence, tears, and starch
Objective: Your children have moved out. I have not actually experienced this phase yet, but from what I hear, the house is spotless all the time and it makes you cry. A lot. Like, even more than the hormonal tears of stage 1, and the weeping and frustration of stage 5. I am also told that during this stage, it is possible for “ironing clothes” to be added back to the routine, if desired.