One of the most difficult parts about being a working mom is trying to keep up with all the household chores. No one wants to spend their weekend cleaning the house and you certainly don’t have the energy to clean at night after a long day of working and mothering. Right?
So what is a working mom to do? What is the secret to keeping your house clean as a busy working mom?
Well, my personal secret is to hire someone to clean your house for you, but I recognize that this is not a feasible option for many people. And there is still the day to day cleaning that must get done. However, if you can hire someone or a service to clean your house it just might be the best investment you ever made. I’ve had a “cleaning lady” for 6 years now and it has saved my marriage and my sanity. Every single penny has been worth it. My “cleaning lady” is actually one of my bestest friends, so yes, it can be a little awkward to have your friend clean your toilets, but still, 1,000% worth it.
Now that I’ve told you my top secret to successfully keeping a clean house while working full-time I want to share some more practical and everyday tips, particularly if you are unable to hire someone else to clean your house. Don’t sweat it. You can still have a clean house as a working mom, even if you have to do all the cleaning yourself.
Add Cleaning Tasks to Your Daily Routines
Define what needs to be done on a daily basis
My housecleaner only comes once every two weeks. But I want my house to be “company ready” all the time. This means that my old habit of “run around like a mad woman the night before the cleaning lady comes” doesn’t really give me the results I’m looking for. Over the past couple of years, I’ve worked really hard to implement habits and routines that have helped me to keep our home “company ready” most of the time (there are always some days that madness just wins).
For me, in order for my home to feel “company ready” the clutter must be picked up, the dishes must be clean (or at least in the dishwasher waiting for a full load), and I’ve gotta keep up with the laundry so everyone has something clean to wear each day.
There might be some dog hair or crumbs on the floor. The kids’ bedrooms are likely littered with toys. And you better believe that someone has dripped toothpaste on the counter that we haven’t gotten around to cleaning up. We fully embrace the “lived in” feeling in our home, but I don’t want to live like slobs.
If I clean the kitchen, do some laundry, and pick up the clutter in the main parts of the house then I can usually look around and declare that the house is “good enough”. I have had to build these tasks into my daily routines to make sure that they get done each day.
How I build cleaning tasks into my daily routines
In the morning while I’m
nagging guiding the kids to get ready for school I try to empty the dishwasher. This literally takes 5 minutes. I also make my bed after getting dressed in the morning. This certainly isn’t required but since I work from home a made bed just makes my heart happy. Don’t ask me to explain it further. I don’t know. And just before I start my work for the day I throw a load of laundry in the washer.
After work, I move the laundry from the washer into the dryer. When we finish dinner I load and start the dishwasher and wipe down the table and counters.
As we’re winding down for the evening I fold the load of laundry that I washed. I always fold laundry in my room and set the kids’ clothes on my bed. At bedtime, we all crawl into my bed for snuggles and stories. The kids know that if they want storytime they have to take their clothes to their rooms and put them away. We also try to go through the house and pick up any clutter, toys, and stray dirty socks before bed as well.
It is also my routine to always sort our laundry on Monday. My kids are learning that if they want their clothes to get cleaned then they must make sure all of their dirty clothes are in their hampers by Sunday night. If your clothes are scattered all over your room I will not take the time to collect them. I only sort and wash what is in the hamper. My goal is to gradually pass all things laundry onto my children, but we’re not there yet. They just help out here and there when I can make them.
Make a list of the types of cleaning activities you need to do on a daily (or weekly) basis and then intentionally create a plan of how you can fold those activities into your daily routines.
Develop (and Teach) Habits to Keep Things Manageable
When you create habits for certain tasks you don’t have to put much thought and effort into getting it done, you just do it because that’s what you do. I have a habit of running at least a mile every single day. It’s not because I love running so much that I can’t live a day without it. The truth is that I would prefer to go a lot of days without running, but I know that it is good for me when I do go for a run (mentally and physically), so I’ve made it a habit and now without question, you’ll find me outside running every single day.
In the same vein, I don’t love putting dishes in the dishwasher. I don’t love getting up and putting things away as soon as I’m done using them. I’d rather be lazy and “get to it later”. We all know that later doesn’t really come, things pile up, and then we have chaos and messes all over the place.
In short, don’t build habits because they are fun and enjoyable. Build habits because you enjoy and desire the long-term results. Also, don’t be the only person living in your home who has good habits. This is the hardest part for me. It’s so much easier for me to do all of the things instead of nagging and pleading with my family. But I hope to raise responsible, motivated, and clean children, so I have to teach, not just do.
Here are a few habits you might consider developing in yourself and your children (including your husband):
If you get something out, put it away as soon as you are done with it.
So help me God, if I can get the other humans in my home to learn this habit I will live in ecstasy and joy for the rest of my days. It is so easy to finish using something and set it down, telling yourself that you’ll put it away when you get up or in a little bit. Instead, develop the habit to put things in their place as soon as you are finished with them.
If it takes two minutes or less do it now.
This is such a helpful habit to create. If you see something that needs to be done it is so easy to procrastinate and put it off. However, there are so many little things that can be taken care of in the moment that will save you so much more time than if you delayed and all of those little things piled up. This can be sorting and tossing the mail as soon as you bring it in, wiping down the bathroom before you leave it, carrying all the random “stray items” up (or down) the stairs, and more.
I’m not a huge fan of multi-tasking and since I work from home I can easily be distracted by things that I feel like need to be done right now before I can focus on something else. That is why it’s important to follow the two minutes or less part of this habit. I can’t fold a load of laundry in two minutes, so that can wait. I can put my lunch dishes in the dishwasher in less than two minutes but I can’t empty the whole dishwasher that fast. I can pick up the scraps I dropped on the floor in a few seconds but I can’t sweep the entire floor very quickly. If you see something that needs to be done, consider how much time it takes. If you’ve got the time, do it now.
Put dishes directly in the dishwasher.
I know, this is common sense, right? I’m only listing this because it is not common sense to the three other people that live in my house. So just in case I have a reader for whom this isn’t common sense, now you know. If your dishwasher is empty or has dirty dishes in it and room for more, then you should put the dishes in the dishwasher instead of putting them in the sink or on the counter. Amazing! Be sure to teach this to the other humans in your home. They probably don’t know this.
If you see something that needs to be done, take responsibility.
This is a new habit I’m working to instill in the lives of the other humans in my home.
Here is the concept behind this habit. As a family unit, you are a team. There is not one person responsible for everything. And there is no individual sole responsibility on a team. The quarterback might be a really important player on the team, but if the other ten guys don’t show up then there is no team and there will be no game. Additionally, if the quarterback gets hurt you can still have a game if someone else on the team takes the responsibility to back up the quarterback.
In a family, everyone shows up, everyone works hard, and everyone takes responsibility for the good of the family as a whole. This means that if daddy leaves his dirty socks on the floor someone else can pick them up and put them in the hamper for him. And if mommy is working late and can’t empty the dishwasher, the kids can work together and get it done. If your sister left her Barbies out where you want to drive your cars you can take her Barbies to her room for her. And if your brother dripped toothpaste all over the counter you can wipe it up so you won’t get it on your sleeves.
No whining, no complaining, no pointing fingers, no counting out favors. If everyone helps everyone what a wonderful world that could be. Am I right?
Schedule the Deep Cleaning
If you set up systems and routines to regularly keep your house picked up and in order, and everyone works together to develop habits to clean up all the little messes along the way, then all you have left is the deep cleaning. Here are some tips on that.
Lower your expectations
As I mentioned, my cleaning lady only comes once every two weeks. This means that my floors only get vacuumed, my furniture only gets dusted, and my bathrooms only get scrubbed down twice a month. Sure I might swish some cleaner in the toilet a little more often and if we spill or break something I will break out the vacuum to clean it up. But most of the time the “actual cleaning” only happens every two weeks. And we all survive just fine. We do not live in filth and squalor. I know some people that only do these types of cleaning tasks once a month. So if you’re stressing out about how to find the time to vacuum and mop all the floors in your home every few days, take it down a notch. It really isn’t necessary.
Figure out a schedule that works for your situation
We go through many seasons in life, so what works for me now may not work for you. What worked for you 6 months ago might not work anymore. You’ll probably have to test and experiment and regularly change things up in order to create a schedule for cleaning your house that works for your unique family, circumstances, and season of life.
However, it’s important to have some kind of plan and schedule. When you have a plan you can actually get things done. Without a plan, you are just hoping things magically happen, and magic isn’t real.
Maybe your weeknights are really full and exhausting so you decide to schedule all of your cleaning tasks for Saturday mornings (this is what I remember worked for our family when I was a kid). Or perhaps your weekends are full of your kids’ extracurricular activities so there is no way you’ll have time to clean on the weekends. Or if you’re like me, even if you have the time, you most certainly do not want to spend your relaxing weekend scrubbing floors.
Take some time to look over your weekly schedule and commitments to figure out what times you could fit cleaning into your schedule. You can choose to do it all at once in a few hours or you can do a little bit each day and spread it out across the week. Before I had a house cleaner this was my preference. I’d rather spend 30 minutes a day on cleaning a little bit then waste half of my Saturday trying to do it all.
Once you’ve figured out what works best for your schedule and your preferences then I encourage you to actually block out time on your calendar for cleaning. Again, you don’t have to deep clean your whole house every week so don’t think you need to dedicate hours and hours of time to this. But you do need to make sure that your plan is realistic, so check your schedule and be sure that there is actually space for cleaning when you actually plan to clean.
Many hands make light work
Another thing to keep in mind is that just because you are “mom” does not mean that you are “maid”. If you are the only one doing all the cleaning then you probably want to look at changing that (unless of course, the only other residents of your home are infants or animals).
When you block out cleaning time on your schedule try to find a time when everyone is home. If it’s just a small time each weeknight and some people aren’t home every night, that’s fine. Everyone can help on the nights they are home. Make sure your family understands when it’s time to clean so that everyone is on board ahead of time.
Take the time to teach your children how to clean. It won’t be perfect. It will take longer to teach them than it does to do it yourself, but your goal is not to raise helpless children. Your goal is to raise responsible and functioning adults. So give them a chance to develop their responsibility and capabilities. You’ll thank yourself later when you’ve worked yourself out of a job and your kids are able to do all the things that you are currently doing for them.
Where to Start in Keeping Your House Clean as a Working Mom
I can’t give you the exact recipe and steps for your particular house and your unique family and your specific schedule. However, when we create systems and habits and plans then things become a whole lot easier.
A few weeks ago I was looking through my bullet journals from just a little over a year ago. I found it interesting to see how desperate I was at that time to figure out how to keep up with the kitchen and the laundry and the clutter. This was about the time that I started putting these things on my daily to do list. As ridiculous as it sounds, I started keeping track of the days I went to bed with a clean kitchen. I wanted so badly to wake up to a clean kitchen in the morning but I was always behind, always busy, and constantly too exhausted to catch up. This went on for so long.
But when I started keeping track and intentionally adding just those three basic tasks to my to do list I slowly started chipping away at the mess. And I gradually developed the daily habits to get those three things done. When I started it took forever to get my kitchen clean and I felt like I needed an hour a day just to keep up with all the clutter that gathered around my house each day. But now, things are very different.
I wake up to a clean (or almost clean) kitchen nearly every day. Our laundry regularly gets done and put away each week. And picking up the clutter that gathers around the house typically takes five minutes or less. When its time for the cleaning lady to come I’m rarely stressed. The hardest part is getting my kids to clean up their own rooms since I only make them do it right before she comes.
So my encouragement to you is to just start by making the commitment to try. Create a plan, work out some systems and routines, and work toward developing the habits that can get you there. It won’t happen overnight. You’ll have good days and bad days. Even when you think you’ve got it figured out you’ll sometimes fall behind. Don’t stress at these times. Just keep moving forward. Pay attention to your successes and find your motivation to keep going from the progress you are making.
And then maybe you too will look back a year from now and be amazed at how far you’ve come.