Battling Clutter, With Kids

Sometimes a mom with a bunch of little kids can get really discouraged trying to keep up with the endless clutter.  Here are a few ideas that can help you win the war, at least a little more often.

1.  Spend 15 minutes house-cleaning at least twice a day.

Set the timer, pick a room, turn on some cheerful music and involve your kids.  A 2 year old can pick up toys, or wash baseboards with a damp cloth.  A 5 year old can wipe the worst spots on the kitchen floor with a damp rag, or run random items to their appropriate bedrooms.  An 8 year old can wash the sliding glass door or vacuum the living room.  If everyone works together, a lot can get done fairly quickly, which is a very energizing thing.

2.  Do the 27-thing fling at least once a week.

Go into a room with a trash bag and find 27 things to throw away.  Now and then have your kids find 27 things to throw away or give away from their own rooms too.  The fewer unneeded items you have around your home, the easier it will be to keep it clean.  (By the way, I got side-tracked from my 40-bag challenge somewhere around bag 22.   I plan to resume that challenge this week.)

3.  Make cleaning easier for kids than messing.

Do this by handing out consequences when kids leave items out.  If kids know they’ll have to wash a window every time they leave their shoes in the living room, they’re a lot more likely to make the effort to get their things put away.  Other moms put misplaced things in ‘jail’ and have kids do a chore to earn them back.

4. Pick your top cleaning priorities and put your biggest effort there, where it really counts most to you.

Some people love a clean sink, others a spotless kitchen floor.  Others want their bed to be made every morning.  My top three priorities are a straightened living room, a reasonably clean kitchen, and 3 loads of laundry every day.  If those areas are addressed every day, we’re golden.  If you have a spouse who prizes an orderly home, include those priorities too.  That way you can make sure that your home feels welcoming to both of you, even on days when time is limited.

What about you?  What do you do to quickly return order in your home when chaos is threatening to take over?



  1. Evidently I do nothing, as chaos is currently visiting! But I love your ideas. I have tried several different things, but a couple of your ideas are new to me. Wish me luck!

  2. We try to do quick pick-ups before meals. The hungry tummy seems to be fabulous incentive to hurry up and stay on task! I will often do this with my littles before “snack time”. They’ll want to know if it’s time for snack and I will say, “Yes!, just as soon as you do such-and-such”. Works fabulous for our crew!

    Also, LIMITING what you bring into your home and keep. More “things”, make for more “work”. When we lived in tiny apartments with 3 littles and hubby in Bible college we had this policy: Each child had a very small bin on a shelf and their “trinkets” could go in there, but once it was full they had to sift through and rid of some to make room for ‘new’ trinket. It was so helpful for each young children to understand.

  3. Thanks for the great ideas. This is an area I struggle with. We are moving next week and I am looking forward to trying to implement some of your ideas in our new home.

  4. I use what I call the “Everyday Cleaning Concept.” Basically, you focus on one or two specific rooms each day of the week for dusting, vacuuming, and de-cluttering. Then you can add “Special Challenges” for each room (washing baseboards, sanitizing toys, or cleaning under beds) to ensure that you keep up on the often missed areas of a room.

    We also have “pick-up time” every evening after dinner in which our children help us pick up every room in the house. No one goes to bed until the house is tidy. It is great incentive to keep up on it throughout the day so there is less to do in the evening. Our standard pick-up time lasts about fifteen minutes since everyone is very good at cleaning up after themselves throughout the day.

  5. Katherine says:

    I do try to deal with things right away, I go through the mail as soon as I get it out of the mailbox and put the bills in my bill folder and get rid of the junk mail. I try to make it fun and put on some music and have the kids each pick up with me and we also if watching a show clean up during commercials, we see who can put up the most stuff. I get alot of good clutter fighting ideas on Hannah Keeley’s website, she has challenges (this week it is craft supplies, last week it was getting recipes organized), it is a really helpful inspiring site I think you all would enjoy.

  6. By not bringing anything into the house to begin with, find we have less to pick up and go through during our days. Also I have limited the kids’ clothes (7 shirts, 3 pants, two dress outfits each, and one set of paint clothes), shoes (3 pairs each), and stuff (the same size bin) from the time they were born to when they move out of the house because these items were once a huge problem–hasn’t been an issue for years.
    Know a family that when kids leave clothes, toys, etc. laying around after they go to bed; parents go through house and put items in a clothes basket that lives in the parent’s closet. Once a week they bring it out and the kids (wearing a blindfold) are allowed to pick an item out and if not theirs they can keep for themselves or put back in the basket. Father said Christmas is interesting with kids getting a much-loved item that another sibling picked and kept until they could ‘legally’ give it back to them. With birthday and Christmas the only two days a year they can ‘legally’ give the item to the sibling who left it laying around.
    My one room that HAS to be clean is the bathroom. I hate an unkept bathroom and everyone knows that they use the disinfectant wipes (kept on corner shelf in bathroom) to wipe down the toilet when done, no matter what. I wash down the bathroom every evening sometime when I get home from work and before bed.
    I also use disinfectent wipes to wipe down the kitchen counters, sink handles and door knobs on bathroom before bed. I am convinced I have kept illnesses at bay by doing this faithfully for years.

  7. Priorities – make bed, 2 loads laundry each day, dishes and pick up playroom. The kids help a LOT – 9yo does dishes, 4yo picks up playroom, 2yo is the “runner” for misplaced toys/trash/etc., teenager helps w/big chores/cleaning.

  8. The kids toys and rooms are all organized in a way that they (even though they are only 4,3, and 18mo) can tidy themselves. If it can’t be easily picked up, it doesn’t stay. Everything has to be tidied before naps and before bed. The kitchen is arranged so that they can help put dishes away. The oldest even folds and puts away her own laundry. I only fold nice clothes. Play clothes, jammies and bed sheets just get stuffed into their own drawer. Things stay fairly organized and tidy there. Now if only my own room were so easy to tidy…

  9. Priorities — clean kitchen (no dirty dishes, counters cleared), beds made each morning & clothes put away, 1st floor reasonably picked up. I’ve made huge strides in organizing this year so everything has a place and that helps a lot in the picking up & putting away chores. I still need to train my kids to clean bathrooms……I guess I should start by being a good example myself…..

  10. Jennifer says:

    I like the idea of the three main things each day, and including something that’s important to your spouse – I must have that discussion with my husband, and he’s always saying things like “things are so messy” but he’s never able to articulate what it is he actually means.

    When my daughter recently started Pre-Primary (we’re in Australia, this is the equivalent to Kindergarten) I also started a new routine at nighttime. She and her 3-year-old brother don’t bathe together anymore (they were always fighting in the bath, which I found too dangerous) so now when one bathes, the other one tidies their room, then they switch. We have a toy box in both of their rooms, so its really just a matter of throwing everything into the toy box and putting books back on the shelves. They are also responsible for putting that day’s laundry away in the right spot. Its working a charm and they are so used to this routine, that they now just do it.

  11. I like the idea of 15 minutes of cleaning (with music) twice a day. I’ve been trying to do 15 minutes in the morning (no music), but it’s clearly not enough. We also assign chores as consequences if the kids don’t listen. So, if I have to come in their rooms three times to ask them to put all their books in the bookshelves, for instance, then they owe me another small chore to make up for the time I had to waste asking them to do something three times instead of once.

  12. I keep a box for yard sale or thrift store at all times. If I find myself repeatedly picking up a certain item it quietly goes inthe box while I wait to see if anyone notices. If they search for the toy enough to show me they care, I sneak it back out. But most of the time no one notices. I also set a timer and declare that all things out of place when the timer goes off go in the box! My kids are ages 6, 5,3,18 mo and they do a great job picking up! 😀 we still have clutter because our home is very small, so I’m always looking for ways to reduce.