Family Life

messy home
Jun 21

A friend of mine recently suggested that I should delve into the subject of how difficult it is to keep a home clean and tidy when you have young children to look after.

Before you read any further, I should disclaim that this post does not offer any solution to this perennial problem that I think all parents face (sorry Sean!). Unless you have the great fortune to be able to afford a cleaner, or your children happen to be OCD about tidiness…I’m afraid the mess is something that I fear we all have to live with.

In my daughter’s case…she’s currently going through the ‘transporting’ schema, which is a pattern of repeatable behaviour that characterises early years development, and in this case involves moving things from one place to another. She covets bags, of all shapes and sizes. Carrier bags, gift bags, party bags, my handbags – they are all perfect for her favourite activity of transporting things around the house. Nothing stays in its place for long, which makes tidying up pretty pointless. Within seconds of organising the shelves in her playroom for example, she’ll be pulling everything off and putting it into bags, ready to carry into another room. This ‘transporting’ activity is always interwoven with another role play game, such as going shopping or caravanning. Her dolls pram is very often laden with several bags stuffed to the brim with various random items. If she wasn’t so cute you might easily mistake her for a bag lady!

I find I’m torn between wanting a reasonably tidy house and not wanting to interrupt this stage of development, particularly because I find it so fascinating. But of course Little I needs to learn that she has to tidy up after herself…a lesson that we seem to be failing abysmally at, at the moment. Most typically when I have asked her to help me tidy up, she will begin doing as I’ve asked, but five seconds in will discover a bag and the ‘transporting’ will begin, completely distracting her from the task in hand.

Yet I always recall one conversation that I had with a woman on the train when I was about eight months pregnant. She was retired and her children were all grown up, and she shared with me that the one regret that she had from her children’s younger years was her incessant worrying about the mess.  She told me that if she could do it all over again, she wouldn’t waste nearly so much time tidying up and that instead she would use that time to just play with her children. I always remind myself of this when I’m feeling particularly downhearted about the mess around me.

If I can attempt to impart one piece of advice though, it would be to try and keep at least one room in your house ‘grown-up’, where no toys are allowed or they are removed before bedtime. Of course the feasibility of this depends on how many rooms you have in your home, but if it’s possible I find it helps to have one room that has not been invaded by your children, and which is easier to keep tidy. We have never allowed any toys in our bedroom, and we are lucky enough to have a playroom into which we ‘throw’ everything back at the end of the day and shut the door on.

I will however keep on wishing for the ironing fairy to pay me a visit one evening. The situation has got so bad that we are all running out of clothes to wear!

If you have any advice to share, I would love to hear!

About the Author

Wendy McAuliffe

Social media & online PR consultant and trainer, and ex-journalist. Founder and Director of Populate Digital and Mum of two. Living by the sea in Bournemouth. @wendymcauliffe.

  • Sarah Porter

    I can totally relate to this post! Gwennie is 5 and the “transporting” is still going on! She has a playroom but all her stuff ends up EVERYWHERE in the house. She too is very into little bags (full of little crap). It drives me bonkers, but I try to take a deep breath and she is certainly pretty good about cleaning up after herself now when I ask her to.
    She’s off to Grandma’s in the mountains at the end of July…. guess what I am going to do? I am going to have a massive clearout whilst she is gone! Hahahahaha!!!!
    I have certainly learnt to relax a lot more about housework. I don’t like a dirty house but instead of doing full housework twice a week, I now just do a big clean once a week and try to do one little chore pers day so that it doesn’t take away from my time with G.

    • wendymcauliffe

      It sounds like Little I and Gwennie are definitely cut from the same cloth! If anything goes missing, it’s generally buried inside one of her bags of random crap, but weirdly she very often remembers what she’s put inside each bag. Her toothbrush went missing and she was able to locate it in seconds, whereas it would have taken me ages to find! Do you find clearouts difficult though? It’s a good idea to do when the little one is out of sigh! I just find it very difficult to part with things or think ‘they’re done with’…

  • Greenie S

    My sister has 3 children and NEVER irons.  She just hangs clothes as soon as they come out of the dryer and they look fine.

    • wendymcauliffe

       Great idea…if I had a dryer!

  • Shontelle

    I can relate to this post, too. Things I’m planning to try once we move back to Aus include having a laundry basket/equivalent in the living area so that when my 2 and a half year old has finished playing with something she can put it in there (wish me luck!). Hopefully the mess will be more contained and it will make packing up quicker at the end of the day. Also rotating toys each week. I like the idea of one bigger block of housework and then one chore a day to keep on top of it. We’ve used a toy library for the past year which has been great, good variety without accumulating a lot of toys.

    • wendymcauliffe

      Hi Shontelle! Please let me know if the laundry basket idea works. I can only imagine Little I getting inside it and playing boats or something similar with it! I really like the idea of rotating toys. It’s something I’ve tried a bit half-heartedly, only because it takes a little bit of extra effort and organisation. I try, every so often, to move the toys from the top shelf in the playroom to the bottom, and juggle things around a bit. I find this works best with books actually. My daughter loves her books and has quite a few (mainly because I’m addicted to buying them in charity shops!) – so I try to bring down within reach a few at a time. Toy libraries sound great – something we really need to explore…

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