There’s something I should disclose before I start this article.
I used to be an absolute slob. When I shared a flat with my best friend, I don’t recall ever cleaning the toilet. Or the shower. And we lived together for over a year.
It’s almost too much to remember.
I had other things on my mind: boys, parties, lying by the beach reading my book.
Now my house looks like a bomb hit it because I have two very bright, bubbly, messy small humans in my life. No endless socialising, no late night parties and all-day sleep-ins. If only I could go back to my 20-year-old self! I would explain to her what a gift it is to have a house where you can move with ease, without having to wade through clothes and the detritus of life.
Oh how I long for a neat and tidy home! I long for this fantasy place like I used to long for weeks relaxing by an infinity pool.
And before every feminist reading this jumps on my back, I do not long for a clean home so that I can get a “house-wife-of-the-year-award”. I long for a clean home because it would bring me joy. Just thinking of it gives me goosebumps.
I imagine walking across our lounge room floor, bare foot, without the ever-present fear that I will step on a mini landmine of Lego. Or going from one room to another without picking up shoes, odd socks and about four different toys. How delightful it would be to see the floor of my kids’ room, and remember what colour the carpet is!
So, I’ve asked my tribe what they do to maintain some semblance of order. Here are their tips:
1. Get the kids involved, feel free to use bribery or threats
Sallie Don, a comedian and mother of one little tornado of a boy says, “I try to get Archie to pack up most of his toys in the living room at the end of each day. I’ve started saying, clean up your toys and then you can have ten minutes of TV before dinner. It seems to work”.
My other friend Lyndal Stewart says that once a week she puts everything onto the dining room table and divides clothes, toys and other paraphernalia into four separate piles.
“I co-opt the six-year-old to deal with her pile. The two-year-old isn’t quite on board yet. The 47-year-old gets told that if he doesn’t put it all away it’s going in the washing machine. Laptop and headphones included.”
2. Out of sight, out of mind
Storage, storage, storage! My friend Elizabeth Green has three girls, and a stack of storage where things can be thrown to keep the rest of the house feeling tidy. She also has one big laundry basket, and a very specific rule that goes with it.
“I will only wash items of clothing that have only been worn once if they have been next to a bottom or feet (obviously a rule for older kids who just shove everything in the wash)”.
3. Get your men-folk involved
When my friend Alex Maiden’s kids were very small they all lived in a tiny two bedroom flat. She says getting her husband to appreciate the value of being organised and tidy took commitment.
“Make the male do his fair share even if that means wading through crap for two months: eventually they crack. Just make sure they crack before you do. It’s a long game and requires resilience. You may need to take relaxants to get through this period”.
4. Embrace your inner Zen
I have children who find “stuff” everywhere and anywhere, and then become attached to said stuff like it’s a long lost friend. I’m talking everything from beer bottle tops on the ground to abandoned toys left out for council clean up.
But my friend Claire Morgan, she’s got it sorted. Her philosophy is to embrace minimalism.
“I like to have as little stuff as possible philosophically and aesthetically but mostly for practical reasons – it has real benefits as there’s less stuff to tidy up / keep track of. This means buying or acquiring intentionally and culling regularly.”
5. Pick one room as your sanctuary
At least, that’s what I’ve done. My bed is like an island haven in an ocean of chaos. I make the bed every morning, it’s a no-go zone for toys and I always put our clothes away. Having my bedroom sanctuary reminds me that some kind of order is possible.
I’ve heard many people talk about accepting that while the kids are young, your home will be chaotic. I’m not there yet. When our place looks like a tip I feel edgy and can’t relax until everything is in its place (which also means I never relax).
My friend Helen Wetton says that there’s a level of acceptance that’s important when living with children, this is how she sees it:
“I accept that all available real estate is taken up with pencils, Lego and small dolls’ shoes instead of artfully arranged jars of varying sizes.
“I accept that instead of walls hung with clever artworks in matching frames I have Blu Tack sticking up prized slashes and blobs of paint.
“I accept that I don’t have an Instagramable home office with matching notebooks. I have a sofa which I share with a stuffed toy and Barbie’s bicycle with a laptop precariously perched on my lap and notes from my meeting made in purple crayon in the boarder of a free cooking magazine from Coles.
“I accept that this is real life – messy, full, chaotic and beautiful in its own little microcosm of my family.”
It’s a mantra I’ll be working on, probably until my children leave home!