There are certain rooms in my house that I’m pretty meticulous about when it comes to cleanliness. My bathroom and kitchen are always very clean (…save for the stove, but let’s just not talk about that) and my floors are swept often (only because I have a German Shepherd who sheds like there’s no tomorrow). Other than that my vacuuming habits are pretty abysmal, I only truly dust quarterly and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cleaned my windows in the two years we’ve lived here. I just hate all the deep cleaning stuff and it feels like there’s never enough time.
But, what I lack in the deep cleaning gene, I make up for in the semi-OCD gene for tidiness. I hate having messes around my house. I try to make sure that everything has a place, and for the most part my house rarely ventures into chaotic train wreck territory … even with a toddler around. It’s just my thing that helps to keep me sane. Taking care of my daughter and working from home means I spend a lot of time here and as such I want the space to feel comfortable and not overwhelming.
At this point you may be thinking that I live in a home that’s totally not kid-friendly or that my daughter is never allowed to have fun or make messes, which definitely isn’t the case either. Of course I have my moments of cringing when she dumps out an entire bin of puzzles, but I never want to keep her from enjoying her childhood simply because I get a little twitchy about messes. And when friends and their kids come over? All bets are off and things turn crazy messy quickly — and I’m OK with that. There is a time for tidiness and a time to let go.
But for the most part my house stays fairly tidy, thanks to some tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way, so I thought I’d share them. Hopefully some of them will be helpful for you!
10 Ways I Keep My House From Being Overrun By Toddler Mess
1. Embrace baskets
We have kind of a ridiculous amount of storage baskets in our house. I like to buy pretty ones that work with our decor so I don’t mind having them out on display. They’re a great way to quickly dump toys when you have last-minute guests coming over and help to keep things organized on a day-to-day basis.
2. Share the wealth
Every so often I go through all my daughter’s toys and clothes and give away/donate anything that doesn’t fit or isn’t being used anymore. It’s nice for others to receive the items we no longer need and it also frees up our home from some of the excess clutter.
3. Choose items that can pull double duty
When we bring items into our home (especially toddler items), I try to consider if they can do double duty. For example … you can choose a kid’s table that can work as both a place to eat snacks and an art surface or choose chairs that have high chair capabilities while your little one is in transition.
4. We only sit for meals
I have enough messes to clean up without having to vacuum up cheddar bunny crackers or raisins from our carpet. I’ve made it a rule that all meals are eaten in the dining room while sitting in a highchair or at the table. If my toddler wants to get up, she has to leave her food behind. It helps avoid a lot of messes.
5. Learn to love vinyl table cloths
Vinyl table cloths (like the cheesy picnic table kind) are ridiculously awesome. We use ours for everything. Put it under the area where your child eats meals, put it underneath the art easel or sensory bin, or use it on your table when your little one is playing with play dough or drawing. They’re easy to wipe down or shake out, and they’ll save you the hassle of sweeping or scrubbing surfaces. I just keep mine folded up in the pantry for easy access.
6. Minimize toys in the bedroom
This is hands down one of my best organization tips. Our daughter has never had a crib and we’ve always done a Montessori style floor bed – as such we always kept things pretty streamlined in terms of toys in her room. As much as I would love to store all her toys in there, I also wanted the space to be calm and not too overwhelming for her. I keep stuffed animals and books in there and a small handful of manipulatives, but other than that it’s pretty sparse. Because of this, her room is a place of rest, but also, I don’t spend my days carrying toys back to her room, because there simply aren’t that many for her to bring out. I recently tried adding more toys back in to see how she did, but it was semi-disastrous and she stopped napping because it was too distracting. So I changed the room back to its usual set-up and things went back to normal. Also, if you’re wondering about where I keep everything, I store extra items in her closet up where she can’t reach them and I also have designated play areas throughout the house. See number 7 below.
7. Create defined areas
When kids have their own designated spaces to play they are far less likely to spread their toys far and wide. We have designated areas of our house that are kid areas … actually, every room of our house (save for our master bedroom/bathrooms) has a basket of toys, tables, or activities that can be enjoyed in that space. I’ve found that by having the toys out where my daughter can access them easily, she’s less likely to spread her toys everywhere. She has a play kitchen and a drawing table in our kitchen, a basket of toys and a bookshelf all her own in our family room, and a teepee and a dollhouse in our living room. This has been a great set-up for us, because no matter what room we’re in, she has fun options. It definitely minimizes the mess.
8. Create good habits
Sometimes it’s a pain (OK, a lot of times it’s a pain), but I’ve set the precedent that before we can start a new activity we have to clean up the last one. We’ve always done this, so now it’s just become a routine and no big thing. We work together to clean up an activity before moving to the next one, and lo and behold: less mess! Some days my daughter complains about it and drags her feet, but for the most part it’s just a normal part of the day.
9. Invest in smocks
These smocks from IKEA are freaking brilliant. We use them at meal time and art time and pretty much for any other event that might turn out to be even remotely messy. Some of our friends joke that it looks like a baby hazmat suit, but I don’t even care. Pure mess-containing genius I tell you!
10. Swap out toys
Instead of having all of your child’s toys out at once, try to be a bit more selective. Perhaps you can store some of the extras in a hall or bedroom closet. This will keep your child from being engaged in the toys that they do have instead of being overwhelmed by too many.
Lauren Hartmann is the founder of The Little Things We Do, a blog about life and adventures in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram or catch up on all of her posts here on Babble.