How does anyone manage to keep on top of the housework when they have young children?

Family life

Today, after picking Little Miss E and Little Man O up from school and pre-school, I attempted to sweep and mop the kitchen floor. Pre-kids, this could have been done in about 20 minutes. This afternoon, it took me the best part of an hour – and it’s still not clean.

I got out the sweeping brush and Little Man O wanted to have a go at sweeping up. I certainly don’t want to discourage him from doing the housework. I want my little ones to know that we have to clean up after ourselves, rather than thinking the magic dust fairies do it at night time when they are asleep, so I handed it to him.

Whereas I would have all that dirt, dust and food that Baby Boy I has dropped on the floor swiftly out from under the table and away from the corners in a minute or two, it took Little Man about five minutes to work out how best to hold the brush. It’s bigger than him for a start and it kept toppling backwards. He thought it made a good horsey so then spent another couple of minutes galloping around the room.

Cleaning supplies

How on earth do you manage to keep your house clean when you have young children?

Little Miss E then wanted a go so they argued over it for a while. Baby I was getting bored of his Jumperoo by this point, so I picked him up and he made a beeline for the brush. Now, a dirty sweeping brush is definitely not what you want your 11-month-old to be playing with so I put on some music and got Little Miss E and Little Man O to make their brother laugh with some dancing, while I just about managed to sweep everything up into a pile.

My big two kids then wanted to help with sweeping the dirt into the dustpan. You can imagine how successful that was – I’m a big believer that you learn by doing and that practice makes perfect, so I let them have a go. I bit my tongue as dirt flew around the room and started to boil the kettle with water to mop the floor with.

At this point, I needed to do a nappy change for Baby Boy I, get Little Miss E a drink and help Little Man O on the loo. Ten minutes later and I’m ready to pour the mop water into the bucket. Now, I don’t really want my three kids aged five and under in the vicinity of boiling water, so I put Baby back in his Jumperoo and promised the other two 10 minutes of TV so that I could get on with mopping the floor. There were arguments over who was to sit where and what they were going to watch. Then they wanted a snack and Baby Boy I needed his nose wiping.

Finally, back to the mop water. Mid way through mopping the floor and Little Miss E needs the loo, which is just off the kitchen on the other side of the mopped floor. I ask her to use the upstairs one, but she just walks across the kitchen floor in her socks anyway. Then she cries because her socks are wet so I go upstairs to get her clean, dry socks. Baby Boy I need a cuddle, so I pick him up for a few minutes. Peter Rabbit comes on to the TV and this, for some reason, petrifies them, so I change the channel.

I finally finish mopping the floor and it’s spotless. All this while, tea has been cooking in the oven and is just about done, so I give them a five minute warning only to discover that every item from their toy shop, plus 20 or so toy cars and a pile of books are all over the floor in the living room. Great. We hurriedly tidy it all up and sit down to have tea.

I would much rather spend time with my children, but sometimes the mess gets too much.

I would much rather spend time with my children, but sometimes the mess gets too much.

All our children have followed baby led weaning, and Baby Boy I hasn’t quite got to grips with putting food he doesn’t want back on the table. There is roasted vegetable lasagne everywhere. My clean floor lasted all of about 10 minutes. Little Man O accidentally drops the yoghurt he has for dessert all over the floor, and some of the toys from the other room have miraculously made their way into the kitchen. I give up and get them through the bath and into bed and come back down to the kitchen, take one look and walk straight back out again…. into the basket of wet washing that I didn’t have time to hang out before I had to leave for the school run a few hours earlier. I couldn’t hang the washing up until I’d taken down yesterday’s load from the airer. Now, I adore ironing. I seriously do. But as I added it to the pile, I wanted to cry.

And this is why my house continually looks a mess. I try my best to keep on top of it all, I really do. But it is really flipping difficult when you have three small children. I genuinely don’t know how people with young kids manage to have clean houses too. What is your secret, I want to yell at them. How do you manage to do it all when I am failing so spectacularly?

It wasn’t so bad when Little Miss E was a baby. She slept for an hour in the morning and two at lunch time so the house was in good shape and I even got time to watch a bit of telly for myself too. When Little Man O came along 21 months later, things went to pot for a while as we adjusted to life as a family of four, but we were soon in a routine where they both slept at lunch time for a good two hours, sometimes three, and the house was ship-shape again.

And then naps were dropped, we had pre-school runs to contend with and Baby Boy I came along and now I wonder if my house will ever be clean again. Baby’s naptimes always coincide with school and pre-school runs, and that takes up two hours of my day. I don’t get any child-free time during the week, I do most of my work during the evenings, and I’ve just told you why attempting to tidy with little ones about is so disastrous. I do my best to let go of it; to remember that while I’m busy parenting my little ones, the housework can wait. Regular readers will remember this poem I wrote about Mummy’s Messy House.

Too much ironing even for me!

Too much ironing even for me!

I still stand by what I said then – looking after my children is way more important than a clean house. But living in a tip really gets me down sometimes. I’m embarrassed if someone calls round unannounced before I’ve had time to panic clean. I hate that I can barely keep up with the superficial cleaning, never mind the deep-cleaning stuff, like the grouting in the bathroom tiles that needs a good scrub, or the insides of the cupboards that need emptying out and wiping down. Don’t even get me started on the dust gathering behind the radiators.

I want people to know that I know my house is a mess but I’m not happy about it. It isn’t me! I want clean and order and everything in its place. Cardiff Daddy does his fair share, but he works long hours, so most of it falls to me.

I would love to know what other people do. Some of my friends have cleaners. That’s not really an option for us after having three babies in four years, three lots of maternity pay and working part-time in between.

I’m constantly wondering how people manage to balance housework and family life. Is there a solution or is just a case of living like this until all my children are in school full-time? I’d love to know what the secret is.

Do you have the answer?! You can tweet me on @cardiffmummy or come say hello on my Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page.


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22 Comments to How does anyone manage to keep on top of the housework when they have young children?

  1. I Wish I knew. I only have the one little one (17 months) and she sleeps for about 45 mins to an hour once a day which is barely enough time to do anything. My flat is tidy, dusted and vacuumed but the ironing basket is overflowing, the washing up is never done and the washing machine can’t keep up. I just do what I can and sometimes I just leave things to give myself time to chill out in the evenings! It sounds like you’re doing an amazing job keeping on top of things with THREE kids though! Who gives a shit what other people’s houses look like?! Just keep doing a little bit here and there, I say!

  2. I may regret admitting this… but I don’t. I have a cleaner who comes once a fortnight and blitzes everything much better than I would so I just need to so the basics in between. And while the washing pile (with one toddler) is massive, I find most stuff doesn’t need ironing – well, I hate ironing so restrict it to the things that HAVE to be done only.

    • So many people over on my Facebook page have said they have cleaners. I had no idea so many people had them! That’s great that it makes such a difference to your life. I guess they can just come in and do it, and not have to entertain a child at the same time, or get distracted by other household things. x

  3. Oh, I hear you! I sometimes look around, actually craving some time to get jobs done, but realistically it’s not going to happen! I go for the little and often approach. I get my 2yo set up with an activity, or a snack (he loves a snack and I can be sure it’ll distract him) and I get something done. I iron daily, so as soon as a wash is dry, I iron – lunchtimes are good for that as again, he’s distracted! And after I get my girl back from school, I can usually get something done as they play together then for a bit. I squeeze chores into any gaps!!

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      Yes, little and often is a good philosophy to have. It is hard though and I feel like I am always rushing from one thing to another or doing a half-job of the cleaning and a half-job of playing with my kids. I wish I knew the solution but I’m glad it is not just me! x

  4. I feel exactly like this, it’s impossible to keep up and people always drop around at the worse possible time and the place looks horrendous. I wish we could afford a cleaner or even at least someone to do a deep clean a couple of times a year to get to the things like skirting and grout and windows. I suspect it may be a long time until I have a clean house though. Good post.

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      Oh I know! When someone calls round unannounced and the house is a tip, I am mortified and spend ages apologising and worrying. I would love someone to come round and do a deep clean of my house – won’t be able to afford it any time soon though! x

  5. If you manage to find the secret will you send it my way too? It seems that any time I do clean the original mess just becomes 10 fold in a matter of minutes – and Aidan is only 8 months! I dread the toddler stage 🙁 x

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      Oh I know, sometimes cleaning seems counter-productive – you’re blitzing one room, the rest of the house is being trashed! x

  6. Anyone who knows me well, will know my answer to this….. just lower your standards, and then go a little lower and you’ll still find that you have a way to go wink emoticon Housework and 4 kids just don’t mix, so I try to keep my house safe, (but figure that exposure to dirt is good for their developing immune systems!) and everything else is pretty much a bonus!!

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      Haha, yep, standards have definitely lowered. I like that idea of as long as my house is safe, everything else is a bonus! x

  7. It’s hard enough with one toddler so I can’t imagine how hard it is with 3! Keeping the house tidy is the main culprit of arguments between me and my husband – he thinks that because I’m a stay at home mum I should have plenty of time to do the housework. But we are so busy with playgroups, and playdates and everything else that needs doing that we’re not actually home all that much! And if we’re home, things will get messy!! Its very difficult trying to do the housework and entertain a toddler, especially when they are behind you tipping out all their cars or all their books. We actually have a cleaner now who comes once a week and it is lovely coming home to a sparkling clean home, its money well spent!

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      Oooh, how lovely to have a cleaner working their magic. It is so hard to keep on top of it all! If your hubby mentions the housework again, show him this post and all the comments and that it is not just you! It is impossible sometimes! x

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      Ah, lucky you! Can you send him round to my house too?! In fairness, Cardiff Daddy is really good around the house, he just works long hours and so most of it does fall to me as the one at home. x

  8. How do people manage? I think the most honest answer is, they don’t! I have a friend who had a cleaner when she first returned home with her youngest after a long hospital stay… She loved the help but said the house, although cleaner, was still generally a tip by the next day! As for me, I only have one child and it’s not easy staying on top of it. Put it this way, I don’t clean the skirting boards! 😉 With four kids you have enough to be getting on with and it sounds like you’re doing a great job… Just wait til they’re a bit older, then you’ll have four helpers! 😉

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      Haha, so many people told me they could relate to this one, but no one has the answer. At least I know it’s not just me x

  9. My house is the same – and I’m interested to hear lots of mums have cleaners too! Cathryn I think you’re doing a fab job – just the words “vegetable lasagne” are enough to make me feel heartily inadequate as we’ve just sat down to reheated pizza!

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      I can’t believe how many mums have cleaners!! We have plenty of nights with easy food too, that chilled pasta that cooks in two minutes is a personal favourite! x

  10. Love this post!!
    As much as I agree with you saying it’s good to let them help I’m just far to fussy to let mine help. I like to get in, out job done.
    We have 6 children so it’s about fast paced living in my house. Everything has to run like clock work and on time.
    I am lucky that I have a husband blessed with OCD so he does all the deep cleaning. I do the washing, ironing and general day to day cleaning. I try to stay on top of things in the day (this has been very hard in the holidays) and do a proper clean once the girls have gone upstairs at 7pm. Takes about an hour between 2 of us to get the house looking some what normal again.


  11. I get the ironing. I love doing it and it makes me so sad and frustrated when I only panic iron right before things are needed.
    My house is always messy, but I figure it is clean(er) than if I hadn’t got rid of the first layer of dirt!

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