If you find it challenging to keep your home from looking like a tornado blew through, take heart: Many busy parents have the same dilemma. Childcare takes up a huge amount of time and energy, leaving little left for keeping your home looking good. But having a routine, enlisting the help of your kids, and using the right storage containers go a long way in getting your home in shape. Here are seven very doable tips to try.
1. Keep on top of things as they happen.
Putting things like shoes and books back where they belong as soon as you or your child are done using them will make a noticeable difference in how orderly your home looks. “Restocking” items continuously during the day is also less exhaustive than if you waited until the kids are in bed to do it.
2. Don’t walk empty-handed from one room to another.
If the baby’s empty bottle is in the living room and you’re heading to the kitchen, grab it and put it in the dishwasher. Use this pick up method every time you’re walking around your home so you’ll have that much less to put away later. Also, place a basket next to the stairs—one at the top, one at the bottom—so when you find something that belongs upstairs (or vice versa), you can put it in the basket, says Julie Bestry, a certified professional organizer and president of Best Results Organizing, in Chattanooga, Tenn. “Make it a house rule to never go up or down the stairs without taking the basket or at least some of its contents.”
3. Get everyone to pitch in.
Establish a pre-dinner ritual for parents or sitters and kids to take part in the day’s big cleanup, and make it fun (play a song with a peppy beat). Work with youngsters to get everything back to the room or storage area where they belong. “By pairing fun music with the organizing task,” says Bestry, “it encourages children to think about cleaning up in a positive way.”
4. Avoid toy bins.
The deeper the bin, the less likely kids will see something they want to play with since smaller things will fall to the bottom. Instead, Bestry suggests open shelving with brightly colored plastic dishpans or tubs, which are shallower and act as drawers. Put similar things together—all the action figures in one dishpan, the small stuffed animals in another; bigger toys can just sit on the shelves by themselves. Label each container with words or photos (for young kids) of what goes inside.
5. Set up vertical storage.
Over-the-door shoe hangers, especially the kind where you can see the contents, are great for corralling everything from chargers to cleaning supplies, says Bestry. Keep similar items grouped together and out of the way behind doors.
6. Take 10 minutes after the kids go to bed to organize their lives.
The best use of that time is making sure lunches and snacks are packed, homework and permission slips are in backpacks, and sports equipment is ready to go.
7. Give yourself a break.
When you have young kids, your house may never be as organized as you’d like. And that’s okay. “Doing a little is better than doing nothing,” says Bestry. “It’s also better than going overboard because trying to do everything tends to make a person burn out.”