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Keeping a Clean House While Homeschooling: The 13th Herculean Task

I’m using my takes this week to tackle a tough reader question:

Maintaining a house while homeschooling and dealing with special needs child: can it be done? Personally I think keeping an immaculate house while people are living there 24 hours a day is impossible. – Torey C

Yes Tory, you’re right. It is impossible, however, we can take some steps to prevent our families from winding up on an episode of ‘Hoarders’ or becoming crushed under a tower of used workbooks. That is, we can maintain a minimum level of “cleanliness” that while not landing us on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, could not be used against us in a court of law.

1. First and foremost, there are some homeschoolers with lots of kids who do keep immaculate houses. What I’ve found is that these moms tend to enjoy keeping their homes this way, and it’s something they do to show their love to their family. Homemaking is a charism for them and because of that, their houses always feel welcoming (and envy inducing). Don’t compare yourself to these moms. Keeping their homes clean, organized and beautifully decorated is still a lot of work, but when they spend their free time reorganizing closets, arranging a new collage wall, or steam cleaning a carpet, they get the kind of satisfaction that any craftsman gets from his or her work. If keeping a clean and orderly home does not excite you in that way, the next few tips are for you.

2. Find out what a clean home means to your spouse. Tony and I grew up with different expectations of how clean a home needed to be and who did the cleaning. I for one can leave dishes in the sink for weeks. Tony can “put something away” in a different spot every time (i.e. drop it on the first surface he sees). We discovered pretty quickly that I like things organized (surfaces clear of clutter and stuff put away in its proper spot) while Tony likes things clean (kitchen is clean after supper, sweeping done regularly, crumbs are off the table). Over the years, we’ve reached a happy medium but we had to first understand what mattered most to each other.  If I had a stressful homeschooling day but got the kids toys put away in the right bins, I felt good, but Tony might’ve thought the mess on the stove should’ve been tackled instead. Make sure you’re not stressing about a mess that doesn’t bother your spouse at all. You might also discover you each have chores you prefer doing. I don’t mind laundry and meal planning but I despise dishes. Tony doesn’t mind dishes so it works out. I also don’t mind emptying the diaper pail, and thankfully Tony always remembers to empty the kitchen trash right before hauling the large garbage cans to the curb. We also had to learn that keeping a clean home is harder if all your kids are home all day and we modified our expectations accordingly.

3. Make it easier on yourself to have a clean house. Purge frequently. Less stuff equals less stuff to clean and put away. If you have a large family, consider experience gifts for Christmas, birthdays, sacraments, etc to cut down on the influx of stuff. When considering a new purchase, ask yourself where it will go (yes, even for books). Is it easy to get spills and stains out of your carpet and furniture? Do you have tons of knick-knacks sitting around that you can never find time to dust?  Look around your house; if there’s a piece of furniture, or corner, that’s a dirty eyesore ask yourself why and what you can do to make it easier to keep clean. For example, if library books keep getting dumped on a chair, stick a basket next to it for the books. If school work keeps crowding out food on the dining room table, consider moving school to a different room or to desks. We used a toy rotation system for awhile that helped prevent every toy from getting dumped out every day. Try different ideas and change them if they stop working after a while.

4. Get your kids involved as much as they’re able. Little kids can help with picking up toys. (Just remember, if they see you leaving stuff around, they’re going to fall into the same habit.) Give them chores to do from a young age and help them learn to do things the right way. My 11, 13 and 14 year olds can all clean a bathroom, load and unload a dishwasher, mow the law with a riding mower, babysit, vacuum, feed/ wash the dog, do their laundry, make their bed, clean their rooms, dust, haul firewood, plan and cook a meal, and so on. Sure, we had lots of mistakes along the way but because we started when they were young and kept adding on responsibility they’re a huge help now. Most notably when we host parties, it takes me a fraction of the time to get things ready because the older kids can do so much. Take pride in your home, even if it’s not perfect. If you take care of your home as much as you can, your kids will do the same. If they constantly hear you complaining about what a dump you live in and the flaws in your house, don’t be surprised if they don’t want to take care of it or are destructive or careless (thereby creating 96,234,520,397 times more work for you.)

5. Understand there will be times when your house is an absolute disaster. We all go through exceptionally rough patches, however it will pass. Don’t beat yourself up. We’ve all been there….numerous times.  If you’re dealing with a medical crisis or are trying to manage a colicky newborn and homeschool, you may feel at your wit’s end. Consider outside help. Either hire a cleaning service or a babysitter so you can get cleaning done. If someone knows you’re struggling and wants to know how they can help, ask them to clean.  I admit, it takes a great deal of humility to let a friend, or stranger, come into your house to clean but you are providing someone with an opportunity to help you, or a job to someone who needs to earn a living. It is worth seriously considering if the state of your home starts to cause stress in your marriage or family life.

6. I tend to follow a regular cleaning schedule, an idea I first read on the Fly Lady website. I do not do her full program (shining my sink daily would drive me insane) but it first gave me the idea to clean regular areas of my home on a rotating basis and do certain tasks every day. (I also apply these principles to my kids’ chores.)  I also learned how much I can do in 15 minutes here or there. Knowing that cleaning my kids’ greasy finger and face prints off all the glass in my house only takes 15 minutes tops (and not the 2,039,802,401 hours like I anticipated) means I don’t dread it quite so much.








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  1. House leaning is a definite challenge with homeschooling. Purging does help so much though.

    My favorite meme on FB is “Cleaning a house with kids in it is like trying to brush your teeth while eating oreos.”

    So true! I think of that meme a lot and it makes me giggle while I attempt to keep up with their endless messes.

  2. I always found the Fly Lady to be a great way to keep up on things. Although I don’t follow her any more, I definitely refer back every now and then and the routine of it helped with a housefull all these years!

  3. It’s so true what you say about spouses having different understandings of the term “clean”. Cluttered counters don’t really bother me (sorry, honey), but a freshly vacuumed rug is soothing to the soul. And it only takes 15 minutes! 🙂

  4. My #1 cleaning tip: never let the children eat indoors. So many fewer crumbs!! In fact, not letting them in the house at all really cuts down on the mess!

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