The only way my house stays half-way clean

If you are reading this, you probably struggle with keeping your house clean.  For me, the struggle is real, and the struggle is daily.

I am always amazed at how I can get my house clean, then it is messy again within hours.  And I mean “amazed” in a negative sense.

It can be disheartening, and it makes me not want to put in the time or effort to clean up, despite the fact that I am happier and more productive in a clean house. Such is life with young children, but I have also stumbled upon a way that keeps our house decent while also teaching our kids about responsibility and life skills.

Nope, not my house.

This little gem is called fifteen-minute cleanup. It is exactly as it sounds:  for fifteen minutes, everybody in our house cleans up.  

The catch is that this time has to be spent in a communal room, such as a bathroom, the kitchen, or the living room. Everybody gets to clean up their room at a different time.

Since my children are young and I want them to learn to love (or at least appreciate) the feeling of contributing to the family through their efforts, I allow them to choose their own chore or room to focus on for clean-up time.  I give a reminder at dinner to think about what they would each like to do.  I remind them that if they do not choose, Daddy and I will assign each of them a job.

If you can believe it, my daughter chose to scrub toilets for the better part of two months!

Now, before you get the idea in your head that your house will be magazine appearance ready, please remember that it is your children who will be cleaning.  And your husband.  And you, but you (and your partner, should you have one) might spend as much of your time giving gentle reminders–or barking orders!–than you do actually cleaning, especially at first. But the house still gets cleaner than it was fifteen minutes ago.

Through chores, my kids are learning all-important life skills, like how to clean off a table, sweep a floor, and scrub a toilet. I’m sure in a couple of years, my husband and I will not allow our children to be done with their job until it is done to a higher standard.  

But for now, at ages 2 and 5, this fifteen minute window is often the only time a mass effort is put into making our house tidy.  It makes a huge difference, and I can definitely tell when we get so busy that we fail to incorporate fifteen minute clean up into our day.

Now, if you decide to do a fifteen-minute clean up, I have a few pointers.

  • Start short.  By short, I don’t mean start with me (although I am short).  I mean start with a ten minute clean up, or even five minutes if you really need to ease your family in.  Sometimes that quarter of an hour can feel like a long time, especially for little ones.  Always let them know what your ultimate goal is for clean up time.  To save face, you could even just call it “clean up time” without a minute attachment, but I find it helps my family to know how long they are committed.  As I tell them, we can each do just about anything for 15 minutes!
  •  Have supplies on hand.  If you are out of say, window cleaner, make or buy some more before clean up time, or else let your kids know that one isn’t an option right now.  Nothing kills enthusiasm faster than jumping up to do something only to realize you can’t!
  • Lead by example.  Yes, you will have to remind your kids to actually sweep instead of dance with the broom, or that 10 squirts of cleaner are more than enough to wipe off the table.  But if you are simply giving orders without participating yourself, your kids will see this, and they will revolt.  No one likes a dictator.  
  • Cut everyone some slack.  Sometimes, I can tell a huge improvement in the tidiness of our house after clean up time.  Other times, hubby and I spend so much of our time getting kids to focus in between washing mirrors ourselves that not much gets done.  However, it is ALWAYS at least a bit cleaner than when we began, so I really can’t complain.  Recognize that kids are also tired, have bad days, and sometimes can’t perform to even a lowered cleanliness standard.  That’s ok.  It is one day, and sometimes going through the motions is what we all need to ultimately build a positive, long-term habit.
  • Break it down.  Now that my oldest kid is a reader (yay!), I can utilize this wonderful tip from Jody Arsenault at to make step-by-step chore cards on paint sample cards.  They are colorful and free, so my favorite kind of thing. Ever.

For my family, we routinely have 15-minute clean up after dinner.  For  a long time, this put us on a very tight schedule–it was dinner, clean-up time, bath time, and bedtime.  Boom, boom, boom.  If we had a later dinner (or if the kids just took FOREVER to eat), guess what normally got cut.  

You guessed it, clean-up time.

But we’ve made adjustments to make sure it gets done. Recently, we have begun to give our kids a bath before dinner, and this has given us a little more wiggle room to make sure we fit clean-up time into our evening with regularity.  

The payoff?  Tidier home, more responsible children, happier parents.  Win-win-win. 🙂

Do you struggle, like I do, with keeping your home clean?  If Publisher’s Clearing House rang your doorbell, would you invite them in, or would you poke your head out of the door so that they couldn’t see inside?   Or is a tidy house really all that important to you?  Please let me know in the comments!

Read on, my friend...

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