I met my husband when I was 22. I had been out of university for almost two years, I had just moved into a little rented flat by myself, and I had an okay admin job in Shoreditch. In terms of ties and responsibilities I had very few.
Fast forward two and a half years and I suddenly have two step children, a child of my own, a mortgage, a budding teaching career and a cat. Life couldn’t be much more different. Any major life change takes a while to adjust to, but it took me quite a long time to start realising what it would take from me to organise and maintain things such as a house that human beings could exist safely and happily in, keeping children and myself fed clothed and cleaned, and my own sanity.
I do not proclaim to have all the answers. Far from it in fact. I am still very much on a learning curve and in fact one woman who knows what she is talking about far better than I do (Gemma @TheOrganisedMum) recently wrote a great blog post on managing the cleaning when you have a new baby so head there for some great tips which I will try not to replicate here.
What I do have, though, is a couple of years of experience during which I have had to learn very fast, and for anyone else having to learn fast some of these tips might prove useful to you too. A lot of them I wish I had known at least three years sooner! So have a read, let me know which ones were the most helpful, and if there are more of your own that you would like to add then please feel free to include them in the comment section here or on Instagram.
This is of course not exclusively applicable to parents in my position of mother of four in a teeny two bedroom house – I like to think they would help in any household for people with any number of children – but hopefully you will find them useful if I share them with you!
- Clean the whole bathroom while you are in the shower. This might sound absolutely ridiculous but often I find if I’ve got time for a shower it’s because someone else is keeping an eye on the kids or the baby is napping, so I might as well make the most of it! Start off with bits you can’t reach from the shower while the shower warms up, like your toilet or sink (although I can reach both from the bath – my bathroom is TINY). Bonus is that you’re already naked so don’t have to worry about getting your clothes wet or dirty, and you can get yourself feeling lovely and clean at the end of it and not like you’ve been sweating and scrubbing away!
- Clean and tidy during child’s meal times. Bear with me here – I don’t mean every meal time, and this is more angled at those of you who spend some time at home with your children during the day. If you have a rambunctious toddler who eats meals in a high chair, while they are in it and focused on food seize the opportunity to clean and tidy the room around them! I hoovered the living room whilst feeding my toddler breakfast last week and even though breakfast took a little longer it certainly didn’t take as long as if the two tasks were separate events. And while we are on the subject of toddler meal times…
- Get a pet who likes to eat leftovers from under your toddler’s high chair. Am I joking?…do I look like I’m joking? Cats make less mess and are easier to look after than dogs. Just saying.
- Get out of the house as much as possible. Particularly during the school holidays. You might tell yourself that by being indoors you will have extra time to clean and tidy – if anything, I find the opposite to be the case. You spend your time chasing children around whilst they make the house dirtier and messier as cabin fever gradually sets in for everyone. If you take everyone outdoors for a good run around then you get to ignore the mess for a few hours while they burn off some energy and you can come back with theoretically more fulfilled and therefore more compliant children who might leave you refreshed and ready to tackle the housework in peace. Bonus points if you manage to eat out as well, therefore leaving yourself no cooking or cleaning up to do as a result.
- Leave the house as clean as possible before you go to bed. Often this is easier said than done, especially when you are knackered and just want to slump on the sofa, or if you have a teething baby who won’t sleep anywhere except on you like I do today, right now, as I write this. But whenever you can, grab five or ten minutes at the end of the day to clear kitchen and dining table surfaces of washing up and clutter, pick up toys you are likely to trip over the next day when you haven’t quite woken up yet, put the dishwasher on and throw in another load of laundry if time allows. You will thank yourself in the morning when you wake up feeling a bit ahead of the game, rather than playing catch up trying to conjure up breakfast for five when no two children will eat the same thing on top of yesterday’s mess.
- Don’t let yourself sit down and relax unless a laundry load is on. Do I sound a bit militant and cruel? Maybe I do. Sorry. But I know myself. And I can’t be the only one who if I tell myself “I’ll just have a cup of tea and a sit down to watch telly for ten minutes while the kids are asleep” I’m not getting up again until they wake up or I fall asleep on the sofa. Just shove another laundry load in. It’s virtually the easiest part of the laundry process, it will forever need doing anyway, and you can feel a tiny bit less parent guilt by telling yourself that you are technically still doing housework. The soothing hum of the washing machine (that I can hear as I type) is one of the most relaxing sounds I know! (Note to self, must pop to the shops to get a life).
- Spin your laundry again when it’s washed. This significantly reduce your drying time. Also, fun fact, this tip once won me a load of Ecover laundry detergent in a Twitter competition. That’s right, I’m not like a regular mom, I’m a cool mom.
- Don’t iron. It’s far too dangerous when there are little children around, who would be so irresponsible as to actually iron with toddlers in the house? Not me, that’s for sure! I find that a combination of tumble drying (remove clothes and shake as soon as they are done), hanging clothes up to dry neatly (on coat hangers if you can, and on the line whenever possible) and tidy folding or wardrobe hanging means I get away with more or less never having to iron. The kids have non iron school uniform too which is great. Obviously it’s not avoidable for everything (these silly men and their shirts) but another good tip I have found is to get yourself a tiny ironing board. We found one in IKEA for a mere £4 which saves on storage space, can be used on a table top so it’s kept out of the way of children much better and no one is likely to trip over it, and is generally much more manageable.
- Have designated areas for clothes hanging. Gone are the days of being able to do washing once a week, unfold a clothes horse to hang it up and then put it all away plus clothes horse the next day. Clothes horses are now a permanent fixture in my house. We have one for me, my husband and my step children, and another for the toddler and the baby. I do a toddler and baby clothes wash every two to three days to keep on top of it, and every other day I do at least one clothes wash for everyone else. Towels and bedding happen at the weekend if we are lucky and I remember. There is no point kidding mysela couple off that there won’t constantly be laundry drying somewhere in the house, so I have learnt to accept it!
- Keep baby and toddler clothes separate. I have used this tip before. In case anyone has missed it, I am using it again. The only way I am able to keep track of tiny baby socks and numerous vests and sleep suits is if they stay in their own laundry basket and go on their own clothes horse. Alfie’s eczema also means he needs special detergent, so it just makes sense.
- Organise a specified, protected time to do a weekly shop. I do mine every Wednesday, with my brother in law and two youngest boys, and it’s the only way I manage to keep the fridge and cupboards stocked long enough to last a week, with a couple of extra milk runs in between. My goodness we drink a lot of milk. Obviously if you can, do your weekly shop child free (the luxurious parenting equivalent of a morning relaxing at a spa) but for now, this works for me.
- Buy any large, heavy or awkward items that you can online. Hell, if you can afford it, do your entire weekly shop online. I can’t, which is why I love Lidl. But for everything that we use loads of and is bulky to carry, I buy in bulk, often on Amazon. The subscription option with Amazon prime takes care of a monthly order of nappies, loo roll, kitchen roll, laundry detergent, fabric conditioner, dishwasher tablets, and more – and it’s usually much cheaper than buying it in the shops!
- Be strict – household routine and infrastructure is key to preventing everything from going to pot. I have only really started seeing the benefits of this now I have two young children, but wish I had realised it sooner. Stick to bed times, table manners, chores, expectations such as where dirty laundry goes and flushing the loo after you use it. These things are important, and give your children the structure they need to function, not to mention how helpful they are to you in order to prevent yourself from having to scream into a pillow quite so frequently because of the mess and tiredness.
- Give everything an allocated place. My house is really small. No, seriously, there are six of us, it’s a two bedroom house with only three rooms per floor, and two floors. Space is at a serious premium. In order for things not to get out of control, everything needs a place to live when it is not in use. Clever storage comes into play here, and time spent as a family tidying and putting things back so that other family members learn where they go is essential.
Accept help whenever you can
This is my final, and possibly most important tip. Last week my mum came round to look after Alfie while I took Archie for his 12 week vaccinations, and when I came back she insisted on packing up all of my dirty laundry and taking it away to be washed at hers. I resisted at first, it was very embarrassing to admit that I couldn’t cope with it, but in truth I was pretty much drowning in laundry post Easter holiday madness. I collected it today, ironed and folded, and am promising myself that I will put it away before I go to bed! This is a pretty extreme example, but wherever and whenever anyone offers to take a load off your hands in any shape or form, don’t be ashamed, take them up on the offer. Thank them, and make a mental note to repay them when you have the time, the money and the free hands. And if no one offers help but you still need it – for goodness sake, ask. Somebody close to you might love the chance to lend a hand but might not want to feel they are insulting you by offering. The worst thing that will happen is they will say no!
Here ends my advice, for now!
I will update this if I discover any more wonderful life changing tips along the way, or if any of you lovely lot can enlighten me with any more. In the mean time, I hope something you have read here has helped, and happy parenting!