Cleaning, Motherhood, toddlers

Tips for a Non-Cleaner

I am what I would consider a “non-cleaner”. I was not born (or raised) with the skilled ability to clean. I didn’t grow up scrubbing baseboards. These were not the chores I had. In fact, I’m not even sure our first house had baseboards. My childhood home was not the tidiest, and neither was my mom’s childhood home. It must be in our genes. But I don’t really remember those details when recalling early memories. I had the BEST childhood. I grew up outside, spending my time getting as tan as my shins were bruised. I ran around barefoot, playing at the pool, on the playground, in the woods. I didn’t have daily or weekly chores that ever ran on a schedule. I cleaned my room as well as any kid would, which is to say not really doing much cleaning but instead finding ANYTHING else to do instead. When I got older my chores included putting dishes away, irregular vacuuming, and my favorite…dusting. OH dusting, how I hate thee. We had a lot of intricately carved antique furniture with decorative glass and figurines, and in my teenage mind, that was the worst thing I could be expected to do. Please, ask me to do anything else. After years and years, I am realizing I am just not a very skilled cleaner. What does that even mean? Is my house in a constant state of disarray? Does FEMA need to provide some disaster relief? NO. But it means that I missed out on a very useful education that some of you had, and I work a little harder and stress a little more over cleaning-related things that I am not good at or consistent with. My (mostly) Type B personality doesn’t mind if something gets skipped, and while I have failed to make myself run on schedule, I do love organization and clean spaces. I think I am a Type B person with a Type A brain. I am always enthralled when people have their cleaning routine down to a science while I feel like I am always cleaning but never done. If you can relate, read on, and maybe this post will help a little!

One of my newer goals for myself is to always have my house what I would consider “houseguest ready.” Not perfect, but put together enough to where I feel comfortable having someone drop in at any moment. This may sound really silly to some, but it has always been a source of anxiety to me! I want my home to be welcoming and organized for so many reasons, and sometimes life (and my habits) just get in the way. I mean first off, two kids and two white dogs. Hello. Occasional piles of laundry to be folded on the couch, boxes to go out to recycling by the front door, last night’s dishes on the counter, etc. It’s not really how I would prefer my house to be on any given day. So here are some changes I have adopted that have made a big difference in the nightly and morning routines, as well as my overall peace of mind:

Clean a little throughout the day. Again, if you are “a cleaner”, this is probably the most obvious statement ever. But for those non-cleaners, let me explain. I once came across and article about things all neat & tidy people have in common, and the biggest one was that they cleaned throughout the day. It said, “you can’t expect to be a slob all day and then find time to clean everything up at once.” I realized that I very frequently made poor, lazy choices under the premise if “I’ll get to it later” because the kids were pulling me in one direction or another at the moment. I mean slob seems harsh, but yeah, maybe I was being a slob! For example, putting my plate on the counter instead of in the sink or dishwasher. Wiping toddler faces and putting the paper towel on the table instead of immediately in the trash. Folding laundry and leaving it in clean stacks on the floor to put away later. All of those little things have to be dealt with at some point. Maybe the end of the day, or maybe you’ll leave it for “tomorrow.” Mmm hmm. Just forcing myself not be lazy in those aspects has helped my nightly routine straightening up SO MUCH. Doing those things consistently have changed my habits which I have had for YEARS and make life more simple.

Daily laundry and dishes. For whatever reason, I always had “laundry days.” I separated out all of the laundry for all 4 of us and did load after load, then folded it all, and put it away. This was intense. I don’t know why that made sense to me, but I found another pearl of wisdom among some other cleaning article I got lost in and it mentioned the importance of daily laundry. Instead of 5 huge loads one day a week, I bought some Shout Color Catcher and at the end of each day I wash everyone’s things together. Towels, toddler clothes, work out clothes, etc. The color catchers work wonderfully at keeping colors and whites bright and the laundry loads are small and manageable. Folding and putting them away is easy! Same with dishes. Dirty dishes go immediately in the dishwasher and are washed each night, so every morning we put dishes away and start all over. Making my husband and toddler do the same is…a work in progress…but even if they don’t, it’s less mess for mama. Here’s my kitchen on a normal day now:

Have a “goodbye” spot. This is a place in your house where things can go before they are put out to pasture. Have it be tucked away, but not totally inconvenient or totally out of site. Mine is in a certain part of our garage. Having a designated place for things to be stored until you have enough to run to Goodwill, host a yardsale, etc. is great for lessening your household junk. It lets you think about whether you are ready to part with it, and it’s out of sight so it doesn’t bug you, but not hidden so you forget about it. Plus, in somewhere like the garage I can just load up the car and drop everything off when I’m ready. Easy peasy. If you find it hard to Marie Kondo things, try this method first. It’s like Marie Kondo with a safety net.

Clear couches, comforters, & counters. CCC. One of my ultimate pet peeves is having things where I want to sit. My husband has this bad habit of emptying his pockets on the back of our couch, or spreading his things out on the couch beside him if he’s working on his laptop. If I come into a room with two couches and a chair and nowhere clear to sit down, I loose it. Keeping seating areas clear, as well as beds and tables, it a great goal to have. A clean kitchen counter is my happy place. This keeps your down time relaxing, and opens up space for starting new tasks.

Make it a game. Encouraging little kids to help is great on so many levels. Toddlers LOVE lifestyle play. That’s why Melissa & Doug toys are genius! Instead of getting something where they can only pretend to clean, let them help out a little! Wipe windows, unload the silverware from the dishwasher, sweep the kitchen. Lately my 3 year old LOVES folding laundry, and I taught her to fold shirts. She’s pretty good at it! Win-win! She’ll also take a mower ride whenever she can get it.

Phone a friend. There is no shame in not enjoying cleaning, or not being good at it. I know several moms who pay someone to clean weekly or deep clean monthly. If you can do that- go for it! But if you’d rather improve your cleaning skills and efficiency yourself, ask a friend what they do. I asked Kate this very thing, which led to the inspiration for this blog and the one to follow (so stay tuned!) Kate is a cleaner. She has a routine, which keeps her household running like clockwork. I asked her for her weekly schedule she sets for herself. Other friends have found genius Pinterest hacks which save time too, so don’t be afraid to ask how your friends clean!

Give yourself time. If you have a tendency to be messy, don’t expect to become a neat-freak overnight. You can’t change a lifetime of habits overnight. (And if you can, please write a blog!) Set achievable goals, take it one day at a time, and strive for consistency. Try to make each day better than the last. Slowly you will find yourself with less work to do each day, which means you can dive into another project or start organizing those drawers or closets you never find time to get to.

When Kate and I started this blog, one of our primary goals was to be honest, not shiny. We are not perfect and neither are our houses. Just like (almost) everyone else. So, I say all of that to say it is OKAY if your house is always always always a mess. It really is. Even the cleanest of people, I’m sure, wishes things were a little more clean and tidy. Just think, when your kids are grown and the opportunities to make memories with little people has come and gone, your house can be clean. I would rather my house be messy and my kids be happy. When I’m 90 years old and recalling my greatest memories, I can ASSURE YOU I will not be picturing my clean house. So find a balance between messy & clean, don’t stress over the opinions of people who don’t live there, and be happy.

Any quick cleaning tips or habits hat have made a difference for you? Please don’t keep them to yourself! Share below!

XOXO, Elizabeth & Kate

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Car Trips That Won’t Drive You Crazy

Or at least, a little less crazy.

Camping in the Outer Banks!

Traveling with little ones sometimes spurs a sense of dread. No matter how exciting the destination or occasion, there’s always that tiny voice inside your head saying, “this is going to go terribly wrong.” Because, kids. It’s like a dentist visit, a trip to the DMV, cleaning your bathroom…it may not be the worst thing in the world, but lets just say it doesn’t spark excitement. If you’re anything like me, you mentally prepare for screams, vomit, and five million questions over and over again.

Kate and I are both military spouses, which often corresponds with living a good distance away from some (or all) of your family. We are actually pretty lucky, with 8 and 4 hour car rides respectfully. So if you are looking for tips on traveling with toddlers on a plane, you will not find that here. You are a braver mom than us and may the odds be ever in your favor! But car trips? We’ve pretty much got them figured out.

Grayson & Charlie headed to visit the grandparents

Things to Consider:

As parents, we know best what our kids need. We are still human, so we will inevitably forget something, but for the most part we have a handle on it. I know this, but still panic when it comes time to pack for a trip in a hurry. This leads to lack of organization (aka throwing random things in the van) and overpacking. Let’s start out with the most vital piece of advice: Think ahead.

1 week before trip: Start a list. Make a column for each family member. Starting writing down everything you can think you’ll need, and make it readily available throughout the week so you can add things (and also, take things away that you may not really need.) Consider where you are staying. A hotel, a family member’s house, a friend’s house? I know if I am staying with family I may feel a TAD more comfortable going through their pantry and linen closet, just saying! And in a hotel you will likely be confined to one room, so visualize your stay and think about what additions would make you and your family most comfortable. Also consider departure time and routes. The time of day may make a huge difference with traffic, so it may be worthwhile to leave a little earlier than planned.

2-3 days before: Knock out the laundry. I like to do ALL the laundry, so not only do I have all my options for packing, but when I come back there is no dirty laundry to get through. Check the weather forecast and set aside things from the clean laundry you may want to pack. Cross of unnecessary items you may have written on your packing list earlier in the week, see what you can size down on.

1 day before: Clean out the car. It’s always nice to start with a blank slate because you know it’s going to look like a war torn country by the time the trip is over. Pack bags for the kids and yourself, and even load up the car if you can. Charge electronics you’ll be taking. We now have a fancy van with built-in DVD players, but before that I would download kid shows and movies from Netflix to play on our iPad. The day I found out you could download and watch without WiFi was a GREAT day!

Day of trip: Review your list, prepare snacks, and think happy thoughts! Talk to your kids about where you are going, who you are visiting, and what they can expect to see along the way. After all, kids are Chatty Cathys and like feeling involved!

Addie & Ella’s first night in a hotel

What To Actually Pack and How To Pack It

Once you have a few mishaps under your belt, you get pretty good at predicting all kinds of car trip catastrophes (says the mom who has given her child a water bottle shower on the grassy lawn of a gas station). Here’s a few travel tips you MAY not have thought about doing:

  • Instead of having a stack of shirts, stack of pants, etc. in a suitcase, roll up complete outfits together. Especially for your kids. Shirt, pants, socks and all. Not only does this take the guesswork out of dressing them each day and having enough clothing items, but it means anyone around can dress them too.
  • Instead of a large bag or suitcase, give everyone their own small bag. That way if you have a mishap you don’t have to riffle through everyone’s stuff to find an extra pair of princess panties.
  • Have a designated storage tote for toys, and one for non-perishable snacks. And have that bad boy EASY TO ACCESS! You will need to reach for it approximately 800 times.
  • Have a storage tote just for shoes. This one may have some people shaking their heads, but I can’t tell you the number of times we cannot find shoes for one or both children. We don’t wear shoes in the car and we take them off at the front door. Having both kids’ shoes all in one place in the car makes it easy to get out and go, versus finding the one shoe my one year old tossed into deep space.
  • Make an emergency kit. Ours includes a thermometer, pain meds for us and the kids, allergy meds, dramamine, band aids, and a tourniquet. I also like to throw in baby powder, eye drops, and a makeup brush for the summer months because my kids cannot NOT get sand in their eyes. A clean makeup brush is the easiest to knock that stuff right out when a sandy child paw starts rubbing those baby blues.
  • If you are potty training or newly potty trained or just against stopping 5 times at rest stops- a travel potty. We bought this one that has an air freshener, doubles as a step stool, and closes up and it’s been a lifesaver for car trips and camping.
  • Bring a sound machine. If yours isn’t travel-worthy, then download a free app on your iPad or phone (see our recent blog post on our favorite apps for recommended options!) Using this during nap times in the car, hotel, or unfamiliar home can save the day.
  • A designated blanket or mat to sit on. We carry a packable Monkey Mat in the car with us to throw out at a park, use as a changing pad, or even as a picnic blanket in a hotel room. You never know where you might need a clean surface to sit, so this is an easy but extremely useful item to throw in!

Snacks, Snacks, AND MORE SNACKS!

Snacks will be your BEST FRIEND. And they don’t have to be pure garbage. I know I always splurged on car snacks as a kid. Peach rings, potato stix, sour gummy crawlers, soda after soda…good times. And while a treat here and there might be nice, the last thing you want strapped in a carseat for hours is a toddler hopped up on sugar. Remember in Jurassic Park when they tied the dinosaurs down? That’s what you’re stuck in a car with. So here are some of our favorite crowd-pleasers that are yummy and also fairly safe to eat in a carseat. (Definitely watch ALL carseat snacking closely and I highly recommended investing in a mirror to see your back-facing babes if you don’t have one already.)

We like to use Camelbak or Munchkin 360 cups for our kiddos and really stick to water and milk for simplicity (and to avoid mess.) We also find that bowls (or little mugs) with handles help for holding snacks. Vertical snack bags also work well for on the go. In fact, we even got some cute little reusable/machine-washable snack pouches at a Farmer’s Market one time!

Lunch in a hotel room

If nothing else, please takeaway these two things. One we already said: Plan ahead. The other is this: Don’t set your expectations too high. Things will go wrong, meltdowns will occur, and that’s okay. Hopefully planning ahead and being familiar with some things other moms do will be a card you can play when the time arises. If all else fails, you will have a great story to tell your future son or daughter-in-law! That’s something, right? Memories are made in the journey, so take it all in and enjoy the ride!

As always, if you have other tips, please share! We all need some new tricks every now and then.

XOXO, Elizabeth & Kate