Pre-germaphobia, I was pretty messy.
Messy may be an understatement- just ask my mom. When I lived at home, she would always shut my door when she had guests. It was embarrassing. I didn't care much. It's not like it was dirty per se, more messy. Stuff everywhere. When my mom got rid of the encyclopedias to get new ones, I took the old ones and put them in my closet. Cuz you never know when you need to look something up. Encyclopedia- this means google before google was invented, for all of you kids.
Flash forward to parenthood, where I gave exactly two craps about the state of my house. Now it was dirty too, well at least dirty dishes. I knew someone who cloth-diapered and they would remove the kid's diaper and throw it towards the hamper pile of cloth diapers and cloth wipes, wipe diaper cream on the kid's butt with their hand, and then go about their business, dirty cloth diapers near a giant pile of dirty cloth diapers in the middle of their living room, butt cream on their hands. That's dirty. Mine was more like toys everywhere, clothes everywhere, crumbs everywhere, and piles of dirty dishes.
When I found a job, we hired a babysitter to cover the gap time between when I went to work and when my husband came home, generally never more than 4 hours. We hired her with the mindset to entertain and play with the boys, and to not clean. This was probably the ideal job, since we were paying her $10 an hour to play and chase after some kids, while I hear most parents want the nanny to cook and clean and on and on. So our house was a pit (to the degree my mom told me I should apologize about the state of the house every time she came over) but I didn't care. And then came the sickening when my fragile concept of childhood illnesses was realized and the anxiety stepped in.
So now I have a very clean house. Granted, there are still signs that children live here. Like right now, there is a pile of giant bubble wrap on the living room floor. There is an empty wrapping paper tube that has been brandished as an instrument of pain-infliction, and I see a sock under the couch. But for the most part, tidy. How do I keep it tidy? How can you start an adventure of tidiness? It's not that hard. You definitely don't need to shoot for anal retentive as I have. But to have a house that is clean enough you don't mind if a friend stops by, your inlaws, or even the mailman, that would be ideal.
Have a tidy house
First, learn this mantra: It is up to me. I have mentioned this before, but my rude awakening of parenthood came when I realized that it was up to me. That toilet paper scrap on the bathroom floor would only be picked up by me. The grape that is under the cabinets by the sink would only get picked up by me. That sock laying under the couch will only be picked up by me. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones that has a husband that enjoys helping around the house, or at least has a strong sense of guilt. Mine has neither. And seeing as how he lets me stay home (for the moment), I try to do all the other crap. And also- news alert- men and women have different standards of cleanliness. My husband will "do the dishes" by placing whatever in the dishwasher that he can without too much thought, run the thing, and leave the kitchen. I am strategic to get all the dishes in before I run the dishwasher, put the leftovers away, and then I wipe up the counters, the dining room table and high chair, clean the high chair tray, clean out the sink. That to me is cleaning up after dinner. My husband has stated that I don't need to fold his laundry and should just cram it in the drawers or heap it in the closet. Like I said- different standards. and because of these standards, I know that if I want my husband to go to work and not look homeless, I have to fold his laundry. If I want my jeans to stay the right size, I need to do the laundry (surprisingly, men, hot is not a good setting for all clothes).
Second, work smarter.
There is always a way to do something that will save you hassle. The trick is to figure out what you want to do and how you can best achieve it. For example, if I am doing laundry (which involves a trip to the basement), I make sure to take down things that live down there. The boys are always dragging toys from the basement up, and there are certain ones that are just basement toys (it will save you trouble to designate certain toys to certain areas). I know when I'm heading downstairs and I see imaginext toys on the floor, to grab a few and toss them in the basket. When I get downstairs, I unload them and start my wash. On the way back up, I grab empty glasses, spoons, trash, whatever I can quickly see on my path back upstairs. Why would I make special trips to the basement to sort and clean when I can just do it as I go? I have a little counter space by the basement stairs where I also place things that live downstairs (like my husband's tools, stuff that needs to go in the pantry) to grab for trips downstairs. When I have to go pee, I check the kitchen counter for hair clips, socks, loose toys, to place them in the appropriate room on the way there. Sure, it takes me an extra minute to get done what I need to get done, but it saves my sanity. And it goes back to my first rile- it's up to me.
Three, get storage.
We have a man cave (furnace room with storage room off the side) that had built-in shelves. I bought bins and a label maker, and what a smart decision that was. If you have more than one child, this will save you trouble. After baby #1 grew out of 0-6 month clothes, into a bin they went with a 0-6 month label. Maternity clothes met a similar fate. Clothes that I sized out of while pregnant, clothes my husband sized out of while I was pregnant, all went into labeled bins. Winter coats and boots, etc. Saves so much time. I then got bins for the boys toys. Many sized bins, and see-thru- VERY important that they are see-thru. Like kind items, such as legos, dinosaurs, trains, all have their own bin. I need a better storage system for them at the moment, but they are stacked up behind a baby gate so they can't be completely dismembered. When we are playing downstairs, we get out a project, like trains, and play. When we are done, in theory, the toys go back in the bin and order is restored. I have bins in my youngest's room, for smaller items and ones that don't group together as well. These are the "toy" bins. If we are upstairs and the boys want a toy to play with, we head in there and they get to pick a couple to play with for the day. Eventually they end up on the bookcase in the living room or on the floor, and I eventually herd them back into their bin.
Four, have spaces for things to live.
Be realistic. You can clean and you can put away, but there is realistically no way you can keep everything packed up and clean and tidy at all times. Especially if you have kids. So you need places for things that you use to live when they are out. Because the floor or the couch or the counter is a terrible spot for things to just hang out. We have a low bookcase in the living room that I actually bought from Urban Outfitters when they were re-doing their displays. It was $15. Can't beat that. THe boys know thats where they put their toys. That is the home of stuff.
Five, cut yourself some slack.
You are only human. Have some time to sit.