Cleaning is not my favorite pastime, but don’t tell my kids that.
My style is a bit less structured than I’d like to admit; whenever I see something that grosses me out, I clean it up immediately. But with the weather changing and spring in the air, I’m feeling the need to get organized and clean my house up properly.
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Although I'm a busy mom, it saves us money to do our own spring cleaning rather than paying someone to do it, and I hope it teaches my children some key life lessons: responsibility, frugality, hard work.
Where do I start?
At the ripe old ages of 6 and 4, my munchkins are plenty mature to help me execute "operation spring clean." It's always a struggle to get them interested and involved in spring cleaning, but over the years, I've learned what works for us.
Here's what I've learned:
1. Prepare Ahead of Time
Having fun with kids means you can’t waste 45 minutes searching the house for the Swiffer refill pack. Here are a few things you should have lined up and ready to go:
Music: I’ve always been a big fan of blasting tunes to make cleaning bearable. So throw on your kid’s favorite soundtrack or some groovy reggae and get ramped up for some fun (remember your positive attitude will rub off on them!).
Cloths: You can use old t-shirts, burp cloths, terry cloths, paper towels or whatever you have lying around.
Spray Bottles: Fill them up with environmentally friendly cleaning solution or a simple water and vinegar mix (with equal parts water and vinegar). For guidance on how to concoct your own eco-friendly, D.I.Y. cleaning solutions, check out LearnVest's article on how five items like baking soda and vinegar can be repurposed to do 40 household tasks.
Swiffer-type broom and cloths: It may be handy to have one broom per child to avoid battles over possession.
2. Tackle the Floors
I’m a fan of immediate gratification so I always start with my hardwood floors.
Try giving your kids a Swiffer and challenge them to catch all the dust bunnies they see. If you have more than one child, remind them it is not a competition, nor is it a contact sport. Everybody wins when we catch the bunnies.
Carpets need to be vacuumed and my kids are all up for that. I think it makes them feel grown-up and like a “critical” member of the cleaning team. I encourage them to get all those pesky spots by having them switch between the upright vacuum and the handheld.
Keep in mind you’ll have to be OK with less than perfection. Avoid the urge to redo every area they have “cleaned,” if only to show them that you value their contribution and teach the lesson that hard work does pay off.
3. Shine the Windows
If the sun is shining, we want to see it!
Set your kids up with a spray bottle and cloth and teach them the spray-and-wipe method of window cleaning. Work your way through the house and don’t forget any glass doors you may have.
This fine motor activity is great for hand-eye coordination and will give them a workout! Just don’t let them “clean” each other in the process.
4. Empty the Fridge
While you weed out moldy leftovers, have the kids take down all the art, notes, pictures, etc. off the fridge door. Supply your workers with those trusty spray bottles and have them wash the front of the fridge (as well as the handles) before they tastefully redecorate, prioritizing which items deserve to go back on the fridge.
5. Organize the Closets
It may not be Fashion Week in New York, but it is in your house!
Pull out all those seasonally inappropriate clothes and throw a fashion show highlighting your kids' amazing growth spurts. Collect all the items that don’t fit now or won’t fit next winter and toss out items with any glaring issues (such as the classic knee tear).
If your kids are anything like my 6-year-old daughter, they may have trouble saying goodbye to a few choice items. Encourage your little models to help others by gathering clothes for charity donation.
When the show is over, pack away any warm clothes that may still fit next year in a clearly labeled storage container.
6. Make Sense of the Toys
Let’s face it; you’ve got a lot of lonely toys hanging around your house.
Start with the bedrooms and have the kids sort toys into two piles: one to keep and one to donate. My kids, while seriously “attached” to their unused toys, seemed to eventually understand that there are children who would be thrilled to have some new toys to play with.
Plan a family trip to donate your bags of clothes and toys to the charity of your choice.
7. Tidy Up the Odds and Ends
Kid clutter is everywhere.
Pick a room and have the kids collect all the things that don’t belong. Help them sort items into mini-piles that will be destined for the office, bedrooms, basement, garage, laundry, garbage or the recycling bin.
My kids got quickly bored with this activity until I threatened to throw out everything that didn’t find its proper home. Our living room was finished soon thereafter.
8. Corral Arts and Crafts Supplies
My daughter was much more into weeding through the chaos of our “art corner” than my 4-year-old son. (That could be because he’s not really into art, or because he discovered some plastic cars in the piles of paper on the dining room floor.)
Logically, I understand I can’t keep every piece of paper my kids have touched with a crayon, but throwing out their artwork still pains me. My daughter and I sorted through the messy stacks of “creations” and made piles of art to keep, some to recycle—like filled-up coloring books—and weird stuff that just needed to be thrown out—like dried-up markers, yucky paint and broken crayons.
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For those pieces of art you’d really like to keep but know you shouldn’t, take a picture and promise yourself you’ll eventually put together a photo book highlighting your little Picasso’s brilliance. Not only will it look good on your coffee table, it will be a great gift for the relatives.
Final Words of Advice ...
Please do not attempt to do this all in one day. Remember that you’re teaching your kids that cleaning can be fun!
Encouraging them to play an important role in the family’s chores will help each of your kids feel like a valuable team member, teach them good life skills and help you get some tasks off your to-do list.