When the lockdown or circuit breaker (as they called it here in Singapore) happened, I felt so anxious and overwhelmed. Anxious about the pandemic and overwhelmed about how to get anything done. How can I work/ cook/ do chores/ home based learning and clean the house with my toddler at home? I was grateful that we were still safe and well but still it was tough. Eventually, I was able to cope with our new norm then. It was extremely tiring and stressful at times, but I was able to create a sort of system that worked for us.
If you’re more or less, in the same situation as I am (or was) and you’re feeling quite overwhelmed, I hope these tips will help ease your stress.
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Tips on How to Clean the House with a Toddler
Lower your expectations
If you’re a little OC about cleaning and you consider yourself a Type A when it comes to work, you have to change your mindset about it. You can’t keep giving it your 100% in everything or else, you’ll feel extremely drained and even resentful at the end of the day. It will eventually affect how you engage with your family. So the first thing to do is to lower your expectations about everything.
You’re in survival mode so you have to prioritize what really matters and you have to give permission to yourself to be lenient and chill with other tasks.
You have to lower your expectations about how much cleaning you’re going to get done everyday, especially with a toddler that can ruin the house in less than 5 minutes.
For work, you have to make some mental adjustments about what’s really urgent and what’s not.
Think about this – no one will die if you don’t fold the laundry today or if you don’t meet your deadline at work. If your employers are not assholes and you’re honest to them about your living situation, they will understand if you can’t give it your 100%.
If you can’t ignore the mess and say for example, the toys in the living room are giving you a headache, then by all means, clean it. Of course if you’re only one peanut butter spread away from cockroach infestations then please do clean your house. But if you’re OC all the time about cleaning then that would be an issue.
You are already stressed from work, from taking care of the kids, from the chores you need to do, from thinking what to cook, from the news you keep hearing, and if there’s a way to lessen all that stress by lowering your expectations, then please try that.
Play with your kids first.
“Fill their cup” as parenting experts would say. I noticed my kid can play longer on her own giving me some time to do some chores/ work. As long as I play with her first. So that’s what I always do at the start of the day and before every chore.
I also set expectations when it comes to playing. I remember one time, I let my kid dictate how long we can play. We were going strong at 2 hours and I just had to throw in the towel. So I always tell her before playing that, I’ll play with her for 20 mins then I need to do something else.
Setup multiple play areas
Now this might sound counterproductive but trust me, you can get things done with having multiple little play areas in the house.
This is one of the best tips I’ve ever gotten from the Playful Parent Academy by Jules. She basically teaches parents how to encourage kids to play more independently. Follow her on Instagram for some quick teaching tips!
At home, I started setting up some small, easy to clean play corners. For example, in the kitchen, I’d have some magnets by the refrigerator for my kid to play with. I also have a little nook in the dining area, with a small container filled with toy vehicles. Just set up a small play area where you’re usually working or doing chores. Make sure also to make that easy to clean and organize.
Have a cleaning schedule
I’ve made this habit of listing down the things I have to do for the week and another one for the day.
For cleaning, I’d have a weekly schedule of cleaning the living room, dining area and kitchen plus service balcony on Thursdays then bedrooms and bathrooms on Friday.
During the lockdown, I decided to do the general cleaning every 2 weeks. Because it was hard to do it every week with a toddler clinging on to me.
Clean/ work when your kid is sleeping
I usually do this at night, when my kid is sleeping. I would rotate her toys, keep some and take out some other toys, just to keep the novelty.
Any kind of organization and cleaning that I want to be done undisturbed, I’d do it at night. That means cleaning the bathrooms, arranging documents, organizing kitchen cabinets, folding clothes and more.
Most of my work happens during nap times and at night. If there’s something urgent that needs to be done, I tell my kid that I’m turning on the TV for a short time and she can watch while I do some work. Setup expectations first before turning on the TV so you don’t need to pry your kids away from it, whining and crying.
Wash the dishes at night
We don’t have a dishwasher and I had to stop washing the dishes after every meal, as my hands were starting to get too dry. I just wait at the end of the day and wash everything in one go when my kid is asleep at night.
Wash the dishes while cooking
Here’s another hack I’ve been doing recently – I’ve been washing the dishes while I cook. When I have a few minutes of waiting for the oil to heat up, for the soup to boil or something, I do the dishes. By the end of cooking a meal, I’m finished with all the dishes!
Let your kids help
Sometimes I can get away with cleaning the house on my own but most of the time, my almost 3 year old would insist on helping me. So I let her.
On a regular day, it would usually take me less than 2 hours to clean the living room, dining area and kitchen plus service balcony. But during the pandemic, it took half a day or more than that. Sometimes my kid would help out, other times, she’d try to stop me from cleaning so I had to do it at a later time.
That’s why I had to lower my expectations about my cleaning time or else, I’d go insane.
I also taught my toddler to how to help me clean the house. Just simple tasks, like putting away her toys, putting her dirty clothes in the laundry hamper and such. At first she wasn’t into it then I got her these books about cleaning.
It kinda helped but most of the time, she’s more interested in playing than cleaning. I try to make it fun for her by having a clean up song playing from Spotify or making it into a game of who can clean faster.
Deal with messes right away
If you can clean it in less than 5 minutes, then do it. Do small, small tasks every day, like wiping the dining table after every meal, putting away the toys after every playtime, etc. You can also try making your toddler help clean the house, if you both are up for it.
Grocery and Cooking
I do the grocery shopping at night. For cooking, I plan out the simplest of meals for the week. There were times where I’d cook at night but eventually, I learned to cook during the daytime, even when my kid is hovering around the kitchen area. I just talk to her, play with her in between cooking, engage with her using the magnets on the fridge.
Buy a baby gate
We had this baby gate installed for my kid’s bedroom. She was already walking around by 8 months so I wanted to keep her safe in the room if I had to clean or just have a little breather.
I have a door stopper so she won’t be able to completely close the door then she can just waddle around in her room, safe and sound. She can still see me from her room and I can clean or eat in peace outside.
That gate is still a huge help, especially during the pandemic. She would sometimes stay in her room, with the door open and just play there, giving me half an hour or more to do some work or cleaning.
Turn on the TV
If all else fails, turn on the TV. There’s a lot of educational tv shows for toddlers and even babies nowadays so don’t feel too guilty about it.
Take it easy
I remember her teachers sending some weekly home based learning homeworks during the pandemic. I didn’t do all of them because there were some that took some time preparing. So I took it easy and said, eff it – my kid would survive not learning this for now.
Kidding aside, just try to take it easy. Don’t try to keep up with what kids have to learn nowadays or if they’re getting a little behind on their homework.
Remember we’re on survival mode and you don’t want to lose your marbles over a little caterpillar math homework that takes like 5 hours to make. I certainly didn’t want to, that’s why I didn’t do that damn assignment.
Now these tips might not work for everyone. These methods on how to clean your house with a toddler worked for me and for one kid only.
I can’t imagine having to work full-time at home with multiple kids under the age of 5 and not having anyone help you at the same time. So if you’re in that situation, I feel you and I am in awe of you. You are honestly a supermom, a superhuman being and I don’t know how you do it. Hang in there!
If you find my tips helpful, let me know by commenting below.