People often ask how I keep my home clean and de-cluttered and more or less photo-shoot ready. Let's be real here - right now it is a rainy day and crafts are covering my kitchen table, there are dust bunnies in the corners because I haven't vacuumed in a week and there are dog toys scattered around. I'm not someone who keeps my house pristine all the time because we actually live here, and I want my family to enjoy living here. We don't live in a model home. But, we have a photo shoot here once or twice a month so relatively quickly I have to be able to pick up and put things away and get the countertops clear. If this takes me hours, it is not worth it, and I have learned a few things along the way of how to keep the house de-cluttered and clean as a practice, while working full-time, and being a busy mom of two kids and a puppy. I don't have a ton of time to organize or clean, and so I have to be efficient. The first three are my 3 Household Rules, and and the last four are my top 4 habits for keeping your home de-cluttered and mostly clean on a regular basis.
1.Take Your Shoes Off When you Come Inside - this is my main tip for keeping your floors looking clean, rugs and carpets lasting longer, and for not having to do as much vacuuming, carpet cleaning or mopping. When I host, I do not ask guests to take off their shoes, but on the daily we do not wear shoes inside. It is equally important to have some covered area by the door where said shoes get stored. We have a closet by our front door where we have a shoe rack, and baskets by our back door where flip flops and tennis shoes get thrown in. Are there tennis shoes usually scattered by my back door? Yes, but it is easy to throw them into a basket in a pinch. We keep our main shoe storage mostly in our closets but the kids shoes that they usually wear are often in the closet by the front door. If you don't have a closet, you could have a rack in a console. The shoes in the baskets usually get a little dirty piled on top of each other, so it works for flip flops or kids tennis shoes but I usually prefer keep my own shoes out of baskets.
2. Have a designated zone for messy crafts or projects. My daughters love crafts and I feel like they are constantly working on something, and I love that - and I want to encourage it. We have a rule that any permanent markers, paints, or things that could permanently stain have to be done outside or on the kitchen table. Our kitchen table I built myself for about $200 and I polyurethaned the top pretty well. It is also a rustic style and so I don't mind if they get marker or something on it or if it gets a little scratched. It has held up pretty well over the past 10 years. Someday I want to get a live edge wood dining table but not until we are past this arts and crafts period. I also sometimes set up a card table in our kitchen and let them work on projects there. That way they don't have to be cleaned off for meals. Our dining table is pretty long - and we usually eat at one end, and the other end has homework, a glue gun, whatever. Here is a pic when I have it all cleaned off. Just imagine someone building a dollhouse room at one end, because that is what is actually happening today.
This table was made with boards I stained from Home Depot, and hairpin legs from Amazon. The stain on it is darker, and it still looks pretty good all things considered. The chairs are plastic, and I've been able to wipe them clean with a magic eraser sponge. The rug is an indoor/outdoor rug and is washable. My girls know if they are doing messy crafts here, it's fine. If I discover them with permanent marker while coloring on the couch, not fine. If your dining table doesn't work for something like this, make a special zone (where everything is washable or not too precious) and designate it as the mess zone. This is my main mom hack for not letting all your furniture or rugs get ruined, and still letting your kids paint. If something is really messy, I put it on a plastic play type table in our backyard and say, go for it.
3. Only eat in the kitchen. This is my third very important household rule. My kids can eat at the kitchen table or at a countertop stool, but we don't carry food around the house. One exception to this is sometimes doing a movie night with popcorn, etc. but regularly, we don't allow the kids to eat while watching TV. This is also helpful practice for having mealtimes and snack times be more intentional. There are also less crumbs in the couch cushions or in the rug and less opportunity for stains. That being said, we did have a frightful incident where someone vomited a berry smoothie on our white living room rug. We sent it out for a steam clean and it came back good as new. Voila. Life happens.
We have had this rug for probably 6 years and it has held up, even with a puppy. Stains have come out of it pretty easily. I vacuum it at least once a week with a Dyson cordless vacuum that I will link below. I also use the Dyson cordless to vacuum my wood floors. If you institute and follow rules 1-3 there will be considerably less opportunity for incidents where furniture or rugs get totally ruined, so let's move on to how I try to maintain a modicum of basic cleanliness.
4. Everything in the house has a specific place it belongs. This is my top tip for reducing visual clutter. Toys go into bins in the playroom (not really a specific bin- just a bin.) I have a tray for school papers and chargers in the kitchen that goes into a cupboard. The console to the right of the TV holds media storage and remotes. The basket to the right of the safari chair holds my workout gear. Covered storage is key here. If you take the time to give everything a place it goes, and you publicize this location to the family, you will save yourself countless hours of putting things away or trying to find places for everything, and then wondering where you put those things. If you don't have a place in a cupboard or closet or bin that things go, then you do need to pair down or spend some time to organize your stuff. Repeat after me - things don't "belong" on countertops. Only decorative items or useful/decorative items belong out permanently (like a hand towels, books, candles). Every other ugly thing you own needs a place where it goes out of sight - in a drawer, in a bin, in a console, in a closet, or in a basket. Only keep things out permanently that you actually want to look at all the time! Everything else goes into a home at night. Of course this isn't as easy as it sounds, but once you get into the habit of setting things down in a drawer, instead of setting them on the counter on top of the drawer it gets easier.
These mirrors are actually medicine cabinets where my daughters store toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair ties, etc. so that this stuff doesn't always sit out on the countertop. Inside the cabinet they have clear storage bins for products and hair accessories. I have lots of clear bins under sinks in consoles and in closets etc. and I will link below some of my favorite organizing products for under sinks and in drawers. I like clear bins because you can see what is in them and you don't lose track of what you have.
5. De-cluttering is a daily habit, not a one time event. I always keep a bag in my garage that is my donate bag. Any time I come across something we don't use anymore or an item that doesn't fit, or a toy that no one has looked at in 6 months I don't overthink it and I put it in the bag. If I defer this until I'm in a de-cluttering mood, things pile up. The genius of this hack is that it is still in the garage if I regret it. I can go get it again if I miss it. Before I take it to the thrift store, I look in the bag to double check I haven't made a brash decision.
I also try to regularly make a habit of throwing things away. If I open the junk drawer and see something that we don't use, I give myself permission to just throw that thing away right then and there, and not necessarily tackle the whole junk drawer. I feel like this keeps things manageable and also keeps me mindful of what we bring into our house on a daily basis. I also give myself permission to not do this perfectly - if I throw something away that we end up needing, then we can go buy another one. I'd rather not overthink it, or keep lots of things in the fear we might use one thing someday. Sometimes I get really motivated and re-organize one room or one area, and I try to do this maybe every other month and because I keep up with it, it doesn't feel as daunting or overwhelming. I have a Goodwill store near my house next to the grocery store I frequent and I regularly drive by the back and drop off a bag. For me the practice of regularly de-cluttering makes the decisions easier. If I try to do too much at once, I worry I am throwing too much away, or I get decision fatigue. Doing it regularly as a practice makes it not as draining or overwhelming.
6. Once a month, I go through the kids rooms and playroom with a black trash bag and throw stuff away. This includes but is not limited to: crafts, holiday stuff, school papers, goodie bag crap, and happy meal toys. Yes, this is terrifying because if my kid comes home and asks for that one thing they made at school for Christmas (it is now past Valentines) I will act dumb while trying to not have a panic attack wondering if I threw away something actually important or sentimental. Usually though, I get away with this without anybody even noticing anything is gone. There is a trick I use - I usually leave the current mess out, and dig deeper into bins to find things they won't notice. I never throw away sentimental or important toys or donate them without checking with my kids first, but the dollar store type stuff I do not waver on. If at some point in the future we can all agree to do away with goodie bags at parties and holidays and such I will not complain because this kind of crap gives me real anxiety. Kids are like, THAT'S SO COOL for about two seconds and then it dissolves into a drawer and I'm finding mini erasers, bouncy balls and little tupperwares of slime everywhere weeks later. So whenever we could all collectively decide that we aren't doing goodie bags anymore I'm in. Until then, it's the black trash bag. And if you don't want to endure some shame-induced accusatory conversation when your little people get home from school, walk that bag out to the trash can outside and bury it. Deny you ever saw a pink slime tupperware from that last birthday party. You don't know anything.
Here are my other hacks for art projects- I have a string with close pins in the playroom that is a designated area for hanging art, and I keep a plastic storage bin in the garage for each of my daughters where I keep things for a memory box. Special pieces of art go on the close pin line, and if we are still wowed by them a few months later, they can go in the memory box, otherwise they go in the trash at that point. I have 4 or 5 bins in my garage from my childhood, and let's be honest, its nice to have some sentimental things but it's not like I want to pull it out and look at it every weekend, and it just sits there. Maybe when I die my daughters will watch my high school musicals on VHS. Who knows. I try to live in the present and realize that stuff sitting in the boxes doesn't really bring you joy. Of course, we are all sentimental about things but I try and only keep the really important stuff, because the more stuff you keep the less important it all seems.
This shows the playroom on a good day. Usually, there's plenty of questionable items littering the shelves. The polka dot bin is where I put dollar-store type stuff I'm not sure about, probably to throw out next time. Once a month I maybe put 1/3 of that bin in the trash. I try to keep the bottom bins for actual toys, stuffies, etc. The art supplies I keep in clear containers. The matryoshka dolls on the left I purchased on a trip to Russia over 20 years ago, and my daughters' have my Samantha American girl doll with clothes and accessories from over 30 years ago. I figure, why keep these things in boxes in the garage? I might as well use them or get rid of them. The venus fly-trap project on the top right was a fail by the way.
7. I have a housekeeper deep clean my house once a month, and I maintain it in between. If I didn't work full-time I'd probably clean my own house, but realistically I have had to admit that I'm never going to dust upper shelves or scrub grout or deep-clean the tile in my shower. I can do basic things like vacuum and wipe down surfaces once or twice a week. Our weekends are often spent doing kids activities and when I'm not doing all that I'm zoning on the couch reading a novel so spending 4 hours cleaning is not really an option right now. On Sunday nights I try to run a load of laundry or two and get the house back to a ground zero - vacuum the house and wipe down surfaces and put things away. Everyone helps with this, so it's like a 30 minute thing after dinner - let's clean up and then we'll watch a show!
8. It is photo shoot day! When I have a photo shoot booked at the house, I throw any toys or gymnastics mats into the playroom or kids room (these rooms are not pictured in my listing) wipe down surfaces again and do the dishes and put them away. I feel like it is really key to have a playroom type area that you throw things that you don't want to make a decision on at the moment. I try to not make this same day clean up last more than an hour. If I can keep up my basic regimen as outlined above, I don't have hours of cleaning and de-cluttering before a shoot. I do have a counter area in my kitchen where I keep current papers and bills, sort of like action items and school flyers I need to keep handy. I often just grab that stack and put them in my office.
So these are my top mom hacks for keeping a semi-organized and clean-ish house. If you'd like to shop my favorite home organizing and cleaning products you can shop here at the link:
I have my home listed for production shoots on Peerspace and the listing is here:
What routines and habits do you rely on to keep the cleaning and de-cluttering manageable? I'd love to hear it! My other hack is that I often make chores more enjoyable by listening to my favorite podcast or watching a design show while going through closets. It makes the time fly. Happy spring cleaning!