Shoes lined upI love kids. I babysat all through high school and college and couldn’t wait to have a brood of my own. So, 15 years and two kids later, why do I find myself dreading to hear, “Mommy, can you play with me?” and praying the AAP would raise its two-hour daily limit on TV to, say, five hours? The answer is probably obvious to you fellow moms: when babysitting—as opposed to parenting—you’re not also trying to do laundry, wash dishes, and erase all traces of a 3-year-old boy’s poor aim of the toilet.

Sadly, the cleaning does have to get done, but it doesn’t have to take over your life. Below are my top room-by-room tips for getting the chore done quickly, and for getting your kids in on the action. Put together, they’ll help you feel less like a grouchy cleaning lady and more like fun-loving mom.

General Cleaning Tips

  • Don’t let anyone wear shoes in the house or eat anywhere but the kitchen.
  • If you’re still hauling around a mop and pail to keep your floors clean, I have three words for you: Swiffer Wet Jet. Or, for the eco-conscious, there are brands that offer pads you can wash and reuse.
  • Give your kids an allowance, and tie it to doing their chores. There are experts who claim that paying kids for what they’re supposed to do anyway makes them grow into self-centered, reward-dependent adults. But of all the kids you grew up with, how many had their allowance tied to doing chores? Almost all of them—and probably you—right? And how many grew up to be ax murderers, or unproductive adults who won’t clean their houses unless someone gives them a couple of bucks?  

Bathroom Cleaning Tip

  • If your child is 2 years old or older (check with your pediatrician if you have concerns) clean all surfaces while your child sudses up. While you’re at it, Swiffer the floor, too. It’ll take just a few minutes when you don’t have a 30-pound weight wrapped around your leg. Bonus: I’ve had some of the best conversations with my 7-year-old this way!

Toddler cleaning in the kitchenKitchen Cleaning Tip

  • When you have something large to clean—like the produce drawer in the fridge—put your kids in the tub with bathing suits on, give them a couple of sponges, and let them have at it. (You can disinfect the bin first with a nontoxic product, like Seventh Generation’s Disinfecting Multi-Surface Cleaner; obviously, don’t try this with the meat drawer!) Keeping fruits and vegetables in the supermarket produce bag, and not letting contents spoil, will prevent the bin from getting too gross in the first place.

Living Room Cleaning Tips

  • Have your little one decorate an old sock to look like a favorite animal, then dust away while the animal smiles up at him.
  • 10 minutes before a favorite TV show is on, everybody (including you!) picks up his or her own stuff and puts it away. My family does this before we all watch American Idol. It actually adds to the excitement of the night, and the place ends up pretty clean!

Kid's Bedroom Cleaning Tips

If you’ve got a drama queen (or king) on your hands, rent the movie Annie and buy the CD. Your kids can clean their rooms to “Hard-Knock Life,” pretending you’re the evil Miss Hannigan (probably not a stretch for them).

  • Don’t get overrun by toys. Make a rule that for every new toy, an old one goes to charity.
  • Does everyone really need to make the bed every day? (Seriously, why tuck in all those sheets when they’re just going to get un-tucked before anyone sees them?)

Most Important Tip

You have the rest of your life to have a clean house, but only a few precious years as a mom of little kids. Instead of vacuuming, use the time to play a mean game of Candy Land. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Do you keep a tidy home? How do your kids help? Leave a comment!