Are there piles of dishes stacked around your sink? Is there a mountain of clean laundry on the couch? Are you stressed about dinner? It is another night to order pizza or have cereal for dinner. How many meals in a row can feed your kids cereal and get away with it? Did you last clean the toilet so long ago that you can’t remember when that was? Laundry, dishes, dinner, and basic cleaning are the tasks you need to keep up with on a daily basis, or you will be drowning in a mess, feeling chronically overwhelmed. Homemaking and homeschooling go hand in hand.
Your kids are at home every day. Your homeschooled children spend all day, every day, creating continuous messes: books, toys, papers, games, sheet music, art projects, baking projects, science projects, and even trash.
Those same little mess makers are chronically asking to be fed. They want breakfast, lunch, dinner served on dishes. Then in spite of their best efforts, they spill on the table and the floor and their clothes. Then the floor needs mopping and laundry needs washing. It is all you can do to get math and spelling done, and when you have a second to look up, you realize you are in the midst of a whirlwind. Then you will wake up tomorrow and do it all over again.
Feeling overwhelmed by homemaking and homeschooling?
Mothering is overwhelming. Housekeeping is overwhelming – unless nobody lives there. Then I suppose it is easy. But every person you add multiplies the mess. And if one of those people is two years old multiply by exponents. Now you need to keep up with homemaking and homeschooling. It is okay to admit you’re overwhelmed.
When you feel overwhelmed, don’t quit and function at the lowest level of survival. Face your problems and get to work.
Homemaking and homeschooling: an endless to-do list
Every morning you wake up and there is more to do than one human being can get done. Narrow it down to just your responsibility to keep house (you still have to be a wife, mother, and teacher) and you still have too much to do.
As a homemaker I chose four tasks that I do every day that ensure basic survival. My kids help. Every day we do a load of laundry, wash all the dishes, cook dinner, and spend a few minutes cleaning something.
I love to think about these basic household chores with the verse (borrowed from its original context), “Sufficient for the day is the trouble thereof.” Once I know these are taken care of, then I look around and start something else. Some days, the basics are all that happens. And sometimes, even dinner and dishes are more than I can do. But I have to keep doing a little homemaking while homeschooling, or life falls apart.
So let’s break down these four basic homemaking tasks.
Taming the laundry pile
I find that getting the laundry into the washer is easy. It is far more challenging to transfer it to the dryer before it smells sour. And even more challenging to get it folded and put away before it’s wadded up and crushed in the couch cushions. It’s classic to see three loads of laundry on the couch, and laugh it off, “At least it’s clean.”
I did that for too long. Living like that did not make me happy. I wasn’t calm. Clothes wrinkled and couldn’t be worn in public. My kids couldn’t get dressed in the morning. Company couldn’t drop by. Now I make it my goal to wash, dry, and put away one load of laundry every single day. With four kids at home, one load a day wasn’t enough. Two or three loads truly keep laundry under control. But if I did one load a day, then on Saturday, when I had time to catch up it, wasn’t quite as overwhelming.
I know some of you love to do one long wash day each week. And if that works for you – great. I had to stop doing that years ago because folding and putting away all that clothing was demoralizing. I needed a system that chiseled away the mountain to a manageable size so that I felt like I could stay on top of it. My system is designed around never feeling completely overwhelmed, it is my little psychological trick so that I think I can actually live this crazy life I want to live.
The laundry habit
We start our first load, first thing in the morning that way by lunch we’ve managed to get it into the dryer. Then I fold it in the afternoon with my free time. If we do a second load we start it right away and just keep the machines humming. Or if I know there will be sweaty clothes in the evening after soccer, I’ll start the load as soon as we walk in the door from practice.
Train your kids to help you. Babies can play in clean laundry piles. Preschoolers can search for socks and fold washcloths. Train elementary ages to sort by color and bring laundry to the washer. Even before you feel safe letting them handle soap, they can drop all the dirty clothes in, and have it ready and waiting for you.
Then, by bedtime every night fold and put away that laundry. If I pile the clean clothes on my bed, I can’t go to sleep without dealing with them. That’s my other trick. Not the couch, the bed.
After years and years of trial and error I have finally settled on a basic daily cleaning schedule that helps me stay on top of the basics. This year I had three teen helpers so if we each worked for 10-15 minutes we could really get a lot done. If you have three elementary helpers you might spend most of your time supervising and then pick the single most important thing you can do and just aim for one key cleaning goal.
Now you could make a detailed rotating schedule, if you’re an over-achiever. I’m not an over-achiever. Just an achiever. If you want advice on detailed chore schedules and excel sheets posted on the fridge and kids who never even have to ask what needs to be done, you’ll have to read another blog. I can’t live like that. We keep it very simple. We walk in the room, pick a few tasks, and get it done.
Our weekly cleaning schedule
- Monday we clean the living room and front hall. We vacuum and dust. I ask the kids to do a little extra – mopping the wood, wiping the baseboards, dusting the fan blades, or vacuuming the couch – to fill in their work time.
- Tuesday we clean the kitchen. This includes counter, cupboards, fridge, floors, shining appliances, and so on. The kitchen requires an enormous amount of time. I ask my kids to work for about 15-20 minutes then set them free. The kitchen isn’t spotless, but it sure isn’t filthy.
- Wednesday we clean our bedrooms. We pick up, dust, vacuum, and wash our sheets (you might do this every week. I feel like every other week is close enough.). If I don’t have more than five minutes, but can tackle one stack of collected papers and put them away properly, I consider the day a success. After several successful Wednesdays our bedroom can almost be peaceful.
My kids are old enough to clean their own rooms. When I had little ones I found it easiest to work with them and pick up toys and clothes every evening before bed (every evening meaning every evening we were living as our ideal selves…sigh). Then I would vacuum all the rooms on one day. But truth be told – we needed occasional marathon cleaning days to pull everything out from under the beds and the corners of the closets. The clean as you go principle never stuck as well with my boys.
- Thursday we focus on bathrooms. Toilets, sinks, and floors are wiped. Towels are washed. Mirrors cleaned. The dirtiest jobs are done every Thursday, but scrubbing the shower can always wait an extra week.
- Friday…free. But only free in a perfect week. I use Friday as a catch up day if I missed any other day.
- Saturdays we give things a touch up – especially if we’re having company on Sunday.
Make a cleaning schedule
Go through your house. Break it up into zones. Brainstorm every possible job in that area. Train your kids how to do several different jobs. Use summers as training times because you have more free time then. Training takes longer than just getting it done. But only for the first few years. (I know – sorry!) In later years your kids will get so much done you will feel almost guilty. But you will have earned it.
If we could stop eating and drinking, I wouldn’t have to wash dishes! That’s never going to happen. The key is to stay on top of it after each meal. If you let the dirty dishes take over the kitchen, you’ll wash dishes until your feet ache and tears stream down your face. Then you’ll quit and go to bed, but the dishes will still be there when you wake up. You’ll start the next day behind. Make it your goal to go to bed every night with a clean kitchen sink; I still can’t do it every day but I always try.
Last year one child washed breakfast dishes, another child washed lunch dishes, and all three would help with kitchen chores after dinner. My dish responsibilities were clearing out tea cups before I started cooking dinner, and washing my cooking dishes. It was wonderful! But you know what? I earned it by training my kids to help clean up after meals for 17 years before that. It is so sweet to have your kids say, “You go sit down mom. We’ve got it.”
Train them early and keep on training. It will take you more time to teach them than it would to just do all the work yourself. When the kids were little, one parent would do the real work of washing plates, knives, pots and pans. The other parent would spend the entirety of kitchen clean up time training the kids to work and making sure everyone did their job well.
If you feel particularly harried, use paper plates. You’ll be able to go to bed with a clean sink. Just make sure your little ones have ample opportunity to learn this fundamental household task by using dishes most of the time. Learn to work together and the dishes won’t overwhelm you.
Feed your family
With your dishes done, even cooking dinner is a little more manageable.
You need to cook dinner. You are responsible to feed your family healthy, nourishing food every single day. I’m not saying the food needs to be gourmet or you need to spend two hours a night cooking. I am saying you need to feed your family real food that gives growing bodies and brains everything they need. You will only do that if you cook dinner almost every night.
The single best way to cook dinner every night is to make a weekly meal plan. Shop once a week (or less often if you’re more organized) and buy everything you need to make all the meals you’ve planned. You can plan breakfast and lunches too. Keep them simple and quick or you’ll spend your whole day, and thus your whole life, in the kitchen.
Make a meal plan
If you have a meal plan, when you get up in the morning you already know what you’re eating for dinner that night. All the ingredients are in your home. You will not be rushing to thaw frozen chicken breasts at the end of the day, because you’ll have planned ahead. (This is all in theory. I forget too many times and at four o’clock am trying to speed thaw chicken breasts. And kicking myself that I couldn’t find thirty seconds at any other point in the day to pull out the chicken.) And you’ll have dinner on the table at a reasonable time. Your husband will love you for it!
Right now, if your family is surviving on take-out, frozen dinners, and boxed mac and cheese, start small. Plan really easy dinners, like scrambled eggs or recipes you can finish in 15 minutes. Challenge yourself to cook just one or two nice meals a week. Over time build up till your cooking something healthy and satisfying every night. And even then, eggs are still a great easy dinner!
Now all you have to do is convince the kids to eat the food you cook.
Make a plan for every day that helps you get these four basic homemaking tasks done. You will always know what to do first. You can eliminate some of the craziest moments of homeschooling life. You’ll feel better, breathe easier, and have confidence. Homemaking and homeschooling are tough, but you can do this momma!