Will This House Get Cleaned Before the Kids Graduate?

Anyone who has been homeschooling long knows the secret for “getting it all done.”

The secret is–that there is no secret. And it is virtually impossible, especially with many little ones underfoot, to get it “all done.” When you focus on the house, the schoolwork slides. When you focus on the schoolwork, the house slides.

What’s the answer to this homeschooling versus house cleaning dilemma? How can you juggle all these plates and keep them successfully in the air?

While there’s no magic formula, here are four tips to help you win the home management battle.

1. Define your priority.

When your family chooses a homeschooling lifestyle, your priority is your children’s education. Not the state of your house. Realizing and accepting this will go a long way toward developing realistic expectations for your home.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you have to live in a pigsty. Think through the level of cleanliness that is possible given the amount of time you have, as well as the level you’re most comfortable with.

This will look different for each family and home. Taking time to consider this allows you to be intentional in an area that can sometimes feel out of control.

Photo by April Spreeman

2. Find a system that works for you.

There’s a plethora of cleaning advice out there–find the system that connects with you and piece together your own cleaning philosophy.

In this post on my blog Steady Mom, I describe the cleaning method I use to manage and keep my house running. My current goal is to keep everything in its place, and to confront cleaning tasks as they are needed and as I have time.

Many women find encouragement through Fly Lady’s method and Tsh wrote this wonderful e-book about tackling spring home cleaning.

Don’t compare yourself to other friends who seem to clean more than you–discover what works in your home, consider the time you have available, and then release the pressure to keep your home magazine-worthy!

3. Keep what you need and get rid of the rest.

I’m sometimes surprised by the number of houseguests we have who comment on how “clean” our home is. I think what they mean is that our house is not excessively cluttered.

Toys are not strewn everywhere (not all the time, at least!) and we make a real effort to keep belongings in the place assigned to them. That’s our priority, and it goes a long way to creating the illusion of a clean home.

So if the order of your home feels out of control, a decluttering of the most troubled areas may be all you really need. It takes time to manage and clean lots of unnecessary, unused stuff. Go ahead and free yourself of excess baggage–only keep what you really need and love.

4. Enlist your kids to help.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

Part of our responsibility as teachers is helping our children learn to care for a home properly. When children are very young, of course, this help is minimal (and sometimes the “help” they provide causes tasks to take longer–that’s okay, too!).

As your kids get older, consider household chores as a standard part of their curriculum. I currently have a six-year-old and two five-year-olds, and I’m astounded by how helpful they are around the house.

Rachel DeMille, co-author of Leadership Education, states that if mothers of children over the ages of ten or eleven find themselves still cleaning, they have “missed their promotion.” She suggests that children take over the majority of cleaning during their preteen years, giving parents the freedom to spend more time teaching and mentoring other children.

The homeschooling lifestyle requires us to let go of our perfectionistic tendencies–our homes may not be featured in any magazines. But with a little planning, we can manage our homes the same way we manage our children’s education–with intentional thought and a sense of simple, beautiful individuality.

What system do you use to keep your house in order?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. You’re right – at the end of the night, I’m either satisfied with the state of my home, or I’m satisfied with the kids’ education, but it’s rarely both. I’m slowly but surely moving towards an “it’s clean enough” mentality, but I still struggle with OCD tendencies. It helps when I think of a quote my sister shared with me: “Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing”.
    .-= Sofia’s Ideas’s last blog: Sunday Savings 4.25.10 =-.

  2. Shannon J says:

    I think your #3 is the most important to start with – get rid of EVERYTHING that is extraneous! And then get rid of more!

    When I stopped working 3 months ago I worked hard on figuring out a new schedule for my family. I had decided that I wanted to clean my house fast and furiously. I set aside 30 min a day to do all my cleaning, thinking that then I’d have time to devote to my children’s education. Since then I’ve read Leadership Education, other TJEd books and joined a great forum for TJEd and now I see housekeeping in a totally different light. WORK is very important for everyone and WORKING TOGETHER to clean the house teaches a great deal to little ones. They learn to handle conflict, persevere, learn the joy of doing a job well, self-discipline, etc. Magical things. Anything in life worth having is worth working hard for. People learn this through physical labor, not reading/thinking about it.

    In my (novice) understanding of TJEd, children work alongside mom while they are young. They take on tasks of their own as they are able, but rushing them on to be ‘independent’ isn’t the goal. They improve in their housekeeping skills until they would be able to practically run a household on their own in their young teen years but when they reach scholar stage, their job is the study and at that time they have very little housework to do. The rest of the family supports them in their intense learning. Since they’ve worked so hard in their younger years, the parent knows they have these skills (and they do still contribute, just in less time-consuming activities).

    I have two older children ages 13 and 10 (who go to public school) who did not get this daily ‘work beside mother’ upbringing and I can see now how their work ethic is quite lacking. I’m taking them back to their early years by having them work alongside me after school in the hopes that their work ethic and work skills will catch up with their age soon. They are both bright kids and so even in school they don’t have to work hard to get good grades. I worry this is teaching them that all of life will be this easy and they will be unprepared for doing what it really takes to follow your passions. I hope I can correct this before it is too late! And I hope that by raising my two 4yos differently they will be stronger in this area.

    I’ve also read what I find to be an interesting view of not giving ‘chore lists’ to children because that divides the family into doing individual work, but to try to have the whole family working together in a room or on a similar task to encourage the group outlook.

  3. Jamie,

    I have struggled to find a decent balance when it comes to homeschooling and maintaining a presentable home. I have a tendency to do things to the extreme and either have a great looking home and slack off on schooling or the kids have a great week in school and I don’t answer my door for that week. I believe becoming a better manager of my time (which I’ve been working on) and getting rid of some of the clutter (so much fun) will help.
    .-= Jennifer @ Milk & Honey Mommy’s last blog: Are We There Yet? =-.

  4. While I am currently “only” doing preschool at home with my son, I also run a small green business, am working on my graduate degree, am training for my first duathlon and expect our first foster care placement in the next month (finally!). Maintaining some balance and order is neccesary in order to make it all work. Cutting clutter and doing things as a family is how we “make it all work.” While sewing is my “me” time, almost everything else in my life is done with my husband. We run and bike together, even though bike trailors and jogging strollers make things a bit more difficult. My 2.5 year old gets a spray bottle full of water and a wash cloth and “cleans” the shower while I clean the rest of the bathroom. We love the “attached family” concept of parenting and while things take a little bit longer to accomplish, I am able to accomplish things with our priorities in line.
    .-= Heather Brooks’s last blog: How does your garden grow? =-.

  5. This is so difficult for me. I’ve tried SO many different ways of doing cleaning. It seems to me that the best way for me is to have a big list of all the chores. I check them off as I have time, and write the date done next to it. Then I work through the list, getting it done. When its done, I start over. I then know what needs to be done, and when it was done last. Sometimes it takes a while to go through it. Actually it always does…

    I do have a routine though of trying to wipe the sink and toilet every morning, and vacuum the living room and entryway quickly (not moving anything, just the main dirt). We also do pick-ups at bed time, and in the morning if needed. I also make sure the kitchen is done every night, or else I never catch up.

  6. I think the most important tip is the one about enlisting the kids help. This really should be part of their education. Part of the reason I chose to homeschool was so that My daughter could learn how to do the practical and useful things well. I went to public school and didn’t learn how to do laundry until college. However, my 7 year old daughter can do all the laundry in the house, fold it neatly and put it away in the right place. It also helps children feel like part of the cooperative whole of the home. Their input matters. They are an important part of the way the home functions. I believe it will keep them from needing to find a place to “fit in” when they are teenagers, and turning to the wrong group of friends.

  7. Don’t try to keep your home “magazine worthy” !! YES !! My home is comfortable for those of us who live here and yes, perhaps I’d run the vacuum again or do a quick tidy before my mother-in-law came over, but life (our life anyway) is a little messy and I’m okay with that 🙂

    I second also the downsizing – everything might get pulled off of our shelves, but because we don’t own much it doesn’t take much time to put it all back together again. Even better when I have some little helpers 🙂

    Great post!
    .-= Kara’s last blog: Congratulations to The Green Hour Book Giveaway Winners =-.

  8. I think of my home as “experience spaces”. If stuff or a space does not add to a positive experience, I have no need for it. As a result, my home is not the prettiest, but so much easier to manage!

    Loved the post, btw!

  9. Excellent post! Love the pictures. 🙂 You are so right, we can’t do everything, and we have to make priorities. Thanks so much for the encouragement!

  10. I’m still working on a system, Jamie. =) I look forward to when I can give my kids a few tasks and teach them the rewards of cleanliness.
    Wonderful post!
    .-= Aimee’s last blog: Weekend Reading =-.

  11. I love the Aesop Fable about the crow and the pitcher. The moral is “Little by little gets the job done.” This is how I tackle the usually overwhelming task of running a household and a school. I have five kids, all 8 and under, so since the training is still in process, much of the cleaning depends on me. My strategy is to do little by little. When I walk by the baby’s toys, I pick up a few and throw them in the bin. When I sit in the school-room I pick up books and put them in their designated places. Sometimes I just throw away a diaper in passing the garbage can, or kick a pair of shoes to the shoe rack as I walk down the hallway. If the couch pillows are on the floor, I ask a child who is watching television to pick them up. Whatever I can think of throughout the day, I either do or designate someone to do it. It can be as simple as taking a stack of books to the school room, to taking their own clean underwear to their drawers, or as complicated as matching socks. Everything little thing adds up! Then when the day is over, or chore day is here, there is just that much less to do.

    I love setting priorities for the major cleaning. I have germ-phobia, so clean bathrooms are important to me. So a couple days a month, I send the kids away for a few hours and clean bathrooms and de-clutter, aka throw crap away.

    My house isn’t totally clean or anything, but cleaning little by little and sending the kids away a couple times a month keeps my sanity intact.

  12. I use the downloadable chore lists from MotivatedMoms.com, add fun to my cleaning my listening to funny podcasts (like NPR’s WaitWaitDon’tTellMe), delegated some to my kiddos, and content myself with “good enough.” This housekeeping thing is *always* a work in progress.
    When I feel tempted to grumble, I thank God that I HAVE a house, that the endless laundry means we HAVE clothes to wear, etc. It helps.
    .-= Hannah’s last blog: An Interview with a Real! Live! Celebrity! =-.

  13. Nice post. I like the comments too!

    When I had three little children it seemed like the best answer was to have very little to tidy up and do the actual cleaning myself. Now I have five and those three littles are big. I have tried many different ways of tackling the chores and have found that working together until they have mastered it is great. My 13 year old scholar does the family laundry when it is convenient for her throughout the day. My 11 and 8 year olds know how to clean the bathrooms, sweep, vacuum, dust, do the dishes, take out rubbish, care for pets, etc. My five year old has a job of taking out the baby’s diapers (sealed in a sack :)) by himself and then helping me with my jobs. Baby likes to have something to wipe surfaces with :).

    With a big family, I have found it is much more pleasant to do a little work everyday and not try to cram it all into one big cleaning. No need to run faster than we can walk. We work together in the garden and doing other projects and I have found that often leads to some fun learning experiences…like gladiator ants.
    .-= Deon’s last blog: Weekly Wrap-Up, April 23, 2010 =-.

  14. This blog has really blessed my life since I found it a few months ago. It’s strange but whenever I am struggling with something, a blog post appears on that topic the next day! As I write this I am sitting amongst dirty and clean clothes in a house that is frustratingly unkempt! I went to bed last night exasperated and wondering how on earth I was going to find time to teach my kids and still keep up with the housework! The comment that you either have a good schooling day or a good cleaning day but never both was such a comfort to me. That is so true. It is a comfort to know that we all struggle with this and that its okay to get to the cleaning as I can. Thanks for the great and yet again, timely, post!

  15. I have recently found this blog too. Funny, but I was reading Simple Mom for about a month before I saw the tab for Simple Homeschool…I think I like this one just as much!

    It is certainly true that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to have a clean house and homeschool multiple children. But I will say that it gets better as the children age. My oldest child turned 11 a few months ago, and she’s quickly becoming an amazing help to be around the house. A lot of the housework she does is even her idea, because she wants the house to look nice if her friends come over. Hey, whatever works! 🙂 Our house looks better than it has in years due to her help. She even scrubbed the bathtub for me the other day! I love having her help, because I just don’t have the time and energy to do everything by myself, and homeschool, and run a business too.
    .-= Laura @ Getting There’s last blog: One stitch at a time, taken patiently. =-.

  16. I agree very much with getting your kids involved. We now start our day with household chores–just what we consider the essentials. My 5 and 7 year old boys help unload the dishwasher, take out any recycling or garbage, take the laundry hamper downstairs and sort it into loads, and do a quick tidy up of any books or toys out of place in their rooms that they played with before falling asleep. While they do this I do a quick sweep of the floors in the high traffic areas, ensure our kitchen table is cleared and clean, and get and homeschooling materials ready. All told it’s less than 15 minutes of work, and makes a HUGE difference in the way the house functions. We do a similar short session in the evenings (mainly putting away toys / books, clean laundry, and washing dishes).

  17. Great post! I homeschool my four children and struggle so much with keeping my house the way I would like it. Teaching and cleaning just can’t be done at the same time! But, we are slowly getting into a decent rhythm. I would say the one thing that has helped us is not having so much to clean! Like you said, clear out the clutter. I took a week off of “schooling” to get this done. I have not regretted it. It has made everything so much better. We are working now on little jobs so that when we have guests we don’t have to spend a whirlwind day cleaning! One more, I have realized that I will not have a magazine ready home, ever! Not only do I not have it clean all the time, I am not a decorator. But, those homes pictured are not homes being lived in, at least not at the time of the photo-shoot! I loved the book “The House Always Wins”. The author clued me in to the fact that decorating magazines airbrush their photos just like fashion magazines. When I thought about how I have learned not to compare myself to people in magazines, I realized I needed to not compare my home to homes in magazines. I am so much happier with what I have now! Thanks for the post!
    .-= Amy ‘s last blog: Birthday Party =-.

  18. “Cleaning” is a “no-no” word in my vocabulary. I like a clean house, but I HATE to clean! (Well, maybe not HATE, but it’s definitely NOT one of my favorite things to do.) However, my husband enjoys a clean house too, and recently commented that he wished I did a better job with it. So, I’ve made “cleaning” a priority in my life. I’ve held myself to a standard of completing at least one cleaning task each morning BEFORE turning on the computer. It’s working… my house is getting cleaner, one day at a time! 🙂
    .-= Ashley’s last blog: Spring into Gardening! =-.

  19. Get your husband to help you with the housework too or the kids. If this doesn’t work then you can hire a full time cleaner and you will have anough time for the kids and for yourself.
    House Cleaner London’s latest post: Window Cleaning Tips

  20. My wife and I have 3 children (aged 2, 5 and 6). My wife is a SAHM, but does *not* homeschool and it’s still incredibly difficult to keep up with the chaos! I don;t know how she does it, but I suspect it’s mostly setting priorities and engaging the older kids to help. Ironically, it the 2 year old that proves to be a better helper than the older ones. The older they are, the more they whine and complain about doing anything mom and dad ask of them. :-/
    Joe’s latest post: Living on a Single Income- 7 Years and Counting

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