Sep 16, 2016

How to Clean House with a One-year-old and Two-year-old

(In Which I Give You Advice About How to Clean Your Home Despite Your Children)
By Anna Mussmann

In addition to our other duties, we stay-at-home moms are generally expected to stand firmly between our family and a life of filth and squalor.

I completely agree that it is a valuable and beautiful thing when I am able to provide my family with order and cleanliness by caring for our home. I love a clean sink as much as the next woman. The problem, though, is that neither my one-year-old nor my two-year-old considers my housekeeping duties a priority and in fact actively undermines them simply by existing.

Not only do they eat in such a manner as to spew crumbs all over the dining room, or play with junk mail by tearing it into tiny pieces which they then file away in unexpected places, they also seem to think that watching me fold laundry is boring. Bored toddlers are dangerous.

It’s hard to clean with a baby hanging onto your legs, you know? Especially if she gets so mad that she goes and bites her brother and then you have to discipline her and they are both crying and why is this drawer empty where did you put all the clean underwear augh!!!


There is absolutely no need to throw in the towel. I’ve heard women claim that they can’t get anything done around the house. I, on the other hand, am here to tell you how it’s done. The key is to be just as determined, and also as distractible, as your children. I know this because I have small children and my house is quite often clean. Or, at least, in the process of being cleaned. The looooooong process.

Say you get up from breakfast and begin to clear the table while the two-year-old finishes his food. Put the yogurt away in the fridge. Your two-year-old starts to cry because he wants to be able to have the option of more yogurt when he is done with his current bowl. Soothe him. Take your mug and put that in the dishwasher. Notice the dishwasher is full of clean dishes. Begin to empty it.

The two-year-old is done. Clean his face and hands. Strip off his yogurt-covered shirt and send him upstairs for a new one. Try to interest the one-year-old in toys. Put away a few plates from the dishwasher. Notice that the table is still a mess, and prioritize that. Where on earth is that two-year-old? Redress him. Finish clearing the table. The children are playing happily, so you can wipe down the cabinets that--you just realized--are smeared with jam.

Try to finish emptying the dishwasher so you can fill it. The children are fighting over a toy. Address the situation. Realize that they are too upset to let you finish your work in the kitchen (the one-year-old in particular has seized upon your ankles with the clutch of death). Take everyone down to the basement to start a load of laundry. The children play happily in this new environment.

Fold the clean clothes you found in the dryer. The kids are starting to be naughty and bang on things upon which they should not bang. Take everyone upstairs to put the laundry away. Involve the two-year-old: he can put away his own clothes (although he prefers to put away his sister’s). The one year-old is happily redistributing everyone’s shoes. Decide that’s OK, because you just caught sight of your sweaters. You’ve been meaning to organize them. Do so.

You’re already done with half the sweaters. Yay! The kids are playing dress-up with the mittens and scarves they found in your night stand. So cute. Sneak downstairs to get your camera. Notice the dishwasher. Put away a few mugs. Run back upstairs, because it occurs to you that scarves could be a safety hazard. Take a picture.

Guess what? It’s lunch time. Take everyone downstairs. Why didn’t you at least wash the high chair tray earlier? Wash the tray, let the kids help make sandwiches, stop the one-year-old because she is eating everyone’s cheese. Finish lunch. The dishwasher still isn’t empty--put away a few glasses. Put the kids down for naps.

(We don’t clean during naps--that’s when we blog, read, and generally cultivate the mind).

After naps, wash some of the dirtiest windows. Give the kids paper towels so that they will leave you alone--I mean help. They want the bottle of Windex. You probably shouldn’t give it to them. Tell the one-year-old not to eat paper towels. Tell the two-year-old not to wipe the walls with his filthy paper towel. Show him how to rub the glass. What a good helper! Half of the windows are done!

Take the kids outside. Pull some weeds. Do your stuff. Stop the one-year-old from taking away the two-year-old’s shovel and pail.

Go inside eventually, finish emptying the dishwasher, dash around madly cleaning up the rest of the dishes, and make dinner.* Do some of this one-handed because you are carrying a cranky one-year-old. Find some yogurt drips on the floor.

At dinner, tell your husband how productive you were today. You cleaned the kitchen, did laundry, organized half your sweaters, washed some windows, and put all the scarves back. Tomorrow you’ll tackle one-fourth of washing the kitchen floor and maybe vacuum the basement.

See? You can, too, clean house with a one and two-year-old!

*Some days this doesn’t happen. On those days, just make everyone scrambled eggs.  


After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their two small children. Anna's work can also be found in The Federalist.


  1. Perfect timing--I was just fretting a couple of weeks ago about how to manage cleaning our house with our toddler in tow. It's always a comfort to know that other moms are as productive as I am. :)

  2. So real! I have a one and a three year old, and I'm learning all about doing tasks in bits and pieces. I am, by nature, a task oriented, to-do list girl so this is stretching. But motherhood is just as much for my growth and maturity as my children's!

    1. I know, just think how mature and stretched we'll all be by the time the last of our kids turn eighteen! :-)

  3. YES! My kids are 4, 6, and 9, but that's still how I "clean" my house.

    Also, I want to say "amen" to this:

    (We don’t clean during naps--that’s when we blog, read, and generally cultivate the mind).


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