Cleanliness is Next to Impossible

We’re in the time machine (i.e., a sheet tented over Mommy and Daddy’s bed), hurtling through space and aeons, when I notice that space and time smell a lot like dirty kids.

Yes, the confinement of the ‘machine’ was concentrating the odors wafting off my less-than-fresh children, and I realized that maybe, just maybe, we hadn’t given them a bath since roughly around the reign of Caesar Augustus.

Those of you who read my post about how good dirt is for kids and thought “Right, that’s just Matt trying to justify letting his kids get so filthy they actually stick to things” are feeling pretty smug right about now (dirt is good for you, really, I swear). But the truth is that the 2-4 baths per week that you plan sometimes turn into one or two, as dinners finish late, or you get playing, or whatever. (When our oldest was younger I bathed with him every night, but more as a pre-bed ritual than a matter of cleanliness – kids don’t exploit their full filth-attracting potential until around the age of 3.)

The ring and the residual funk left on the bottom of the tub after a bath is an excellent indicator of how dirty your kids were. If you need a HazMat suit to scrub the tub after the kids bathe then maybe you should bathe them more often. But bath time can be a real hassle and you sometimes figure Hey, what’s one more day? And if they’ve taken a dip in a swimming pool then there’s your bath right there. We spent a week in Corfu and didn’t bathe the kids once, but they were in the pool every day so, you know, they were clean…ish.

Then there’s the house. Our cleaning lady comes on Tuesdays (please harbor no misconceptions about our financial situation; here in Hungary everybody has a cleaning lady – the cleaning ladies have cleaning ladies) so by Monday evening our flat looks like a long-neglected enclosure in some particularly horrific provincial zoo.

It isn’t just the crud that collects in the corners that makes me wince, though – it’s the clutter. The sheer volume of crap that accumulates all over the house when you have kids.

One corner of the living room, an area about the spread of a king-sized bed, is devoted pretty much full time to our oldest’s Lego Hero Factory pieces. The floor of their shared bedroom is permanent home to a wooden train set, perpetually in some state of de-, re-, or partial-construction.

Not to mention the cars, planes, trains, trams, and other forms of transportation that can be found just about anywhere and everywhere, including inside the washing machine. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve received puncture wounds from stepping on die-cast metal cars, and every time I do, in that moment of pain and irrational fury immediately following injury, I swear I’m going to make them stow all of their toys away into tidy color-coded and cataloged containersย  every night. Of course it never happens, and within 24 hours I’ve stepped on something else and had to stop myself from hurling the damn thing through the nearest window.

Well, at least we know it's clean now

Well, at least we know it’s clean now

I generally loathe any sentence that starts with “When I was a kid…,” but when I was a kid we never left our things lying around the house. And there were five of us children. I don’t know how my parents did it – a mixture of constant reminder and holy terror most likely – but we picked up after ourselves. We ranged all over the house in our play, but when we were done with a toy we put it back in its place. Of course we had to be trained to do that, and I suppose that’s what’s lacking in our household. Training. Discipline. The lash.

It’s not that I haven’t thought of instituting a 10-minute pick-up session every night before story time, it’s just that I never manage it. Is it a form of laziness to fail to make your kids clean up after themselves? Sort of. In a way it’s simply easier to keep stepping over, around, or on stuff than to chase them around every evening trying to get them to put it away.

Our cleaning lady was here today, and the place looks great. That will all change in the five hours between picking them up from school and putting them to bed. Then with each passing day the house will get progressively more toy-strewn and kid-soiled, until we scramble once again on Monday night to clean the place up before the woman we pay to clean things up arrives the next morning.

Before the kids come home

Before the kids come home

Forty-five seconds after the kids come home

Forty-five seconds after the kids come home

But I’m figuring that when we move into our new home in Spain, everything will be different. Everything will be shiny and sheeny and unspoiled, and we’ll work hard to keep it that way. Everything will be…oh, who am I kidding? I’ll just be swearing under my breath in Spanish when I tread, once again, on Lightning McQueen.

22 thoughts on “Cleanliness is Next to Impossible

  1. My husband and I have ongoing discussions on the kids’ clutter that sound a lot like your post here. We live in a fairly small house and no one has really anywhere to go for a private discussion so the kids get to ring in their opinions. Girl child believes (wrongly) that she should of been named Cinderella and that she cleans up all day after her brother. She completely ignores the fact that she chronically sheds entire outfits multiple times a day, leaving them strewn in piles about the house as if she magically transports herself out of her clothes and back into her closet for a fresh set. I can’t even talk about her craft supply hoard, which drifts about the house like a glittery tsunami.

    Boy child’ communications tend to be more tactile. Here is his response to your post on dirt and germs: http://indietutes.blogspot.ca/2013/06/mud-bath.html

    Thanks for all the perspective and humour. It keeps us sane to be able to laugh about it.

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    • Thank YOU for your comments! A glittery tsunami – sounds troublesome but survivable, and I love the image. Getting the kids to pick up after themselves is a constant battle, but I think the war of attrition can be won. Eventually.

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  2. That piece of lego on the bare instep of your foot….. ouch! This brings back memories of the constant clutter. Still have a bit left, but not as much as when there were toddlers in the house ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Hey, had a look at our blog – great stuff. Back when I lived in Maine and had a house and a workshop I was fairly handy with a jigsaw and a glue gun, but since we’ve been living abroad I haven’t really had access to all things crafty. Or space. Or time. Mostly time.
      I’m looking forward to spending more time checking out your posts, and hopefully in our new home (we’re moving to Spain once the authorities-that-be permit it) I’ll be able to get back into it.
      Thanks for visiting, and for taking the time to comment!

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      • Likewise, and so sweet of you to leave such a nice comment. Good luck with the move to Spain. I look forward to updates on the settling in, when you have a moment to update us in the blog world.( Jigsaws and glue guns are awesome equipment if you are into craft)

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  3. God, I love your posts…they make me feel normal. We started with a bath 3x a week. but after kiddo 3 that went straight to hell….

    The clutter is where I stand my ground, mostly because I”m outnumbered. Each night there is a drag out fight in our house about the clutter and it’s cleaned up…come hell or high water it gets cleaned up.

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    • Thanks, Vivian! Good on you for standing your ground and making them pick up after themselves. Important lessons learned there, most definitely.
      No doubt I need to be more consistent – I let is slide for a few days then get upset and bark at them for leaving stuff lying around. I’ve gotten better about it (I bark at them less), but a regular routine would be better.
      Trouble is, we’ll scoop up all of the Lego and Hero Factory bits at bedtime, but in the morning when they get up our oldest wants to dump it back out again, so it seems like tidying that corner of the room for the night while everyone is sleeping is an exercise in stupidity.
      I’m still searching for the solution.
      Thanks for visiting, and for sharing your comments!

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      • I sweep everything (especially Lego’s) in the middle of the floor. Set the timer (10 minutes) and walk away! My oldest knows that it means TIME TO CLEAN. if they don’t get them all up, I take out the dustpan and scoop everything up and into a little plastic bag. Sometimes I toss it (but RARELY) most times I just hold onto it until I feel like giving it back.
        ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. Dirt is great for your children, but not in my house. My house isn’t godly clean or even close to that but I have a nightly ritual of picking up every freaking truck in the house and putting it in our “truck bin”. As one of the mom’s commented above, having bin areas full of toys are amazing. My son has one of those cheap Target shelves with about 4 crates worth of Legos, balls, and cars in them. And when I chose to have a “psycho” day, I sort them… then scream at my husband 5 hours later when he starts shoving other toys in them. Its something along the lines of “It took me ALL of nap time to SORT those”. I bathe little man every day, but that is due in LARGE part because I cannot handle the thought of sleeping dirty in bed. I take 1-2 showers a day and on vacation up to 4 depending on where we are. I let him play the 5 second rule with food, not wash his hands all the time, and do not purify are already clean drinking water, but I draw the line at grimy sheets and pillows.

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    • I love your schizophrenic mix of a laissez-faire approach to dirt and your compulsion to take up to 4 (4!) showers a day while on holiday. ๐Ÿ™‚ Checked out your blog – very funny and very honest. Love it.
      Thanks for checking us out, and I’ll definitely be visiting to see how things are going with your SIL. Hilarious.

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  5. We do baths or showers most nights but as much as anything, it’s a good line between playtime and bed time. And my children are filthy little beasts. The mess though? We suffer from that too. With 6 kids, it seems that every clear surface gets covered. About 3 times a year, I clear off all the shelves. It lasts about three days. The small boys’ room has a Lego table made by the husband, but this means Lego everywhere in their room. I spent 8 hours sorting Lego in January when the table was made. All the pieces were sorted into boxes, labelled, placed in another box under the table, and glory be! We could make almost anything from any of the instruction books. It was amazing. Three months later, I did it all again, and three months later I did it all AGAIN! The mess drives me mad some days and my standards are not that high! Very pleased to know that I am not alone, and I will think of you on Tuesdays, as I come home to a clean house as well! Thank goodness the cleaner removes the surface dirt once a week!

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    • How do you bathe 6 kids in the same evening? That’s either a lot of showers or taking the tub in turns, and in that case I wouldn’t want to be last man in.
      Sorting Legos is equal parts sensible and psychotic. We’ve done it, but talk about setting yourself up for failure and frustration! In our new house I’d like to get some sort of large shallow box that will slide under the bed and accommodate of the Hero Factory bits. Trouble is, he doesn’t play with Hero Factory in his bedroom but in the living room, where we all tend to congregate since it’s contiguous with the kitchen. I’m not sure how we’ll work it, but there’s got to be a better way….

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      • Well the age gap helps. The three younger boys we run through the bath. The three older ones shower during the evening. We shower in the morning. Very simple! Our Lego box slides under the table which is excellent.

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        • Easy-peasy. I can only imagine. Have you tried strapping them to the outside of your car and running through the auto-wash?
          The Lego box is a must and is one of the first things I’m picking up after we move to Spain. Perhaps even before we get a fridge.

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  6. My husband and I realized yesterday that it had been 6 days since we bathed the kids. We are totally fans of getting dirty and playing in the mud, too, but the smell of 6 days worth of adventures was overwhelming!

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  7. Oh, I am so relieved to know there are others out there like us!! Well, except, since we don’t have that weekly maid, things are even worse over at our house. Your bathing situation is identical to ours. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Having a cleaner is a blessing, but it also means that you tend to neglect the state of the house between visits. You think, I really should vacuum, but the cleaning lady is coming in 3 days….

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  8. Nice post. My favourite holiday as a child was taking a vw camper van across the channel for a month roaming the campsites of Europe. There were four of us and my mother noticed on day one in Rouen that in the morning French children pulled cotton track suits over their pyjamas and that was dressing done. So it was off to the store, 4 track suits in blue or black cotton and we were done for holiday wardrobes. I don’t think we removed the pyjamas for a month or so.
    Dirt is good for you, washing is overrated, long live play.

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      • Thanks for the read. I try to be as honest as possible. I use it as a venting source, its an added bonus that people actually relate to it. And thanks on the schizo relation, I do feel that way most of the day with a toddler running around. Many times I walk into one room just to forget what I was doing and start something else. Ahh mommyhood.

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