A Zone Defense Approach to House Cleaning

Parents, I give you: Lament of a Clean House

Woe to you Mother, or Father,

Who attempts a clean house to make.

Dirt and grime and things much worse

You can’t live with this headache!

Valiant though your efforts be,

You just gave birth, which gives you three!

And three is three too many for me.

If you don’t sleep, you’ll go crazy!

If you have the motivation to clean,

You fight uphill is bold.

You strap the baby onto your chest

And continue to scrub the mold.

And in the rising tidal wave

Of crumbs and sand and goo,

You hesitate to be their maid

Can you leave them for just a few?

It’s too late: you already started

The table, floor, and counter tops.

Then: they’re clean! Ex-germinated!

The kids are quiet, so you mop.

Uh oh …

How long has that silence lasted?


Many mothers and fathers would agree that maintaining a clean house is one of the biggest challenges postpartum.

We all try really hard to maintain our homes, to keep them at some level of cleanliness. But, we’ve also all had those moments. Perhaps we have them daily. Moments you rue having utter focus. You’re scrubbing the bathtub. You’re making headway on a dinner you know will rock. You finally tackle that mountain of crusty dishes and your counter is so clean! You have a small celebration of one and you revel in your victory until your face falls suddenly and you realize: your house is quiet.

For anyone else, quiet is good. Quiet is peaceful. Quiet is … nice. But you, dear mother, have small children! One who love to discover. Award-winning mess makers. Fiends who wreak havoc in 32 seconds. Messes that take you 32 minutes to undo!

For you, silence is suspicious and can mean your children are asleep somewhere (hopefully but unlikely) or are about to negate any victory you’ve accomplished elsewhere in the house.

You brace yourself every time. Because in the past, you’ve discovered blue paint on your two sons head to toe (and handprints on your duvet). You’ve discovered cocoa powder covering half your kitchen (and on your two sons head to toe). You’ve discovered your cat’s new haircut.

Now, taking your hawk-like eyeballs off of your minions is inevitable: putting your baby down for nap, unpacking the car, prepping dinner. But I think we would all agree that minimizing their … opportunities, we’ll say … for creating havoc, is advised. I’m all about free play. But I’m also for walls free from fingerprints and pet safety.

This is why my cleaning mindset has become about zone defense. I clean, tidy, do whatever I have to do in the same zone of the house my kids are in. Luckily, this doesn’t mean I have to be on top of them, just close enough to know they’re not on unwanted adventures.

This means:

  • Doing the dishes and meal prep while they have snack.
  • Scrubbing the toilet or cleaning the vanity while they splash in the tub during bath time.
  • Folding laundry while they’re exploring my room and jumping on the bed.
  • Dusting and vacuuming while they’re in the living room or playroom.

Surprisingly, I rarely feel my cleaning is inefficient or gets interrupted. I get interrupted – a lot! – of course, but it’s a huge relief to know I’m nipping many unwanted mishaps and messes in the bud simply with my presence. This has also become such an opportunity. My kids see me exercising industry and want to be included! It lends itself well to kids helping out when they are old enough and ready. Why yes, 4-and-a-half-year-old! You may vacuum the play room!

Efficient, indeed. 😊

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