It’s a new year, and an appropriate time to write about cleaning up. If the holidays are a time to acquire things, now is the time to clean out and kick off an improved version of the life that I—The Mom—am chief executive officer of. Then again, for creative-minded me, cleaning and organizing aren’t a strong suit, so I called in an expert. This founder of a popular baby brand that curates irresistible nursery decor items in muted, neutral tones can style a room that’s never boring or cluttered (like the toy-strewn, primary-colored playroom at my house). I have much to learn and had planned to share all the secrets with you. But then I had a conversation with the mom of a 4-month-old, and something came up.
The mom was telling a group of us how her baby started to throw her head back unpredictably when being carried in from the car. So, this mom, who last week could get out of the car AND hold the things she needs to bring in from the car, could no longer do that. Now both hands must be holding her strong little baby, who’d learned a new skill without even considering how inconvenient it would be for her mom. While telling us about the change, the mom went into one of those stream-of-conscious vents that I always feel privileged to witness. The load she carries among her responsibilities as a mom, partner, teacher, daughter, and adult person exploded out of her brain and onto us as empathetic witnesses. The gist of what we heard was about the messy room that needed to be cleaned and the partner who needed to step up and the mounting responsibilities and that she couldn’t even walk in from the car in a way that previously felt successful. On Tuesday it took her THREE TRIPS to bring everything in.
Then I watched her firework of a story make an incredibly soft landing. A group of people who intimately knew the rapid-fire transitions of raising children nodded their heads, and no one told her she needed to do a better job cleaning. Everything the group said was surely the opposite of what I would have told you after talking to the organized nursery guru. They told her that it was OK to let the rooms get messy and just hold her baby. They gave her permission to prioritize in a very specific order: connecting with baby first, caring for herself next, and then cleaning up as best she can. They let her know that it was pretty normal to get only one thing done each day when babies are so new like hers is. And that, in time, she’ll get two things done, and that can be whenever it’s time for that to happen. In these early seasons, even when we can keep it together professionally, something changes about the feasibility of housework.
I told her about my nightstand, the one I didn’t clear from 2016 to 2021. I had a baby in 2016 and was surprised to find myself pregnant again in 2017. Pile on nursing for a year, two older children, kindergarten, and a pandemic. When I finally started cleaning, I picked up papers off of papers, unearthing a physical history of a chaotic season. I felt embarrassed sharing this. “I mean, I did the dishes and the laundry,” I said. “But there were corners of my life where I had to let go.”
For some of us, it’s not cleaning. There’s some other corner that Instagram or a vision of what motherhood would be that reminds us we’re doing it wrong. We’ll never do it right. We’re not worthy. We don’t know what we’re doing. We aren’t built for this. We’re the only one struggling. It will be like this forever. We can’t change, and everyone is going on without us. Also, shouldn’t we be enjoying this more?
It’s not wrong to think any of these thoughts. In fact, it’s normal—and eventually freeing to realize they’re there.
What I realized I needed to tell you, more than tips and tricks for picking up the playroom, was about acknowledging the unkind voice that sometimes lives inside our heads. Because housework is where it snuck up on me. Whatever the current transition, struggle, or pinch point, create a soft place to land. Picture that circle of people, or maybe for you it’s one friend, or a partner, or a parent, witnessing your work with empathy and grace. You’re here raising your kids. You get to keep going as you are. There’s no new you this year. There is you, adored as is.
More Practical Than the Essay
Even though I keep a messy house, there are some rhythms I’ve learned to stay less overwhelmed.
-Everything has a home. This is straight from the Home Edit: Your home is a silverware drawer. Meaning, everything has its own spot. It took me years, but eventually I found homes for all the things, so I can walk around my house at the end of the day and carry things to their places. I wish I did this every day, but I do it sometimes, and afterward, my house looks great.
-Separate cleaning from organizing. Make a list of daily must-clean tasks that’s short enough for you to accomplish. For example, each day I can wash dishes and put away one laundry basket. Keep up with that and feel good about it.
-Consider your energy level and the time you have, and set small, one-time goals. One day you’ll organize socks, another day you’ll purge the toy bin. In five years, you can clear the nightstand.
-You can move things around or you can get rid of stuff. Since I tend to move things around, this mantra reminds me that it would be easier to just donate or toss the thing now.
-Accept the laundry volcano. An older mom taught me this, and I still wish it wasn’t true. But if you’re a person who does all the family laundry, you must accept that it will be a haunting laundry volcano spilling over more often than a manageable, well-executed task.
-Invite people over. I am socially motivated, so nothing gets me to clean faster than knowing someone is coming over. Figure out how you’re motivated and lean in.
-Talk about what’s hard with a friend, partner, journal, or therapist. Vent as needed.
-Workout. It will clear your head and that can help your ability to get organized.
Products and services to start off the year on the right foot.
Kid-focused subscription box Alltruists brings the needs of an unimaginably big world to families wanting to raise awareness and empathy at home. Alltruists partners with nonprofits, packaging their purposes and needs into colorful boxes focused on a topic, such as shelter or climate change. The four key components to each box are learn, connect, act, and give, and each includes materials for a hands-on activity. “I wanted to be able to do something with my kids to give back that wasn’t just, ‘Look at mommy entering her credit card information and donating to this organization,’” says founder Jessica Jackley, who also co-founded microfinance powerhouse Kiva in 2005 and is now a Pasadena mom to four young children. “I wanted them to receive the message that, more than anything else, their heads, their hearts, their time and talents, that’s what truly is the most valuable thing they could offer the world.” $29/box
Contact: Ashton Wikstrom, email@example.com
Barcelona-based Lorena Canals, maker of washable rugs since 1998, has introduced a playful, imaginative collection of woven toys. The Little Chefs Collection includes baskets made from braided cord that come in shapes from a cookie jar to a stove complete with a range top, pretend knobs, and working oven door. (Veggie taco playset sold separately.) To bring the concept full circle, there’s a woven washing machine that comes with a mini washable rug. Culinary appreciation extends beyond the toys to the brand’s full-size rugs, including a whimsical radish design and coordinating broccoli and carrot floor cushions.
The maker of a popular watchdog for technology devices has launched its first phone. The Bark Technologies app has one-upped itself with the Bark Phone, ensuring there’s no getting around parental controls. Features such as contact approval allow parents to determine the phone numbers that can call in and out. Adults can also set the phone to require approval for all app-store downloads and notifications for when their child arrives at school or to a friend’s house. When the day doesn’t go as planned, parents have the ability to remotely lock their child’s phone, enforce app time limits, and block texts from being deleted. The phone, a Samsung A13, is available for $49/month (no contract required) and includes Bark’s Premium monitoring subscription service.
Contact: Taylor Gerard, firstname.lastname@example.org