hate cleaning? get your toddler to do it.


When I started my “new” job (aka. got a pay increase for the first time in 8 years), the one thing I knew I wanted was someone to come clean the house. (Yes, I feel like a snob even saying that out loud.) In Tanzania all expatriates had house cleaners; first because your house needed daily cleaning (i.e. a FULL dusting and floor-washing kind of cleaning), especially during the dry season when dust and dirt clung to every air particle; second because you could afford it and it freed you up to do all kinds of other fun things like spend 3 hours grocery shopping (since that’s generally how long it took to make the trip to the 3-5 stores you had to visit to get everything on your list);  and third because it meant that you were providing a job and living wage to one more person (at least, these were the reasons we told ourselves we needed one). So, I got used to having someone there, to help me clean. And, as much as I might hate to admit it, I grew to love it.

Back in the states, I wasn’t expecting that someone would come every day. Not even every week. And I wasn’t looking to never lift a finger around the house again. I still planned to vacuum, sweep, do the dishes and the laundry and clean the toilets and wipe around the sink and scrub that stubborn dirt ring around our bathtub. Mostly what I wanted was a) someone to give me a starting point every 2 weeks, so I was actually starting from CLEAN not just kind of clean and b) someone who would remember to do all those things that I never do, like cleaning out the fridge and dusting under my bed and scrubbing the bathroom floor {oh how I hate doing those things}.

But it turns out that having a house cleaner was just not in the cards for us (health insurance, full-time {QUALITY} daycare, food, gas, and mortgage payments are expensive— who knew?!). So, I’ve resorted to alternative means for getting the house clean. I make let Eleanor do it; and she loves it.

The idea first dawned on me while reading an article about lying, and I was reminded of it a few weeks ago when Eleanor, asked to clean the back door window which she had recently smeared with something or other, didn’t let her dad stop until ALL the windows- inside and out- had been cleaned. Seems other moms caught on to this long before me, you can read an example of at least one other mother’s little helper here, or see an example of the cleaning kit that another mom made here.

Here are a few things we do pretty regularly these days:

  • Windows– (I think I covered this one)
  • Dishes– I don’t mean full on washing here, but if she gets bored cooking with me, I’ll fill a small bowl with water in the sink and she can clean dishes while I finish making dinner. She has also taken to clearing her dishes from the table and putting them in the dishwasher, without being asked!
  • Sweeping– I bring out the big broom, she gets the little blue one with the dustpan. Usually whatever she’s swept up ends up back on the floor so that she can sweep it up all over again, but what do I care?
  • Scrubbing the counter/table– I often give her a rag and let her clean the table after dinner. She loves wiping it down, and will do it over, and over, and over…
  • Washing the car– Washing the car has become a very special time for her and Tim. I think she just loves all the bubbles.
  • Watering the plants– We turn on the hose and she gets right down to it. She usually makes sure that the neighbor’s plants are well watered too.
  • Setting the table– This isn’t exactly cleaning, but as it nears dinner time she’s started to want to be involved with setting the table. Tim or I give her silverware, napkins, her plate/bowl and she puts them at everyone’s seat at the table. She usually want to then use her play dishes for Tim and I (I don’t give her our big dinner plates to carry around), which is okay by me. We just replace the big ones once it’s time to eat.
  • Turning on the washing machine/dryer- When it’s time for laundry she often wants to help, so I have her open the soap dispenser and turn on the washing machine or dryer. She usually spend a few minutes going through all the buttons saying “That one? That one?” while I answer “No, that one changes the setting.” or “Yes, that one says start.” but eventually we get it started and she’s quite pleased with herself.
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