Why I believe in cleaning the house with awake kids

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I have three young children. My house gets messy daily. Despite my best efforts, random stuffed animals, shoes, socks, jackets, pillows, puzzles, crayons, and toys end up strewn across my house on a sometimes hourly basis. And that’s to be expected! I have children. Children make messes. And I let them make messes.

I let them (and encourage them to) play in the dirt and explore outside (I am a free-range type parent?) and come inside and paint, and draw and imagine away with their toys, blankets and pillows. I give my children the vast majority of the day to use their creative imagination to play. I believe in play. I believe in playtime more than “learning time” right now, so I fully expect messes and memories to be made.Cleaning with kids around and awake can seem counterproductive, so it's really interesting to hear why one mom believes in cleaning while her kids are awake! | whatsupfagans.com

It’s why I can get behind phrases like: “Please excuse the mess. The children are making memories.”


I don’t buy that I need to wait until my children are sleeping to clean up my house. Not for a second. In fact, I believe in cleaning the house with kids who are awake!Kids are messy, but the dirtier the clothes the bigger the memories! How to keep the memory, but lose the stains.| whatsupfagans.com | #WhiteCloud #ad

I often feel like I’m in the minority on this one, especially when sentiments like this are commonly shared online:

  • “Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing.” – Phyllis Diller
  • “Cleaning with kids in the house is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.” – Unknown

So while I totally get that as you clean one spot your kids will just mess another, and that the cleaning never ends, does that mean we should never clean? Or only clean when the kids are safely away? Maybe. But, not to me.

Look, I’m not a clean freak (although I enjoy cleaning). I don’t obsess over messes. I can go days without cleaning anything. I can easily step over toys and doodads all day long without having it drive me insane as I am not OCD. But, I assure you, I don’t like to clean while my kids are sleeping. I want my kids awake while I clean the house.

So, yes, I clean the house while my children are awake. And there are very good reasons for it.

Why I Like Cleaning the House with Kids Awake

1. I don’t believe my daily life at home with my kids should be all about them.

I don’t believe it is my duty to ensure that every single minute of every day is scheduled with a “meaningful” activity unlike most 21st century stay at home moms. I don’t do crafts. I don’t enroll my children in sports, clubs, or other activities.

I don’t believe I need to ensure my child’s happiness constantly while they are awake. As I said before, I believe in play and not entitlement. My kids get to play, and they do a great job of it. My kids never complain of being bored. I don’t know if they really know what that word is.

Sure, I redirect them to a new activity from time to time, but I let my kids play independently and without me (as well as with me) throughout each day. This essentially means I have time to do other things while they are awake: like clean, cook, shower, blog, etc.

What should 21st Century Stay at Home Moms really being doing all day? Are we too involved?2. I don’t want my children to think that a magical elf comes and cleans their house for them each and every night.

I want them to know that I clean, their father cleans, and that they, too, are expected to clean. Cleaning is an essential part of life and of taking care of a home. Of course things will get messed up again, but it doesn’t mean we should be slobs or live in filth. We need to clean, and I absolutely believe my children need to see me cleaning up the house, washing and folding laundry, vacuuming, cleaning dishes, and mopping the floor. Seeing me (or their father) clean helps them learn gratitude. My children also like having a clean home (which seems crazy considering they make 85% of the mess around here). I have been so humbled and touched by my children thanking me for cleaning their room, for vacuuming, for making our home “beautiful,” as they say. They love having a clean home just as much as I do.

Instilling the Values of Gratitude and Thankfulness in our young children - whatsupfagans.com3. If I clean during the day, my children can help me.

Even though I want my children to see me cleaning, I also expect them to help according to their abilities and age. My kids generally like helping, and they have certain activities that they prefer to others. Lisa likes to scrub down the table and help me sweep the floors. Alison loves to vacuum. Lisa will help fold clothes and both enjoy making their beds. Michael can occasionally be counted on putting a few toys back in a container.Regular Chores for Three Year Olds - They can do more than you think! whatsupfagans.com

I love seeing them take pride in cleaning. About once a week they’ll ask us to come up to their bedroom so they can show off how clean it is, how the beds are made, and how their laundry is actually in the hamper, beaming with pride and satisfaction. As a parent, I love instilling the value of hard work in my children, and they know that “you don’t give up” when things are tricky or hard. I don’t expect my kids to clean perfectly or to my level of cleanliness, but I help them learn how to do it better if need be.

4. I don’t want to spend my precious me time, quiet time, cleaning.

Sure it’ll stay spotless longer, but at what cost? The cost of me developing other skills? Socializing with friends in person or online? Quality time with my husband? Time spent writing or promoting this blog? Or at the cost of my already limited hours of sleep? No! I do not want to clean during nap time or at the end of my very long days. I’d rather forget about those dishes in the sink and save them for tomorrow morning while my children are eating breakfast, and instead pop some popcorn, pull up a TV show on hulu, and snuggle up next to my hubby at the end of a long day.

My home is a mess a lot of times. And some areas of our home (dusting for instance) are ignored for a very, very long time (just take a peak at our Household Chores Printable). But, I don’t mind. While I still prefer to clean some things while my children are away or sleeping, like showers or other “bigger” projects which are more time or chemical intensive, most of the cleaning happens with my children awake, and often times with them helping.

That’s why sometimes, I’m bothered by sayings like: “Good moms have sticky floors, messy kitchens, laundry piles, dirty ovens, and happy kids.”

I don’t believe for a second that a prerequisite to being a good mom is having a messy home. While I know that such sayings are to help moms not feel overwhelmed, the reality is that kids don’t really like living in a messy home, nor do their parents.

Messy, unclean homes tend to stress everyone out. I don’t think a home has to be constantly spotless or that you need to clean your oven more than like twice a year, but cleaning regularly, to whatever your level of cleanliness is acceptable for you and your family, is good practice. Because, honestly, your top priority as a mom should not be an immaculate house; it should be happy children. That’s why I would rewrite the above quote simply:

“Good moms have happy kids.”

My house is far from spotless, and some days I don’t clean a. single. thing. but I am proud to say that I clean the house with children awake, as nonsensical as that may sound to many of you.

So, tell me, do you clean while your children are awake? Why or why not?

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  1. Jessica says

    Thank you! I absolutely DO clean with my dd awake, however I find it difficult sometimes. Perhaps because I focused too much on entertaining her when she was younger, she now has a difficult time entertaining herself. I try to give her activities that she can complete on her own, but she is always seeking my attention.
    She does ALWAYS want to help. Sometimes that’s more of an aggravation than I can handle. Although, now that she’s three there are some things that she actually *is* a help with.
    Any tips on teaching an only child preschooler to play independently? 🙂

    • says

      Jessica – It can be difficult to clean with the kids, for SURE! And I wish I could help you with the only child thing, but having twins I have very little experience with ever having an only child thing! Puzzles, coloring books, blocks? I would say just remind your child that they can do hard things; might give them the motivation to keep focused on a task longer. Good luck!

    • lollizah says

      Also have an only child, a 3 yr old. It has helped him to help me since he’s had cleaning tools appropriate for him (small caddy with paper towels, rag, sponges, spray bottle with kid-friendly DIY cleaning solution, and duster, plus small broom). This enables him to work near me. It doesn’t usually take long for him to tire of it though. That’s when I must remind myself that being bored is okay: it’s just a feeling. Boredom usually leads to creativity, so it is a good thing! While he usually whines for a few minutes (sometimes the whining escalates into a tantrum). But when I don’t jump in to entertain him, he ends up coming up with things to play on his own.

  2. says

    I hate that quote too! While my house isn’t spotless, it is picked up. I never clean while my kids sleep for all of the reasons you listed. The most important to me is that my kids help out. They have always helped with cleaning up even though in the beginning it took longer for them to clean up than for me to do it myself. It’s paid off and I’m so glad I always had them help.

  3. Lenze says

    I absolutely agree on cleaning when kids are awake! I can see that it is easier to clean when kids are not behind you make another mess (easier with a 3 year and older than younger). But the sooner you get them in the habit the better. And kids will whine about it now (and if they don’t double bonus cleaning and great attitude) but the reward will be worth it in about 10-15 years later (truth).

  4. Jenilee says

    Thank you so much for this. I clean my house while my kids are awake, too, although there is still cleaning that happens while they sleep. Sometimes I feel like I should play down on the floor more with them or specifically guide their play time because that’s what it seems like a lot of moms do? But like you said, I let my kids play on their own. They both have great imaginations (even my 15 month old already pretends) and have developed the ability to entertain themselves. I am not neglectful of them – I make sure they are safe and they don’t get hurt (as much as possible!) but that leaves me free to work on those other things while they are awake. Which gives me that ‘me’ time when they are asleep. I teach piano lessons out of my home Mon-Wed, so I try to keep the house clean those days, and mostly just do pick-up and tidy the rest of the week. Anyway, you said it well: Good moms have happy kids. Thank you.

  5. says

    You go, girl! That’s a great attitude to have, Katelyn. I wish that I had been as wise as you are when my kids were young. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the internet or great blogs like yours to help me along. Not that I’m whining, but I do feel like what you offer here is such a blessing to all moms and really helps us to find that balance we all need in the cleaning and in the playing of life. Thanks so much for sharing! And by the way, I’ll be contacting you soon to have your guest post published in May while I’m on vacation. I’ll be in touch!

  6. says

    Great post! Yes on all accounts. Kids learn all the time, and helping with chores lends all sorts of opportunities for learning, from how to go slow to counting and personal responsibility. And how can we expect them to help around the house if they never learn how it’s supposed to be done? My 20 month old clears her own plate and sweeps up any messes she makes, as well as cleans up her toys. As far as cleanliness goes, I like to say my house is lived in but not dirty. There may be toys about, but the floor is vacuumed and mopped!

  7. says

    Oh my gosh, it’s like I could have written this post, I could not possibly agree with you more, but yes, I do feel like I’m in the minority too!
    I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been talking with friends and I ask how they enjoyed naptime and they tell me they spent it all cleaning, I would lose my mind if I did that and honestly my son is really really good at entertaining himself and I think that is a very important skill!
    (Stopping by from a stumbleupon link up but also hi from OnlineBlogcon! 🙂

  8. Pam says

    I’m 58 years old and my daughters are grown. I could have written this and have to tell you that I wholeheartedly agree with you. Evenings at our home were spent relaxing and enjoying each other and messes happened. My girls joke that they learned early to never say they were bored because that was when cleaning would happen. Their favorite story is that once when they had a bad case of the preteen, summer boredom, I gave them mops, rags, and a water hose and made them wash down the front porch on our country home. There was laughter, everyone was wet and I got a clean porch out of the deal.

  9. says

    Great points!!! I’ve always been a huge advocate of doing housework when the kids are up and around too! And yes–we are not meant to be entertaining them 24/7 🙂

  10. Megan says

    “Kids don’t like living in a messy home.” Bahahahahaha… really? They may not like it, but I don’t know that they dislike it, as far as I can tell with my kids, and remember from growing up, kids are pretty indifferent to their surroundings until middle or high school when they don’t want to be embarrassed having friends over.

  11. says

    Depends. I’ll do most of the light cleaning while they’re awake, especially things that they can help me with. I also recently read a post about how to stop your kids from being bored. I know my son knows what that is, but I also don’t accept it as a complaint. If he’s “bored” that means we can find something to do… and it’s ALWAYS chores. Believe me, I haven’t heard “I’m bored” in a LONG time. I let my kids play and want to implement a weekly craft. Nothing daily or scheduled. My son does play sports because I think organized sports teaches its own set of skills, beside the sport itself. Thanks for sharing with Countdown in Style!

  12. says

    My kids are older now and I get them to help clean and do daily chores like make their own beds, load dishwasher, sweep floors after dinner. It really helps me and I think it teaches them that everyone lives and eats in the house so everyone needs to help clean up. When they were younger I did most of my cleaning while they were around or awake, still do, because like you said , I don’t want to spend “me” time cleaning every day.

  13. says

    Wow I didn’t realize that most moms or people thought moms should have a messy house or that most 21st century moms thought their kids needed to be entertained. I do plan to do crafts with my kids sometimes. I am a homeschooler so a lot of hands on things will be done with them. But I definitely don’t even entertain my 2 year old. He plays a lot on his own. He gets clingy sometimes, but he enjoys helping me with laundry and tries to help me clean. We even catch him wiping things down at times lol. I guess my views on this stuff is a lot similar to yours 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing this with us at Countdown in Style!

  14. says

    I absolutely, wholeheartedly agree!! In fact, when I clean the house, those end up being some of the most enjoyable moments with my kids. They love to help out and feel as if they are contributing. It’s a win/win for everyone on all of the levels you mentioned. Great post, Katelyn!

  15. Colbee says

    My mom never cleaned when I was a child. Very often there would be seats in the living room filled with things. Except for very special occasions (like my nephews first birthday with strangers visiting) would the house be clean. The standard was doubled for years when my mother and father constantly complained about the state of my room that I never once had completely cleaned in order to know where everything went. I swore to myself that my children would see me work to keep the house clean, and from their observations would they learn what was required of them as they got older. That’s how I learned.

    Now that I am married, it is much harder to keep my house clean, and Im working hard to make a habit of it. I do not blame any of that on her. However, not having that point of reference, It is harder to wrap my head around doing house work everyday.

  16. says

    I wholeheartedly agree with you! I love your no nonsense approach to this. I take the same approach here. Once the kids are in bed, it’s a quick tidy but primarily time for me and hubby to chat, catch up, work out etc, all proper housework gets done during the day when they are up and about. Also, I fully agree with your first point, we need to encourage children to be independent to play, to use their imaginations, not do it for them or schedule eveRything for them (I do do crafts but only because I love to do them myself lol!) Great post 🙂 #HDYDI

  17. Kristen says

    I completely agree! While there are certain chores that are usually done during nap time, they’re the more occasional things like climbing up on step-stools to dust fan blades.. Most chores, I want my kids to see and learn how to do; and often times, they want to join in! They’re only 1 and 3, but I can hand them a baby wipe and point them to an appliance or a length of baseboards or a set of shutters and they’ll go to town! They each have their own “Swiffer” (a windshield cleaning tool for the little one, and a collapsible dust mop for the older), and love to follow me around “cleaning” the floors; and I make sure to thoroughly appreciate even their ineffective contributions because they are volunteering their services, and their skills are improving 🙂 And as they get older and I point out that they have to *finish* jobs, they are aware that my job is not all easy 😉 Yay for grateful little mess-makers 😉

  18. says

    Now that my youngest is 2 and is getting to the point where he can help a little bit and play with his older brother without getting into too much trouble I am hoping to be able to clean more while they are awake. My 5 year old helps with different things and both love unloading the dishwasher and sweeping. I do pay them ‘commission’ for certain cleaning things, but not things that they are expected to do every day, such as cleaning their toys up and their rooms up. I currently watch another toddler during the week, but at the end of the school year I won’t have him so I will be able to get into a better daily routine with my 2 kids.

  19. Ashley says

    How are they to learn how to clean if they never see you and never help? How will they have the confidence to try if you tell them no they can’t help cook, clean, do yard work or home improvement projects. There is always a way for them to help. Sometimes the help is more useful to you than other times, but it is always helpful to them. The age that they are always willing to help disappears, and then you have to ask them to help…repeatedly. Don’t was precious nap time doing the things that they need to witness. I have 4 kids. They have painted the living room, help build stone walls (someone needs to man the level and sprinkle sand) they all have chores and the youngest is 1. He puts things “in” age and ability need to be recognized, but ability is usually more than we give them credit for. I am glad to see so many like minded people following this blog!

  20. Amber says

    Yes! I absolutely clean while my kids are awake! I have a three year old and a one year old (both super-messy boys), so obviously days are a little… hectic. My house is by no means spotless, but I manage to keep it clean-ish, as long as you overlook legos and dinosaurs. We do have play time together, but I’ve found that while I’m engaged in something (dishes, laundry, whatever) they are much more likely to play independently or with each other. It makes life a little easier for all of us. Plus, at the end of the day, I’m way too tired to even think about cleaning the whole house!!!

  21. says

    I’m with you. I almost never clean when the kids are asleep because I believe “don’t do it when they are asleep if you can do it when they are awake”. I save sleeping time for things that do require quiet and concentration… like writing this comment. 🙂

  22. KC says

    Thank you for writing this! I do not have children, but I know that my mother often cleaned while I was asleep or away at school. I wish she hadn’t, because a) now I’m kind of a slob and b) looking back, I feel bad that she did so much of this, and I never noticed and thanked her. I am so glad that you recognize that your kids should not have everything taken care of for them– having them help you and letting them see the effort you take into keeping your house is so, so important!

    • says

      Thank you for your comment KC! I remember seeing my mom clean sometimes, but I was so ungrateful because she never really made us help out and I wish she would have. I sincerely do.

  23. Lori Rothermund says

    I have six kids and a messy house that gets cleaned while they are awake. Which with six kids after my husband and I clean the house it still resembles the messy house we started with! Our kids do like to help though Lily the 5 year old loves to clean the windows, Margaret the 8 year old loves to mop and Ian the 4 year old loves to vacuum- with Daddy’s help. Our 19 year old is in charge of dishes (loading and unloading the DW) and all the trash and the other two boys ages 7 and 10 just kind of ramble around the house finding a hiding spot at chore time. We don’t enforce and demand cleaning out of them but if they help we toss a few bucks at them. Needless to say the two middle boys are usually very poor. I would never wait until the kids were in bed to clean the house to give them the illusion that some kind of fairy visited and cleaned up their messes for them. I think that would lead to even bigger messes to be made. I do play with them sometimes but I do not spend every free moment with my kids like some moms do. Kids need to learn how to entertain themselves. When I hear that “I’m bored” out of them I just tell them to use their never ending imagination to find something to do. I also explain to them I am not the cruise director on this ship of life and did not plan any activities for the day. My 4 year old usually wants to know where the boat is and then the kids end up playing pirates! Gosh! What a ramble, I hope some of this made sense!

    • says

      Yes it did Lori!! I love it! Thanks for your comment! I don’t believe in being the cruise director either (you should check out my 21st stay at home mom post for more thoughts on that).

  24. says


    I love this! I do this too, and my three little girls totally take note. They love to help, and even at 5, 3 and 1, they know how to help me pick up every night. I will catch them making beds, wiping the table, etc. I had chores to do when I was younger, and although our house is covered in a layer of play-things much of the time, it gives me a lot of piece of mind to shovel it all away several times a day, and as the girls help, it is an added bonus:

    Great post!!

  25. says

    Great article! Believe me, as a Mom who works outside the home, I think these principles still apply. I agree that a clean’ish home is nice but that a slightly messy home is fine too. 🙂 Your article was a great encouragement to me. Thanks!

    • says

      You are welcome! And yes, this should apply to mothers who work outside the home or only in it. I just know that many mothers who work outside the home feel guilty spending their limited time with their kids cleaning, but I hate to see them spending all their alone time cleaning too!

  26. Mary says

    You’re so right!
    Although I do most of my cleaning when they are gone, I do see the value of doing it while they’re there. My 3 and 5 year ols boys love to participate in all the chores: vacuum, spray with the window cleaner, mop (slop), rinse dishes, etc…

    Will definitely promote this new approach now 🙂

  27. Kristine says

    Maybe it’s because I have somewhat older kids, but I believe my kids should do most of the cleaning. The do, after all, make most of the mess. Also, this is my first time visiting this blog. There are so many ads in the way that it’s difficult to read. I don’t expect to ever come back. I’m on a tablet, and I’m sure it’s worse on a smartphone.

    • says

      I think as they get older they should definitely be expected to do most of the cleaning too. 🙂 And thanks for letting me know about the ads. I don’t want to turn away readers. I will see what my ad provider can do to limit them. Have a blessed day!

  28. says

    I always clean at the end of the day while my son is awake too. I want him to help me and he’s learning every time. He might actually make it take longer now, but someday I will be glad I did it when he can clean his own room and make his own bed. I also value my “me time” WAY too much to clean until I fall asleep. That’s my corny movie and super long bath time 🙂

  29. Jacee says

    I total agree with this, and I too, clean my house while both my children are awake, and I do my deep cleaning (showers, shampooing floors, etc) with them awake and here as well. They are very much involved in all the daily workings of my house, especially my 3 year old son, he gets overwhelmed when his room is overly messy, (such as when he has little friends over or its been a few days since I’ve organized his room to MY standards, haha) He wont even go in there and play because he will step on something or trip over something and then he’s just in a bad mood and doesn’t want to go anywhere near it, so I try to keep him interested in cleaning and picking up, and we work together making beds and doing the dishes and doing and putting away laundry, he loves to dust and clean the tv screens (with my help of course) my 9 year old is in charge of helping make sure all the toys get put back WHERE they belong BEFORE they switch to another activity, or another room to play in, She also takes out the trash, puts away her own laundry and helps me to wash and fold the other laundry. I think it is good parenting to teach your children that they have to work to have nice things and that nice things and nice houses (regardless of the size of your house, or your income) don’t stay nice on their own, it requires you to put forth effort, and i believe that it instills in them a respect and gratitude for the things they have and the responsibility to take care of them. and I PERSONALLY believe that raising your kids to think that it’s okay to live in a cluttered filthy house isn’t good parenting and it’s not doing anything good for them for their future to think that its okay to have mold growing on the dishes and dirty laundry all over the house and broken toys always under foot. I’m so glad to know there are other moms like me out there that take the initiative to teach good values to their children, no matter how small. my house has always been clean, (except for a small few week stint when my son was first born and i had PPD and didn’t even want to get out of bed) and he has grown up understanding that cleaning is part of our everyday routine and that if you keep up with it then it only takes a little while and then off to play in a house you can actually move around in and see the floor in haha. I’m not a perfect parent, and I know everyone has a different way they deal with their house and children, and I do not intend to put anyone down with this comment, it is only my personal feelings on the matter. but thank you for taking time out of your busy day (3 kids, wow!) to talk on this subject, which i think is pretty important. I loved this, and it really spoke to me on a personal level. lol.

  30. Amy says

    Mostly, I clean when my kids go to bed. I feel like I work too much and my daughter being in school takes too much time away to waste any more of it doing things I can do after they go to sleep. My children are 2 and 6 and my daughter cleans before bed, but I still finish up things I need to do alone after the kids go to bed. Doing dishes or sweeping the floor just doesn’t really feel complete when 5 minutes later there are crumbs on the floor or more dishes in the sink.

  31. says

    So inspiring! I definitely agree with you! My children like helping me with the cleaning and it’s very interesting for them each time. I leave them play free and do messes and it’s not a big deal. I’ve never thought about cleaning while they’re sleeping, it don’t make sense to me.We clean together all our messes sooner or later, I have my time alone and they have their time to play, to imagine and create. You and your blog are a great inspiration for me. Greets!

  32. Deirdre says

    I absolutely agree!
    My 2 year old son loves to use his own little broom when I’m sweeping. He also helps to unload the dishwasher and helps me move the laundry into the washer or the dryer. He really likes to wipe down things too, the table, the chairs, the floor, Mommy’s pants 😉
    And even though he doesn’t like it much I expect him to help clean up his toys too!
    He has gone through different fases when I’m cleaning. Sometimes he’s happy to play by himself, sometimes he is unhappy and sometimes he wants to help.
    He is however very scared of the vacuum cleaner, which is a recent thing. Maybe if I get him a toy vacuum he would get less scared.


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