Whole Parenting Family

Making & Keeping a Clean Simple Space


I suck at this. SUCK. Is that too strong of language? I really struggle with keeping our house tidy much less clean. It’s not because I’m pregnant. It’s not because I have three little kids. It’s because I have life-long bad habits.

So, of course, I’ve read a ton of books about spacial awareness and organizing and cleaning and having a “system.” Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home, Charles Duhigg’s Power of Habit, David Eaglemen’s Incognito, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Upand a few others. I do love pop psych books!

I’ve learned a few tips and tricks from these books, but mostly I’ve learned by observing myself. I made myself my own anthropological study. Sprawling around your house while insanely sick and pregnant gives one ample time to observe oneself and the last ten weeks of pregnancy, I observed a lot from my various supine positions, occasionally on the {dirty} kitchen floor, often times in the open hallway between the kids’s rooms to met out judicial proclamations from on-low, and even from the bathroom, noting my crowded cupboards and clean half-folded towels on the floor under the sink, surrounded by dust-bunny colonies.

Here’s what I discovered:

I have no urgency for putting things away


I have no place to put them away even if I wanted to.

There. That’s the secret to a clean simple space: put things away into their place as soon as humanly possible.


So you must first have a particular spot for your things. For kids’ artwork, chewed up pencils, rubber bands, random parts to toys, your hairbrush, a stack of papers you should file somewhere, baseball cards {all examples from my own kitchen mess-pit}.

Once everything has a home, either in the trash, recycling, or a cute woven basket, then I steadily challenged myself to put the items in their home. Okay. One small step for womankind, one large step for civilization. A few weeks in, I found I could put things away. I actually could.

I then discovered a new problem: the “home” for the item itself was trashed. My linen closet bred and sheets entangled themselves inside out, for example, or the various stashes for toys were overflown, or my “to-be-filed” folder on my desk made its way to the floor, repeatedly. The need for a third step arose.

Keep your places tidy on a consistent basis so it’s a five-minute tidying job and not a once-a-month overhaul.

Of course along the way, I’ve purged toys {some trash, some donate}, books {reselling at local shops!}, clothing {donating!}, and lots of minutia. I did a modified KonMari method on our belongings but who was she kidding? People with kids could never follow her methodology completely. I addressed my habits. I firmly have carved some new neural pathways and fired new “tidy” neurons together. A quick sweep of the kids’ rooms at night with their help removes dirty clothes to the hallway laundry basket. The bath toys are tossed back into their basket. The kitchen counter is cleared so I can face a fresh canvas in the morning. I actually run a vacuum {now that we bought a new one, finally, thanks to your help, Facebook friends!} every week or so and these wipes mean the toilets are regularly wiped, not scrubbed, but wiped.

I also adopted the phrase, if I don’t like it and keep moving it from place to place within the house, get rid of it. Now tell me all your clean simple house tricks. Because I still need them!



  1. Alicia on July 11, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    Ugh. It’s like you’re holding up a finger-printed water splashed mirror to me. Cleaning can be so hard! 🙂

    My best housekeeping idea: If it will take less than 2 minutes to do, just do it. Don’t make a to-do list and write down something that will only take 2 minutes to do.

    • Natural Mama Nell on July 11, 2016 at 5:43 pm

      So smart!

    • Ashley S. on July 12, 2016 at 10:35 pm

      Yes! I adopted a “just do it now” slogan specifically for changing the toilet paper but I’m slowly incorporating it elsewhere and it’s been so helpful!

  2. Audrey on July 11, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    I just sent this article to my husband with the note, “I feel like I met my cleaning/tidying Spirit Animal!” Okay, maybe that’s a little strong, but still….I, too have developed lazy habits (and an arsenal of excuses). Your article sparked a realization that a lot of what I defer putting away doesn’t actually have a home, and that I should (1) keep a running list of those items, and (2) every day, figure out a permanent “home” for those items (and write it down so I don’t forget). Kids’ artwork is going to be at the top of my list!

    • Natural Mama Nell on July 11, 2016 at 5:42 pm

      Spirit animal!! I love it!!

  3. Kati on July 11, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    My favorite app – ARTKIVE – will change your life. For real. Take photos of your kids’ art. Show them the photos with lots of oohing and ahhing and I love it! thrown in. Upload photos to app. Maybe someday, print a book…or not. I haven’t done the printing part yet. But the saving to the app means I DO have a record of their creations (some of which are actually things I want to remember!) and they feel satisfied I didn’t trash their work. And then – throw away/recycle the actual art. Maybe Maybe Maybe, if you really want, you could toss up two nails, one string of twine, and hang a few pieces from that string in a very cool gallery fashion. But really, you should just get rid of it.

    • Natural Mama Nell on July 11, 2016 at 5:37 pm

      So fabulous

    • Elizabeth on July 11, 2016 at 8:17 pm

      This is great! My mom would take photos of our artwork/projects before we got rid of them, and it’s something I think about now but never do. (Granted my oldest is only 2.5 so most of what he makes gets recycled pretty quickly.)

  4. Christina on July 11, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    Oh, woman, I FEEL YOU. I didn’t have such a hard time when I lived by myself, because I’m a serial tosser and hate clutter. But a husband and dog and two kids later and I’ve realized that I’m really, really terrible at housekeeping. Tidying, actual cleaning, all of it. I’ve struggled with frustration and guilt over it and finally my husband made me hire a once-a-month housecleaner and it’s basically the best housekeeping tip I have. I can kind of keep on top of the clutter and then once a month my toilets and microwave floors actually get CLEAN and it’s miraculous and I only have minor guilt about spending the money. Which replaces my guilt about my kids crawling around on dirty floors, so it’s totally worth it because it evens out on the guilt-o-meter. LOL.

    • Natural Mama Nell on July 11, 2016 at 5:37 pm

      That’s so wonderful!!

    • Ashley S. on July 12, 2016 at 10:37 pm

      When I was working and we didn’t have our minivan payment I hired someone just to do the kitchen floor and upstairs bathrooms every other week and it was life changing. Totally worth the money!

  5. Laurie on July 11, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    You are my lady! I’m with Christina on the monthly house cleaner front because of the filthy house guilt. Now I just need someone to come help me organize the rest of it. I CAN do this, but that overwhelming feeling of getting started…

    • Natural Mama Nell on July 11, 2016 at 5:44 pm

      I know. It’s the getting started that’s hard for me. It took me an hour to tidy our kitchen today and I didn’t have a plan. I just started picking things up. Sometimes just starting is a plan.

  6. Rachel @Efficient Momma on July 11, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    Ive started a weekly cleaning schedule, bathrooms on Wed, mopping on Thursday, grocery shopping every other week and on the off weeks I dust, change sheets, etc… also, I’ve purged my house over and over again. I even got rid of the Legos. They were always everywhere and it stressed everyone out, so out they went. Like you said,having a home for everything is key. And doing a little bit every day 🙂

    • Natural Mama Nell on July 11, 2016 at 5:44 pm

      You’re so on it, girl!

  7. Leigh on July 11, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    Oh yes. Four kids under eight.
    My question is do I want to take care of this. Pretty fabric, yes. Random McDonald’s toy, no. If I am the one doing the picking up, I get to choose.
    And we have hard floors (or will when we get out of the temp rental) and I sweet everything first and then pick up from the pile.

  8. Elizabeth on July 11, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    This is SO me! And I hate clutter. It makes me feel like I’m drowning. I have to host dinners so that we actually make ourselves clean and tidy ever month or two(!!). My biggest problem is that so much of our stuff doesn’t have a home. Our 1950s house has become too small for our family and is quite short on closet space, so there is literally no place for the stuff to go! (Except out.) I’d love to get rid of stuff but my husband thinks we don’t actually have too much stuff, we just have too small a house (which drives the minimalist in me crazy. But who am I kidding, we have too many hobbies to be minimalists!) We’ve been searching for a new home for almost a year now, so hopefully in the not too distant future I’ll be organized and have a place for everything (and hopefully also be able to get rid of some things in the process).

  9. Bethany {all things passing} on July 11, 2016 at 9:03 pm

    Konmari not for people with kids? What do you mean, you don’t empty your diaper bag every form you come home?

    Her book also assumes that you live in a modern, urban apartment, rather than, say a 100-year old house awkwardly cut into apartments and retrofitted with teeny closets and cabinets. For example.

  10. Lindsey on July 11, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    Tip #1: Say no to new things that you don’t need and will end up as clutter. My husbands default answer is “NO.” No new accessories, toys, books (hello Library and interlibrary loan!), movies (hello library and Amazon prime and Netflix), gadgets, kitchenware, etc. I break down every once in a while and buy something, but normally months go by without buying new crap.
    Tip#2: Every single thing in your home needs a home.
    Tip #3: Do not get a pet, like a dog. The mess will drive you insane.
    Tip #4: Become less sentimental. Only be sentiment with the absolute most important things. Then you can pitch the rest without regret.
    Good luck! You can do it!

  11. Amy A. on July 12, 2016 at 6:00 am

    Ooooh, what kind of vacuum did you get? I have a Shark with a bare floors attachment which is AMAZING. So much more effective than a broom, though I usually have to use the broom first because of all the dog hair. I have also asked for a steam mop for Christmas because Swiffers just aren’t cutting it anymore. I guess my best tip is to toss things mercilessly, which is kind of my natural state (and brings me into constant negotiations with my, “But we might need it someday!” husband 😉 My boys are just big enough to start putting toys into boxes at the end of play time so we’re instilling clean-up habits early, but I have it on good authority that 4 year olds can Swiffer and 6 year olds can vacuum! Good luck and so glad you’re feeling better!

  12. Laura on July 13, 2016 at 1:35 am

    Two days before our family of 6 moved, I happened across the following book at the library: “Organizing solutions for people with ADHD” by Susan C. Pinsky. My husband and eldest both have ADHD (conveniently one is inattentive and the other hyperactive-impulsive). Keeping the house tidy (clean is a different beast altogether) has been a monumental task that has caused me so much stress. I literally couldn’t understand how someone who had managed to earn herself a MSc. degree was struggling to maintain basic standards. This book has been so helpful as it’s teaching me that many of the organizational tricks that I’m using that work for me, are counterproductive to what is going to work for my son and husband. Her basic premise of “inventory shouldn’t just conform to storage but should be less than storage, so that it never requires a multi-step dance to put things away. Instead, every item should be stored where it is used so it can be stowed in a single motion” is a game changer. The best organizational system is the one that is most efficient, simplest, most convenient, and the easiest to maintain, because it requires the least number of steps and materials. So I’ve been purging (15 garbage bags full for donation) and easy access, easily seen places to put stuff. It’s been a wonderful book.

    • Natural Mama Nell on July 22, 2016 at 7:00 pm

      That sounds AMAZING!

  13. Emily on July 14, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    I’m with you Nell! I feel like everything is unorganized at our house. But i also think that if everything we actually needed had its own place, it would be easier to pick up and clean. I’m afraid I have no excuse though, because even though I have two small children, I’m actually a house-cleaner on the side!
    I was wondering if you’ve done a post on how you budget food (I know you like GOOD food & so do I!) and the like? My hubby and I just started doing things a little differently, and so far we seem to be spending more consciously.
    Your post on hyperemia made me nod my head too. In fact even though I’m not pregnant, I still find myself smelling weird things once in awhile!

    • Natural Mama Nell on July 22, 2016 at 7:01 pm

      Its own place makes such a difference. It might not *be* there, but the place at least is awaiting it! I haven’t done a food budget post but I should!!