By Gen Cohen
Get over your high standards
That's the main obstacle to keeping the house clean and pleasant, not the spitup stains and spilled Cheerios. "We say we don't have the time to clean because perfectionism takes over," says Marla Cilley, whose website, FlyLady.net, offers clean house tips. "Or we burn out because we do too much in one room. Instead, just set the timer and see what you can get done."
Set the timer for 15 minutes
That's about how long most children can stay busy on a task or content in the bouncy seat while you tackle a chore. Divvy up your housecleaning into 15-minute projects and aim to do two or three a day, when you can squeeze them into your schedule. Besides, it's a psychological boost to have a limit on cleaning.
Guilt inducer: You're not Martha Stewart
It might seem very June Cleaver, but moms today still feel like they have to be quintessential homemakers, even when they have so many other responsibilities. Competition between moms also adds to stress.
Ditch the guilt: Remember that your baby needs you more than your furniture needs polishing. "It's important that your home is a safe environment where your child can learn and explore. It doesn't have to be ready for the president to visit," says Aviva Pflock, coauthor of "Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids."
Get the kids involved
Take advantage of the fact that your kids want to be with you every waking moment and recruit them to help you with keeping the house clean. Just be sure to stick to the 15-minute rule or they'll start to mess up what you've already cleaned!
Toddlers can become expert dusters with electromagnetic cloths, baby wipes, or small feather dusters. Give them sponges and they can wipe off the shower stall, tub, or sink. And don't forget the simplest way to tidy up: picking up toys.
Preschoolers can empty small trash baskets into a bigger bag. They can also clean windows using a spray bottle of water mixed with a squirt of lemon juice or vinegar, and they can scrub corners and small spaces with a toothbrush or nail brush. Or have them help with floors: They can use a handheld vacuum or a kid-size broom (available at toy stores).
School-age kids can vacuum carpets, sweep floors, and clean sinks with disinfectant or bleach wipes. They can also learn about the environment by putting out items for recycling.
An ounce of prevention
Save cleaning time by keeping big messes from happening in the first place. A room-by-room guide:
Wipe up spills right away and don't leave sauce-covered spoons or greasy pans for too long -- they'll muck up the sink, and you'll have to scrub it down, too.
Wipe the sink each morning after use (dried-out toothpaste is a pain to remove). Keep a sponge in the cabinet for handy access. Squeegee the shower walls and door every couple of days to prevent mildew and water stains.
Living room/dining room/entrance
Invest in an outside doormat for keeping the house clean. Have family members shed shoes when they enter (feet drag in 80 percent of dirt in the home). Spray cloth-covered furniture with Scotchgard or other stain repellent (if not already treated) for easy cleanup