Confessions of a Borderline OCD mom: Top 10 tips for keeping a (relatively) clean house with kids


I’ll admit… I’m a recovering clean addict.

It’s been 4 years and 2 months since I’ve been broken. While it’s been a slight progression over the last 4 years, I have learned that the rules for being “clean” when you have children seem to change. I’ll never forget my concept of parenting BC (before children). We made the silliest decisions of what “kinds” of parents we would be. My concept of cleanliness was one of them. In my mind, our kids would help us clean… and they would do that without us singing the “clean-up” song or standing over them actually spending more time “asking” then just doing it ourselves. Toys were properly organized, laundry done and put away, books neatly stacked, and the bed always made. Our playroom was the setting out of a beautiful catalog and my mind and heart fluttered with the vision of the American Dream.

And then we had kids. In actuality, our house and laundry look a little more like this… Oops

Keeping your house clean with kids?

Re-Wiring My Brain

Before kids I was that person that would have a cleaning chart, endless to do lists, and project plans for what I wanted to organize next. I won’t lie, I still have those, and the anxiety that comes with my “to-do” list not aligning with the actuality of parenting can be cumbersome. I had to try to re-wire my brain and understand how to cope with the knowledge that parenting doesn’t leave room for perfection. You have to choose what is important, what to do next, and what comes first. For me, I made the conscious decision to “try” to choose fun over tasks.

So, I chose happy kids. But making that choice is not as easy as it sounds.

As working parents, my husband and I struggle with finding time in the day to do anything outside of drop-offs, work, dinner, dishes, baths, teeth, books, bedtime, snuggles, repeat. It’s cyclical and it’s never ending. But those moments in between, when we get to chase our little dudes around the house as a monster, or have an impromptu dance party, or a wacky art session, or even cuddle up and watch a movie as a family… it’s THOSE moments that make the goldfish smeared in the couch cushions OK. The bins in the playroom that are clearly not organized can wait until another day.

That being said, the need to clean has never really left me and thanks to the pointers below I have found a balance between keeping clean and having fun. Read below and check out the top 10 ways you can keep the house (relatively) clean and still have fun. Lots of these will also involve bringing your kids into the mix, so enjoy!

  1. Get cleaning supplies for your kids and make it a game. You don’t need to try to give them the actual task of cleaning. I’ve tried the whole “tape a square and have them sweep into the square” which was a total failure. Instead just let them walk around sweeping when you are. They love following mommy and daddy and this usually buys at least 10-15 minutes. As they get older they will start to better understand how to sweep into a pile, but until then they take great pride even in the thought of helping.
  2. Bins and cubbies are your best friend. I have spent way too much time trying to organize toys so they would get the most “value” out of sets that aren’t separated or work like they were bought too. In reality, my kids play with the toys regardless of how they are mixed up and merged with other toy parts. Throw them all in a bin when done and voila! You have a floor you can see. We also ask our kids to put the toys away in their bins which makes it much easier for them to understand and learn how to put their toys away.
  3. Purge and Donate. Every year we ask our oldest son to go through all the toys and choose which ones he would like to donate to boys and girls that don’t have toys of their own. Toys by far are what makes up the most clutter in our house and keeping control of the toy outbreak of 2015 is critical to the sanity of our household. Plus you are helping a great cause. Win/win!
  4. End of Day Quick Clean ups. At the end of the day my husband and I will take 20 minutes and do a quick “sweep” of the house. This helps us start the days off with less on our plates as well as go to bed with a “relatively” clean house!
  5. Clean as you go. As parents we are always on the run. Whether it’s grabbing a cup of milk for your kid or cleaning up the one they just spilled. If you start picking up one or two things each time you walk passed a mess, this helps keep the clutter under control.
  6. Rotate Toys. Our great friends taught us this trick and we LOVE it. We will go through toys and pack up a bunch of them for a rainy day. Every few months or so we rotate out the ones that are packaged up and not only are the kids in awe with all these new toys (that they seemed to forget they had) but you also can manage with half the toys to pick up.
  7. Paper Plates are awesome. Every Friday we have pizza Friday where we skip baths, eat on paper plates, and order out pizza. This has become such a sanity savior for us that I total recommend using paper plates on those nights when you feel like “you just need a break.” We certainly do!
  8. Set a timer. This can be a great one to do with the kids. You can use the timer on your phone or buy a cheap one from the dollar store and set it to 10 minutes. Tell the kids that you are playing a game to see how many toys you can pick up before the timer goes off. Sometimes they love it so much you can trick them a couple times into doing this!
  9. Leave the house. Sometimes just walking away from the mess helps your sanity too. When in doubt, go somewhere else.
  10. Hire someone to help you. This one is certainly not one that all families can afford, however if you have the budget, a big party coming up, or just need some support from time to time hiring someone to help can be glorious. Here are some great recommendations from BVT moms if you are ever looking.

At the end of the day I still may go in every few months to have a moment of pure organizational joy, like going nuts and color coordinating the legos or searching for 20 minutes to find that one lost wooden cookie in a radiator. But I don’t let it drive me mad when the tornadoes (otherwise known as Wyatt and Zayne) come in 5 minutes later and trash the place again. They’re kids, they’re meant to have fun and who am I to try to stop them from being the little tornadoes they are meant to be!

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Tara Robertson
Originally from New Jersey my family would frequent VT for ski vacations and always saw the green mountains as a second home. When my husband Jake and I were ready to settle down we quickly found Burlington to be the perfect home for us both. We have been in VT since 2008 and now have 2 wonderful, spirited, and busy boys (Wyatt - 4, Zayne - 2) and an absolutely insane puppy, Ike. I telecommute from my home in Williston and am on a constant quest to balance being a full time executive with the demands of being mommy. Thankfully I also carry some form of super power productivity gene that forces me to multi-task at an absurd level (also known as the mommy gene)! When I'm not working or saving the world one band-aid at a time I love trying my hand at gardening, pretending to workout, and exploring. My family loves Burlington and all the area has to offer through community, health, fun, and local and sustainable living. I am so honored to be a part of this amazing team!


  1. thank you.
    the tips in the article are great and are probably extremely useful for the average mom. they are all tips that i wish, more than anything, i could use. in fact, it may have you who wrote an article recently about allowing the “clean mom” to be at peace with herself because there are always those things people post that say “a good mom has a sink full of dishes” yada, yada, yada. it was a great article that i truly appreciated because a lot of times i feel like i am failing as a mom when i read those things because my house is super clean, there are no dirty dishes in the sink, crumbs on the floor, laundry that needs to be done. i spend more time cleaning than i do having fun with my son (not because i want to but because i have to). i wish my house wasn’t always so clean. i wish a messy house didn’t cause me anxiety the way it does.

    i am not one for mommy wars or shaming. we all raise our children differently and we all do the best we can (hopefully). but what people need to realize is circumstances are not all the same for each of us. some moms have dirty dishes in the sink and crumbs on the floor because they can’t clean due to depression or another illness. they may read that post about dirty dishes and happy kids and then feel bad because they think “wow, that’s what my house looks like but it’s not because i am off playing with my kids but because i am ill. i must be a bad mom for not only having a messy house, but also for not spending more time with the kids.” and that’s not the case. just like me having a clean house makes me a bad mom. it makes me a mom suffering from severe OCD who also happens to love her child more than i could ever express.

    i realize that you did not intentionally mean to offend others, which is why i was commented and brought it to your attention. it was in no way a negative comment. it was more constructive criticism. and hopefully you learned something about OCD and what it truly is and means to have it and think twice about throwing around a term of something that really takes a toll on ones life and relationships.

  2. while i want to like this, i have a HUGE issue with something she said; “borderline OCD mom.” she has great tips, but as somebody who suffers tremendously from true OCD, it’s really frustrating when people throw around the term OCD.

    when people say they are “so OCD” or are “borderline OCD” because they like things a certain way or like things to be clean, they obviously have no idea what it is like to truly have OCD. one can have OCPD (personality) or tendencies but not have OCD. OCD is a real neurological disorder. true OCD rules your life and your mind. it is debilitating. not to mention, OCD manifests itself in more ways than just cleaning. i spend at least 3 hours a day doing rituals plus at least 8 hours every monday doing rituals. i have 2 days a week i devote to laundry and it’s full of laundry rituals. i cannot deviate from my schedule. if i do, i get so full of anxiety, anxiety that takes over me. in the past 5 plus years i have only let family into my house once. one time! and that was just a few months ago. my in-laws made the 7-8 hour drive from VT to our house, i had them come in, remove their shoes, put on booties, confiscated their phones to clean them since i knew they would be using them to take pictures, wash their hands, and then allowed them to only sit on the floor for a half hour or so and play trains with my son. this means my son cannot have friends over to play. i cannot hold down a job outside of the house like one would normally do, because i have to spend so much time every day doing rituals. living with this disorder or with somebody that has it is extremely, extremely difficult. OCD is not reasonable. it’s not just a matter of “choosing what is important, what to do next, and what comes first.” it’s a matter of having such obsessive thoughts that consume your entire being, that you need to act on them (compulsions) to relive the anxiety. it’s not about wanting perfection, it’s about wanting inner peace.

    for the past 8 months i have been trying to find a new medication to help me with the anxiety and obsessions. i was spending almost $150 a week on therapy with a psychologist specializing in anxiety disorders (not including gas and tolls on the money for the psychiatrist or medication) and traveling an hour one way to the therapist. so when i see people who truly don’t have OCD throw that term around like it is not a big deal, it trivializes a really debilitating disorder. it’s like saying “i am borderline anorexic” because you watch what you eat and eat healthy, are concerned about becoming overweight, but keep yourself at a healthy weight. so please, think twice before throwing around a term that is truly a real issue for some people. for more information on what OCD really is, visit

    • Hi Giovanna, I am truly sorry that this article offended in any way. In no way was that meant to be the intention as my goal was to help mommies who are dealing with anxiety (whether diagnosed or undiagnosed) when it comes to orderliness in their household. I wish you the best of luck in your struggle and hope you do find some inner peace. I will completely take your feedback to heart and know my heart is with you and your struggle.

  3. I love all of this because I also don’t have the time/energy to clean once the bedtime debacle has ended. I too have one wooden cookie on the lam and sometimes the thought of that not quite full container with the lost lid tips me over the edge. But in the long run, it’s probably fine. Right?


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