How to keep a clean house (without running yourself ragged during nap-time)

I don’t vacuum during nap-time.
I also don’t fold laundry.
Or wash dishes.
And you don’t need to, either.

Let me back up. When Baby Boy was about five months old, I was visited by a friend and their baby (who is a bit younger than Baby Boy).

She was moaning about how she was finding it impossible to keep up with the housework now that she had a baby, and the only time for chores seemed to be nap-time or after the baby’s bedtime — but then it left no time for her. She also said my place was “amazingly clean,” which I live for is always nice to hear, and demanded to know how I kept up with things.

(I wouldn’t say our condo is amazingly clean, but it is always pretty tidy. When there’s a mess, I break out into hives don’t feel relaxed, so it’s better for my mental health to keep it in decent shape.)

There is a trick, though, to housekeeping when you have a baby and work part-time from home (and have a husband who works constantly a crapload of hours 70 hours/week and isn’t around to help much). More than housekeeping, really. It’s a trick to balancing out all of the things you need to do with the things you want to do, so Baby’s naps are not spent with you racing around like an insane maid. And it’s so simple!

It’s just a matter of figuring out the things you absolutely can’t do while the baby is awake, and focus on only those things while they are sleeping. I’m a genius, right?

You just look at your daily to-dos, and start by figuring out …

  • Things you can do while the baby is awake/playing
  • Things you can do while the baby is eating
  • Things you can do just after the baby has eaten
  • Things you can do when the baby first goes down for a nap
  • Things you can do while the baby is waking up
… and then you save everything else for when the baby is sleeping. 
Not convinced? Let me break it down …
  • While the baby is awake/playing: 
    • Fold laundry. You’re already on the floor, playing with your baby. Baby Boy loves “helping” me fold laundry, and playing in the piles. When we’re done, he gets a “train ride” in the basket to the rooms to put away the clean laundry.
    • Dust and tidy up. I put on a CD of kiddie tunes, carry Baby Boy on my hip, and we dance around and dust the living room. Or he sits on the floor playing with his toys, and I straighten things on the shelves or clean up the desk.
    • Shower. If your baby tolerates an ExerSaucer or Jolly Jumper, put them in the bathroom with you, and go to town. I almost never shower when the baby is sleeping, because why waste that (precious) napping time on something he could be around for?
    • Get dressed. Nothing entertains my baby better than playing with the hampers in my closet while I toss some clothes on.
    • Wash your face/do your hair/makeup. I sit Baby Boy in the (empty) bathtub with all his tub toys, and he loves playing there for a few minutes while throw myself together.
    • Make your bed. I used to put Baby Boy in the middle of our bed while I made it “around” him (and played Peek-a-boo with the covers), but he’s way too squirmy now for that to be safe. Now I settle him on the floor by the door-stopper (yes, the plastic tip has been removed) and he plays with that while I straighten the quilts and decorative pillows.
    • Sort baby clothes. When you have a baby, you are constantly going through their clothes and separating the outgrown stuff from the current stuff. This is a chore you can tackle while they play on the floor of their room with you, and it’s a good lesson in colours. And fashion.
  • While the baby is eating:
    • Cook. I’m not suggesting you cook a turkey dinner, but you do have a few minutes to prepare something quick. I pop Baby Boy in his highchair with an “appetizer” (a handful of Cheerios, some cut-up fruit, or even a cup of water of breast milk) and he’s content while I make myself a fast dinner or toss something in the oven for Darling Husband’s lunch for work the next day.
    • Eat with them! The best part of Baby Boy eating regular meals at his highchair is that I get to eat, too. I sit at the counter and eat with him, and it’s very nice. In the breastfeeding-only days, I was trying to sneak meals in whenever.
  • Right after the baby has eaten:
    • Wash the dishes. If I finish eating before Baby Boy, I have a few minutes to wash the dishes or quickly load/unload the dishwasher. If he’s done before I’m done cleaning up the kitchen, I clean him up and pop him into his Playard in the kitchen doorway. He’s happy to sit (or stand) there for a few more minutes while I wipe down the counters and wrap up the leftovers. I make it a point not to leave the kitchen after a meal until it’s totally clean. 
    • Vacuum. If I was able to clean up the kitchen before Baby Boy finished eating, then sometimes I take a few minutes to vacuum. He’ll stand in the Playard and watch in awe as I run the vacuum over the carpet in the living room and hall.
  • When the baby first goes down for a nap:
    • Clean the bathrooms. I do this when he first falls asleep, because then the chemical-y smells will be long gone by the time he wakes up. 
    • Do your nails. This is the only time I can do this, knowing they’ll have time to properly dry before the baby wakes up, and he won’t be exposed to the gross fumes.
    • Put on a load of laundry. If you time it properly, your dryer will do the end-of-cycle buzz just as your baby is waking up — this is key if your baby is like mine, and wakes up easily at noises.
  • While the baby is waking up:
    • Vacuum. If your baby is bothered by the sound when they’re awake, this is the perfect time to do a quick run-through of your place. It won’t wake them up, and they won’t be right here to get freaked out.
    • Empty the dishwasher. This can be loud (especially if you clang things around, like I do), so I often do this while Baby Boy is starting to wake up — never during his actual nap!
    • Make calls. More specifically, calls to people you don’t want to speak to for very long. Nothing says “Oops, have to run,” like a crying baby. (During annoying calls, I have even been known to hold my cell phone up to the baby monitor to really amplify the cries. I’m evil.)
See how much you can get done while the baby’s awake? NOW, for the very important part! Stuff you can do during that precious 60-90 minutes when the baby is hard-core napping …
  • Things I do while the baby is napping (a.k.a. Things I CANNOT do when he’s awake): 
    • Work/freelance. This is my golden time when I can work on writing assignments, respond to e-mails, send invoices, etc. You can bet that I write my buns off to do as much as possible before he wakes up!
    • Facebook/blogs. Ahhhh, fun internet-ness. Baby Boy reaches up and bangs on the keyboard, so my screen-time is reserved for when he’s safely in his cribby.
    • Cook/Bake. This is the time to do the stuff that requires more than five minutes. The trick is to do it quietly, however, because it really sucks when you drop a metal pan on the kitchen floor and it wakes the baby. Padding your entire kitchen floor with bubble-wrap is a good idea, actually.
    • Read. I used to read for a couple of hours every day, pre-baby, so this is a really nice way to pass a nap! And, more importantly, it’s a quiet activity that won’t awaken the little one.
    • Watch TV. Although, I must say, I hardly ever do this when he’s napping. It’s a waste of the time! I only do it if there’s something I really want to watch without any distractions.
    • Scrapbook. Hot glue gun? Definitely can’t do this when he’s awake. I dig out my tote of papers and goodies and zone out.
    • Sleep. I’m not a good napper, but about once a month (after a truly nasty night’s sleep), I’ll sleep during one his naps. And I actually feel better when I wake up. Miracle.
What are your tricks for juggling chores with taking care of your baby?

2 Comments on “How to keep a clean house (without running yourself ragged during nap-time)

  1. omgee this is the best post ever!

    I was just telling my husband how by the time the baby finally goes to sleep for the night (she's born the same week as your son), I'm not able to get anything done that “I” want to do because I have to be running around cleaning and trying to do laundry, etc.

    This will really help. I'm going to print it out.

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