Dear Home Ec 101, I’m Overwhelmed

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Dear Home Ec 101,
Okay, so I have a ton of things I want to ask you. I searched the internet for cleaning tips, and I came upon your site, which I have now subscribed to. I need some pointers.

  • First, my mattress has yellowed stains on my husband’s side for some reason, but we can’t afford a new one. Any tips on how to get the stains (and smells) out of the mattress?
  • Second, my house is constantly becoming a disaster area because my husband and roommate are apparently allergic to cleaning, and I have a 7-month-old baby that is constantly fussy, any ideas on how to keep it clean?
  • Third, my husband leaves our son’s wet or pooped-on clothes in bags around the house that I don’t find. By the time I do find them they smell up to high heaven and they are stained. Any tips on how to get the smell and stains out of those?
  • Fourth, we have a bunch of things on our carpet, and I need help getting them out if that is even possible. One of the things is hair dye from my hubby’s friend, any ideas? And we have food stains and stuck on food from our son, help? There are also stains that really bug me from the previous tenant (we’re in an apartment), and I have no idea what those are from, any suggestions?
  • And finally, I have some issues with washing dishes, but my hubby and roomy NEVER do them so they pile up and get nasty old food on them and mold and other such grossness. What is the best way to hand wash dishes, how to I get rid of the fruit flies, is there any way to keep from smelling the mold/old milk/whatever else is there, and do you have any suggestions as to how I can do the dishes regularly without them getting nasty?


Thank you SO much for your help.


Dear Overwhelmed,

Many new parents go through a period like this. Rest assured, you are not alone. Some of these have been covered elsewhere on the site. Get comfortable. This answer is going to take a while. Home Eccers, you’ve probably heard me say a lot of it before. Feel free to give Overwhelmed your best advice in the comments.

overwhelmed woman sitting on the floor with a basket of dirty laundry

Overwhelmed No More 101

Mattress Stains

If your mattress is under warranty, call the manufacturer. If your mattress is not under warranty, rent a steam cleaner or hire a professional to clean the mattress. You can learn about that in this post. Use an enzymatic cleaner like kids and pets, and be one hundred percent sure to allow the mattress to dry thoroughly. Mattress pads sound frivolous but are a very cost-efficient way to prolong the life of a mattress.

Chore Discussion

You just made an entirely new human being. You are not the only person responsible for the entire household. You have two full-grown adults who need to contribute to its upkeep. Unless that roommate is paying for a cleaning service as part of their rent, their financial contribution to the household does not cover your cleaning up after them.

Dividing chores is a pain in the butt. I came up with a relatively painless way, and I strongly advise you to talk to your husband privately before the two of you talk to the roommate. Roommates can be great, but they can also bring weird social dynamics into conflicts that should remain private. It’s one thing for one person to assume some of the chores as part of a couple. It is an entirely different ballgame if a roommate takes advantage of the situation.

Fussy Baby

Your baby could be going through a temporary phase; cut yourself slack on the bad days. If you find you have many bad days, call your doctor, preferably your OB, and discuss the situation. Your kiddo is about to be mobile, and things are about to get a lot more hectic before they calm down.

If the baby has many bad days, talk to the pediatrician and then talk to them again and again if you must. I wish I had pushed harder with my first. He had reflux pretty badly that three doctors dismissed it as ignorant, first-time parenting. I was furious when an unrelated test found the scar tissue. He’s six now and a pretty cool kid, so I can promise you that the fussy baby period will end no matter what. Hang in there.

chore progress

You don’t have to do every chore to completion to make progress.

If the kidlet takes a nap, and you have some energy, take a deep breath and dig in on the dishes or laundry. It’s ok if it doesn’t get finished. Just make sure wet clothes aren’t left in the washer. That’s one where you have to suck it up and push through to avoid making more work for yourself.


During the aforementioned chore discussion, bring up the fact that there is no such thing as the laundry fairy. (Wouldn’t that be nice? Unless, of course, she was more like fairies of European tradition, and then the whole thing could get downright scary.)

If you have a top-loading washer, a pre-soak with just the soiled items can make a huge difference. Fill the washer partway with cold water, turn off the cycle and add 1/4 cup of borax to the water. Don’t leave the clothes in the borax soak for several days without changing the water.

They will get NASTY. (Yeah, I’ve done it.)

If your washer has the standard dial, turn it to the end of the cycle to drain the water, then wash normally. If you don’t have one, soak the clothes in a sink or bucket, but only use the latter if it has a tight-fitting lid. Babies and toddlers can topple into buckets with horrifying consequences. If your son’s clothing is badly soiled, check out this post on cleaning up potty training accidents.

Carpet Stains

Concerning the carpeting, the hair dye may be permanent. You can try a hair dye remover found near the hair dye. It’s designed to get rid of a bad dye job, but test before going nuts.

Treat the rest of the carpet spots and stains as outlined here.

In the future, put a tarp under the baby’s high chair, and shake it out after meals. Starting today, get into the habit of keeping all food and drinks except water in the kitchen. It’s annoying but certainly easier than cleaning up carpet stains for the next few years.

They will happen anyway, but this will reduce the overall number.

Washing Dishes

Dishes are one of those thankless and seemingly endless chores.

The best way to handle it is to try not to let them pile up. Easier said than done, I know. Just as an FYI, it is time to call in reinforcements with the baby for a brief period; best case scenario, plop the baby on your husband’s lap and dare him to complain. Alternately do this while the baby is down for a nap or recruit help for a morning or afternoon.

I know that it sucks to admit we need help but do it anyway. Ask a friend or neighbor to distract the baby for you while you get control of the kitchen. Just as an aside, this is not saying the kitchen is your realm by default. You’re the one who wrote in, which leads me to believe you are the one most fed up with the dish situation. Reset the situation, then work on the chore dynamics.

Before you get started, if you don’t have a dish tub, get one. Frequently they can be found at any one of those dollar stores for -wait for it — a dollar.

Distract Yourself

I find when I have a crappy job, I can work my way through it if I’m distracted by something I enjoy—as opposed to the dulcet tones of my bickering children—for some people, it’s music. I like podcasts. Load up your playlists with your best distraction, then start by clearing your work area. It’s hard to feel like you’re making progress if you’re staring at crusty food. Set the dishes aside for a moment on the table or another counter.

Scrape whatever food you can into the trash or the disposal if you have one. Stack the dishes and clean the sink. If your dish drainer is nasty, clean that before getting started on the dishes.

Wash the dishes. If germs freak you out, you can always sanitize the dishes after scrubbing in a solution of bleach water (1/4 cup per gallon or 1 TBSP per quart of cool water). Use one of those handy dish tubs to hold the solution.

Dry them, put them away, and hide somewhere quiet for a few minutes to enjoy a little peace before returning to dealing with the fussy baby.

Hang In There!

More people than you know have been exactly where you are, but no one likes to talk about it. After having a kid, there is this huge adjustment phase, and most of us go through periods of rebellion where we just. Don’t. Want. To:

  • change another diaper
  • wash another dish
  • or do another load of laundry.

It’s ok to feel that way for a little while, just don’t overindulge in it. Letting the problem pile up only makes returning to the work that much harder.

Hang in there and check back to let us know how you are doing. No questions are too basic around here.

Admitting you need help isn’t weak.

It’s part of the human condition. I don’t trust those people who seem to have it together every second of every day. Sometimes I want to check for a USB port or a cord.

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15 thoughts on “Dear Home Ec 101, I’m Overwhelmed”

  1. i use softscrub with bleach to clean my glass stove (gently) and the same sponge to clean my stainless steel sink – the bleach removes coffee stained stainless steel!

    after i clean it. i let it dry for a while, admire it. then i give it a squirt of wd-40 and a paper towel to wipe it around and coat the surface of the sink. it resists stains, allows water to dry faster. and food splatters won't stick to it.

    just don't eat off it :p

  2. ….

    Also, re: the cranky baby and getting things done. I was SO behind on everything when my oldest was small. I didn't get anything completed ever it felt like. He was not the type of baby to ever be put down. I learned how to wear him – first on my front and then on my back. When I finally got him on my back using a simple piece of cloth (a homemade wrap, in a tibetian tie) a whole new world opened up. I was able to work sometimes for 2 hours at a stretch and my house was finally clean again. For the record, it does get better and you get better at working around it – I get far more done now with a 6 year old, 4 year old and 7 month old twins than I ever did with just one baby around.

    • I had the same experience. I wore my son in a Baby Bjorn, then a Moby Wrap. Both worked well for us. Later we got a stiff-frame backpack, sort of camping style, that looked pretty big, but my son loved it. These really helped me to get back to the housework. My son almost always fell asleep even with all of the bending and moving and vacuuming. It takes a little getting used to because of course, you have this weight on you, but I would definitely recommend it. It's great for your baby too–lots of comfort time and bonding. I've also heard that the Ergo carrier is very comfortable.

  3. Waterproof matress pads have come a long way – I've been using one since I was pregnant with my now 6 year old. The ones I've gotten for about $20 at target do not have that annoying "sleeping on plastic" feeling and have a good matress pad on top of the waterproof liner to help prevent the extra sweating caused by the older version mattress pads. And I love Kids & Pets too! Good-sized bottle for under $5 goes a long way to cleaning up those food & kid messes 🙂

  4. I've been there, though not all at the same time. I feel for you! My daughter was colicky, my husband's roommate was very messy, and my husband has "different" standards than I do.

    Best approach I found was matter-of-fact. We had a talk about how overwhelmed I was, and that it was really stressing me out and making me angry at him/them when I didn't want to be. We outlined what needed to be done, and did it together. Then we made a plan and kept each other accountable. Once, when my hubby's roommate had used Every Dish In the House without washing one, we made our point by putting them all in his bed. 😉 Needless to say, they were done when we got home and that never happened again.

    I had to resist the urge to be a nag, but they did keep up, in their own way. I am now a SAHM, but my hubby has learned to just simply ask, "how can I help?" and I've learned how to accept his help. It'll never be perfect, but it can be more tolerable. I have lots of baskets around to throw random crap in, and sometimes a quick vacuum makes life much easier. I also keep an all-purpose cleaner and rags handy (I use Clorox Greenworks). I use it on all surfaces, glass, bathroom, etc. A swipe over the sink and toilet top, mirror cleaned, surfaces–makes me feel sooooo much better!

    One cleaning tip: Go rent the Rug Doctor. Cost is about 30 bucks, and you can use the regular (Woolite, etc.) carpet cleaners in it instead of springing for their pricey ones they sell. It does a GREAT job, and you don't pay hundreds in labor from a company. Really worth an afternoon's work, just change the water often (I found 4-5 times per room). You can find them at many grocery stores and Walmarts. Check rugdoctorDOTcom for locations. It is a commercial machine, so does a much better job than home machines. (Speaking of which, that's on my list, too, before baby #2 arrives.) You don't have to move all your furniture and do a perfect job–that can happen occasionally, but to even do just the traffic areas makes a huge difference.

    Baby tip: my daughter liked to be worn for a while but she got too heavy (we moved when she was 4 months old, and I nearly killed my back unpacking dishes.) She liked the swing, though, for a brief time and it saved me so much anguish. I got one at a garage sale, but ask around if you have friends who can loan one, freecycle, craig's list, etc. She got better once she could move around and talk, but we also found that she had a thing for hard rock, so I admit to listening to more AC/DC than I cared to. Hey, I'd rather listen to them scream than her…

    GOOD LUCK!!! You can do it!!! 🙂
    My recent post In her blood

  5. Heather has some excellent advice! Definately talk to the hubby about this situation. He may be completely clueless until you say something. That being said, my mom and brother both live with us, and I have had to specifically ask for certain things to get done. You can't be nonchalant about it, either. I have to say their name, what the task is, and when the deadline for said task is. This isn't so much towards my mom, but my brother.

    Like Heather said, if you can't get control of your emotions and just feel stressed all the time, go see your doctor. I held it in with my oldest and ended up having panic attacks more times than I can count.

  6. Mattress warranties are often voided if there's any staining at all. I know this because there was one teeny speck of blood (my husband has acne) on ours and they nearly refused to replace a 1 year old $1,000 mattress that was sagging and horrible because of it. Out came the hydrogen peroxide and the stain dissapeared before the guy's eyes. He was nice enough to say he never saw it. Moral of that story is I always use a waterproof cover on mattresses now, especially cosleeping with our infant twins. That same cover can cover your stains/smells if you're unable to remove them or replace the mattress

  7. I don't have kids, but I did have a roomate that refused to help clean. And I'm not a neat person either so it got pretty bad at my house. Finally we sat down and made up a chore chart – both of us were off on Saturdays so that is the day we did the bulk of the cleaning, then my other day off (Tues) and her other day off (Sun) we had smaller things like cleaning our bedrooms or bathroom.

    I (fourth?) the backpack/sling/baby bjorn. My dad likes to tell the story about how I was born 5 weeks early and they hadn't fixed up the house yet so he painted the living room and dining room with me in a backback. Although supposedly I was a 'good' baby, or at least more easygoing than the two that came behind me. I was ten with my sister and she was a nightmare.

  8. When my sister was little, my mom had a backpack that converted to a stroller, which was great when we would go into NYC becasue it was a lot less awkard on subways, busses, etc. Not sure if anyone makes something like that anymore. Oh and Betsy loved one of those mechanical swings, we'd crank it up and she'd swing for hours. The only tricky part was making sure you rewound the mechanism before it stopped or she's start screaming.

  9. I had the same problem with my adult daughter. Her only job around the house was dishes, I did the rest. When the dishes didnt get done….I put them on her bed. She was very mad at first, but not as mad as me! She got over it and soon reilized that she wasnt a little girl anymore. She is now a Mommy herself and is doing a great job at keeping up on MOST days.

  10. Lots of good stuff written here already, but I just wanted to emphasize that men are oblivious, especially if you just suck it up and keep doing it for them (or in spite of them?). Men do better, as mentioned, with specific requests: who does it, what it entails, what the finished job looks like, what to use, when it should be done. And they like jobs that don't repeat endlessly and have visible results.

  11. Why is there a roommate , referred to as the husbands roommate? 
    I bet the men see the baby as your baby, your house chores etc. The situation is now that you have one newborn baby and two infantile men who are not looking at the new living arrangement at all. The baby has real needs, that you attend to regularly.  The husband needs to be reminded he is a father now and with it comes new responsibilities.
    Ditch the roommate if you can – whatever he contributes to rent can not compensate for the thoughtlessness  of his stress to you. He is taking advantage of you both, and altering the relationship between your husband and baby , you and husband .
    The house you have some time on – but the deadline is – the day baby stands up.
    Find help , people love babies and will enjoy holding, playing etc, baby while you do housework. Or pay a neighborhood child to come and be  a Mother’s Helper- easy chores like moving laundry from washer to dryer, dryer to basket. dusting, and playing with baby. 
    Good Luck 


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