Feeling Desperate

Disclosure: Links to products may be affiliate which means I get commissions for purchases. Sponsored posts will always be clearly disclosed as such. Privacy Policy

This post is important enough to share yearly. The holidays are a difficult time of year, especially if you have recently suffered a loss or are in a transition period, like divorce.

Please remember, if you ever do feel hopeless, help is available, whether it’s through IAmAlive.org, 1-800-SUICIDE, 211, or reaching out to a friend. You and your loved ones are worth making that effort. This was originally published on August 18, 2011.


Dear Home-Ec 101,

I am a slob. My house is a disaster area most of the time, though I’m starting to realize a lot of it is clutter. My husband hates coming home to this chaos, and while I thrive in some forms of chaos (my desk will never make sense to anyone but me), it’s even starting to get to me. We have two young children, a 2-year-old and a 5-week-old. About this time last year, CPS was involved because of the mess, and it’s not an experience I want to repeat.

Do you have any advice on slob salvation?

Living in Chaos

Heather says:

  • You are living in one of the busiest and most stressful parenting points of your life.
  • You are sleep-deprived. Your hormones are out of whack.
  • You have not one but two tiny, irrational dictators controlling your every move.
  • New babies are hard. Toddlers? Hard.
  • A baby and a toddler? That, my friend, is very hard.

I’ve been there twice. My kids are all just two weeks shy of two years apart. (We’re in birthday season right now, they are now 7, 5, 4 -and 16, but I wasn’t around for her earliest years). I started this site while I was pregnant with my youngest, and the chaos of life after she arrived made me feel like a hypocrite.

This part is very important, more important than anything else I will tell you today.

If you are fighting this feeling of being completely overwhelmed and that feeling is winning, you MUST talk to your doctor.

He or she is there to help you, and post-partum depression is serious, as is antenatal depression.

When my depression and anxiety are creeping up on me, I have a very hard time making even the simplest decision or focusing. Simple things like, what do I want to eat can take me forever to decide and that can completely ruin the short break you get when one or both kids naps. From there, it’s a downward spiral. Yes, I’ve cried because I couldn’t decide between a bowl of cereal or a sandwich.

Will it make you feel better to know that my desk is a mess, too? I stay on top of the rest of the house pretty well, but my work area is a constant battle of paperwork and school books, pencils, pens, and cords.

What to do when you are overwhelmed with a messy house
image from freeimages.com


When you read this, I want you to do a household triage.

Today we’re not worried about clutter. Today we are only worried about the things that would cause child care services to be concerned. Today—and all of the hardest days—we are working around the clutter.

Here are your have-tos. Do these and tell yourself you are doing your best and that is good enough.

  1. Feed, bathe and dress the kids.
  2. Make sure no dirty diapers are sitting out.
  3. If there are animals in the house, all of their waste must be removed immediately.
  4. Take out the trash, especially any food waste that may be on the counters/coffee table.
  5. Dishes.
    Empty the dishwasher, load the dishwasher. If this doesn’t take care of all the dishes, fill the sink with soapy water, and soak the rest.
    If you do not have a dishwasher, rinse, scrape, and stack the dirty dishes neatly. Begin washing as you can.
  6. Laundry
    Gather it in a place that makes sense. It’s ok to be behind on the laundry. You just have to appear to be making an effort.

These are your mandatory things, and on some days, even they will feel nearly impossible.

One thing at a time, with the baby and toddler coming first and you coming in a close second. You need sleep and probably a lot more of it. The world will not end if you go to bed at 8 pm for the next few weeks. You’re probably getting up at 2, 4, and 6 anyhow.

 TMI personal side note:

My kids were all terrible sleepers. Six months after my second kid, I was so sleep-deprived I was hallucinating. I thought I was headed for the psych ward -and scarily was looking forward to the idea of 72 hours of peace- and called my insurance’s hotline. I sat shaking in a psych’s office, dreading who knows what kind of diagnosis to be told, “You know there’s a reason they use sleep deprivation as torture.”  I’m a very light sleeper by nature, and my body just conditioned itself not to fall deeply asleep. I ended up with a prescription for sleeping pills that fixed everything in less than two weeks. I can laugh now, but at the time, I was utterly terrified. 

Please do me a big favor and email me your mailing address. I’m going to send you a copy of my friend Tsh Oxenrider’s book Organized Simplicity and one of my books Home-Ec 101: Skills for Everyday Living; between the two of us, I’m sure there’s an approach to getting out from under the weight of your clutter.

Weekly Chore List To Keep You On Track

In the meantime, do you see that yellow sticky note in the upper right-hand of this post? Right-click it and open the link in a new tab. That will bring you to a breakdown of the weekly chore chart.

Each day of the week has a major chore and a minor chore. If you attend to these consistently, your house will slowly become cleaner. These two chores are outside the bare minimum, which includes:

  • Do the dishes and sanitize food preparation areas.
  • Wipe down the bathroom sink and toilet
  • Sweep or vacuum as needed
  • Put your stuff away
  • Check your schedule
    Currently, you have well-baby visits, well mom visits, etc. Do not miss those.

And please, listen closely when I tell you that life will get easier.

At the moment, your life has shrunk to pretty much what goes in and what comes out of your babies.

It will expand again.

I promise.

When you have a moment where you feel good enough to really start cleaning, here’s a strategy for when you’re overwhelmed by the mess.

Click the picture for more cleaning help!
Click the picture for more cleaning help!

I know a lot of you have been in her shoes. Please share with this reader what helped get you through.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

Sharing is caring!

54 thoughts on “Feeling Desperate”

  1. I think a lot of us will be able to say that we’ve been there… or are still there, actually. I thought I was reading about myself when I started reading this post- my husband and I were just talking the other day about how the clutter in our house stresses him out, and I was trying not to get defensive. We have two boys (3 and almost-6). Things are easier than they used to be because I’m getting more sleep now, and they can play on their own for a while… but the house is still a mess. I’m doing better than I used to, but I hate housework. HATE it. But doing the basics every day is something I can do (usually… a lot of days I don’t get to the putting away clutter part), and I’m going to start using the chore schedule.

    Everything up there is great advice, and it’s true: it does get easier. And do see your doctor if it’s at all possible. I suffered from antenatal depression with both pregnancies (on top of “regular” depression, which I got back to after the births), and I know postpartum depression is as bad, but with the added stress of having the baby there to worry about. I wish I could help somehow, but all I can tell you is that you’re not alone, and you can get through this.

  2. Dear LiC,

    (((((Big Hugs!!!))) You will survive. You will make it through this. One day when the oldest is driving and the baby is playing music too loud, you will look back at this time in your life and be amazed that the days seemed so long when they are flying by later.

    Please please please talk to your doctor. You don’t have to do this alone.

    If you have anyone who can help, even just a couple of hours once a week, ask. Mom, MIL, cousin, sister, friend…they would probably help if you asked. Even if all they do is sit and hold the baby and keep you company while you eat a whole meal or wash dishes.

    Take baby steps. Get the critical stuff done and the rest will gradually get easier.

    At least once a day, sit down with your kids and just watch them. Take in the miracle that they are here. Watch the wonder in their eyes and feel the love of their embrace. They are a gift that is hard to take care of sometimes, but worth it because it is so precious.

    Take care of yourself.

    PS…in addition to the critical chores Heather mentioned, see if you can find your husband’s trigger. Mine is the kitchen table. If he comes home and there is stuff piled all over it, the house is a mess in his mind regardless of what everything else looks like. On the worst of days, I know that clearing off the table and setting it for dinner is one thing I can do to make it a happier place to come home to.

  3. What she said about getting assessed for PPD? DO IT.

    DO. IT.

    PPD destroys your ability to prioritize, make decisions, and carry out plans.

    Meanwhile, whether it’s PPD or not — Is there anyone at all who can give you a hand? Even a tween girl could be an enormous help. Many girls that age worship babies and would be elated to help you.

    After things settle down, if this has been a lifelong pattern you might want to consider getting assessed for ADD. A lot of women don’t get diagnosed until they are adults. You might not be a slob at all; if you have ADD, learning more about the way your brain works will help you work around your weak points and play to your awesome strengths.

  4. @PeonyMoss I would like to second the recommendation to get screened for PPD. I went through it after the birth of my son and it was not pretty. I didn’t think I was depressed at the time either, although when I think back to the things I said and did at the time, years later I can clearly see that I was not myself and something was clearly off. Luckily I have a supportive husband who insisted that I go to the doctor (and he went with me, at my request), and I got treatment – medication in my case. You may have to try a few medications before you find one that helps you, if you are suffering from PPD. It can be all-consuming, and everything just seems like too much. I actually wanted to give my son back. To whom, I’m not sure. I was just sure that we had made a mistake. It’s hard talking about feelings like that, but it’s worth it if you can get the help you need. It may be hard to believe now, but it WILL get better. (I was never really a “baby” person and have been able to appreciate my son more and more as he got older, although of course I’ve always loved him, even during the depression phase – the feelings are very contradictory and can be hard to sort out.)

  5. Ask for help!! After my first was born, I began having seizures and had to have brain surgery. I was COMPLETELY overwhelmed and terribly depressed. Tell friends and family that you are overwhelmed and that you (and your kids) need some help. My church friends brought us fully prepared dinners (in disposable containers) about once a week, People offered me rides (I could not drive for 6 months), and my mother actually moved in with us for a few months. This really got us over the hump. But to this day, I still get help: my mother visits every other week and often helps clean the house. I have also been involved in several friend clean-ups where we will help a friend get their house back in order (or at least much better), because even making a dent can make a big difference! People really do like to help, so don’t be afraid to ask for it when you need it!

  6. This is an excellent post. My oldest just turned four and my baby is almost two. Our house is also terribly chaotic. Please make sure to take care of yourself. Your sweeties need you to be healthy. Our bedtime is seven, and if I need to go to sleep then, I do it. It is getting better. Thanks, Chaos for your brave letter, and thanks Heather for the awesome response. Big hugs to you both!

  7. @HeatherSolos I think we have all felt like this in varying degrees when our children were small. Sometimes it is good to just pack them up in the stroller and just get out and walk or go to the park. It’s good to remove yourself from the situation for a while. I hope this dear woman will reach out and get the help she needs. Even someone to watch the little ones while she showers and has a nap can help.

  8. OH, I’ve been there. My kids are four and two. We are JUST getting past the stage where I am completely immobilized by the Tiny Dictators. At the beginning, when the What Have I DONE feeling was just starting to sink in, I pared down to the bare minimum. Breakfast was toast and peanut butter. Every day. I kept snacks in a place where the toddler could get them for herself, but still in eye-sight of where I sat with the baby on the couch most of the day, so I could monitor. Dinner was EASY EASY EASY. Most nights, I took advantage of the little bags of marinated meat my MIL had filled my freezer with. (Marinated little strips of meat can be ANYTHING. But, most nights, it just went into the rice cooker with the rice, frozen, and I told my husband to fix some veggies when he got home.) For the clutter. It’s still there. But it drives my husband NUTS. So, once every week or so, he helps me clear up. And, honestly, if you need to – SET THE BABY DOWN AND CLEAN. I’m not saying the house should be spic and span. I AM saying that if the clutter is affecting your mental health…just take care of as much as you need to to feel sane again. The baby won’t remember when he’s older that his mom let him cry for a few minutes while she cleaned, but you will remember that the baby forced you to live in a clutter that was unhealthy for you. (Also? Try to get rid of stuff. Your kids don’t need as many toys as you think they do, and we never need as much stuff as we think we do. When I get SICK of the clutter in the playroom, I go through and fill a garbage bag full of trash or broken toys. The kids never notice, but suddenly, it’s way easier for them to clean up at the end of the day. ;-))

    Another thing that helped me a TON was Mamapedia. It’s a Q&A board for Moms. You go on, post a question, and find yourself inundated with helpful advice and encouragement from Moms from all over the country. Really. There are no cliques or anything…but it saved me from the “My Life is Abnormal” mindset.

    Good luck!!!!

  9. Here is a practical tip that has helped keep me sane at different points–putting a “clutter basket” in any room where clutter (especially kid/toy clutter) tends to happen. When you have five minutes (say, naptime and after bedtime), throw all the clutter into the basket. Best case scenario, you can pick up the basket and take the stuff back to where it belongs. Worst case scenario, it’s all contained. Bonus mental-health points if you have a place to stash it that’s not right in your sight line.

  10. I second what has already been said. Been there, done that! My mother was born-organized and so I grew up in a very clean home, but she wasn’t very good about making sure her daughters knew what to do. my kids are 8,6,&4 now but when they were really little it got to the point where even I was uncomfortable in my own house. What has been my saving grace is The Flylady. You can find her @ http://www.flylady.net What I love about her is that she is different from anybody else out there. She is all about taking care of your home AND YOU! If you want to do a marathon cleaning session to get on top of everything, she will show you how to do that so that you don’t get overwhelmed and discouraged and tired. But mainly she is about doing a little bit every day. Some of my favorite sayings of hers are- “You can do anything for 15 minutes”. “Your house did not get messy in a day, and it’s not going to get clean in a day either”. “A load a day keeps My Washmore away!”

    It’s also nice that she has thousands of followers which really helped me to feel less alone. Sometimes you do feel like you are the only mom who can’t get it together and it’s just not true.

    One last thing- it’s more important to be a good mom than it is to have a clean house. If the mess is affecting your ability to interact with your kids, then yeah, it should be cleaned up right now. Just remember, the mess will still be there tomorrow, but this moment will never come around again. 🙂

    (and join flylady, she really does work miracles!)

  11. GET. THE. SLEEP. And practice saying things to yourself OFTEN, along the lines of “I am valuable. I am awesome.” Because you ARE valuable and worthy of a functional, peaceful environment, and it’s easy to get into a place where that is completely forgotten. 🙂 Oh yes, we’ve ALL been there!

  12. As an ex-case worker who helped families meet their CPS goals and keep their kids out of foster care (cases of medium seriousness- Need serious help but no one in imminent danger) I love this post. A couple of points that MIGHT be helpful…

    Once you’re ready to deal with the clutter grab a trash bag for each room and just start filling it with junk. If you don’t have a place for you, do you really need it? It is SO ok to just throw it in the bag. We bought a house that had bugs and we didn’t know it. The only good that came of the bugs? Ultimate declutering. I don’t regret that part at all.

    CPS has no ground in any state to make serious complaints about clutter. The issue is safety. Like she said in the post- is it sanitary? No pop-tabs on floor, coins, cig butts, diapers, old food etc.

    Lastly- best piece of advice I received as a new mom who is easily overwhelmed by STUFF- 15 minute work times. Lay the baby down, give the toddler something to do and set an timer for 15 minutes and don’t stop until it dings! THIS one idea has saved my house. It means I can make time for a chore list etc. Even on the worst days you can scroung up just 15 minutes to make sure things are sanitary to keep the government out of your business.

    Very lastly lol 😉 I do not know your beliefs but I find the most comfort in that “The Lord is with those who have young.” He walks by you, he knows you and sees you and not only that- he cares for you. He hears your cries and knows your fears. He sees your clutter and knows that you have a job to do. He is with you as you step, as you sleep, as you teach your babes and as you try to catch your breath. Rest is found in Him.

  13. Heather – THANKS so much for such a carefully, well-thought out response. It make me teary-eyed, even though I’m not in that place right now, but I can remember it.

    Living-in-chaos – I’m so glad you reached out for help. Please take Heather’s advice, and most of all, know that it will get better. Enlist your husband to help you when he can – this is not all about you – it’s a team effort. If you can come up with a list of tasks that you can do and and a list of tasks that he can do, this will help you both out. Sometimes guys need concrete suggestions of how to help their partners, and sometimes it is useful to divide and conquer when it comes to household maintenance.

    HUGS! to both of you…

  14. Heather – THANKS so much for such a carefully, well thought out response. It made me teary-eyed, even though I’m not in that place right now, but I can remember being there.

    Living-in-chaos – I’m so glad you reached out for help. Please take Heather’s advice, and most of all, know that it will get better. Enlist your husband to help you when he can – this is not all about you – it’s a team effort. If you can come up with a list of tasks that you can do and and a list of tasks that he can do, this will help you both out. Sometimes guys need concrete suggestions of how to help their partners, and sometimes it is useful to divide and conquer when it comes to household maintenance.

    HUGS! to both of you…

  15. @ChristinaCircleGavenda Thank you so much for adding such a thoughtful response. It’s so much less scary to know people like you exist.

  16. I grew up in a house with hoarders and learned no cleaning or organizing skills other than how to pile stuff up. There was no FlyLady for my generation; we had Hints from Heloise and Martha Stewart, which served to set an impossibly high standard. I had a real soap-opera in my early life when I had two babies at home and just barely survived it, but I did. I’m going to assume that you are going to seek help if you can. (I recognize that there are some situations in which seeking help can actually put one in a worse position, so I will not require this…do what you need to.) Here’s what I learned:

    1. We were really poor, so we had almost nothing. While it was depressing, it also was a good thing, because you don’t have to care for things you don’t have. You say you have clutter. Get rid of the clutter. Trash it, give it to friends/neighbors, or take it to charity. Some charities will pick up – if you can find one that will, get boxes from your grocery store and put everything you do not absolutely need into those boxes and set them out. When you are poor, it is really hard to give things away because you can’t afford to immediately replace something if you change your mind. Trust the Universe to provide, connect with your local Freecycle group, and give the stuff away. If some of your clutter is sentimental, find ways to stash it: put it in a trunk, ask friends or relatives to hold onto it for you, or take pictures of the items so you can revisit them through the pictures and then get rid of the items.

    2. Being poor and having nothing also meant having no storage. You can’t live in a house with babies and have things stacked in boxes because you can’t put them away. You must have storage sufficient to contain things properly. Garage sale dressers and shelves aren’t pretty, but they will do the job. Paint everything white or black or another calming color and it will go a long way toward hiding the ugly. Assume your children will use everything in the house as a jungle gym and anchor every thing you can to the wall. If you have a little extra in the budget and a nearby Ikea, you can find storage for everything there and Ikea associates will sometimes help you brainstorm about how to use their products to solve your problems.

    3. Put a trash can with a lid in every room. For years, I used paint buckets with lids, lined with plastic grocery sacks because these were extremely cheap. Again, you can paint it to get rid of the ugly. Empty the trash regularly and take it outside to the dumpster or to a can on your patio or driveway or in your garage. Get. It. Out. Of. The. House. EVERY. Day.

    4. Buy and use baby wipes to clean everything. Put a package in every room. I get mine from Costco these days, and use them to swipe over everything from dust to dirty dog feet. You can even wipe down pets to collect hair that otherwise would end up on the floor. Having the wipes handy all the time makes it super easy to just grab one and deal with a mess as soon as you spot it.

    Continued in the comments…

  17. 5. Deal IMMEDIATELY with wet messes, food messes, and biological messes as soon as they occur. No exceptions. Your kid does not take priority over the mess, unless the mess is on the kid. If the mess is on the kid and on other stuff, clean the kid only enough so the kid can’t spread the mess elsewhere, then clean the mess, then finish cleaning the kid. Because a clean kid will make a beeline back to the mess and you’ll have to start over.

    6. Have your bathroom completely locked down (cabinet locks, shower/tub enclosure with hooks and eyes or bolts that cannot be opened by a child, cinderblock on top of the toilet lid, no exposed chemicals, cords, outlets, etc.) so that you can safely leave a child unattended in there for a few minutes in case of a complete disaster where you absolutely MUST have them contained elsewhere. (If you have a mudroom, this is also a good place to design for this purpose.) Never use this space for punishment, and explain to the child why you are putting them in there, then get back to them as quickly as you can, apologize, praise them, and give them a good chunk of attention to make up for it. CPS probably would not approve, but this is something any adult who is single-handedly managing two children absolutely must have as a fall back position. I remember one instance when both of my kids had stomach flu: I had three huge messes occur within one minute…and then the sink backed up all over the kitchen floor. The kids were wiped up quickly and then put into the bathroom, where they were safe while I cleaned up the rest of the disaster, and cleaning up the subsequent mess in the bathroom was less traumatic than if it had been anywhere else.

    7. Get out of the house and get some sun at least once a day. Even in my situation, I was able to get outside to garden: I had to do this because that was how we ate. Again, CPS might have had a real issue with this, but I had to keep my kids where I could keep track of them without having to constantly watch them while I did this, so I would park them in the shade: one in the stroller (he always fell asleep) and the other in a big appliance box with windows cut into it. Neither had a problem with this, and when I was done gardening, we would play for a while. Getting out into fresh air and sunlight really helps reduce stress and depression, and will help you sleep better at night because regular sun exposure increases your melatonin production at night. You also need vitamin D (produced naturally when skin is exposed to sunlight), so consider wearing a sun hat and go without sunscreen if you are only going to be out for a short while. Sunscreen shuts down your ability to make vitamin D. Recent studies show that caffeine prevents cancerous cell changes due to sun exposure without blocking the rays needed to make vitamin D, so have a cup of coffee and rub some on your skin. Kids need vitamin D even more than you do, so try to plan shade time for them and avoid using sunscreen. Natural shade like under a tree is best, because it prevents burning and diffuses natural UV randomly so vitamin D can be made.

    8. Talk to your husband and make definite plans to address the issues together. Perhaps he has insights and skills that will help you, but tell him that you need to hear these things in a positive, non-accusatory way. Draw up a division of labor plan where both of you take some responsibility for creating and maintaining order. If you feel over-committed, say so, don’t just accept it and then fail. Start small and work up, but if it is on the plan, do it every time. You want to build up successes and faith in yourself. Your husband needs to understand what you need in terms of arranging the house, getting rid of stuff, or buying furnishings so he can help with these things. You both need clear goals to work toward.

    9. Like FlyLady says, start with one item of absolute order such as “shining the sink” that you maintain constantly. Order will spread from there as you expand the circle around that orderly spot. First the sink, then the countertop to one side of the sink, then the whole countertop, then the cabinets…etc. Make one oasis of order in each room after you have learned how to do this in the kitchen. Identify your hot spots and hot topics (mail clutter, a table or countertop that collects “droppings,” toys, dirty clothes, etc.) that seed the chaos. Learn to be extra vigilant on those: for example, if dirty laundry is an issue, put containers for this purpose around the house to make it easy to toss in odd t-shirts and socks as you walk through a room. I keep collapsible mesh hampers in both bathrooms, in the kitchen, and in the bedrooms. Twice a week, I gather everything into one of them, and go do laundry….adjust the schedule to suit your needs.

    10. Get some boric acid and diatomaceous earth. Mix these powders equally and place in an old squirt bottle like cheap mustard comes in. Run a line of this mixture along all of your baseboards and outside along the foundation. Refresh at least monthly. This is nontoxic to children and pets, and will get rid of bugs. If needed, set mouse/rat traps on top of cabinets, shelves, refrigerator where kids can’t reach. If you have bugs in your food, freeze your dry staples until you don’t see any more bugs for a couple of weeks, then place your dry staples in glass jars on shelves.

    11. Love yourself and know that there is such a thing as “good enough.” Some days, just cleaning up the biohazards is all you can reasonably require of yourself and don’t feel bad about that. It will get better. (((HUG)))

  18. …and one other item. If you have a TV, computer, or video game habit, break it. Cold turkey. You will never get cleaning done if you are always losing track of time, which you will if you are sucked into these habits. I have had friends who “couldn’t” do their housework, but every time I saw them, they were sitting on the couch watching TV or at the computer for purposes other than work. They had the time, if they could have learned to turn the power switch off. Most of my life I was without a TV or a computer, and when I got these things, my housekeeping fell apart until I realized why I was losing time. If you are really badly addicted, get rid of the temptations. Sell the TV and video game, and just use a computer for everything. Make rules about how and when the computer can be used and then follow them.

  19. @PeonyMoss I agree. I was diagnosed with PPD with my second and third children. It was, and still is not, a pretty thing. It makes me immobile many days. On days I force myself out of the bedroom – I suffer from Postpartum Anxiety, too, and worry about the girls getting hurt, so we keep to one room in the house – I can’t always even force us outside. The girls are fed and loved, but the house is something I struggle with every day. Medication has helped me get a handle on the worse of the situation, so I don’t worry about DSS coming around anymore.

  20. My response might just echo others but for starters, I’d like to say that I completely understand. There was a point in my life when my apartment probably had 12 inches of laundry, magazines and old take out containers covering the floor. I have been there so please don’t think you’re alone (and if you feel like you don’t know anyone else like this, think of all those friends who never have you over or only rarely do – it may be them and they need lots of lead time to clean).

    That being said, I would definitely say to go get FlyLady’s book Sink Reflections and check out her facebook site. It really changed my life. I don’t see it as a competitor to Home-Ec, but rather complementary for different stages. FlyLady helped me get out of the despair mode and helped me change my attitude about it all. And it is like AA for clutter and chaos inclined folks – there is so much support and accountability and it helps you know you are not alone.

    If I were you, I’d figure a time of day or a time in the week to devote to getting starting. I’d pick out my cleaning outfit the day before (socks and shoes too) and brew a big pot of coffee. Then the first thing I’d do is pick up all the trash (this is what I do when my house has devolved into chaos). Maybe just start on the first floor or in the kitchen but get the trash out of there. And then I pick up all the dishes. And then all the shoes. I think of each step as low-hanging fruit that there is no mental decision about (old napkins go in trash, dishes go in dishwasher or sink, etc). Then make a box for each seperate room in the house and toss stuff into as you’re straightening each room (kids books go in kids room box, husband’s golf glove goes in master bedroom box, etc). I consider all this the first stage of straightening. The tougher decisions of what should be donated and tossed can come next.

    Again, I would suggest getting Sink Reflections and read it ASAP. I think it could change your life. Your library should have it if you don’t want to pay for one. Good luck and know that it can and will get better – I am personally a reformed “slob”!

  21. Mine are 20 and 26 months apart (currently almost 5, 3, and just over 1). It’s hard! Do you have a mommy group? If not, join one or a church but find some support! Your DH wants a change, enlist his help. He can help clean or watch the kids but you’ll need to divide and conquer. The saving grace in my housekeeping was the 15 minute strategy and routines. 15 minutes seems doable and can get squeezed in.If you have a routine (like in the weekly chore chart), you can a- remember what it was that needed doing which is a challenge when sleep deprived! and b- if you miss it one week, you know you’ll get to it the next week

    Wait until your husband can watch the kids for 15 minutes- mine even came home a little earlier to help me out. Set a timer and attack. Start with the room that has the most mess/clutter and pick a small section, declutter or clean for 15 minutes. Don’t get sidetracked. Don’t wander around. Items are pitched, donated, or put in a permanent home. After 1 week in one room, go to another. Set aside 15 minutes 3 times a day for household routine chores- when you DH is home or kids are sleeping (ha!). The morning 15 is where you unload the dishwasher, start a load of laundry, load any new dishes. and wipe your counters. The second 15 (maybe when DH gets home, squeezed around dinner prep) put laundry in the dryer, load the dishwasher and do one other chore. The third 15 is where you put away the load of laundry and one other chore if you can. I broke the bathroom into individual tasks I could do while I bathed kids- scrub the toilet, wipe counters and mirror, mop the floor, and then clean the shower while you shower. If you miss one 15 minute session, it’s no biggie, tomorrow is another day!

  22. Mine are 20 and 26 months apart (currently almost 5, 3, and just over 1). It’s hard! Do you have a mommy group? If not, join one or a church but find some support! Your DH wants a change, enlist his help. He can help clean or watch the kids but you’ll need to divide and conquer. The saving grace in my housekeeping was the 15 minute strategy and routines. 15 minutes seems doable and can get squeezed in.If you have a routine (like in the weekly chore chart), you can a- remember what it was that needed doing which is a challenge when sleep deprived! and b- if you miss it one week, you know you’ll get to it the next week

    Wait until your husband can watch the kids for 15 minutes- mine even came home a little earlier to help me out. Set a timer and attack. Start with the room that has the most mess/clutter and pick a small section, declutter or clean for 15 minutes. Don’t get sidetracked. Don’t wander around. Items are pitched, donated, or put in a permanent home. After 1 week in one room, go to another. Set aside 15 minutes 3 times a day for household routine chores- when you DH is home or kids are sleeping (ha!). The morning 15 is where you unload the dishwasher, start a load of laundry, load any new dishes. and wipe your counters. The second 15 (maybe when DH gets home, squeezed around dinner prep) put laundry in the dryer, load the dishwasher and do one other chore. The third 15 is where you put away the load of laundry and one other chore if you can. I broke the bathroom into individual tasks I could do while I bathed kids- scrub the toilet, wipe counters and mirror, mop the floor, and then clean the shower while you shower. If you miss one 15 minute session, it’s no biggie, tomorrow is another day!

  23. I didn’t think that I could afford help with cleaning, but I found a wonderful woman who comes and does my whole house for $12/hour. It takes her 3 or 4 hours. She comes every other week. I will HAPPILY give up one meal out to have my house dusted, vacuumed, the bathrooms and kitchens thoroughly cleaned, and the front windows washed. Worth every penny. Plus, knowing she’s coming forces me to get the clutter out of her way at least biweekly. And it’s easier to maintain a good level of cleanliness in between her visits than it was when it was all on me.

    I suspect, though, that even $36 would be a stretch for many families right now. In that case, is there a friend nearby who also has small kids? Can you spend 2 hours at her house playing with her kids so she can focus on cleaning, and in a couple days she can spend 2 hours at your house so you can focus? Do you have some older kids in your neighborhood who might be “mommy’s helpers”? Maybe they could come entertain the little ones for an hour at a time for you. Older neighbor kids are about the only thing that kept me sane when my oldest two, born 19 months apart, were little.

    Flylady rocks. You’ve gotten lots of great advice in the other comments, so I’ll just add that it WILL get a bit easier every day. You’re in the trenches right now. Lean on your friends, your family, and your community for help.

  24. @amyeaustin I was a live in nanny and we had a lady come once every 2 weeks- wow that was wonderful! We also had a lady come once a week and make meals but that was just ridiculous…

    We moved from NY to Indiana bought a house and started doing youth ministry and had a baby in about 6 months time. I know several moms of teens and I humbled myself and said I really needed help! Our house is a “fixer upper” 😉 I had 3 moms who volunteered their young teens to help and wow that was a blessing. Also I have a single friend who is bossy and I love her. When things get really overwhelming I call her to come and spend 3 hours just telling me what to do. It gives me a starting place 🙂

  25. Your mess is not you. It makes me sad to hear you call yourself a slob. You’re not. We all have both possibilities in us. There have been times (when I was young and single and rebounding from a CPS-worthy-messy upbringing) that I lived the tidiest and cleanest this side of operating rooms. Other times, ugh, more like I grew up with. Right now I’m just climbing out of frustrating amounts of clutter that make it near-impossible to dust most of our apartment.

    I know Heather down-played clutter for getting started, but, if you have large piles of paper or cardboard clutter, that could be a fire-hazard.

    Also, people are so right about calling in the troops. In my area, we have some free government-run drop in play centres for caregivers and 0-6 year olds. You might have something similar. It’s a good place to meet other parents if you don’t have a social network in your area. And some of these centres even offer free emergency babysitting. (Another option came up but) I considered using it when I had a 16-mo who had never slept more than 4 straight hours and a 3-yo who was giving up his afternoon nap. I was so short on sleep that I almost forgot the 1-yo in the parking garage. It was a wake-up call, so to speak. I really should not have been driving. Moral of the story: I got some babysitting to catch up on my sleep because, seriously, inadequate sleep is unsafe for everybody, not to mention bad for your state of mind.

    I know that a lot of people are advocating 3 X 15 min per day for chores but that didn’t work for me or, rather, did work as well as what I do now. I go over all my bare-minimum-maintenance right before bed and at least I wake up to a manageable situation, which makes all the difference for me. It takes me about 35-45 minutes in a 2bdr apt with two adults and 3 small children. I start by starting a load of laundry and finish by putting the clothes in the dryer. [Yes, they are wrinkled in the morning. I don’t care.] It has helped that I do the same routine, in the same order, as much as I possibly can, because eventually I got more efficient with the routine and was able to do the same number of chores in less time. So, I found after several weeks that I’d have 5 or 10 minutes left at the end. Not enough time to declutter a whole room but enough time to clear out and wash the produce section of the fridge or tidy and dust one shelf or find/make a home for something, or do any small thing to get a little bit ahead.

    Good luck! Take care!

  26. As you can tell from the comments, you are not alone! My four are 2 years or less apart, then I had 4 miscarriages in a row before I had my tubes tied after my last daughter died in utero. Depression is like a dark pit but it really is a tunnel & eventually you can get out of it with help. You DO need help, like all of us, we are NOT designed to do this life alone.

    Practical things….have boxes or dishpans for toys so the 2yo can put toys away. If possible, store at least half of them to rotate out. Kids generally have too many toys, especially firstborns, and too much choice is overwhelming. Kid books are good in boxes or dishpans, too. We had a picnic bench along a wall with lines of dishpans/boxes on it & under it and all kid stuff went there. If it doesn’t have a ‘home’, you can’t put it away.

    Your goal is to get as much as possible to the mindless point, where it doesn’t take extra energy to decide what to do with stuff. So if you eliminate some of the stuff you will require less energy to deal with it. I am in the ‘go through the place with a garbage bag & put all the trash in it’ camp because then I am looking for one thing….in this case, trash….and have a physical reminder immediately of what I did. The 2yo may enjoy picking up trash & putting it in the bag, too. Then put the bag outside! One thing DONE. Maybe a trash can in each room would be a good plan, making it easier to deal with. Then go through and pick up the shoes, then the books, etc. This is a learning time for the kid, you are teaching ‘categories’ and ‘sorting’.

    You & your husband need to decide what is important to you in the house. This is rarely the same thing, so if each of you has a top issue that gives you two things for a goal. Biological safety (the CPS stuff) is a third. Some days you might get all three things done. My husband thinks the bed should be made as soon as it is empty…I like to air it out (sometimes all day long!) but this is a small thing to do for the man I love. He likes the dishes stacked, too, and when he would make the bed & stack the dishes I’d feel soooooo guilty that he was doing ‘my’ job at first. After a few years, I just got grateful that he is helpful!

    Part of the frustration of these years is that NOTHING stays done so there are few concrete reminders of your work. I think this is why so many get into crafty things; we want to look at something we did that is still done! Accept that being a caretaker of small children and a homemaker means that your job is not the type that is completely ‘done’, it is a MAINTENANCE career and ‘done’ is temporary.

    A lifesaver for me was the daily quiet time. We ALL did it every afternoon for at least an hour, and I did NOT do housework while they napped or read books. I napped or read books, too. And playpens with a few toys & books are good things that keep a child in a safe environment for short periods of time. All kids need to learn about boundaries and self-entertainment. These are not inherent so expect resistance but they are life-skills that benefit everyone.

    Don’t compare your life right now to someone who has older kids. You need to be looking at the family you have NOW and eliminating what you can so you can function. I helped a friend move from one homeless shelter to another and the amount of stuff she was trying to cart around for her kids was overwhelming. She was afraid to let go of any of it but it was defeating her and making things worse because it was in black garbage bags and mixed with trash. She actually felt better & functioned easier when we were able to pitch it. She realized that it was all stuff she can get at a yard sale or resale shop once she has a home to put it in & what she needed right then(survival mode) was a weeks worth of outfits for each kid & herself and her paperwork. That was a lesson for me.

  27. When I get overwhelmed… and it can happen even if your kids are teenagers… especially if your kids and husband do not help… first I go to the doctor and make sure I am okay physically and my medication or some imbalance or lack of nutrients or sleep are not the problem… so you should definately do that ASAP even if you have to go to a quick care or ER… but when that has been checked out… or while you are waiting… I put on my favorite music… or make the house silent… whichever you prefer… put the kids in front of an okay movie or whatever will occupy them safely…and just do three things at a time in each room. I usually start in my master bedroom or bathroom. I might just make my bed, pick up the dirty clothes and open the curtains… then go to the bathroom and clean the mirror of toothpaste splatters and clean the sink top and put some toilet bowl cleaner in to start working… then go to my kids rooms and ask them just to pick up and put away all the red toys… etc.. and by the end of the day… with occasional breaks for sips of tea and a devotional or a few Bible verses… things are better. Not perfect, but better. And I pray out loud for help and strength.

  28. @beachygirl77 In proper context, from the article you quoted: “…if it’s ingested or inhaled in significant amounts or over extended periods.” Toxicology studies typically force-feed or blow the substance into the test animals’ faces in overdose amounts. Along a baseboard,this powder is incredibly uninteresting and is out of the way. Therefore it will not be ingested or inhaled, the amounts are not toxicologically significant to anything bigger than a mouse, and the ambient exposure risk is extremely low. It’s just not a real risk.

  29. Something to consider: are you handling all the night feedings/changings? It can be hard for husbands to understand this is a 24/7 job. If he’s not already covering at least one night feeding, ask him. You need more sleep. If nothing else, consider asking him to be “on the job” this coming Friday and/or Saturday night so you can get some sleep and be up to cleaning this weekend – and develop an extra-sympathetic partner in the process!

    Ideally, it would be great if he could handle the kids the next couple of weekends so that you (and the help you ask for as rec’d by the many wise people here in these comments!) can get a good head start on the mess. Remember, it’s a win-win for both of you. 🙂

    Good luck and get some sleep!!!

  30. @nickolina Thank you for your incredibly personal and kind response. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your taking the time to share your story.

  31. Thank you for your honesty and openess. Things do get better if you can get to the doctor and do these basic things to clean up. Here are some things I found helpful when I was in your situation with little kiddlets and a big mess:

    keep a cuddle corner tidy. That’s a comfie chair for you to fall into now and then as needed, specially if one of the kids, or you, need a cuddle and a comfort sit on your lap. Keep the chair clear of clutter as a starting point. Then the area around the chair can be kept nice. Extend the ‘nice’ out from there.

    Make a time ea day or weekly to get the kids involved in picking up, tidying, straightening, etc. Make it a game, set a time limit, play bouncey music. Knowing the time is limited helps keep everyone on track.

    Weather permitting, spend some time outside every day. The sunshine, the change of scene, even a walk around the block helps keep things in perspective, be in touch with things happening in nature or the outside world in a small way.

    Don’t take on too much to begin with. Everything starts with small steps. Read as much or as little of the hints and help as you can, and know that what is right for you will make itself obvious, you will know what is for you, trust yourself to know how to look after yourself, and your family.

    Sending you hugs from Australia and joining your cheer squad as you go about your day. x

  32. @collymoi I love the idea of a cuddle corner! I know just where mine is going to be. I have a chair that will fit both of my sweeties and me and my husband in the event of a family cuddle. Now to go put up the laundry that’s in it!

  33. What amazing, can-do advice for someone who is definitely overwhelmed with the house, newborn and all else. I have nothing to add but your advice and the comments from other readers is amazing!

  34. OH man, I am feeling desperate today. I can keep on top of “messiness”, but the general filth that creeps in – mainly on floors and tubs – that gets beyond this working mother of two.

  35. I am just reading this from the Type-A Parent link-up … and I have to say, oh Lord, yes.

    My kids are 26 months apart and I think I made it til about the baby being 3 months before I found myself sobbing uncontrollably and screaming at my toddler.

    I needed some major redosing of antidepressants. Having someone to talk to HONESTLY helps, too.

  36. I m read this Heather because of the parent link up. I think there is not one parent that can relate to this post. I love the simple steps of basic cleanness to keep you family and self well. Great Job!

  37. I came across this article a couple months ago, and it is a much needed daily read for me.  Some people read their bibles, some people read thier newpaper, I read “feeling desperate”
    Im the mother of 4 children under the age of 5, and for the past 2 years, been in a depressive state, sitting around waiting for my time to die.  Right before i found this article, things started getting better, our major debt is now paid off and we are only working on little debts, and now qualify for a home loan, so we can move out of our current 2 bedroom appartment.  But now that im coming out of depression, i have to face the appartment, in which ive been imprisioned in for the past 3 years.  I am following this article (as long as im not sleep deprived) every day and it feels like a dam is breaking letting the pure water flow out.
    The greatest quote to me at this time in my life “You are living one of the busiest and most stressful parenting points in your life”

  38. I would say, ask for help. Find someone you trust, a family member, a friend, someone from church and just plain ol’ ask. If you don’t know anyone you trust, call a church.

    There are a lot of people like me – not very good at recognizing and offering, but if I someone asked for help, even a mom I just met in a grocery store , I’d clear my schedule.

  39. God bless you all for supporting, not condemning her. At 19, I had a 1 yr. old & a 2 yr. old & a 19 stall stable & riding academy to run. (And a relatively unmotivated husband & no family nearby.) It was brutal but my grown children are beautiful human beings .

    • Life is hard enough, there is no way I’d make anyone feel guilty about how they deal with it.

      Shame can be a vicious spiral. I am a terrible person, I can’t deal with life, I’ll check out for a while, I’m a terrible person for not dealing with this, I can’t handle this, I’ll check out for a while. . . until there’s nothing left.

      I know this feeling far too well; I’ve lost too many people to pain.

      I’m glad you and your children made it through the rough years. Thank you for sharing your story.

      • Well I am probably the worst person when it comes to checking out-I did that literally for 2 years when my husband left me 3 years ago for almost a year. The result has been devastating I am constantly consumed by guilt and serious insomnia. I wasted two years of life and worst of all our autistic sons life as he did not get therapy to help him (early intervention was not an option for us due to serious medical issues-I had a major seizure when he was 2, was in the hospital for 28 days, it took years for me to physically function again but I was never the same mentally. When our son was 4 my husband had heart surgery. When he was 6 my husband had shoulder surgery. Prior to our sons 8th birthday my husband battled against AML while our oldest son joined the USMC and our second oldest was in high school). After our son turned 10 and my husband left for 11 months due to my selfish, verbally aggressive behavior, I had to have lower partial dentures that made eating extremely difficult as it is painful and taste is very diminished. So not only did I quit life essentially but I could no longer eat healthy resulting in muscle loss and weight loss. During that time my husband had surgery on his hand due to carpal tunnel. After he came back home he was laid off and I had a thyroidectomy. Now we both struggle with profound depression and I still can’t eat or sleep well. Additionally my mental clarity, ability and memory have been compromised. (Took me hours to write this, not kidding). Just wish I would have realized years ago that I have a good husband and wonderful children who deserved so much better… and I could have gotten our youngest into ABA therapy years ago making a critical difference in his life/social skills and work ability. I have not been able to clean our house effectively from all the clutter and it’s extremely dusty and showing signs of neglect everywhere. I absolutely cannot stand living like this but every time I want to start cleaning I am overwhelmed by the complete mess. No exaggeration to say that every counter, closet, cupboard, drawer, shelf, window, surface seems uncleanable. The dust is so bad it is everywhere and I can clearly see particles floating in the air when it’s sunny. I have let the house go so badly that when I do want to clean it I don’t know how to start. I know it’s truly horrible. Every time I dust it ends up looking like I just need to dust. Literally just trying to dust our tv stand and end tables is awful. I am embarrassed but any suggestions on how to approach?
        Dusty, dirty and daunting

  40. Heather, thanks for posting this again. I remember feeling like this when my kids were little and I remember you posting it the first time. I hope the mom who wrote it and all the moms who commented they were feeling the same are better now, a couple of years later. I sat and reread the post and all the comments instead of cleaning my house- the irony! But it’s good for me to see how I’ve come out the other side.

    My advice to moms who feel this way…this parenting jig is a rough one. It’s enough to bring out any depression you may have been prone to. A good friend of mine who was overwhelmed dealing with the demands of her ADHD daughter has a theory that parenthood (mostly motherhood) and sleep deprivation make people have temporary ADD. I couldn’t agree more. I hope this helps put it into perspective for anyone thinking this stage of life is supposed to be all smiles like a diaper commercial.


    • Without a doubt! Sleep deprivation absolutely causes lack of concentration. If you can’t concentrate, finishing a task becomes a monumental ordeal and it snowballs until what was supposed to be easy becomes this horrific, overwhelming THING.

      The medication I was using to deal with the anxiety -since that’s how I am wired – exacerbated this terribly. It was a catch-22 though. Lie in bed and have nothing but the image of my sister on every mental tv channel or not be able concentrate. I chose the latter until I got everything else under control.

      I can read for pleasure again and the ability to write is on its way back, too. It just took a lot longer than I ever imagined.

  41. Heather. This post made me cry. You are just what a lot of women need. I am new to your site and I found you just when I felt like breaking down. I have Four children now ranging from ages six through ten and I work full-time. I’ve tried every “self-help” book known to man but the way that you lovingly counseled Living in Chaos was so excellent. Thank you for spending time letting us mothers and wives know that these seasons in our lives are things that others experience as well as giving simple doable solutions. Keep up the good work.

  42. thank you!
    This very empathic blog post made me feel less guilty about not having it all together with two very young kids. And without the skills to do so. Really nobody taught me. I went to a high level university and thought I knew a lot. Now I am truly enjoying home 101 🙂 I love your blog.

  43. Thank you for sharing this again. It was my first time reading it. It almost made me cry. I’ve got a 20 month old & 5 month old. We are 18 hours from friends & family that could help. Hubby gets so frustrated with my absentmindedness! I really do try to be diligent but thanks for the reminder that it’s ok that it’s tough.

  44. I just wanted you all to know, its been a long hard struggle, and i’m still not where i want to be. I’ve fallen off the band wagon, so to speak, and i’ve been hit with unexpected things, and im still struggling with mental health issues, and cleaning issues, and being an adult is still so HARD.

    But I’m okay. Overall.

    • I’m not sure if anyone still reads this post, or goes through the comments, but I have another update for y’all.

      I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD. It was missed as a kid, as it often is in girls. And it’s so much more than just being hyperactive or daydreaming.

      All the years I was labelled as lazy, or over-sensitive, the anxiety, the depression, the self-loathing, the poor hygiene, the inability to just DO IT. The struggle with doing things that I know need to be done, but for some reason, I just can’t. Or things that I genuinely *want* to do, but I never end up doing. The unfinished projects, from crafts to cleaning and reorganizing. Losing things, forgetting what I was just about to say literally five seconds ago. The constant struggle with time-management and being late vs early. Fighting back tears any time I feel an emotion. So much of my life makes so much more sense now.

      So if you really resonated with this post, and it put you to tears because you relate so hard, I recommend taking an ADHD screening in addition to the other mental health checks already suggested. Or look up ADHD-Alien’s ADHD Bingo. that’s a fun one. What really got me though, was browsing the ADHD subreddit, looking for ways to support my boys, who are now 8 and 10, and were diagnosed with ADHD first. I started reading the posts in that subreddit, and realized that a lot of them sounded a lot like me.

      So yeah. That’s how things are now.

      -Living In Chaos


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.