Small children are an absolute delight and are a great source of satisfaction. But like most things that provide delight and satisfaction, they leave a serious mess behind. They pick their noses, throw their food, eat your houseplants and drag their dirty feet across your hand-tufted Tibetan wool area rug. Don’t be alarmed, but right now your child may be hosting multiple parasites in her hair and/or intestines.
Perhaps you’re planning to have kids, and think that your own offspring will be special, different; that you’ll be able to maintain peak levels of cleanliness and style in your home. Nope. Your kids aren’t special, and neither are mine. They are a powerful destructive force, and for the few first years it’s best just to duck and cover.
But before you spring for that vasectomy, take heart: Even with small children underfoot, there are many simple ways to maintain acceptable levels of style and cleanliness in your home.
The most vulnerable room of all, due to the volume of food and liquids being sloshed, spilled, and splattered about. After our little family destroyed three “natural” rugs,* I came to my senses and bought an “outdoor” rug (euphemistically named “poolside rug”). It’s made from Polypropylene, which is a fancy word for woven plastic.
Six months and 183 spilled bowls of oatmeal later, we soaked the rug in the bathtub for a few hours, then scrubbed it down and hosed it off in the backyard. And aside from the puddle of white primer I spilled on it last month – it’s as good as new.
And nothing beats our cheap (and surprisingly sturdy) plastic white dining room chairs. We found these in the Office Furniture section at IKEA; they couldn’t be easier to wipe down.
And for goodness sake, if you’ve got a deck, backyard or nearby park — eat outside as much as you can. Cleanup involves only a hose and your friendly neighborhood vermin.
A Note About Ugly Baby Supplies:
Most kid stuff is ugly — garish colors and Disney Princesses. Who says you have to give up your modern style just to feed your kids? Buy your baby’s dining supplies at the thrift store. This modern four-piece yellow plate-and-cup set was only 75 cents at the Salvation Army (yeah, we already lost one of the cups); the gorgeous mid-century sippy cup only a quarter.
As we wander from the Dining to Living areas, I must enforce one critical rule: Food does not leave the dining room. This single rule will save you hours of cleaning and hundreds of dollars in exterminator bills.
For easy maintenance, take a tip from our Dining Room tour and invest in plastic furniture. Especially if you enjoy Mid-Century Modern styles, there are many attractive options that can also be hosed off in the backyard, like this “reproduction” Eames chair (right).
Or this tasteful vinyl lounge chair that we dragged in from the alley and disinfected (pssst… Vinyl is another fancy word for Plastic).
Fortunately, Scott and I were still pretty broke when we started having kids, so we didn’t have much for them to ruin. We bought these Booger-Toned sleeper sofas off Craigslist, and because I was 8 months pregnant, I didn’t have to help carry them home.
Finally, keep nice things up high. Children can’t resist electronics, lights, or things that spin. Last year, Scott bought a sexy new turntable, and we made the mistake of placing it proudly on the living room credenza. It lasted about two days. If you work in the living space, make a standing desk to keep your computer safely out of sticky toddler hands.
A SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT TOYS:
About two or three times a year, a small but potent group of Grandparents and Aunties unloads trunkfuls of brightly-colored plastic toys, some of which actually beep and blink.
Learn to Be A Crap Curator! Your kids really don’t need any of this stuff, and they definitely don’t need all of it. The day after their birthdays or your relevant religious gift-giving holiday, quietly put aside the ugliest, most obnoxious toys – the ones that make the loudest noise or have the most pieces – and either re-gift, return or donate.
In fact, any time you’re feeling overwhelmed, simply wait until the kids are away or asleep, and put half the toys in the closet or a closed box on top of a high shelf. Don’t worry, you’ll know which ones they’ll actually miss. Six months later, you can switch them all back again (sometimes the space under the couch serves this purpose as well):
BEDROOM (ADULT CATEGORY):
In our house, the adult bedroom is — for the most part — a no-kid zone. The door stays closed and is too warped for a child to open on her own. Aside from Scott’s drawing desk, there’s nothing particularly dangerous for them to get into… I just don’t want them in there. Though I will confess that when the weather is just too miserable to bear, I will let this happen for an hour or so:
Installing childproof latches on your cabinets will pretty much take of things in this room. A Special Note about Make-Up: I don’t have much, as wearing it makes me feel like a drag queen. But small children find it absolutely irresistible.
One day my mother-in-law, who was living with us at the time, put the two-year-old down for a nap in the same room as her make up bag. This is the result:
I give up…