How to Keep An Interest-Led Learning Home & a Clean House at the Same Time

by ChristinaPilkington on April 18, 2012 · 31 comments

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In homes where there is more of a school at home approach there might be a set schedule where schoolwork takes place, usually in the mornings, and then a specific time each day when all the household chores are done.

In an interest-led learning environment, that gets a little tricky.

You want to be available for opportunities as they come and not be tied down to a strict schedule. You also want to be there for your kids when they need you to answer questions, play with them or help them on projects.

But you also want to maintain some sense of order in your home and not let chaos rein either.

So, today I’m going to share 5 tips for cleaning your house using an interest-led learning approach.

I guess you can call in Interest-Led Cleaning!

Now, I want to be really clear that these are things that work really well for me. They might not be things that will work for you.

Everyone’s circumstances are different, too. I have a small,  725 square foot house, I don’t have small children anymore- my kids are old enough that they pitch in and help straighten when I ask them to most of the time, and my tolerance for how clean or straighten things are might be different.

I’ve also read lots and lots of organization and time management books and haven’t been able to take most of their advice because they just don’t work for me.  I’m just not wired that way.

I like some order and I like plan some things, but I’ve had to find the system that works well for me.

So, read these tips, try them out if you find any interesting, and then only keep those things that work well for you. 

Don’t Create a Set Cleaning Schedule

I don’t have a set curriculum for my kids that we follow each day, so I won’t set up a cleaning schedule for myself either. Why? Life happens and I usually never get around to doing everything on my cleaning “to do” list.  Then I get discouraged and down on myself for not completing my list or cleaning goals I set at the beginning of the week.

Also, if I had a set day for when things were supposed to get cleaned – Monday is Dusting, Tuesday is Mopping and Wednesday is Bathroom Cleaning, what happens if the day turns upside down and I wasn’t able to get to the cleaning? Do I now feel like I have to catch up and do two days work the next day? Or do I skip it all together and just do it the next week?

Instead I ……..

Use the What Annoys Me the Most Approach

This is actually the opposite of what you do with your kids. When you’re an interest-led learner, you start each day or week thinking about doing what excites and interests you. You plan projects around the things you’d like to learn about and go to new places you find interesting.

What I do each day is look around the house and decide what things bother me the most. Is it the sticky kitchen floor? Is it the bathroom? Or does it really need to be straightened or something organized?

If I could only get one thing cleaned or organized today, what would it be? That’s the thing I try to do that day.  I’ve learned that if I do one thing to improve the house each day or at least close to each day, it really does add up to a pretty orderly.

                                           Decide what matters to you most

I’ve decided that it can take twenty hours a week for me to clean my house or it can take three. There’s really no end to the amount of time you can spend cleaning and organizing your house. I think you could clean for eight hours every day and still have it not be perfect….especially if you have kids in the house.

So, since your house will never be perfect no matter how much time you spend on it, you can let go of that ideal and focus on reality.

Reality is….what do you need done in your house every week in order to feel peaceful? What will it take for you to feel that your house has some order and cleanliness to it?

I’ve come up with a list of what that looks like for me. Here’s my list for the minimum amount done each week in my house for me to feel at peace.  Your list might look different than mine.  (I’m not including laundry, food planning, shopping, and cooking, or dishes here).

-          Beds made most days

-          Kitchen floor swept every day

-          Bathroom cleaned every week

-          Rest of all floors swept once a week

-          Living room rug vacuumed once a week

-          Living Room dusted once a week

-          Most day things fairly straightened

 And that’s it. Of course there’s other things that I try to get done too, like cleaning out the refrigerator, mopping the kitchen floor, vacuuming and dusting upstairs, dusting the fans….you get the picture.

But the tasks I mentioned above are usually the things I try to work on first every week, unless something else annoys me more that day.  The thing that annoys me most always wins out over everything else.

Decide on amount of time you want to spend on cleaning

When you have your list of the bare minimum you’d like to accomplish each week, estimate how long each task will take you. Then think about, if you had a perfect week, how much time would you like to spend cleaning each week?

I know. Most of you will say zero hours. I’m right there with you.

But think about how much time you can spend cleaning and still do the other things that are really important to you like spending a good amount of time with your family, researching fun activities and trips, working on your own projects and other responsibilities.

This is a tricky thing to do, too. Just come up with a number and shoot for it the first week. Then evaluate how things went at the end of the week.

I’ve found for myself that 3 hours a week works best for me. It gives me enough time to get my minimum work done to not feel icky about the house and enough extra time to do little bit of extra cleaning or organizing, too. Again, that’s not including dishes, laundry, or anything to do with food. (I’ll talk about what I do with that in the next few posts).

By setting an amount of time I want to clean each week, I also know when to quit. At the end of those three hours, if I see something that I think needs to be cleaned, I tell myself that it can wait until next week.  I’ve determined that anything over that three hours cuts into more important priorities. It lets me let go of other things that I think “need” to be done and not feel guilty about it.

But, how do I decide when to do those three hours of cleaning?  I…… 

Use a Stop Watch

My stop watch has become my best friend.  I use it to keep track of how many hours I’ve cleaned each week. I aim for three hours a week, but I don’t beat myself up if I don’t get it done, either. (Or at least most weeks I don’t get down on myself about it. I’ve still got a bit of growing to do in this area J)

This might seem a bit much to some of you, but when I tell myself that I’ll clean for 3 hours a week instead of saying I’ll complete a list of tasks, I have a clear idea of when I’ll be done with my work.

Instead of having a task list, I can ask myself, “I have 30 minutes that I can work on something, what do I feel like working on the most right now?”

In those three hours, I have a lot of flexibility of what I want to clean that day and how much time I’ll do it.

I also work in my cleaning around everything else we’re doing that day. If I have a 15 minute pocket of time, I’ll clean like mad for those 15 minutes.  If the kids are really into playing a game together or have a friend over in the backyard, it’s like a game to see how much I can get done of my three hours for the week.

If one day I get two straight hours of cleaning in, I know that I can take off a few days and not feel bad or guilty or lazy about it.

In the next few posts, I share how I create a routine for doing household tasks like laundry and grocery shopping each week while still being flexible and open to other fun opportunities that come up.

Photo Credit: go_greener_oz

How do you create a lifestyle of learning and still have time to take care of basic household responsibilities?


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  • nobeatenpath

    Fantastic post and something I am struggling with right now – I am a person who can’t focus or relax in a house that is not tidy. But I have to make sure I am not spending all my time tidying rather than educating my child! So I give myself time in the morning to ‘do the house’ while my son is having breakfast and getting ready for the day; and then in the afternoon/evening when he is playing with friends or up in his room. I tried to scale back and not worry as much about it but found it stressed me MORE. I have learned that my minimum is perhaps a bit higher than it needs to be, but I also have to remember that I function better – as a mother and educator – when I am comfortable.

    • christinapilkington

      This is so true. You have to find your comfort level, and everyone’s comfort level is different. I’ve found my comfort level relaxing every year, though, when I think about how fast my kids are growing up. It’s hard for me to say no to the kids when they ask me to play something with them. I think about when they’re out of the house and the times that I said no to them and yes to the house. Not that I never have to say no to the kids. If they had their way, I’d be playing and doing something with them all day long! But I know the older they get, the more that will change. They won’t want me to be around as much. And then I’ll probably be wishing they were asking me to do more things with them. It’s a tough, tough balancing act that I usually don’t do perfectly.

  • Susan

    I enjoyed reading this post! Obviously lots of others agreed with me :) Good advice here…I recently have settled more comfortably into an approach of deciding what matters to me most, and doing what annoys me most. I don’t like strict schedules for anything! House cleaning has always been a struggle for me, finding a balance that works for me. I grew up with a mother who was seriously, without exaggeration, obsessive-compulsive about cleaning house. Being the oldest, and always wanting to please, I had a tough act to live up to! Escaping the influence of that as an adult has been a tough process. I am WAY more comfortable now with a relaxed approach…it’s been necessary for my sanity!

    • christinapilkington

      My mom was the complete opposite. She was very lax in her housekeeping :) But I have to say, we had lots of fun with her. So, I want to keep up the priority my mom had of doing lots of fun stuff with us over worry about the housework, but I’d like things to stay a little bit neater, too. I was the oldest, too, and it’s funny because when my mom would go to work when I was a teenager, I’d clean the whole house for her while she was out. I’d love seeing her tears of joy when she’d get home and find a clean house.

      • Susan

        What great memories of your Mom! I also want to have my girls remember me taking the time to do all sorts of fun stuff with them…housework really can wait its turn. I do tend to function better, though, in a more organized environment. Balance is key :)

  • Tereza Crump

    Christina, Seriously! I think we are twins!! you are the writer though! :)

    For the most part, that’s exactly how we do it in our house BUT I got 4 children under 9y.o. and our house is 5 times the size of yours! I know, sometimes I don’t know how I do it??!!! But I do it like you do: I don’t have a cleaning list, I clean what annoys me the most or what is needed most. Like you I have certain things that need to be done everyday: meals, laundry and keeping the living room, mudroom (bathroom most used and laundry area) and kitchen picked up. Everything else goes with the flow of life. :)

    There is one thing I have implemented in the last 2 weeks and it’s really working out for us. I don’t have a list of chores for my kids. What kid wants to do chores??? :| But I gave each of my children, with the exception of the 2y.o. a “job” that is to be done first thing in the morning. I desperately needed their help if we wanted to get life started well in the morning. So I summoned them one day and just told them I needed their help and I was going to give them each a job and they had to be responsible to get it done every day every morning so that our life could flow more easily. They all agreed. the first few days, I had to remind them, correct and teach the job a few times, but now, it’s automatic.

    So the 9y.o. unloads the dishwasher every morning before breakfast, the 6y.o. sweeps the kitchen and the 4y.o. sets the table for breakfast. Talk about starting the day wonderfully. When I get to the kitchen we can all fix breakfast together, talk, play, listen to an audiobook or devotional as we eat. Then after breakfast life flows with the interests. :)

    I am planning to give each child another job, although they have spontaneously being more helpful around the house. They help vacuum and fold and put away laundry. They loooove to clean windows. I am learning to let go of perfection and just be thankful for the help offered.

    Another thing that has helped me is to “shine my kitchen sink” every night. I try ( I say try because a couple times a month I fail! But it’s ok.) I clean the kitchen after dinner every night, load my dishwasher and get it going, put all dishes away and wash pots and clean counters. The next morning the kitchen is a clean slate to begin again.

    One more thing (last one) that helps put my mind at ease regarding those really BIG jobs like organizing a closet or a painting job, or pressure washing or things like that… I wait for when my parents come to visit and I tackle those then. While the kids play with the Grandparents, Mom and Dad have some much needed alone time WORKING together!! hahaha :)

    Life with children!! I love it!! :)

    Keep up the great post…you encourage us so!! :)

    • christinapilkington

      Tereza, I agree about the twins part! I love reading your posts about what you do with your kids and get such great ideas. And now it looks like we have similar cleaning styles,too! I seriously don’t know what I’d do with a house 5 times as big as the one I have now….and four kids! I definitely would have to change my approach. I think you have the right idea with getting your kids involved in helping. It helps when kids know that the part they play in keeping the house clean is very important to the rest of the family. I’ll talk about my after dinner routine in the next post, but it’s pretty similar to what you do, too. It makes a huge difference in the morning if the kitchen looks good. I have so much more energy that way and feel great to start digging into new projects. I also try to get stuff done when my mom or mother-in-law comes over to play with the kids. I like the kids to help me, but the bigger projects to get done such much faster that way.

    • Karen Schindel Johnson

      I find myself in a similar situation, same size house approx, but 9 dc at home. The eldest 2 are in their 20′s and had moved out but are back again and one is expecting our first grand baby in Sept (we are Cdn & her fiancé is Am., & they haven’t worked out immigrations yet to be together so she’s still with us). The youngest 7 are 4-15yo and they are in charge of some cleaning each week. They have one day per week to help with laundry and/or vacuum the main floor including kitchen. Then on Fridays we do our ‘weekly’ cleaning of bathrooms, upstairs vacuuming, and some ‘odd jobs’ like the fridge, cleaning blinds, dusting (I often overlook dusting). Learning and reading and spending time together almost always wins out in our household over house cleaning, and I try to declutter on a continual basis to help with space & organization. The less stuff we have the more comfortable the house seems to be to live in, & the less time I feel is needed to keep it tidy enough that it doesn’t stress me out. A stressed out mama ain’t a good thing!

      • christinapilkington

        It’s amazing to me families that have so many children and can handle keeping up with everyone’s interests. I’d imagine it’s very necessary for everyone to pitch in and help. I know several people who have large homes, and in some ways it seems more frustrating to have a smaller home as far as keeping things straightened. It doesn’t take much for it to look cluttered, whereas in a larger home you have a lot more floor space and things don’t look as cluttered. It’s a challenge for me to keep the things we own to a minimum. It would be fine if it were just me and Steve as we don’t like having a lot of stuff, but with the kids learning at home, there are a lot more things that we like to use and have available for them. It does force us to look at what we really need instead of what things are nice to have. I’m moving more and more towards minimalism and it’s taking me to a much less stressful place.

  • Jenn

    I could never create a set cleaning schedule. It’s just not my nature! I could try the “what annoys me the most” and “what matters to me the most” approaches though…I like those:) Thanks for the ideas.

    • christinapilkington

      You’re welcome! If you don’t like cleaning schedules, I think you’ll like how easy some of these things are.

  • Jessica

    I would be lost without my kitchen timer. I set it for 10 minutes per room. Just ten min. Then I can get through the whole house quickly. Without the timer keeping me in one room I tend to wander from room to room getting nothing done but wearing a track in the carpet. Thankfully my home is also on the smaller side and my girls are capable of helping. For some reason when I go out and leave them alone with a list of chores, every single one gets done. When I ask at home….not so much!

    • christinapilkington

      Jessica, it’s funny because I was going to include how I do ten minute cleaning bursts in each room, but the post was getting really long so I decided to leave it out. I like doing that because if I look at a room that is really messy, I feel overwhelmed. But if I say I’ll just tackle it for ten minutes and then move to another room, I’m always amazed at how much better it looks when I’m done. I’ve found things usually take a lot less time than we think they will.

  • Natalie

    Lovely post. I (and my husband too) did a lot of similar things until we made ourselves the best Christmas present ever – a cleaning lady. Now my cleaning is limited to about 20 minutes daily for general straightening out. I miss cleaning bathrooms least :)

    • christinapilkington

      That would be an awesome Christmas present! I actually hate straightening the most; it’s crazy but I’d rather clean the bathroom than straighten! But I’m working on a process of minimalism in my house, so maybe in a few months I’ll report on how I’m doing with that.

  • Diana, London UK

    Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months now and it’s really inspiring (&reassuring!) We have just started homeschooling our 6 year old son and your site has given us so many ideas. I particulary like this as we also have a baby and the cleaning (although I’m a rather messy person!) has been driving me a bit nuts!
    I continue to read with great interest.

    • christinapilkington

      Thank you so much Diana for leaving me this message. Cleaning, especially straighening, has not been my strength since I’ve had kids. Before the kids, the house and other weekly responsibilities were no problem. But especially since the kids are getting older and we want to do a lot more things, I tend to say no to housework and yes to doing fun things a lot more than I should! But I’ve worked on discipling myself to putting in my three hours each week, and it’s working out really well. The house is never perfect, but I’m not embarassed by it either.

  • Karen Terry Cagle

    This is so awesome. I clean very similar to this, any other way makes me nuts. I love the ‘I have 30 minutes, I can work on something, what can I do” Can’t wait to read more about this subject.

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks! I know many people use systems that tell them what to clean each day, but I always got so frustrated when I tried something like that. It was like I was becoming a slave to those lists instead of putting my families priorities first.

  • Joan Concilio Otto

    Thank you so much for this! We are interest-led learners as well and still struggling to keep a mix of “good stuff strewn about” to encourage interests balanced with “Mom’s piano can’t be covered with books so that she can’t play it.” I have also blogged on the topic, but not with such focus and clear thought! This really solidified some good thoughts for me. We need… dishes not piled in the sink; floor vacuumed at least once a week, probably more (one dog, five cats!) and don’t pile up the laundry until we have to do five loads in a day. Next level up is dining room mostly tidy, living room picked up and counters and our desk not piled with stuff. Anything beyond that is WAY gravy. :)

    We are definitely “do what annoys me” people too. My husband cannot stand dishes piled up, so he will come in from a 15-hour day at work and start loading the dishwasher if I haven’t gotten to it yet. I can’t stand pet hair all over my floor, so the other night I dug out the vacuum at 11 p.m. (we were all still up) and did the entire first floor. We have a large-ish house, three adults and a 12-year-old, so there’s almost always something to annoy someone!

    • christinapilkington

      That’s my problem, too – the need and desire to strew lots of fun things, but at the same time, knowing that if everything doesn’t have it’s own home, or if too many things are jammed together, than we won’t be getting good use of it either. I feel I have a good feel for the cleaning part and some other great flexible routines I have down, but I have to get better with my straightening. That’s funny about your husband. That’s how I get too about things. Even if I’m tired, I have to tackle something that really annoys me or else I can’t relax. But at least I’m getting better so that not as many things annoy as much.

  • Elizabeth

    ‘I don’t have a set curriculum for my kids that we follow each day, so I won’t set up a cleaning schedule for myself either’ You know you’re my hero, right?? I am trying to actually find a happy medium at the moment, sort of ‘pseudo scheduling’ because I have become overwhelmed with what I have to do and end up just walking around my house in a state of confusion. SO I signed up for List Plan it ( a site that has lists, basically) and am going to get 31 Days To Clean, which has some biblical elements and motivation for people like myself, who despise cleaning.

    • christinapilkington

      You’re making me blush, Elizabeth :) Seriously, though, I really wish we lived closer. I’d love to hang out with you in person. You’ll have to let me know how the List Plan goes. I’ve tried many sites like that before, but I could never stick with it and left me feeling like a big looser. I understand your frustration with getting so behind with house stuff that you don’t even know where to start. I never hated cleaning before I had kids. But now there are so many more things I want to be doing, that cleaning seems to get in the way of that. I’ve been working on including the kids, and that has helped some, but it’s still hard to get motivated. That’s why having a set time that I reach for each week, and then rewarding myself by not doing anything else after I’ve reached that time, helps for me. It gives me a definite ending. Otherwise I’d focus on all the other things that need to get done and I’d feel like I was never going to get it all done.

      • Elizabeth

        So far I am failing Chris lol! STILL haven’t printed out my lists, nor started a binder. Sigh. I really wish we did live closer!!!

        • christinapilkington

          See, that’s exactly how I would be! I always have good intentions, but I’ve always had that stubborn streak, ever since I was little, that I didn’t want someone else telling me exactly how to do things. I think that’s why I never follow through on things like that.

  • Ross Mountney

    Hiya, lovely to find your blog – we home edded our two (grown and going now) and I’m writing about that now to support other families so I’ve just been checking out some HE sites. Lovely post! I never had any conscience about cleaning – it’s not that we were slovenly or anything. :) I just had priorities, like you suggest; needed things a bit ordered sometimes but not all the time, didn’t do much cleaning apart from wipe rounds and hate cleaning products because they destroy the planet, never ironed but no one said we looked that crumpled…if I looked crumpled it was because of the busy HE life we led, and the hoover over the carpet can make a busy room look heaps better! Beds? Not important (don’t go upstairs :) ) A tidy house is a sign of lives not lived! Enjoy your children and your HEing. It’ll be gone one day like mine and you’ll be wondering why the house looks not only clean but empty!
    If I can ever be of help I’m here:
    Best wishes

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks so much for commenting, Ross! I just checked out your site and it looks really informative. I look forward to reading more of your posts. I agree with “a tidy house is a sign of lives not lived.” Some days our house looks very, very lived in! I try to cherish every moment with my twins. Since we won’t be having any more children, I know I’ll never have another 5 year old or 6 year old or 7 year old. This year I’m trying to really live in the moment – something that’s hard to do when you’re tired, stressed or don’t feel good. But it’s become a big priority for me.

      Also, I left a comment on your blog, but I’m not sure it posted. I hope it did. It was on your post about play and the government trying to set standards for play – ridiculous!

      • Ross Mountney

        Hi again, yes – your comment’s on there. Thank you!
        I agree – living in the moment can be hard as you say. I found that when I was tired or stressed it was often a sign that I just needed a bit more ‘me’ time. So forget the cleaning or other non-essentials. They can wait. I’m always telling people that successful parenting and home educating is far more about pacing yourself than anything educational. Don’t forget to nurture yourself as you would your children. It’s a good lesson for them too! x

        • christinapilkington

          That’s something I try to do, although I have a lot of room to grow in this area. If I’m tired or stressed, it affects how I am with the kids and I hate feeling like I was short with them or didn’t give them the attention they deserved. Now I have to work on knowing what is really not essential and sticking to it!

  • amy (mamascout)

    this is one of the most useful things i have read on keeping house! the schedules drive me crazy! thanks – i will pass it on!

    • christinapilkington

      Amy, I really hope some of the tips work for you. I was always so frustrated reading most of the books out there. They never worked for my personality. And thanks for sharing this post :)

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