House Mix

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How I organize my house with kids

I am a stay-at-home-mom and also work from home. Marcello does all his office work here as well. For awhile our house looked like a daycare blew up, but because we eat, sleep, play and work all in this one space, we had to simplify and get organized!

On top of spending loads of time at home, our house has a very open floor plan — meaning our living room, dining room, kitchen, office area/playroom is all in one space! It is impossible to relegate kids’ stuff to one area. With three kids ages five and under, it all ends up colliding into one disaster.

Perfect is not my goal, but simple is! The more we simplify our life, the faster we can get to the good stuff — spending time together. There have been so many benefits to getting serious about purging, simplifying and organizing the kid world in our house. Here are a few:

  1. It makes routines run smoothly — especially school and homework.
  2. Picking up toys takes half the time with half the toys.
  3. Laundry can be done in a day with less clothing.
  4. We can have people over last minute with less clutter.
  5. A chaotic life with kids feels a little more in check when the space around me makes sense.

The biggest factors in keeping kid stuff from overwhelming the house is to:

Minimize things (toys, clothes, school stuff).

  • I went through the toys and donated or gave away about half. I went through them again and even again.
  • If there are toys that do not get played with now, they will not be played with in the future.
  • If you are constantly picking up the 20 pieces to that one set and trying to keep them together, it’s probably time to say goodbye.
  • I let my kids make some choices about what to keep, but for the most part I did my dirty work behind their backs. Shady, I know, but kids are hoarders.
  • I donated the clothes that don’t fit or they don’t wear. They have limited wardrobes and now (as for myself as well) I only buy clothes we love. I don’t want to spend time arguing about an “itchy” shirt.
  • After all that work I am very conscious of what I bring into our home. I don’t buy a bunch of little plastic toys for Valentine’s, Easter or Christmas that will be played with for two minutes. They always just end up on the floor. Or under the bed. Or under the seats in the van. You get the idea.
  • For birthdays, we focus on doing things or a party instead of lots of gifts.
  • I organize and edit the toys every few months. It’s a continual task, but gets much easier once you and the kids get the hang of it.

A place for everything.

  • I think the number one tip to keeping toys picked up and kids’ rooms clean is to have a place for everything. A place for games, a place for books, a place for toys.
  • Show the kids where things go. Expect that they put things back when they’re done with them if they’re old enough.

Stick with neutral colors when you can.

  • I didn’t go through our house and throw out anything with color, but I did make a conscious decision to start buying neutral items when things needed to be replaced. I’m talking about things like dishes, baskets, furniture and some toys.
  • Most things for kids are sold in bright colors, but I found that with a little bit of searching, there are more neutral options. I don’t have anything against color, it’s just that when I’m bombarded by plastic primary colors all day my eyes hurt.

Minimizing and choosing neutral colors have really made a difference visually in our house. Here’s a tour of how I organize things:


The kids don’t have a lot of toys. Not because I don’t want to give them everything, not because we can’t afford them, but because I believe it’s best for them. Here’s what I would like to teach with fewer toys:

  • To use their imaginations.
  • Not to value things.
  • To appreciate what they have.
  • There is space for each toy to have a specific spot to be put away.
  • To feel free in a clutter-free environment.

I’ve gone radical eliminating toys. What you see in this picture is about all the boys have besides books, games and Legos that are in their room. They spend most of their time making little worlds with their animals and Star Wars figurines or playing outside. For how I organize my office space here, see this post.

One thing we do have a lot of are animal figurines because they are always into different animals. I keep a bin in the garage with most of them and they bring their favorites inside.

As a visual person, who also does creative work in this space, I need a break from primary colors in the form of plastic. This sweet baby buggy my parents got Clara for Christmas is so pretty and neutral I don’t mind seeing it in middle of the living room.

The desk beside mine is usually filled with some sort of “world” set up by imaginary director Adriano. Fits and screams ensue when I disrupt them, so I bought a cute wooden barn for Christmas.

I love this large wooden doll house because not only is it pretty to look at, but also works for boys and girls. It can be accessed from any side, which helps when two boys have a hard time sharing anything.

I love that the Dollar Tree has puzzles for my little puzzle lover. The only problem is that they don’t stay in the flimsy boxes that all come in different sizes so they’re difficult to stack. In just 10 minutes I organized them into Ziplock bags and taped the picture on the front with packing tape. I chose the sliding closure option so he can close them himself.

My boys aren’t obsessed with Legos, but my best friend Ashby’s son is crazy about them. Check out the genius idea her husband, Dominic, came up with. They keep the bigger pieces in clear drawers, but these tool box organizers work perfectly to organize the tiny pieces.

Another way to cut down on toys is to limit them to birthdays and Christmas. Our kids get a few toys for their birthday and Christmas, otherwise if they really want something they have to earn the money doing chores. I really don’t get much sass about it because I stay consistent. They saved $13 each a few weeks ago and we went to Target so they could each pick a toy. God was smiling on them because there was a whole clearance aisle of toys! They spent a lot of time picking the right toy and were very proud of buying it themselves. They take better care of those toys too. Get the printable chore chart and more info on how it works here.

Kids’ rooms

Clara has graduated from baby to toddler and I desperately needed to clean out her closet! She doesn’t need a diaper bag or Jumperoo or all those cute clothes she grew out of too fast. I took everything out and started over.

Here is the before and after of her closet. I couldn’t even open the door all the way! When I took everything out I sorted the piles into: 1-Donate: Clothes that are too small, toys they don’t play and baby things they don’t use. 2-Trash: Be ruthless. 3-Keep: I keep only a few outgrown outfits from each child. I made myself fit sentimental keeps to a small Winnie the Pooh box, top right. Be so very selective.

I got lucky because last week she fell asleep in the car, so I worked like mad to get this done before she woke up! This is what I pulled out. Shown in this picture are trash, clothes to give away and bins with items I will sell at a consignment shop. I will then use that money toward Clara’s next size of clothing and shoes.

I wish I hadn’t bought these baskets in bright coral pink because all together they’re really bold! And I can’t put them anyplace else except Clara’s room. Things are always being rearranged and repositioned to work with their stages, so now I only buy neutral baskets and always in multiples of two — usually 4 or 6. In the baskets from the top down are: 1-clothes that are too small, 2-sweaters, 3-socks and bloomers, 4-clothing not worn frequently (tutus, Fourth of July outfit …), 5-swimsuits, 6-clothes that are too big.

Hopefully we will be done with a changing table in the next six months. High five! Marcello and I have been changing diapers for almost six year straight. This desk was mine when I was a little girl.

When Ashby told me about putting clothes away as outfits, I didn’t try it right away. My boys basically have green or blue shorts and T-shirts and that’s it. They’re all pretty interchangable. But now that I have a girl with much more variety in clothes, this is working like a dream. It’s even dad-proof! Although I actually love to see what Marcello comes up with. Tights as pants are my favorite. Should have listened to you sooner, friend!

As I mentioned before, we’ve been changing diapers for quite some time with no break. At this point, we just put the whole package of diapers and the entire big bag of wipes in a basket by the changing table. We sloppily fold the top of the wipes bag over so they stay wet. These tall basket are from Target. The diapers are the Kirkland brand from Costco. When they’re on sale, I stock up. You can’t beat the price and the quality is fine. I wish I would have done this before baby number three!

I got it right the second time I bought baskets for her room. I found these on sale online at Target for $7 and snatched them up. The white blends easily into the background, unlike the neon coral. Now they will be able to switch out with other places in the house when we need them to. Nothing ever stays the same here for too long.

Clara’s favorite place at our local children’s museum is the play house. It has a kitchen, table, high chair, ironing board, food. She could play there for an hour, but her brothers never let her. So I thought I would try to recreate that space in her room with things we already had. And she loves it! (Actually so do the boys!) To see more of Clara’s kitchen, go here.

The boys share a room. I don’t bother with bed-making. They fold their blankets in half at the foot of the bed. It’s something they can do by themselves and looks tidier than a messy, made bed. (P.S. Don’t look at my bed. I’m not typically a bed-maker. Gasp!)

My kids don’t have huge wardrobes. I only keep clothes that fit and will be worn in their closets and drawers. (Though I needed to do laundry when I took this picture. They have more shirts than that.) I keep their everyday clothes in these shelves, but the clothes are getting bigger so we’ll have to get dressers soon! I keep a box for them to put their pjs and such in so I don’t have to do extra laundry and they won’t end up on the floor.

I buy all the same socks. This is a big laundry timesaver. No worrying about a lost mate. No pairing while folding laundry. Just toss them in the drawer. They each have two pairs of fun dress socks, but I don’t even keep them in this mix.

Each kid has their own laundry basket. As of now I just dump their whole basket in the machine, run it in cold water and TRY to put it back right after it’s done. In other words, I don’t mix the kids’ laundry. I like to keep their clothes separate from one another.

The top two wooden boxes are for Luca and Adriano’s favorite things. I consider most of the things in there trash, but those are things they don’t want to share and think are special. I don’t throw things out from their boxes.

When your brother gets home from school and takes off his shoes.

I bought these twin bed frames that don’t use boxsprings so we can use that space for storage. I keep a bin under the bed for clothes that are still too big. I like to buy a year ahead during winter and summer clearance sales. I put the clothes that are too small for them in the top bin in Clara’s room with her too-small clothes — but after going through two boys, there’s not too much that makes it past the trash! We live in southern Florida so we don’t have winter, but you could do something like this up north when you change out clothes for the seasons.


Next up is the kitchen. Tired of mismatched sippy cups and a variety of dived trays, I did a serious purge of kid dishes in here.

How many years can you use the plastic sets of bowls and plates from Ikea? Don’t answer that. I finally had to toss mine and I made a conscious decision to buy these soft aqua plates and bowls instead. You know, because neutral colors look less obnoxious piled around my sink rather than a rainbow of plastic.

A few years ago, two babies deep, I finally started putting sippy cup lids in a separate basket. And I’m still doing it. It’s just not likely that I’ll put them away dry, with the lid on.

When I had to get new plastic silverware for baby girl, I went ahead and got white forks and spoons this time around.

Keeping things neutral and light, I ordered these Corelle divided plates for my boys who do not like their food to touch. The horror. I like the idea of moving away from plastic, but they’re not quite there yet for everything. We mostly use these for dinner. Also, this white, foldable picnic table has been great. I like it better than a table and chairs because not only does it fold down flat, but the kids can’t use chairs as stools or weapons.

Yeah, now that looks about right. My usual kitchen view.


In the kids bathroom, I focus on trying to help them be as self-sufficient as possible. I want them to be able to brush their own teeth, wash their own hands and hang their own towel up without my help.

They don’t normally all bathe together, but it sure is efficient! We used to have massive amounts of toys in the bathroom, but now the boys are starting to take showers and Clara just brings one or two toys with her. I can’t say it hurts my feelings at all.

We have an faucet extender and stool to help them reach.

Towels, washcloths and toilet paper is under the sink where they can reach them. Keeping things minimal and in the same spot where they can find it helps them — especially toilet paper. It’s true, kids can actually replace the toilet paper roll by themselves!

I took up stock in sunblock. Just kidding. Costco had a great sale on this chemical-free brand and we live in Florida, so that’s what going on here. I don’t want them messing with medicine and stuff they shouldn’t, so I keep it simple here — toothpaste floss, hair brushes.

In my experience kids are a million times more likely to hang their towel on a hook rather than a bar. Pretty sure that’s an accurate statistic.

Instead of taking down our towel bar, I got tricky and used shower hooks and small rubber bands (from the dollar store that I normally use in Clara’s hair).

In the linen closet I keep sheets, humidifiers, first aid things (in the green baskets) and Clara’s potty (which we’re not really using yet, much to my dismay).

I keep the kids’ medicine in a cabinet in the laundry room. It’s all in that top box conveniently labeled “kids.” For the contents of the box and printable checklist on what do do when kids are sick, go here.


In the other cabinet (beside the medicine and vitamins) I keep the kids’ art supplies. I’ve heard amazing things about keeping all art supplies in a movable cart from Ikea. I absolutely love that idea, but my kids cannot be trusted. They still color furniture with markers, break and eat crayons and stick stickers where they shouldn’t be stuck. So the supplies and crafts stay in this cabinet where they can’t reach them. I use a utensil caddy for scissors, glue, flash cards and pencil holders. And I have a folder of stickers for rewards or projects.

I’ve written about this before, but it works for us to use magazine holders for artwork, one per child, and a box for homework to be completed and items to be returned to school. Here’s what I do with the art at the end of the year.

This is our lunch packing station. I use these divided containers and keep the water bottles and lids in separate boxes from the Dollar Tree. Behind them are popsicle molds that I like to put leftover smoothies in.

Right now I do my grocery shopping on Mondays, so Luca’s lunches on Monday are a hodgepodge, but on Mondays I make his lunches for the rest of the week. (Adriano is only in preschool and still home with me for lunch.)

Having a hook for each kid’s backpack keeps it from getting lost or ending up on the kitchen counter. Usually.

This idea has worked very well for us. Each kid has a color-coded basket for their shoes in the garage by the door. They are responsible for making sure they end up there. Luca has sand on the playground at school and it ends up everywhere so I don’t want his shoes inside. Sand! Florida can be so weird sometimes.

Tuesday is laundry day and since we all have to be very, very close together, all our messes merge. Also, I’m pretty sure the little one is eating Play-Doh in this picture. For cleaning scheduling ideas go here.

* * *

The place I have the most trouble is in the car. I think until I make a no-eating-or-crayons-or-stickers-or-taking-your-dirty-socks-off-or-bringing-random-toys rule it will remain in some state of chaos. And why do kids love shredding paper so much?

Once you have a game plan, talk about what is expected of the kids and make it a routine. Give some grace if you’re just now beginning. It can take kids some getting used to and friendly reminding. Here are our basic rules around here. They’re not major things, but they help keep things in order.

  1. No leaving clothes or towels on the floor. Put them in the hamper or on the hook.
  2. When you get home from school, put your shoes in your basket in the garage and hang your backpack on your hook.
  3. Bring your plate to the counter when you are finished eating. (But this one is not sinking in around here!)
  4. If you have toys in the living or dining room, get it back to the toy room when you’re done.

I don’t have a perfect house. I don’t want a perfect house. I want a simple, cozy, lived-in house with lots of people and laughing. I would rather spend time with my kids than cleaning and picking up. Organization helps that happen.

What about your family? Do you have a secret organizing weapon for kid stuff?

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See how I organize the rest of my house in this post.

What to do when kids are sick checklist

What to do when kids are sick

Is it just me or is this year’s cold season relentless? Two kids in this house have been sick for almost two months and one has gone mostly unfazed — not sure what his secret is. There were lingering chest colds, followed by a virus, and then the littlest got hand, foot and mouth disease! Wanna come over for a play date? Just kidding. We’re well now, but after all this time I’ve compiled a nice sick kid cheatsheet I thought I’d share.

In our medicine cabinet we have and use sparingly:

There is a place for medications, but are more things you can do to boost their immune systems and care for those too young to take these. Outside over-the-counter medications, these are the things I do to prevent spreading germs, boost their immune systems and ease their pain:

Medication for sick kids


I try to give my older two kids (ages 4 and 5) a daily multivitamin — sometimes I forget for a week — but when one starts sniffling I set them right out on the counter so we don’t forget. We use the gummy variety now, but I want to try these next.


Along with vitamins, I start everyone on probiotics. I buy the powder form so I can put it in drinks and smoothies and no one will know. It lasts longer than the chewables as well. It worked wonders for Clara when she was a cranky, gassy newborn too! I wished I had known with the other two babies. (More on newborn use here.)

Probiotics need to be refrigerated, but manufacturers say a two-day ship time won’t harm the strains. I order mine on the coldest days just to be safe though!


A humidifier adds moisture to the air which is useful during dry winters. It helps with nighttime coughing and those never-ending boogers. Just make sure you change the filter when it is discolored and leave it open to dry after use to keep the air clean.

Our nighttimes coughs were so intense and went on so long that I ended up ordering an inexpensive humidity monitor. It turned out our house’s humidity gauge was set all the way on low and the air was dry. After we corrected that and pointed the humidifiers toward the kids’ beds, the level reached a comfortable level and the coughing reduced significantly.

Baths themselves are perfect for a sick little person, but you might not have thought about epsom salts for kids.

Epsom salt

Baths themselves are perfect for a little sick person, but you might not have thought about epsom salts for kids. Epsom salt is good for pain and achey muscles. It can boost magnesium levels, help heal cuts, treat migraines. I use the original salt with no added fragrances that could irritate skin. This helped a great deal to help with Clara’s blisters from hand, foot and mouth disease. Poor girl.

Steam shower

This one brings back all the memories of holding a baby at midnight in our small bathroom with the shower on hot and sink plugged full of hot water. Nighttime is so hard for babies who are plugged up. This trick works well because the steam breaks up the mucus and you hold them upright so it can work its way down. I stick my 5 year old in the steamy bathroom too when he has major middle-of-the-night coughing fits. Works like a charm.

Saline and syringe

Saline nasal spray is helpful especially at the end of a cold when the snot is thick. And a bulb syringe is definitely not a baby crowd-pleaser, but it really helps when they’re too little to blow their nose. Heck, I still use it on my five year old occasionally when he refuses to blow his nose. I soak and clean it in warm water and buy a new one occasionally.

Make popsicles out of leftover baby food puree

Healthy popsicles

Homemade popsicles feel great on a sore throat and can help prevent dehydration. I use smoothies (sneaking some spinach in), applesauce, or juice.


Too much sugar will weaken the immune system, but honey is a natural way to help coughing. It coats the throat and has an anti-inflammatory effect. Depending on the type and whether it is raw or not, honey contains B6, niacin, thiamine, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium, and zinc. Whew. Honey, however, is not recommended for children under 12 months.


Now this might be a hard sell, but with a spoonful of honey as mentioned above, a warm cup of chamomile tea can hydrate, relax and offer your little one some upset stomach relief. It feels good on a sore throat as well. Now that I’m thinking about it, you could even include chamomile in a homemade popsicle.

Chicken soup

Your grandmother was right, chicken soup is good for you. Broth, especially bone broth (see how to make your own from a rotisserie chicken in this post), has anti-inflammatory properties. One study found that chicken soup “slows the amount of cells congregating in the lung area.”

Avoid dairy and bananas

Dairy and bananas make mucus thicker and milk will make an upset stomach worse.

No or very limited sugar

The less sugar the better when their little immune system is already compromised. I did some more digging on the subject of sugar and found that 1 teaspoon of sugar can shut down your immune system for up to five hours. And kids should only get about 3 teaspoons (12 grams) or less of sugar a day — um that’s one fun size Skittles packet!

Natural tea tree disinfectant spray


Of course wash your hands to prevent passing germs onto another child. Ask your children to frequently wash their hands. Tell them to cough inside their shirt or in their elbow if they are old enough.

Clean the things everyone in the house touches to prevent germs from spreading. Don’t miss these germy hot spots:

  • kitchen counters
  • kitchen sink
  • dining table
  • kitchen trash can
  • faucets
  • toothbrush holders
  • remote controls
  • mouse of family computer
  • bath towels
  • doorknobs
  • toilet and handle
  • refrigerator handles
  • toys


I was determined not to let the little one pass off hand, food and mouth to the other two! I kept hand sanitizer on the counter and washed my hands after each diaper change. Poor baby got quarantined to her Pack ‘n Play and room quite a bit. But it worked! No one else got it. (Do you like where Adriano decided to take a nap? Maybe nap attacks are his secret to never getting sick.)

Get some sun

If the weather permits, expose 80 percent of the child’s skin to the sun for 20 minutes to stimulate vitamin D production. Vitamin D helps boost the immune system and fight depression, among many more benefits. Obviously don’t over do it. A little sun goes a long way.

Ear infections

If your child is complaining of an earache, you can try this home remedy for garlic-infused coconut oil. I wouldn’t do this unless the child is old enough to communicate well and drain the oil out. Our pediatrician more or less laughed at me when I asked her about this, but it has worked for us on several occasions!

And now I need to say something disclaimery: Consult your doctor for diagnosis and recurrent ear infections. Ok, so here’s how it works:

  • Simmer a couple sliced cloves of garlic in a few tablespoons of coconut oil.
  • Let cool to room temperature.
  • Strain the garlic out of the oil with cheesecloth or paper towel.
  • The best option is to drop a few drops directly into the ear and leave for five minutes or more before draining. If kiddo won’t go for that, you can also put the garlic-infused oil on a cotton ball and leave it in the ear opening, though it is less effective.


Infrared thermometer

I finally bit the bullet and bought an infrared thermometer that requires no contact and gets a read in a second. No more struggling with keeping it in their mouths or armpits … or wherever. With three kids, this was well worth it. I take a few readings in a row to make sure I have an accurate reading.

Essential oils

I used to use Eucalyptus oil in the humidifier or in oil on the chest, as well as thieves oil on the feet, but now I’m reading that these two are possibly more for older kids. Also, we recently found out our oldest has mild asthma and I’ve read the oil diffusers can be harmful to kids with irritated respiratory tracts. I’m all for essential oils, but want to do more research before I go recommending them. Here is an interesting article with guidelines written by a doctor who uses them in her practice. Do you have an opinion on this? My guess is it depends on the child and the oil, but I have more reading to do.

* * *

It never fails that I forget half these tricks when a child starts to get sick, so I’m making my scribbled Post-It into a printable checklist. Here’s a copy for you:

What to do when kids are sick printable checklist. Outside over-the-counter medications, here are some ways to prevent spreading germs, boost immune systems and ease their pain.

Click image to download high resolution printable.
Images on the checklist:
 fox mug, popsicle mold, eye dropper, dino slippers

I keep one of those clear, shoe-boxed sized containers from the dollar store with all the kid cold stuff we have. During this long ordeal it came to live on a tray on the counter for ease. I like having it all together in one spot and then sticking it back, as is, into the cabinet. I also hung this checklist inside the same cabinet door.



Yes, I cleared off that counter to take a picture. It usually has a bunch of junk and laundry on it.

Do you have any sick remedies you use that are not included here? I’d love to hear!

I am not a medical doctor. Always consult your pediatrician for medical advice.
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And check my best friend Ashby’s helpful checklist for natural cold remedies here:

free printable checklist - natural cold remedies and prevention

Clean house schedule and playlist

Clean house playlist and printable weekly chart

My cleaning and menu-planning motivation has hit a brick wall the past couple of months. I mean, the rut is deep. I’m still not motivated, but I’m ejecting myself out of the rut. In the form of dancing. And coffee. But this is happening. I am doing this. I will clean my house.

The key for my motivation (besides a cup of joe) is a good playlist. My latest one’s got the whole family shaking their derrieres. Now the boys say they need some tunes to help them pick up the play room!

So press play and take a listen while you read the rest of the post!

Once music is in order, I need a plan. I’m going back to my one chore a day method. It worked well for me for a long time, I just need to jump back in. This is my new lineup:

Daily cleaning schedule printable

In case you can’t read my handwriting (in which I spelled miscellaneous correctly for once), my current cleaning schedule will be:

  • Monday: update budget, plan a menu, go to the grocery
  • Tuesday: laundry day
  • Wednesday: clean bathrooms
  • Thursday: deep clean kitchen
  • Friday: vacuum
  • Saturday: miscellaneous
  • Sunday: relax, Max

Get the schedule printable in this post.

These are a few things I’ve changed since my last cleaning schedule post:

Budget and menu planning

I allowed one day for updating the budget, menu planning and going to the grocery store. These chores are so crucial to saving money that I want to make sure I have time set aside so they get done at the beginning of the week.

See this post to find out how our shopping choices saved us over $2,500 last year.
See this post for menu planning for non-cooks.


It works better for me to have one laundry day than space it out over the week. Mainly because I hate laundry so very much and leave it in the washer overnight and forget about it in the dryer. Two weeks ago I was using the dryer like it was Clara’s dresser.

When I do all my loads in one day, the clothes don’t get wrinkled and then I don’t have to think about it for another week. My mom thinks this would never work for her, one laundry day, but this seems the only way for me right now. What are your thoughts?

Oh, and I don’t color sort the kids’ clothes. Gasp! I know, but I just can’t. Each kid has their own hamper and I dump the whole thing in and wash it in cold. No mishaps so far, but I don’t really buy white clothes for them, because … well, because they’re messy monsters! I find it easier to not mix their clothes. This way as soon as the dryer is done, I can fold and return all of one child’s clothes back to the closet. Then on to the next one.

* * *

What’s that? You think I could have cleaned my whole house in the time it took me to make a playlist, album cover and write this post? Yeah, probably. But now we can jam out together. Do you like the playlist so far?

What does your cleaning look like? Do you do it all in one day? Space it out in any planned order? Or ignore it, like I’ve been doing?