10 Tips You Learn About Laundry in the First Year of Parenthood

10 Tips You Learn About Laundry in the First Year of Parenthood

While there’s no way to make washing a mountain of baby laundry fun, there are little tricks that will make it bearable. And luckily, new parents like nothing more than sharing their hard-earned words of wisdom. 

I received two pieces of baby laundry advice when I became a mom that I’ve since gifted — and this advice is so good, I do consider it a gift — to every new parent I meet. The first: Because newborn poop is so thin that it gets everywhere, invest in a bunch of washable changing pad liners. Or, if you’d rather go for something disposable on your most bleary-eyed days, get a bunch of puppy pee pads from the pet store. (Apologies to the planet, but occasionally convenience wins when you’re running on two hours of sleep and baby is on his fifth blowout of the day.) The second: Use waterproof mattress pads and crib sheets in three alternating layers so you can quickly pull off pee-, barf-, and/or poop-covered (it will happen) bedding in the middle of the night and have a fresh set ready to go.

Read on for more tried-and-true pointers from people who’ve been there.

1. Simplify sorting with one color palette.

“Buy things that are a similar color: If you’re starting from scratch with baby clothes, sheets, and blankets, it’s easier to do the frequent loads of laundry required with a newborn or infant if everything is around the same color. For my second baby, we tried to stick to whites and light-colored items. Everything dirty went into the wash together, and we didn’t worry about sorting. (That is, if you care about sorting things, which I have cared about since my mom turned all my whites pink when I was a kid.)” — Melissa Maleske, Chicago, mom to a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old

2. Use folding as an excuse for watching TV.

“I never thought I’d be the type of person to do laundry multiple times a week, but here I am. And it’s actually a lot more manageable than blocking off an entire day of marathon laundry. I do two to three loads over the course of the week and then try to fold on a night when I can relax with an audiobook or stream something.” — Steph Pituc, Minneapolis, mom to a 2-year-old

3. But remember that folding too carefully is for chumps.

“Don’t worry about folding your baby’s clothes too well. Like many others, I got really into the Marie Kondo-style folding to maximize space. After doing our baby’s first load of laundry, I spent lots of time folding everything neatly. By the third load, I ditched that and just folded everything in half once, and sloppily.” — Michael Sewall, Chicago, dad to a 2-month-old

4. Buy a lot of onesies, and buy them cheap. 

“In terms of having a boy, you get a whole lot more leaks. They have different parts and they spray out. Every night he has a wet onesie. I have to wash so much more often [than I did with my daughter]. Under 1 year old, they grow out of clothing so fast, it’s just ridiculous. I like getting it cheap, used, or on consignment and giving it new life with soap and laundry bars.” — Nicole Musillami, La Grange, Illinois, mom to a 7-month-old and a 5-year-old

5. Take advantage of sunlight to revitalize yellowed whites.

“My daughter loves blueberries and raspberries. Even with a bib, you can’t control it. I use Dreft Laundry Stain Remover spray. It gets anything out of everything. And then I put [the clothing] in the sun. Especially whites — breast milk or formula spit-up yellows the clothes, but I leave [them] out all day and [they dry] pretty white. It’s literally the best.” — Rachal Baillie, Manalapan, New Jersey, mom to a 16-month-old

6. Find out right away if new clothes are going to shrink.

“A friend provided this piece of advice to pregnant me that was valuable: When gifted clothing, especially for babies, wash it immediately so you know how much it shrinks.” — Marisa Bassett, Rhode Island, mom to a 5-year-old 

7. Know that it will become a habit — eventually.

“My husband is very committed to cleanliness in the house. When my son was born, we did laundry basically every day. We have a laundry hamper in our son’s bathroom, and so at night we take his clothes, put them in the hamper, and then give them a wash. [Now] we do that every two or three days, whenever it’s full — in-unit laundry is obviously a privilege. All of those things combined with a general ethos that clean is good has made it a habit at this point.” — Tyler Greene, Bay Area, dad to a 2-year-old

8. Take babies along for the ride.

“For apartment living without an in-unit washer/dryer, wear the baby in a carrier to do laundry. [Mine] both loved being in the carrier. It did mean I needed to find some crazy angles to reach the bottom of the top loader. A fun hamper can get a toddler into helping put the dirty laundry in the right place. We feed the froggy!” — Kerry Middlemas Bartlett, Hudson, Ohio, mom to a 6-month-old and a 4-year-old

9. Treat stains immediately.

“I gift every new mom with a few OxiClean Max Force Gel Sticks because that shit gets the shit out of the shit! Also, because I had that, I learned the importance of rinsing and treating as quickly as possible, if you want to save the outfit. I also love my Woolzies [dryer balls], only found when pregnant and researching sensitive baby stuff. I’m a basic-level laundress, so these discoveries made me feel like Martha Stewart.” — Jennon Bell Hoffmann, La Grange Park, Illinois, mom to a 7-month-old and a 4-year-old

10. Breathe: The laundry might not be as bad as you think.

“I’d heard lore about how terrible it would be. It really wasn’t. There was a lot of it, but the clothing was so small we’d throw it in with ours. We always wash baby clothes in cold water, so we only put it in with nicer clothes, like blouses and pants, not towels and sheets, which we always did in a hot wash. It was a bunch of stuff, sure, but it didn’t feel like a lot because it was itty-bitty clothing.” — Zoya Arora, Ames, Iowa, mom to a 2-year-old, with another baby due in October

Apartment Therapy’s Laundry, Sorted vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Samsung.

If Green Cleaners Aren’t Cutting It, You Might Need a Cleaning “Re-Set”

If Green Cleaners Aren’t Cutting It, You Might Need a Cleaning “Re-Set”

Shifrah Combiths


With five children, Shifrah is learning a thing or two about how to keep a fairly organized and pretty clean house with a grateful heart in a way that leaves plenty of time for the people who matter most. Shifrah grew up in San Francisco, but has come to appreciate smaller town life in Tallahassee, Florida, which she now calls home. She’s been writing professionally for twenty years and she loves lifestyle photography, memory keeping, gardening, reading, and going to the beach with her husband and children.

Overwhelmed with Cleaning? You Don’t Need Balance — You Need a “Tilt”

Overwhelmed with Cleaning? You Don’t Need Balance — You Need a “Tilt”

Shifrah Combiths


With five children, Shifrah is learning a thing or two about how to keep a fairly organized and pretty clean house with a grateful heart in a way that leaves plenty of time for the people who matter most. Shifrah grew up in San Francisco, but has come to appreciate smaller town life in Tallahassee, Florida, which she now calls home. She’s been writing professionally for twenty years and she loves lifestyle photography, memory keeping, gardening, reading, and going to the beach with her husband and children.

The “10 Things” Rule Keeps My House Uncluttered, Even with a Family of Six

The “10 Things” Rule Keeps My House Uncluttered, Even with a Family of Six

When my husband and I decided to have a large family, I knew some clutter and chaos would come along with it. But what I didn’t realize is that it would only take one simple rule, implemented consistently, to maintain some semblance of order in the mayhem. It’s been dubbed the “10 things” rule, and it means I can see the playroom floor at the end of the day in spite of having four sons under the age of seven. 

Believe it or not, my home actually stays more organized with the “10 things” rule than it did when we had no children. The rule is simple: anytime my family transitions between events or locations every single person — even (and especially) the kids — grabs 10 things to clean up.

The rule was born from necessity: After having a few kids, we realized how much stuff everyone accumulates over time, and how quickly it can clutter our home. The kitchen island was always filled with bills to be filed, pieces of Happy Meal toys, and cereal boxes that somebody left out. The living room floor was home to shoes in a variety of sizes scattered about. 

The “10 things” rule wasn’t the first trick we tried. Making sure every kid put back every toy they took out wasn’t working. Doing a full house clean up after bedtime wasn’t working either, and it also didn’t teach the kids to take care of their own stuff. So instead, we focused on picking up during transition times — like right after a meal or before leaving the house —and over the years, the 10 things rule has evolved to become even more effective. Neighbors, cousins, and playdates know about it because it’s become part of my family’s routine, and I’m sure it will live on into the boys’ teen years (at which point I’ll be met with a blank and indifferent stare and the rule may die — who knows).

Until then, it works. And if you want to try it for yourself, here are five tips on how to implement the “10 things” rule in your own home:

Match the number to the mess

Sometimes the 10 things rule is actually five things, like when we are in a hurry, or 20 things, like when everyone needs to clean up after a long playdate. Quickly analyze the size of the mess, and choose your number. This can help kids with logic, reasoning, and math skills too at an early age, as they make predictions of how many items each child needs to pick up to be able to see the floor again.

The reason all of the neighbor kids know this trick is because they help clean up after playing, too. The rule is catchy, and it sticks — sometimes other parents even help initiate it when they are picking up their kids to leave. It works because a whole floor clean up isn’t really doable, but 10 things really puts a dent in the clutter quickly, especially when you multiply it by five little kids or more. 

Take it outside the house

Much to my kids’ chagrin, the rule follows us outside the house too. Eating pizza at the zoo? Grab five things to help clean up the picnic table. Exiting our purple minivan, affectionately called “Grape”? Grab five things off the floor to bring inside (this is my personal favorite after finding an apple core that had been dissolving in my van since the beginning of creation).

Be consistent with transitions

At first there was lots of whining and the rule seemed to just delay the already difficult process of getting out of the house with all these people. But over time and with some consistency, it became as routine as using the restroom or filling up a water bottle on the way out. For a few weeks, use it at every transition until it becomes the norm, and then you may even find some other family members initiating it. The transitions that work best for us are: before TV time, before or after a meal, before leaving the house, before bedtime, and right after weekend breakfasts (before fun things start happening).

Another fun strategy that’s originated from the 10 things rule is racing to see who can finish the fastest in multiple rooms. With six people (five able to help, until the baby is old enough to discover the magic), six rooms in the house are picked up in a matter of seconds. It has also taught the value of teamwork when two of my sons decide to tackle one room that is more daunting together, at which point we might be shooting for 30 things, such as when baskets of clean laundry need to be put away.

The rule isn’t perfect, and neither are any of us. Sometimes we have lazy days and my 4-year-old slow-plays it: “putting Legos away” by building them into a structure while everyone else helps. Or, the 2-year-old spends the whole time trying to find shoes, ending with only two of his 10 things. But overall, the tip has saved our sanity, our home, and our parenting from stress and mayhem, and created a place we all want to come home to.

I’m Done Apologizing for Clutter — And Mental Health Experts Agree

I’m Done Apologizing for Clutter — And Mental Health Experts Agree

It happens each evening: I walk through a doorway and inevitably trip over something that belongs to one of the little humans I just tucked into bed. Be it LEGOs, dirty socks, pacifiers, or a half-open book, the feeling is always the same. The volcano of parenting failures that’s been bubbling since dawn suddenly erupts like flaming lava. I’m filled with an anxiety I can’t name.

I spend most days juggling three kids, a full-time job, a marriage, personal fulfillment — all amidst a pandemic — yet, clutter is the thing that breaks me. Sure, one day when my kids are grown I’ll likely miss the plastic menagerie that greets my feet each day, but that day is not today. In every corner of my home lies a reminder that I am not enough: Toys strewn about every living space, piles of laundry in all areas of the house, and a constant parade of crumbs that lead you from room to room like Hansel and Gretel marking their path back home. 

A quick scroll of my Instagram newsfeed seals the deal: Other parents can raise kids and keep their homes clean. They can have well-designed adult spaces with nary a toy in sight. 

What am I doing wrong? I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

“After spending a year home, my mental health took a toll on me,” says Brooke Melrose, mom of three in Medina, Ohio. “I have 3 kids, a dog and husband who have all been here since the shutdown. I can’t do it all, all of the time,” she says.

Clutter, as it turns out, isn’t just about stuff. 

What’s behind our emotional response to clutter?

I talked to psychotherapist and parenting coach Ana Sokolovic, MS, who says, “[Clutter] often has a meaning we attach to it. For parents, clutter can be a mirror for all the insecurities we harbor. It reminds them of the overall mental clutter they need to organize as they manage multiple roles and responsibilities.”

Throw in social media comparison, and home clutter can quickly deflate even the most positive parent’s spirit.  

“Due to social media, culture of neutral colors, impeccable kitchens, and [perfectly organized] Montessori toys, mothers carry stress to emulate the standards brought forth by bloggers and Pinterest,” explains Dr. Sandra Espinoza, PsyD. “There is this idea that you have it ‘all together’ if you [can maintain] a minimalistic aesthetic in your home,” she continues.

Dr. David Lewis, a UK-based psychologist, has coined a term for this phenomenon: Home Dysmorphic Disorder. The concept, he says, “starts with discontent about one, often minor, feature — such as an ornament, picture, or item of furniture. It then quickly spreads, like an oil slick, to trigger unhappiness with the whole room or even the entire house.” 

Our homes are places of security, safety, and comfort. The way we decorate and live in them can be a reflection of ourselves and an extension of our self-image. This is all challenged, Dr. Lewis explains, as we are exposed to the choices and homes of others. Clutter is no longer hidden behind your walls, in a sense. 

A home is a place that a person should experience as a refuge, a safe haven from the world,” Dr. Espinoza says. “We are seeing women [especially] who cannot experience their home as a safe place; instead, they experience it as a place of defeat.”

What happens next is familiar to most of us: burnout. Impatience and frustration directed at your kids. Outbursts like, “No, I can’t play, I have to clean!” I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t guilty of it all. “It’s fairly common for parents to think, ‘I’d love to play with my kids or go for a walk with my family, but there’s just this huge mess,’” notes mental health therapist Billy Roberts, LISW-S, “and this line of thinking can lead to action paralysis.”

“When I first became a parent, I spent tons of time per day cleaning,” Juliana Parker, M.S. APCC, associate therapist and mom of three, tells me. “My house looked clean, but I was stressed out, tired, and felt like I wasn’t enjoying my time with my kiddos because I was too focused on how my house looked. [I had to learn to] gently and slowly release the expectations that everything has to be perfect.”

In the past year especially, we’ve had to face down a lot of the ideals we held for ourselves and our lives in favor of survival. If I could count the times I’ve closed my eyes amidst the commotion of children playing and silently thanked the universe for the safety of our home and the health of my family, it would be in the hundreds. So why am I prioritizing presence with my family and a clean home equally, when one thing is infinitely more important to me?

Now, I’m done apologizing for clutter. I’m done trying to make my house look as if children don’t live here, too. I’m done feeling inadequate when, in fact, I am thriving and raising children who are doing the same.

Parents can refocus some of their energy on their own self-care, which can also involve their children, Roberts tells me. “Going for walks, baking cookies, laughter, can all come before decluttering the cabinets. In fact,” he says, “focusing on self-care will almost assuredly improve productivity around household tasks through re-energizing a parent’s mind and heart.”

Melrose says, “I remember [my mom’s] stress about cleanliness. I remember her cleaning and vacuuming constantly. So maybe subconsciously I want to be the opposite. And I’m OK with it.” 

A few years into my parenting journey, I gave up on staying on top of laundry. “I wish I was a person who can stay up to date with laundry, but I’m not,” I told myself. I wasn’t failing at something, I was choosing to prioritize something else. 

Accept — and maybe even appreciate — this life stage.

As a culture, we seem to obsess over having our houses look like children don’t live there. The problem with that is, of course, that children live there. And as little humans with their own needs and wants, they come with their share of stuff. This is a season of life. 

“My girl’s playroom is in a constant state of chaos… to me,” says Jo Anna Albiar, mom of one in Lubbock, Texas. “I see a mess. But when I get in there to clean, when I get down on the floor and see the little worlds she has created, I stop myself. It makes me so happy to see my 5-year-old do science experiments, run through a rain puddle without shoes, leave swimsuits scattered. I want her to know this is her home. ”

Recognizing my children as their own beings is one of the hardest and most important mindset shifts I am making. My need for a clean, tidy home is not more important than their desire to play; but both things can exist together with cooperation and compromise. For me, that means mitigating my desires for clean floors by designating “dump baskets” in each room — at the end of the day, everything on the floor gets dumped into a basket. I can breathe a little easier, and my kids can still be (ahem, messy) kids.

It also means that I work hard to have my kids understand that we all care for the home. Even kids can have simple responsibilities — whether it’s helping with laundry, cleaning toys, or wiping down counters. Adding onus onto their plates takes some off mine and begins to teach life skills like self-sufficiency and teamwork. 

“To embrace clutter, we must change our perception,” explains Sokolovic. Instead of viewing clutter in a purely negative light, she tells us, we need to see it as a reflection of our current priorities. She notes “It’s an opportunity to smile at the chaos with gratitude that the family is healthy enough to make a mess.”

Clutter in my home is a privilege. To have a house filled with books, art supplies, and plenty of food is something I’ve always dreamed of. The disasters of each day can be tiny morsels of recognition if I choose to look at them like this: “You are doing a good job. You are giving them a life full of love and learning.” 

The truth is that my life — and the lives of the families I interviewed — are not failures, regardless of how cluttered our homes may be. My kids are happy and inquisitive and safe. They have a mom who likes to bake and paint and sit in the grass with them. She makes a lot of mistakes and she doesn’t know what she’s doing most of the time, but she’s always there.

My home is often a mess. I am not. 

Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.