A. I'm sorry to admit that I've never found the pine-scented key for keeping a house clean (it's probably buried under all of the books, crayons, shoes, and sippy cups littering my family room). What I have picked up, however, are some useful tricks that bring a sense of order to my living space and my mind.
But first, try not to worry about other people's housekeeping habits. I know this seems as easy as erasing Sharpie marks from your wall -- hmmm, how did I come up with that analogy? -- but take it from me: You can't clean your own home by coveting your neighbor's.
Now that we've cleared our minds of envy, let's move on. A toddler can create a new mess every minute -- actually, unraveling a roll of toilet paper takes only seconds -- so why not harness your son's power by incorporating playtime with pick-up time? For example, make a game of cleaning up (they fall for this until they're 4 or 5). I ask my daughter to retrieve the blocks she spilled on the floor, and each time she drops one back in the toy bin, I make silly sound effects, like a raspberry or a mooing cow. Sure, she might dump them out again, but at least we're only making one mess.
It also helps to designate a play area and a sane area. The play area has bins or boxes where you can chuck toys at the end of the day, and shelves for books and puzzles. The sane area -- a room, a closet, or even just a table top with a vase -- remains off-limits to little people. It's invaluable to have one spot where you can feel calm inside the storm.
Finally, try to embrace the fact that your toddler is an active explorer. This is how he's learning about the world. So the next time you're watching your little hurricane blast through your living room, take a deep breath, grab a paper towel, and remember that this destruction is actually building brain power.