I don’t go around bragging about this, but I measure what toys or activities I buy my girls against my willingness to pick them up off the floor later.

There was one particular incident in a fit of madness when I purchased a “Mega” bag of large Legos. It was, at the time, a defiant act of selflessness. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction, like I was Mother Teresa going against my own interests and daily comforts for the betterment of others. I hoped it would provide more mental engagement, hours of play and less begging for my first-generation iPad.

Wrong on all counts.

First of all, there was no actual playing or engaging; just dumping out the entire bag and then moving on to something else, like stashing grapes under the couch so I can find an assortment of raisins six months later.

And although Rob and I teach the girls to help us pick up, they actually impede the process by a solid 15 minutes. This is why, in the cover of darkness, the Mega bag of large Legos was thrown in the trash and hauled out to the curb. I’m no Mother Teresa.

One thing we don’t think about when having children is the fact we’ve increased household messiness by 10,526,230%. From toy clutter to random poop smears to unidentifiable, permanently stuck-on goop on our kitchen chairs, it’s a straight-up nightmare.

But study after study has shown that people who kept messy homes had increased risk of health issues and heart disease and reported significantly higher levels of depression. People also expressed much higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol (a hormone that should help us run from a bear — not an overflowing diaper genie — and can make it much harder to shed excess fat and baby weight). It’s also been found that our visual cortex is overwhelmed by irrelevant objects, making it harder to concentrate, leaving us easily distracted and unfocused. The list goes on and on.

As if we don’t have enough problems!

This is why this one piece of advice my mom has imparted on me has been one of the best parenting hacks I’ve ever experienced: Never go to bed with a messy kitchen.

Even if it means hobbling in after putting the babies to bed, hunched over from dead-lifting a toddler all day. Just get the kitchen clean.

We can avoid other rooms, but we can’t avoid the hub of the home. The simple act of waking up as a mother of small children is hard enough as it is. Then I’d enter the kitchen with a sink piled high with dirty dishes, a floor covered in so many cracker crumbs it looked like a sandy coastal beach and a countertop that required a jackhammer to break off crusted-on marinara.

Cortisol rising!

But once I committed myself and my family to rally in the kitchen after dinner to make sure it was spotless, it significantly improved my life. That’s almost embarrassing to type, but whatever. Life is all about the details. I shared this last year on my podcast, “It’s Not that Serious,” and for weeks I received emails of women taking pictures of their clean kitchen in the morning with captions like, “I’m a new woman!”

It’s nearly impossible to manage all the stresses of modern motherhood. However, if we can be happier, more positive, healthier and focused just by waking up to a fresh, clean kitchen, then sister, grab a dishcloth and hand your family the dish soap. Your life is about to change for the better.

Thanks for the tip, Mom.

Anna Lind Thomas is a humor writer and mom to daughters Lucy and Poppy and English bulldog Bruno, wife to Rob Thomas and founder of HaHas for HooHas. She writes for momaha.com.

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