For most of us, the kitchen is the most-used room in the house, the room most quickly to become a total mess, and the one in which the mess tends to be, well, messier; this is obviously because it's where we deal with food. That means more spills, crumbs, and smells. Dishes pile up quickly, and if left very long become much more distasteful and difficult to deal with because of the food left to dry on them.
It's easy to say, "Just do them right after each meal!" but why not make this easier, if we can? Here are a few things that I think might help:
You've probably already done this, but if not, purchase melamine plates and plastic cups so that kids can handle them without breakage. Also, buy a couple of inexpensive step-stools so that kids can reach the counter-top, utensil drawers, etc., more easily.
Teach your kids to scrape leftover food from their plates into a trash can; if you have the kind with the lid that you have to push open, remove the lid so that they can do this easily. If it's stored under the sink, pull it out--same reason.
Once they have scraped the plates, either have them stack their dishes in the sink for a rinse (maybe partially fill the sink with water first) or if your dishwasher is really good, put them directly in the dishwasher. Toddlers will definitely need supervision, but will quickly learn how to correctly place dishes in the dishwasher.
Teach your kids to put salt and pepper shakers, unused utensils, and things like butter and condiments back where they belong while you continue removing serving dishes and putting leftovers in the fridge.
Once the table is cleared, have your kids wipe it with a clean, damp cloth. It won't be perfect, but it's important that they start learning to participate in this process early-on.
Send them to play while you finish loading the dishwasher; put heavily soiled dishes to soak, but wash them as soon as you can.
When the dishwasher has been run, enlist the children to help put things away. Have them stack things that go in upper cabinets neatly on the counter, but for things they can reach, like eating utensils, let them do it themselves!
This last step is often the hardest to make yourself do--it's what I call "Final Cleanup". It only takes a couple of extra minutes, but it will set the stage for the next meal. Thoroughly wipe the counters, stovetop, microwave, etc., and sweep the floor, making sure to get under the cabinet edges and the dinner table. Eventually your kids will be able to do this, but not until they're about 8 years old. So just do it! It makes such a difference, and you'll feel much better every time you walk into the kitchen!
Little ones actually enjoy being part of household chores, at least at first, so take advantage of their positivity while you can! Don't let yourself fall into the habit of thinking it's just easier to do it yourself--it may be true, but teaching them to do it, and making it a habit is well worth the effort involved!
Teaching little ones tasks of this sort builds their confidence, gives them an appropriate sense of worth, builds teamwork within the family, helps them learn to think through a process from beginning to end, and helps them learn to evaluate the quality of their work--are all the dishes off the table? are there any more crumbs I need to wipe off? is everything put away? You can't put a price on this kind of learning!
OK, you've hopefully got cleaner closets/less laundry to mess with, and now you're getting on top of your kitchen! The last area I'll touch on is the ever-expanding pile of toys. Here is a link to a previous blog post entitled "The Toy Dilemma: Three Strategies": https://www.kayewilsonparenting.com/post/the-toy-dilemma-3-strategies which you may find helpful, and I'll write again soon on this topic!