Just thinking a bit more about preschoolers and cleaning up.
Probably the physically hardest time in my parenting years (there have been many) was when our fourth child was born. It had been my third prolonged-bedrested pregnancy, so by the time the baby came (Annie, now 7), the house was disorganized, the children were desperately wanting "Mommy time," and I was completely overwhelmed with life.
My parents had driven 12 hours to be with us, and got there the day I came home from the hospital. I was swelled up like a balloon from retained water, exhausted from a middle-of-the-night delivery, and just wanting to sleep. The "big three" kids (7, 6 and 3) were bouncing all over the walls, interrupting like crazy, wanting to hold the baby, play "horsey" with Grandpa, and show me all the pictures they'd drawn for the baby while I was in the hospital.
Meanwhile, my mom had made a quilt for Baby Annie and was wanting to show it to me. Her mother (the kids' great grandmother) had made one for the other three. Now that she was gone, my mom wanted to carry on the tradition. Mom does not consider herself crafty, so this was a Big Deal for her to make a whole quilt. For the life of me, I wanted to be polite and admire all the detail she'd put so lovingly into it.
But I couldn't think straight. I was trying to make the big kids be more quiet, hold a fussy newborn, make my parents feel at home, listen to my mom, admire children's artwork. All the while sweating profusely (hormones gone crazy), looking at my disordered house, mentally calculating all that I needed to get done now that I was home. Everything needed a little piece of me, even that overflowing laundry basket sitting there. I just knew I was never going to get it folded.
Suddenly I burst into tears.
I didn't even have to say anything. Mom just knew (perhaps it all the insanity around her that gave her that big fat clue?). She simply said, "What can I do to help you?"
The thing that was priority (in my fogged thinking) was getting that laundry folded. I felt so stupid asking. Surely there was something more pressing. But we stopped everything, I nursed the baby (tears streaming down my hormone-laden face), Dennis took the kids out somewhere, and Mom folded my laundry for me. Right then, right there, after they'd been in the car 12 hours. It wasn't polite, but it was what I needed. (Thank you, Mom!)
I tell that story because I am SO BAD at asking for help. Good thing my mom was so perceptive. But there are times - some more prolonged than others - when no one is going to "guess" what you need (while you suffer the martyr's death), and you just have come out and ask someone to step in and do what you can not.
My husband began to understand my overwhelmed-ness during that pregnancy, and for the next few years, he made sure we had room in the budget for housecleaning help on a fairly regular basis (He knew it was either that, or he was going to have to send me to the psychiatrist, and this was definitely cheaper!). He was already doing virtually all the grocery shopping for the family - something he continued to do for nine years straight. I'm so dumb, I even had to learn how to ask my husband for help in specific areas. Sheesh.
All that to say...having little ones in the house is tough, and just keeping up with their stuff is a huge job. For a few years in there, it helped me mentally when I knew all I had to do was keep up with the daily stuff, and could "delegate" the job of actually cleaning to someone else sometimes.
I admire those who seem to "do it all" - but for the rest of us, it's okay to compromise, especially during particularly busy times.
If you don't want to pay someone, maybe you have a friend who loves to clean and organize. You can swap for child care, or offer her a service that she considers difficult but that comes easily to you. Or you can trade off kids so you and a friend or neighbor can each do some work uninterrupted.
There are ways to do it besides just outright paying, but we have to get creative, and we have to learn to ask.