I think the plan I've come up with is really going to work for me, but I completely acknowledge that there are definitely going to be forces working against me. Namely, Hannah and sometimes Chris. =) I have never successfully run a household filled with children, but I have successfully run a classroom filled with children. My classroom was always neat, tidy, and clean. Here are some of my ideas for keeping the childhood clutter to a minimum:
1) Make sure there's a place for everything. Clutter can't be put away easily if there is not a designated place for it to belong. If your kids are old enough to sort their toys when putting them away, make sure the bins are clearly labelled making it easy for the kids to find the proper spot. In my classroom each type of toy was in its own container. I took a picture of each toy, and put the pic on the front of the bin where it belonged.
2) I have toy bins (baskets, trunks, and other decorative containers) in the family room, Hannah's bedroom, kitchen, and the playroom for toys. That way things can be quickly tossed into a bin instead of organized, sorted, and returned to the room they belong in a pinch.
3) If you have multiple children and, therefore, multiple homes for different toys, I saw this great idea that I will definitely institute when we have more kids. You can personalize them with an initial, decorate them with fabric that would match a child's room, or assign each child their own color to make it especially theirs. Then hang it on their bedroom's door knob to collect random trinkets that have been left lying around throughout the day.
4) When I'm collecting clutter, I typically walk around the house with a laundry basket. I'll go on a mission to find everything that belongs in our master bedroom, put it in the basket, and carry it to that room. I usually repeat for each room. This way you only have to make one trip to each room instead of multiple trips with multiple handfuls.
5) Enlist your kids in the cleaning process. You can assign them age-appropriate chores for the Zone of the day. For example, if it's kitchen day, hand your toddler a bag, and let them go to town picking up crumbs off the floor. Or you can allow them to help to clean the face of appliances by soaking a paper towel in vinegar. They can wipe to their heart's content without having to handle harsh chemicals. Have your preschoolers help with making their beds, sorting laundry, etc. Of course, you'll have to accept an outcome that is developmentally-appropriate. When it's time to pick up toys, make it into a game. You can have a special hat (think decorated hard hats or a silly child-decorated baseball cap or visor) that the kids don for cleaning. Set a timer, grab the hats, and let the kids go to town. And don't forget the power of a simple sticker chart for your little helpers. Let this be a reward-only system and not associated with punishment to keep it fun and upbeat.
I think the thing I'm going to have to keep in mind when Hannah's older (and when we add more children to the mix) is that my standard of perfection will have to be compromised if I want Hannah to help cheerfully. If I go behind her "fixing" her accomplishment, I'll steal the sense of pride. If I demand perfection, I'll end up in the looney bin, and she'll never want to help fearing my disapproval. So a valiant effort should be rewarded and the imperfections ignored.
I hope this system works well for you. If you have any ideas, questions, or concerns, please feel free to comment!