No one really likes housework, but for most it’s an unending task. If you have kids, chances are, you can go days without seeing any improvement, regardless of how much time you spend cleaning the house. It’s disheartening, and it can seem impossible to get motivated. As a mother of three and the previous inhabitant of a 480-square-foot house (where I lived with two other people, four dogs and a cat), I knew I had to develop a better system for cleaning the house if I was ever going to make progress. While it’s still tough to keep anything perfectly tidy, this system helps minimize the most obvious clutter and aggravation, takes care of potential health hazards, and tackles a variety of cleaning tasks.
Schedule your house cleaning
Whether you’re a work-away-from home, work-from home, or stay-home parent, it’s critical that you set a certain amount of time for cleaning every single day. If you try to do it all, you’ll burn out and drive yourself crazy. Make it reasonable and ensure that it fits around everything else you have to do, i.e. set aside an hour while kids are napping, just after lunch, or just before picking up kids from school. I usually schedule half the time on Saturday and none for Sunday. Seriously, whether you’re religious or not, you need a day off to decompress. The dishes won’t attack you in your sleep if they’re left in the sink overnight.
With the amount of time you’ve allotted for cleaning – here’s the weird news. Only 1/3 of that time is for normal everyday chores such as laundry, dishes, and picking up clutter. The other 2/3 is for things that last and, if you have a yard, regular outdoor chores. Sound a little confusing? I’ll clarify.
Deep-cleaning the house
We’ll start with the hardest first. Forget about the pile of laundry (okay, maybe go throw one load in the wash really quick, just so it’s ready when you get to the end), the dishes and the clutter. I find that, especially when the house is particularly messy, I have a hard time focusing on one thing if I don’t use this methodical approach. So first, set a timer for 1/3 of your allotted cleaning time.
Pick a room in your house, and then pick a wall in that room. Starting on the corner to your left and working right along the wall, clean and organize everything in that portion of the room. If you make it to the end before the timer goes off, start on the next wall. Ignore the kids’ toys or dirty socks in the middle of the room; it’s not time for everyday clutter yet. This is the time to scrub appliances, wash walls, sort old mail, and other such tasks. Once an entire room is done, assess whether or not the floor should be scrubbed or otherwise deep cleaned too. When the timer goes off, immediately drop the task and move on to the next portion.
Outdoor chores and yard work
Your laundry should be clean now – throw it into the dryer or hang it on the line before you re-set your timer. If you don’t have a yard, common area outside of your living quarters, or other outside areas, then you can always dedicate this portion to more deep-cleaning. Set your timer for another 1/3 of the cleaning time.
If you have an outside dog kennel, clean this first since it must be done every day. Now pick your yard, deck/porch, or outside portion of your house. Decide on one task you’ll do for that portion of your outside space, and tackle it exclusively. You might choose to rake, pull weeds, wash windows, sweep the porch, mow the lawn, or even whip out the pruning shears for those scraggly shrubs. Once again, work until your timer goes off, then stop immediately.
Everyday household chores
Now it’s time for that last 1/3 of cleaning time – the bit that usually takes up 90% of your time and produces at least as large a portion of your stress. Set your timer, and go. Pick up the floors, wash the dishes, fold and put away the laundry, dust, vacuum, wipe down the counters and make the beds. Anything that you normally do every day, attack it with a vengeance. Once again, though, it’s very important to drop it immediately when the timer goes off.
When you pick up clutter, consider entering each room with a clothes basket, a garbage can, and a box. Pick everything up off the floor, throwing it into the most appropriate receptacle until there’s nothing left on the floor in that room. Put clothes in the wash pile, throw away the trash, then sort the box to put away everything else.
Final thoughts on keeping the house clean
Remember that you don’t have to do all three of your cleaning blocks at one time. Maybe you can sneak one in before the kids wake up or you go to work in the mornings, then one at lunch and another in the early afternoon.
For the best results, all adults should have scheduled cleaning times every day. Yes, husbands and wives, I’m talking about both of you. Older children can also pitch in. I’ve had great success issuing “chore cards” to my older son, who has been doing these little step-by-step chores since he was 6. My 3-year-old daughter can’t read cards, but she does follow along and pick up her own toys while I work.
This method works for me because I can see results every single day. They say that humans can pay attention to a single task for about 50 minutes before their mind starts to wander, so I usually schedule three 40-minute blocks a day for a total of two hours cleaning, then one hour on Saturday, and none on Sunday. It works because I shut off the phone, minimize distractions, and focus only on the task at hand. Multi-tasking has been proven to be ineffective, so try not to do it in your cleaning either. Schedule according to your own time needs and the necessities of your own home. If you stick to the plan, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your home starts looking great.