With all the demands on our time and energy, it can feel like we’re constantly choosing between having a clean house and having a life. But when you get intentional about your housekeeping, you no longer have to choose.
Pop quiz time: When’s the last time you changed your sheets? Washed all the random throw blankets? Vacuumed under your furniture? Vacuumed under your stove? *shudder*
If you can’t answer all or any of these questions, don’t feel bad. A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to either. My daily house cleaning was pretty consistent, but basically anything that didn’t happen on a daily basis was done very haphazardly.
The Haphazard Cleaning Spectrum: A Primer
#confessiontime: I only remembered to change the sheets when they started to get that feeling (you know the one I’m talking about). I only thought to wash the throw blankets if the cat happened to vomit on them. And “big” jobs like vacuuming under the furniture or de-griming the floor under the oven? Those only happened during major bouts of Procrasticleaning.
Procrasticleaning (noun) – To clean and/or organize as a coping method (procrastination) to doing work.
Source: Urban Dictionary (of course)
Procrasticleaning is problematic for two reasons. First, you neglect your actual priorities (you know, like work). Second, you’re still cleaning haphazardly — over-doing easy or visible tasks, while completely ignoring also-important-but-less-visible tasks. So you end up wasting time on two fronts. Not cool.
On the other end of the spectrum are Panic Cleaners. Big jobs around the house don’t get done until there is a looming deadline — usually in the form of houseguests — that turns you into a Raging Tornado of Tidy for a few very unpleasant days. This leads to exhaustion, resentment, and guilt, which prevents you from enjoying both your clean home and your houseguests.
Somewhere in the middle of the Spectrum is the Chore Vortex (aka Choretex™). This is that thing where you set out to do one specific chore, but while doing that chore you notice like six other chores that need to be done RIGHT NOW. Then your 30 minute cleaning sesh turns into four hours and, again, you end up angry, resentful, and hating everything.
So, regardless of where you tend to fall on the Haphazard Cleaning Spectrum, the answer is simple: Get a system! At least, it sounds simple. There are countless articles on how to introduce a home cleaning routine to meet the demands of modern life. You can do one chore per day, one room per day, or marathon the whole house on weekends. Those are all fine suggestions depending on your work schedule and tolerance for cleaning, but they all have one issue in common: they’re all routines.
Anything but ordinary
I personally have never had a career with a consistent, 9-5/M-F, predictable schedule. This used to make me feel weird, but nontraditional work schedules are actually becoming more and more common. These days, many of us work from home, have a side hustle, or take part in evening or weekend activities. When the entire concept of a “routine” day or week no longer exists, these cleaning systems just don’t make sense for our lives. So how are we supposed to keep up with housework consistently?
The Intentional Housekeeping System
I developed this two-part system over the past year out of necessity, and it is hands-down the most effective cleaning “routine” I’ve ever had — precisely because it’s barely a routine at all. The premise is simple: Keep a list of chores you want to do every week in a very visible place, and check each task off whenever you have time to do it. Easy enough. But my favorite part is what really sets this system apart from so many others.
Before you do any actual cleaning, you make a list of every chore you intend to do over the course of the year. Then, you predetermine how frequently you will perform each task. This gives you a bird’s eye view of all the household cleaning tasks you need to do for the entire year, not just the weekly stuff. Here’s how it works:
1 | Weekly Chore Tracking:
In addition to staying on top of the small, daily tasks, the secret to keeping your home under control is to clean regularly in small chunks. Some people recommend assigning one task to every week day and repeating week to week. But if you’re like me and you prefer (or your schedule requires) freedom and flexibility, try my tracking method.
Rather than having a set cleaning schedule or weekly routine, I use a visual tracking system to see in one glance all the chores I need to do for the week. Then, I simply check off each item as I complete it. If you’re a planner, you can assign days to each task depending on the flow of your week. If you’re the spontaneous type, you can just keep an open block somewhere in your daily schedule for “chores,” then refer to the list and do whatever feels needed or whatever you have time for. Or, you can knock off several tasks in one day if you have enough time (or you just don’t want to clean all week).
Some tasks never change and need to be done every single week, but what about those less-frequent jobs? This system takes those into account too!
2 | Periodic Chore Planning:
The second part of this system focuses on non-weekly chores; those bigger jobs that you only need to do monthly, quarterly, annually, etc. To be honest, before I developed this system, I rarely did these kinds of chores, simply because they were not on my radar. This led to Panic Cleaning when I noticed the curtains were covered in cat fur (or worse) or the sofa slipcovers had stains (always right before having people over!).
And beyond those types of chores, there’s just stuff you need to do as a responsible homeowner. (Did you know your dishwasher has a filter that needs to be cleaned? Until recently, neither did I). Your dryer vents need to be cleared periodically (not just the lint trap!). Your refrigerator coils need to be dusted. And your vacuum cleaner will die an early death if you don’t wash or replace the filters somewhat regularly.
So that’s a lot of stuff. Idk about you, but I have more important things to do than think about refrigerator coils. Enter, Chore Planners!
After you determine what all you need to do and how often you need to do it, you plug in those tasks on these babies by frequency. Each week, you’ll take a few of these tasks and add them to your Weekly Tracker, then complete them according to the same “rules” as rest of the weekly chores. This way, you’re never forced to do a bunch of bigger chores all at once — and you assure that they actually get done.
This might sound like a lot of work, but fear not. I’m providing copies of all the documents you need for this system — all you need to do is print ’em, fill ’em out, and get to cleaning! Keep reading to get your free downloads.
Why save it for spring?
I’m somewhat anti-Spring Cleaning. Why stay cooped up inside deep cleaning dust bunnies when the weather’s finally turning nice? Bill and I love to travel in spring, we always have company in the spring, and it’s just a nice time of year to be outdoors. I personally prefer to do infrequent cleaning jobs in the dead of winter and the middle of summer (I may be a native Southerner, but I do not tolerate the August heat very well).
I think Spring Cleaning remains a thing because there are so many cues in our society — from magazines to sales at Target — that remind us to do those Big Chores at this time. Without these external reminders, we might never think about them. But when you keep a list of all the chores for the year at your fingertips, you don’t need these external cues to prompt your memory. So if you’re like me and Spring Cleaning has always felt forced to you, make your own schedule based on the rhythms of your life. Here’s how:
Customizing the system
Since everyone’s home, lifestyle, and preferences are different, I’ve made this system totally customizable by providing blank trackers. But I know how time consuming it is to come up with a comprehensive chore list from scratch (like, really time consuming). So to help get you going, I’m also providing a sample copy of my personal Master Chore List that you can totally cheat off of or use as a template to make your own.
Once you download the documents, print them off and go line by line through the Master List. First, cross off anything that doesn’t apply to you or your home.
Second, if you disagree with the frequency of a certain task, change it! There’s also a blank version of the document in the downloads if you want to make it your own.
Your house, your rules
When deciding the frequency of chores, be realistic about how much you can actually get done in a week. This is why I don’t change sheets weekly — that adds 1-2 more loads of laundry per week, and there are other things that matter more to me. Also we never eat in bed, so that helps.
Melissa Maker, the face of YouTube channel Clean My Space, urges you to define your “MIA’s,” or Most Important Areas. When building daily or weekly routines, focus on cleaning those areas before other areas that don’t matter as much to you. You’re the one who lives in your house (and possibly your significant other, so involve them too!), so YOU get to decide what “clean” means to you. (Remember what we talked about last week with organizing preferences? This totally applies to cleaning too.)
I’m sure some people will be horrified to learn that I only clean our baseboards twice a year…but we don’t have kids or dogs and cleaning baseboards totally sucks, so I’m fine living with a little dust. But if baseboards are one of your MIA’s, put that task on your monthly list with confidence and get to dustin’!
Using the system
I hope you’re excited to get started with the first housekeeping system that actually makes sense for your life! So let’s get to it.
Download the trackers. They are free.99, because I love you and I want you to love your house. All I ask for in return is your email address, so you can get even more of me (but not too much) in your life.
Go ahead and download them, I’ll wait. The rest of this article will make much more sense if you’re looking at the documents.
Decide: paper or digital? I highly recommend printing everything out and keeping this as a tangible system. Put all the Periodic Chore Planners in a binder, and put the Weekly Tracker in a frame (or laminate it). This way, you only have to print everything out ONCE, and you can just erase and repeat each week.
Note: if you want your Chore Planners typed up, use a PDF editing program like Acrobat or Preview on Mac to create text fields.
Second note: I highly recommend picking up a wet-erase marker for the Weekly Tracker (i.e. those ones your teachers used to use on overhead projectors in school). They have a finer writing tip than most dry-erase markers, and they won’t smudge unless they get wet.
Go through the Master Chore List line by line. Cross off anything that doesn’t apply to you, and change the frequency of anything that you want to do more or less often. Use the blank Master Chore List to write or type up your list.
Please don’t skip this step! This Master List is THE thing that allows you to basically never think about housekeeping again. Once you take this time up front to decide what you need to do and how frequently, everything from here on out is just filling in the blanks. This step is essential!!! #endrant
Fill out the Weekly Tracker with stuff you want to do every single week. Don’t fill up all the blanks on the tracker with “every week” stuff…you need to leave 5-10+ blanks so you can write in periodic chores that change week to week.
Once you’re happy with your weekly chore list, frame it or laminate it so you can use it over and over. Hang it up in a visible place, where you will see it everyday. I hang mine by the door in our office, but a place like the refrigerator or kitchen command center might work better for you.
Fill out the Periodic Chore Planners with the tasks on your Master Chore List. Then, I recommend taking a few minutes to tentatively plan which months you will do the Quarterly, Biannual, and Annual tasks. I simply draw a dot in the box of the month when I plan to do a task, and once it’s complete, I draw a check mark over the dot. If I don’t get to it that month, I just work it into the next month.
Put all these trackers into a binder or folder, and place either near your Weekly Tracker, or wherever you typically plan your week.
Note: Pay attention to weather-related tasks. For bigger, more time-consuming tasks, you can strategically space them out so you only have a few big things each month. Or, if it’s better for your schedule, batch all the big stuff into just 4 months of the year.
Put a five minute planning session on your calendar each week to check the binder for tasks that are due, erase the Weekly Tracker, then write in the new chores on your weekly chore list.
Why I love this system
Not sure if this system is right for you? Let’s recap why it’s awesome.
Top Ten Reasons this system is Tha Bomb:
- It saves you time because it takes the guesswork out of what needs to be done and how often, and you never have to try and remember when you last did something.
- Those non-visible but still important tasks stay on your radar and actually get done with regularity (which can save you money!).
- It gets you and your significant other/roommate(s) on the same page, so everyone always knows what chores need to be done.
- It allows you to run your home on autopilot, so your precious brainpower is freed up to think about things that actually matter to you.
- My fellow Procrasticleaners will stop wasting time and energy doing the same tasks too often, and actually get some work done (or at least procrastinate on the right tasks).
- Panic Cleaners are held accountable to a system, so big jobs aren’t squeezed into the days before company comes; they’re spread out over time and there’s no surprises.
- Because you have a plan for all your chores, you’re less likely to fall into the Choretex once you start cleaning. If you’ve ever accidentally spent an entire day cleaning when you only meant to mop the kitchen floor (guilty!), this will be a huge win for you.
- The extreme flexibility enables folks with non-traditional work schedules to keep up with chores consistently.
- The tracker’s visibility enables people who do work traditional 9-5 jobs to optimize their cleaning routines, and thus spend less of their precious leisure time on housework.
- It’s completely customizable based on your individual preferences, MIA’s, and your home’s unique needs.
Beyond a clean home
Here’s the thing — I actually like cleaning (it’s fine, go ahead and roll your eyes). But I don’t like thinking about cleaning. And if you’re anything like me, you have big goals and dreams for your life, all of which require your two most precious resources: Time and Brainpower. One solution is to basically ignore your home and only do the bare minimum, so you can devote all your time and energy to your career or creative endeavors. But I refuse to accept that it’s the only solution.
Enjoying the time I spend in my home is very important to me, and part of that enjoyment comes from having a clean and tidy space. And I refuse to sacrifice that. Because I know we can have it all, as long as we are intentional with how we use our time and energy. And this system provides the blueprint for that intentionality.
This is not about perfection. It’s not about having the Most Clean house all the time (remember biannual baseboards?). It’s about awareness and incremental improvement. Do I do every single weekly task on my tracker every single week? Absolutely not. If I’m busy, or sick, or otherwise enjoying life, the kitchen floor can wait until next week. But I realized that without creating that awareness, the kitchen floor wasn’t even on my radar. And that’s how you get ants.
The point isn’t to obsess over having an always-clean home. The point is to love the home you live in, and sometimes that gets messy. I absolutely love how Kendra from The Lazy Genius podcast puts it: “Each decision to clean is really just setting the stage for another mess. Messes are expected, and welcome, and the sign of a lived-in home.”
This system gives you the freedom to actually enjoy living in your home, messes and all. Because you know that getting it back to whatever “clean and tidy” means to you won’t be overwhelming. When you practice intentional housekeeping, you give yourself the time and energy needed to work toward your Big Life Goals, without sacrificing the quality of your daily life in the process.