Always knowing what chores you need to do is helpful. Having a system for keeping track of when you last did those chores is very helpful. But guess what you also need to do? Know how to do those chores.
Today I’m coming at you with a list of ten tips that will make the actual work of housework a little less, well, work. Please note, I’m writing these tips in a spirit of working smarter, not harder. I’m focused on practicality rather than perfection. Nobody needs polished silver and waxed floors all the time; we just want our homes to not be gross. However, if you do get super jazzed about polished silver and waxed floors — and you have the time — more power to ya.
But these days, most households don’t have a dedicated Homemaker. And even if you’re a stay-at-home-parent, raising kids looks way different now than it did 40 or 50 years ago. What with the ballets and the soccers and the play dates, you ain’t got time to iron the bed sheets, or even launder them every single week. And that’s perfectly fine. 1950’s-level housewifery is out, modern day living is in.
Ten Housekeeping Tips for the Modern Home
1 | Track star
Well, maybe this is cheating because I wrote an entire post about this last week. But if high school English was any indication, I’m betting maybe 25% of you actually did the reading. This is for the rest of you.
If you don’t have a system for tracking your chores, you’re probably wasting time. This may be the time wasted wondering what tasks need to be done (or asking your significant other). It could pop up in the form of performing a few of the same chores too frequently, while ignoring more time-consuming or less visible chores. Finally, you may experience the Choretex (that thing where you only intended to sweep the floor but somehow you end up washing all the linens, cleaning out the oven, and recaulking the bathtub, and then your entire day — or weekend — is gone before you know it).
But when you keep track of all the chores — from the small ones that are done weekly to the big ones that are only done once a year — you can use your cleaning time and energy more efficiently and intentionally.
If you are adamantly Not a Paper Person, check out the app Tody. It essentially does the same thing as the paper system, but cleaning reminders are automated. I’ve heard that it is très cool, but I am way too good at ignoring phone notifications, so I have not personally tried it.
2 | Find your rhythm
I developed the aforementioned chore tracking system because my irregular work schedule demanded flexibility in cleaning routines. But just because the system is designed to be flexible, it doesn’t mean my cleaning looks totally different week to week.
I find that I tend to group certain tasks together most of the time. For instance, I usually dust all the living spaces, then vacuum those same areas. Bathrooms are done back-to-back, and then all kitchen-related stuff is done on a different day. It doesn’t have to be done that way, but that’s how I find myself grouping tasks most of the time.
And this itself saves time. I don’t have to run back to the chore tracker after I complete a single task to figure out what to do next, I just know. Because I’ve paired certain chores together for so long, I can knock out a third of my weekly chore list on autopilot in a few hours (I’m partial to marathon cleaning).
Of course, if I don’t have a long enough block to tackle multiple tasks, this is when the flexibility of the system comes in handy. If I only have time to dust, I’ll just dust. Vacuuming will have to happen later. But my point is, just because you can do your chores differently every single week doesn’t mean you should. Pay attention to which tasks pair well together, and try to do them the same way most weeks. When you find your particular cleaning rhythm, stick to it whenever possible.
3 | Learn from the pros
I always thought I was a Very Efficient Cleaner. But it turns out that moving fast doesn’t necessarily equal efficiency. Last year, I read the book Clean My Space, written by Melissa Maker. I linked her YouTube channel last week, but I didn’t mention that she also operates a home cleaning business. So she kinda knows what she’s talking about.
In this book, she describes a method of efficiently cleaning a room called the 3-Wave System. Click here to watch her explain it in more detail, but I’ll give you the basics here. You’ll move clockwise around the room three times, performing a different task each time:
-First, you tidy and organize
-Second, you clean every surface except the floor
-Third, you clean the floors
It definitely takes some getting used to, but I’ve noticed how much it helps keep me stay focused on the task at hand. In my past cleaning life, when I found something that didn’t belong in the room that I was cleaning, I would take it to where it belonged. And en route, probably find something else that needs to be returned to its home, and then something else out of place….and you see where this is going. It would completely throw me off my rhythm and distract me from the original project. With this system, you collect belongings that need to be rehomed in a basket, then set the basket aside to distribute when you’re done with the room.
Plus, when you’re following a structured cleaning pattern, you’re way less likely to miss that sticky spot on the coffee table or bit of dog drool on the wall.
4 | Do your homework
Raise your hand if you can tell me right now how to deep clean your dishwasher. What about your oven? What about the oven racks?
Ok well I can’t either. And the thing is, I don’t really need to know offhand. But I do know exactly where to look to find out, which I will do when my Chore Tracker tells me that “deep clean kitchen appliances” is due soon.
Have you ever downloaded a Spring Cleaning checklist off the internet, started off strong, then hit a snag when you realized you have no idea how to clean the garbage disposal? Sure, you can take a break and look it up online, but you’ll probably find a dozen different “best ways” to do it, then realize you don’t have the right supplies, and before you know it you’ve been scrolling Instagram for 20 minutes and you’re supposed to pick up Amanda from the airport in an hour, so the garbage disposal will have to wait until tomorrow. But, you were motivated today. You made time today. Will tomorrow ever come?
That might sound dramatic, but don’t pretend that nothing like that has ever happened to you! In order to make the best use of your time and take advantage of whatever shreds of motivation you’ve managed to muster, ya gotta do your homework ahead of time.
If you’re using a chore tracking system (ahem), you’ll know when it’s time to start researching those infrequent jobs. Learn how to do them, and make a list of any special cleaners or tools you don’t have on hand. Then, figure out how long they will take, and plan accordingly. (Protip: don’t run the oven self-cleaning cycle at 3pm on a Sunday when your cousins are supposed to come over for dinner).
Take it offline
I’m gonna throw in another plug for Clean My Space, the book. It’s a pretty inclusive manual for all your cleaning-related questions. I refer to it all the time for homemade cleaner recipes, as well as instructions for some of the aforementioned tasks. Plus, using a book for reference rather than the internet will help keep you off Instagram when you’re supposed to be researching.
5 | Caddy your cleaners
Keep a small handled caddy or bucket stocked at all times with your most-used cleaning supplies. Mine includes: all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, a small jar of baking soda, small bottle of rubbing alcohol, 2 regular microfiber cloths, 1 flat weave microfiber cloth (for glass), small trash bags, and a sponge. This is what I carry around all the living spaces on my weekly “dust’n’vacuum” jobs, because it covers the bare minimum.
The baking soda and sponge are used for stubborn scuffs or stains I happen to notice on walls or surfaces. The rubbing alcohol is used to disinfect light switches, remotes, and doorknobs.
Keeping all your basic supplies in one place makes it really easy to grab the caddy when you have time to clean — no hunting for spray bottles or rags required. It also helps prevent “Where Did I Put the Windex?” Syndrome when you’re mid-clean. The bottles are either in your hand, or in the caddy. No wayward placement allowed.
As for storage, what’s most convenient for you? I keep mine in the laundry closet, which is conveniently located in the center of the house. It’s also where I store my back stock of baking soda, vinegar, sponges, and cleaning towels, so it’s easy to keep the caddy stocked. But if your laundry room isn’t convenient, you’ll need to determine another storage location that works for you. And if you have a two-story house, make up two caddies and keep one on each floor (unless you’re trying to get your steps in, I guess).
6 | Store it smartly
While all-purpose cleaner is sufficient for cleaning like 90% of your home’s surfaces, certain rooms like bathrooms and kitchens do require specialized products. They also tend to get nastier more quickly than your home’s living spaces, and thus need to be cleaned more frequently. Make this as convenient as possible by storing dedicated cleaners in each of these spaces.
Nobody wants to lug around a toilet brush, and they are not that expensive. Keep one in each bathroom, along with a bottle of toilet bowl cleaner, disinfectant, paper towels, and gloves (I also keep a terry towel under the sink for wiping water off the countertops). You’ll still use the all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, baking soda, and sponge from your caddy, but only use those on the sink, counter, shelves, and mirrors. For the toilet, I don the gloves and use the disinfectant and paper towels, thus keeping my sponge and cloths safe for use elsewhere.
Under the kitchen sink, I store all those specialty cleaners that I never use anywhere else. I keep a separate bottle of all-purpose cleaner here as well, along with a container of disinfecting wipes. And because oils can ruin microfiber cloths, I never use them in the kitchen (I use terry cloth and bar towels instead).
7 | Simplify your stock
It can be a job in and of itself searching for the right specialty cleaner. You know you bought that heavy duty grout scrub last year, but now you can’t find it!
You may have heard that you can clean a bunch of stuff in your house with vinegar and lemon juice, but you may not know how extensive the homemade cleaning product movement is. There are so many blogs and books listing recipes for all sorts of cleaners — from your everyday all purpose cleaner, to highly specialized cleaners (you can even make your own laundry detergent if you’re so inclined).
Even if you’re not concerned about chemicals or their toxicity, buying a special cleaner you’ll only use on one or two things is its own kind of irritating. It costs money, then you have to store it somewhere, and will you remember that you already have it the next time you need to use it, or will you end up buying another one?
Rather than go down that path, just keep certain ingredients on hand that can be used to make multiple recipes. You can clean basically everything in your home with different combinations of these extremely common items (most of which you probably have on hand right now):
Castile soap or dish soap (like Dawn)
If you fancy, keep a few essential oils on hand to scent your DIY cleaners. My favorites are:
Tea Tree (also disinfects!)
You can get a handful of recipes from Clean Mama. If you’re interested in a very comprehensive list of recipes (or learning more about nontoxic cleaning in general), pick up her book Clean Mama’s Guide to a Healthy Home.
8 | Wipe it up
Similar to the habit of “put the thing away as soon as you’re finished using it” we discussed a few weeks ago, the practice of wiping up spills or treating stains as soon as they occur will save you so much time when you’re Actually Cleaning. If you wait until Saturday to clean your kitchen counters for the week, you will get tennis elbow from all that scrubbing (not to mention ants).
Granted, unknown spills occur that you don’t find until they’ve turned to cement. But the majority of spills come from some sort of human or animal intervention, and are often discovered immediately or soon thereafter. I totally get the lazy impulse to just deal with it later (and I have often given into that impulse), but you’re only making it worse for later. And unless later involves a hired service with a scrub brush, you’re likely making it worse for yourself.
Plus, the more you clean-as-you-go, the less often you have to do annoying things, like clean the inside of the microwave or deep clean a smelly fridge.
9 | Rely on Roomba
Full disclosure: I do not have a Roomba. But I’ve heard this great tip from so many people who do own one, that I just have to share it.
Get a Roomba, and program it to run at a certain time everyday. Since the Roomba apparently eats things that are left on the floor, it requires your household to get in the habit of actually picking stuff up off the floor. Every day.
I heard one podcaster say that ever since the Roomba ate one of her daughter’s barbie’s hair, all she has to do to get the kid to pick up her toys is tell her the Roomba is coming. Brilliant. (Maybe it works on husbands too?)
Oh, plus there’s the advertised benefit of having clean floors all the time without lugging around the broom or the Hoover, so there’s that. (Although you will still need to manually clean under furniture and in corners periodically!)
10 | Declutter consistently
Saved the best for last! Oh, come on, I’m a professional organizer. You knew this was coming.
A wise person once said “stuff is the enemy of clean,” and I couldn’t agree more. It’s really hard to dust a surface if you can’t see the surface because it’s covered in clutter. We talked about the 3-Wave System earlier, where step one was “organize and tidy.” But that just means “stack these 4 magazines nicely and return the remote to the remote basket,” not “sort the 47 books on top of the table into keep and donate piles, figure out where to store the keep pile, and then deal with this forgotten stack of mail you found underneath the books.”
That is decluttering, not tidying, and it is not part of cleaning. Decluttering is its own beast, and it requires dedicated time and focus.
It’s natural to avoid cleaning if you often run into this issue. Cleaning feels super overwhelming and frustrating, plus you’re not able to do it properly because of all the stuff. When you do clean, it takes you way longer than it should because you also have to deal with the stuff.
In this case, it can be helpful to replace cleaning sessions with decluttering sessions for a while. Take that 30 minute window to declutter a surface or two, then actually clean at a later date. It feels self-defeating to try and keep a cluttered area “clean.” Because even if you have dusted and polished and vacuumed, the clutter still makes it look messy.
Periodic decluttering is a requirement for everyone who owns belongings. But if your home’s clutter level is beyond what you can tackle in a few half-hour decluttering sessions, this advice isn’t helpful. You already know that clutter makes cleaning difficult or impossible, because you’re living it. And you are not alone.
But don’t worry! Next week’s post is a deep dive into decluttering methods, so come back and see me then (and click here to be notified).
Mostly clean is good enough
Remember, there are no universal standards for how clean or tidy your house must be. You and your family (you know, the ones who actually live in the place) get to decide the level of cleanliness that’s acceptable or desirable. Cleaning just for the sake of it is out. We have more important things to do in this life than maintain arbitrary standards in our own freakin’ homes.
Keeping your home clean shouldn’t be a full time job. You already have one of those. It all boils down to this: Do the things that matter to you in the most efficient way possible. With a little preparation, plus some good habits and a hefty dose of convenience, your house truly can be mostly clean most of the time!