I consider myself a pretty clean person. And yet, up until recently, every single weekend I found myself with a messy house, having to spend hours “catching-up” on all of the cleaning tasks that had been neglected throughout the week. As I’m sure many of you can relate, my true “free” time is few and far between and I certainly didn’t want to spend that time scrubbing bathrooms on the weekends.
At least for now, hiring someone to do the regular cleaning for us also isn’t in the budget…maybe one day, but not yet. So, I figured there had to be a better way to get our home under control without massive weekend cleaning sprees. Over the last few months, I tried a lot of things to try to get myself on a schedule of sorts so that that precious weekend free time didn’t vanish in completing basic household chores. I tried a lot of different systems and processes with very little long-term success.
To be honest, things like using a cleaning schedule didn’t work for our family. The rigidity of assigning a specific task to a specific day was difficult with a highly variable schedule (hello real estate) so it made actually adhering to the schedule super hit or miss and not very motivating. I mean, if you’ve already missed the first three days of your scheduled tasks, where’s the incentive to keep going?
The good news is that at least most weeks, our house stays under control now and I don’t have an overwhelming sense of dread for the hours I “get” to spend cleaning our home on the weekend…because that doesn’t happen anymore. So, what finally worked? The good old art of habit formation. What, not what you were expecting? Let me explain.
Sure, it’s not as fancy as a laminated cleaning schedule, but creating micro habits around cleaning tasks broke down keeping our house neat into bite-sized tasks that felt (and were) significantly less daunting than finding an hour plus of straight cleaning time every day. These tasks involve creating cleaning habits around other tasks that we were already doing. This is, after all, one of the biggest secrets to habit formation.
Building a desired habit or task into an existing situation or behavior is the best way to teach yourself to adhere to your new action. More good news? Generally, this strategy also reduces the level of resistance you will experience to actually getting started…which is great because (at least for the vast majority of us) the actual act of cleaning isn’t necessarily something we enjoy. Sure, I love having a clean house, but I would much rather someone else do it for me, ya know?
So, how does this work? First, think of things that you do every day in certain rooms or areas of your home. Don’t think too hard, I’m talking basic tasks like getting out of bed in the morning or brushing your teeth. Now, think of a quick task that you could accomplish without much extra time or effort, maybe, wiping down the bathroom counter or, heck, just putting your toothpaste back in the drawer. Do you get where I’m going here? The opportunities are endless, but it really should be customized to your schedule. Here’s what works well for us.
1. Make your bed first thing in the morning- I’m talking right when your feet hit the floor, not hours later. Sounds lame, sure, and maybe you’re still slightly traumatized about getting constantly nagged by your mom for this very task as a kid, but it really does set the tone for your day. There’s actually a lot of research behind this. Completing that tiny task helps pull your bedroom together and make it feel neater, giving you that first small achievement of the day.
2. Empty your dishwasher or do a quick sweep of the kitchen while making coffee - We run our dishwasher almost every evening, even if it’s not quite full. Why? It actually uses significantly less water than handwashing and it keeps the dishwasher from smelling or food from crusting on dishes waiting to be washed…gross. Then, while brewing coffee first thing in the morning, the dishwasher gets emptied. Nothing makes a kitchen feel dirtier than an overflowing sink of dishes waiting for a place in the dishwasher, so taking care of this chore first thing in the morning while waiting for coffee is an easy way to knock it out. No clean dishwasher? If you didn’t run it the night before, while you’re waiting on your coffee, take time to straighten the kitchen. Maybe put dishes away you left out to dry the night before or wipe down the cabinets or appliances, whatever you see needs to be done.
3. Set a cleaning timer – Usually a couple of times a day, but at least once every evening, I set a timer for 10-15 minutes and clean as much as I can. If I’m really struggling, exhausted or busy that day, it might be a little as 5 minutes. Usually, I start in the kitchen and clean up any left-over mess from dinner. Sometimes, if I know the bathroom needs a wipe-down, I’ll start there. It just depends. The point is, a few minutes feels a lot more doable than a massive hours-long cleaning spree, even if your home may need more than that. That shorter amount of time helps reduce the resistance to starting and you may find when that timer beeps you want to keep going. Ready to be done? No problem. Regular maintenance cleaning keeps the massive action cleaning extravaganzas to a minimum. With regular work, you’ll find keeping up your home actually takes LESS time because there is significantly less scrubbing involved if it happens on a regular basis.
4. Never leave a room empty-handed – Headed up to your room? Going down to the kitchen? Take something with you that needs to go there too. By keeping your space clear you avoid having to take massive action to “declutter” or organize on a regular basis. Items building up in a space are the fastest way to make it feel cluttered and dirty. Gradually attacking the clutter helps to keep you from feeling like you need to block hours to sort through and organize items.
5. Ensure everything has a place – Clutter builds up in high traffic areas where things are dropped because it is convenient and easy, or the items don’t have an actual home. By having a place to put things, like keys your work bag, or other commonly used items, you eliminate the build-up of items that tends to occur around the kitchen or entryways.
6. Put things back when you’re done with them – Ok, I know I’m going 100% full mom-mode on this one but how often do you just leave the make-up you were using on the counter or pots and pans on the stove to clean at some undefined time later? If you’re like me it was ALL THE TIME. But spending an extra minute or two putting things back in the place you give them will keep your space clear, and that keeps other clutter from compiling on top…because we all know clutter begets more clutter.
7. Have less stuff – Seems kind of like a duh moment but most of us have way more than we actually need or will use. That random item you’ve been holding onto because you might use it one day? Yeah, it’s time for it to go. Decluttering your home is a great way to cut down on the extra stuff and make it much easier to keep your home clean. Need some help getting started? Check out my post.
8. Keep a donation box – If you’re anything like me, you probably end up undergoing a few big decluttering binges every year. I’m talking, pull everything out of your closet, drawers, or some other space and sort through every single bit of it. Therapeutic? Sure. But again, not my most favorite thing to take up a whole weekend. Now, instead, of those massive weekend-long decluttering binges, we keep a few boxes spread out throughout our home. When I notice I don’t like how something fits anymore or that my son has outgrown something I toss it right into the donation box. It’s a 100% painless process. Zero massive action required and I get to stay ahead of the massive decluttering efforts.
What cleaning tips or hacks have worked well for you? We're always trying to make our process more efficient so I'd love to hear your ideas!