Clean your whole house in 20 minutes a day (even if you're a sloppy work-from-home type like me)

By on Feb 23rd

I am not a cleaning person. I feel anxious when I'm in a space that isn't clean – more clutter than grime – but I'm definitely the type of person who leaves most deep-cleaning to the week when I move out of an apartment.

However, my husband and I bought a house last fall, and now I work from home. I don't want to feel anxious in the space I'm in all day. Additionally, we're the type of people who like to host things, and keeping the house neat makes it less stressful to do this.

You can see how these two issues are in conflict, right? I'm not a neat freak, but messes make me anxious. It's like a feedback loop of self-perpetuating punishment.

Luckily, I've developed new habits to break the loop — and they can be helpful to anyone who is less-than-eager to scrub the toilets regularly. A while ago I found a post called How to Clean Your House in 20 Minutes a Day for 30 Days. It combines the ways I like to handle cleaning — in short bursts and with timers — and helps me keep up with 2400 square feet of House. If you're ready to embark on a new cleaning experience, I'd advise that you get a piece of paper (or open your calendar, or put it in a Google Doc; whatever will help you look at The Rules every day and keep up with each days' "assignment").

Here are the rules, some outlined by the original post, some added for my own regimen:

  • Clean up after each meal. This only takes a few minutes and is a case of "a stitch in time saves nine." If you spend 5-10 minutes rinsing dishes and wiping down the counter as soon as you're through with dinner, you won't spend 15-20 minutes cleaning crud off the dishes later. Even if it doesn't save time, cleaning up after meals ensures that kitchen is an uncluttered, relaxing, smell-free space.
  • Do a little laundry each day. Or every other day. Or every third day. Whatever works for your household. We're just two people so I try to wash one load and fold the previous load every third day. It keeps the laundry basket from overflowing onto our bedroom floor, and keeps us from searching frantically for a beloved shirt, only to find it at the bottom of the hamper.
  • Set a timer. Most tasks really don't need more than 20 minutes, and it's hard to justify not having time for only 20 minutes each day. So set your timer, and stick to it. Knowing that it's only 20 minutes keeps you from avoiding the task — but if you get in the habit of going over your own boundary you may start avoiding the assignment.
  • Set a date to clean. I do my 20 minutes either first thing in the morning or over my lunch break — being self-employed allows for conveniences like that. Whether you choose to put in 20 as soon as you get home from work, while you're waiting on dinner or early in the morning, making it a ritual makes it harder to avoid.

Mini with leftmost monthnames column

Calendar by Eliazar Parra Cardenas. Used with Creative Commons license.

Next, set aside about 25 minutes to create your monthly assignments. Each day gets one task. Take a look at the original post for ideas — I liked the mix of "light" tasks (surface clean the living room) and deep cleaning tasks (clean out the refrigerator and pantry). However, not all of the tasks are necessary in my house, so I've made my own 30-day assignment list, customized to fit our lives. Put your list somewhere you can easily access it.

Finally, hold yourself accountable but don't fret if you slack off. If you miss a couple days a week you're probably still cleaning more than you otherwise would. Brush off the guilty feelings (I had them pretty much all of January, since I dropped my schedule after Christmas) and pick it up again.

Like many people, I had chores as a kid and was expected to help keep the house tidy. Even so, somehow I didn't learn how to keep house. If the same is true for you, you'll probably find it's very helpful to spend time actually crafting an approach to cleaning.

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About Cat Rocketship

I was the Managing Editor of Offbeat Home for a year and a half. I have a rich Internet life and also a pretty good real life. Hobbies include D&D, Twitter, and working on making our household more self-reliant. I also draw things.