So you think you ought to clean today: A systematic approach, part II

Guest post by Allison

STOP! Did you read yesterday’s post — the Part I to this post? Yesterday Allison taught us the philosophy of cleaning. Start there!

cleaning day

So, actually approaching cleaning. There are two general ways to approach this, and neither is wrong, it just depends on what you prefer: clean a little bit every day (or every few days) or clean the whole place at once. (My personal preference would be to tidy up/put things away every day, and then actually CLEAN the whole place once a week. That happens in practice… sometimes.)

If you want to tackle trying to clean a bit every day, I think a chore chart would be very useful. Yes, that might make you feel like you’re in third grade and don’t get your allowance until you’ve made your bed and taken out the trash. But if you want to approach cleaning systematically and aren’t sure how to go about it, that can be really helpful.

Think about every chore that needs doing, and how often you think they ought to be done. Then decide, based on the day, how much you want to get done. You can divide it by time or by chores — on Tuesdays, I will spend thirty minutes cleaning, or, on Tuesdays, I will wash dishes and do laundry. Neither way is better, it just depends on what suits your needs and desires.

If you want to wait and do it all at once, block off a lot of time (say, on the weekend) and go for it. I like to start with the kitchen and bathroom, because those rooms go fastest at my apartment. I get them done right away and feel motivated.

Staying motivated once you’ve started: I like to either play music or a movie or TV show I

If you’re thinking that most days you are too damn tired to clean, well, I hear you. One of the tricks I use to force myself to clean is to only do stuff during commercials — I only get what, four minutes? And then I HAVE to come back and sit on my ass and stare at the screen.

know really well while I’m cleaning. If you’re the sort of person who can pay attention to an audiobook while you’re cleaning, that’s a great solution. For music, I recommend something upbeat you’ll want to sing along to. Dolly Parton has never steered me wrong.

If you don’t need to keep your computer on for music playing or urgent messages from the outside world or whatever, turn it off. If you do keep it on, do NOT think to yourself, “Oh, I’ll just go check my email real quick.” That is a mistake. I promise.

If you’re thinking that most days you are too damn tired to clean, well, I hear you. One of the tricks I use to force myself to clean is to only do stuff during commercials — I only get what, four minutes? And then I HAVE to come back and sit on my ass and stare at the screen. But in four minutes, you can do a lot of things — collect dirty dishes to put in the dishwasher, put away clean laundry, collect all the shoes you left by the front door (can you tell this is something I actually do?), put away bills, etc.

And the more often you get into this habit, the faster you are. I find I take longer than the “estimated time” to make most recipes than — because I don’t cook often. If I did, I’d be a lot faster at it. And I clean faster than I used to, because I’m more in the habit.

And when all else fails, invite some people over say, three days from now.

Comments on So you think you ought to clean today: A systematic approach, part II

  1. ” “Oh, I’ll just go check my email real quick.” That is a mistake. I promise. ” HA! SO true! I’ve fallen into that trap.

    And:”And when all else fails, invite some people over say, three days from now.” works for me only for the tidying away things. I will make sure the house LOOKS clean, while in fact the bathroom hasn’t been cleaned in three weeks or so…. sigh. I definitely have a lot to learn in this area.

  2. The inviting people over is a great reason to clean! At our apartment we had a very forgiving cleaning schedule. We always did laundry on Sunday, but that’s because we needed clothes to wear. We didn’t clean a lot because it seemed so time consuming. When we’d invite people over, we’d amaze ourselves how fast we could really clean the place.

  3. I’m so glad I’m not the only one!
    I’ve also found that if I do things during commercials, I’ll tend to want to finish what I’m doing and not always going rushing back when the show comes back on.
    I’ve figured out that I do my best cleaning when I’m mad, so instead of sulking when the hubby and I fight I clean. And listening to Oldies helps. Between the music and the cleaner home, my mood almost always lifts within a relatively short time.

    • That’s great as long as he doesn’t start picking fights to get you to clean the house. 😉

      Being an apartment dweller, I’ve learned that it’s easiest to put things away when you’re done using them and to do dishes as soon as you’re done eating. Then on the weekends, all I need to do is vacuum and give the bathroom a good cleaning.

  4. My strategy has been to set time aside on a weekend afternoon while the boyfriend is out-n-about. If he’s home while I clean, I get rageful. I put on a movie or TV show DVD and pace myself. First, 30 minutes watching, lounging, and sipping beer. Pause when I start to feel bored/antsy. Then I clean/tidy a room 20 ish minutes. Plop back onto couch and repeat til done.

    This works well for our small apartment. I get to be lazy AND productive!

    • I’m the opposite. I’ll neglect doing anything productive all day and then when my husband comes home from work I’m all “I should do dishes, and laundry, and stuff.” I assume it’s because I don’t want him to call me out on the fact that he’s getting home from a long day at the office to find me having just hung out online all day.

      • YES! I think it also has to do with the procrastination a bit… I’ll bum around all day and then it’s an hour before he gets home and.. OH CRAP!
        I’m a VERY reluctant cleaner, and it helps when we both do it together, it gets me to actually DO it and we can chat and I get the immediate gratification of a smile and a smooch from my hunny for getting something done!
        That said… my place is a total disaster!
        I need help!

  5. me and my ex used to invite someone over for dinner every sunday. it was awesome – gave us motivation to keep the house at least presentable, gave me/us an excuse to cook at least one nice meal a week and, you know, kept us from becoming hermits. i’m hoping to re-institute something of the sort.

  6. Having iPod speakers to blast my sing along music to totally helps. Also – the inviting people over. I’ve recently started dating someone and while he’s rather chill about my place not being spotless, knowing he’s coming over regularly helps me at least keep it not looking like a disaster. A 300 sq ft apartment turns into a disaster surprisingly fast.

  7. Here’s my top tips:

    Not everything has to be cleaned in the “standard” fashion. To make things quicker, I use the nozzle on the vacuum cleaner to clean my kitchen sides of bits. Saves a second task in wiping the sides and means I don’t have to catch crumbs in my hands, which leads onto my next tip.

    If you hate touching certain things or smells, look for a way around that, be it wearing a mask, perfume under the nose, or using other tools to do the touching. You’re more likely to do the task if it doesn’t creep you out.

    It might take a few attempts but suss out which sockets to plug kit into for best results. Try to find one or two central sockets to maximise the reach of the vacuum and to save having to plug and unplug lots of times (this also makes the task seem smaller to me).

    If you work well to deadlines, set the cooker timer or so many songs on a playlist or work to commercials.

    Try to clean as you go, particularly when in the kitchen. 30 seconds spraying and wiping the counter tops could save you hours of scrubbing and more hours dreading the task.

    My mum always works from one side of the room to another when tidying, which works for her. I prefer to tidy by picking up whatever is nearest when I’ve put another item away. I find it saves backtracking and the mess gets thinner and thinner, rather than turning round from the clean bit to a disaster zone behind me.

    It’s basically trying to make it all easier and more palatable

    • Agreed completely about plugging in the vacuum. Best thing about our tiny flat is I can clean the entire place from just 3 sockets, but it still felt so much easier when I cut it down from 4 to 3.

      It also makes it cleaner. I’ve been known to leave corners if I can’t reach them without unplugging and moving to another socket.

    • i totally have to second the “thinning out the mess” approach rather than thoroughly cleaning one section at a time! that’s how i do things as well, and usually if something from this side of the office has a home on the other side of the office, something over there should probably actually be in the lounge, which has dishes that belong in the kitchen, which has something that should be in the office… plus, then when things are tidy to a suitable degree, i can run around the house and actually *clean* everything all at once. i’m only going to get the spray ‘n wipe out once, so i’d better be doing the whole damn house!

      • Hah, I’m so not methodical enough to start in one place and move over… I do part of one task and then start another and then start another… and hopefully eventually I’ll finish them all…

    • As a variation on the “thinning”, I like to do things in categories. So in the kitchen after making dinner, all the food goes away, then dishes, then counters, then stove.

  8. Things I forgot to add – If I spot something that belongs in another room, I try to take it with me when I move to that room, and I definitely clean as I go in the kitchen. Something’s microwaving for a minute? Put away some dishes or sort some mail. Doing things in smaller chunks really makes it less overwhelming.

    • That’s my new trick. I put away the washing up while waiting for things to cook. With some meals I can get the entire lot cleared and it still feels like doing just 1 job instead of 2.

  9. I do the same thing when I’m too tired to clean/tidy up. I set the timer for 5 minutes or 10 minutes and do only what I can do in those 5 or 10 minutes.

    I also focus my efforts on rooms or areas that are the most rewarding/relaxing for me. For me, that’s the bedroom – I find a made bed and clean floor relaxing and calming at the end of the day so even if some days I’m making the bed 2 hours before I’m going to get into it, I know it gives me a lift. So I ignore the living room mess and kitchen mess and spend my 5-10 minutes in the bedroom first and focus on the other areas another night.

    I also spread deeper cleaning chores over a few days if I really don’t have the energy to do them. For example, I’ll scrub the sink and mirror one day, do the toilet and sweep the bathroom floor the day after that and do the bathtub the day after that. It all gets done in the end.

    • The timer thing works great for me, as well as the chore list. I try to clean for 15 minutes a day, but restrict it to one room in the apartment at a time. The only thing I do most days is load the dishwasher, and that’s only if I cook. If I’ve been slacking for a while, that 15 minutes doesn’t get things perfect, but it gets them a LOT better. And it takes longer than a week to get my place dirty (I live alone), so each week builds on the last.

  10. Love this. One of our approaches is not making unneeded trips to other floors/rooms. Don’t waste energy! We put things that need to go upstairs or down, near each stairwell so we bring something with us when we make a trip. Similarly, I use a basket or bag of “things that should go elsewhere” to bring with me into the next area I am cleaning, then things are removed before I start the room and start by putting in other “things” that need to go home.
    I also think it is multi-duty and energy saving to do jobs like cleaning the bathroom by planning 30 minutes into your daily self-prep work – before you plan on a shower anyway. I do the bowl/floor, strip and jump in the tub to clean the shower/tub, shower myself, jump out to do my teeth and then clean the sink. I swap out the towels and do the mirror then poof! Everything in the bathroom is clean and so am I.

    • This is how I clean the shower too! And I make the bathroom the last thing I clean – so I have cleaned everything, realise I stink, go scrub the bathroom, strip, then scrub the shower and have my shower – I come out feeling all accomplished!

  11. “If you do keep it on, do NOT think to yourself, “Oh, I’ll just go check my email real quick.” That is a mistake. I promise.”
    This! A thousand times this!

    “Checking my email” always turns into checking Facebook/Offbeat Home/Bride, which turns into ‘checking’ the Tribe (seriously, y’all are worse than Facebook for me)…and somehow it always ends with me checking the daily events on Guild Wars Wiki, going in-game to accept a quest to do later and next thing I know it’s evening!

    I also love the bit about inviting people over. That’s what got us to unpack when we moved: 1 month after the move was my birthday. Worked yesterday when the lady who’s adjusting my wedding dress suddenly said she’d come here to do it when I’d been expecting to go to her house. Speed Cleaning ensued!

  12. Great article!

    I always clean each room in the same pattern; for example, in the kitchen, I start by putting away the dishes and washing as many as will fit in the drainer (this way they can dry and get put away sooner and not hold up my progress). Then I start near the door with the stove, and move around the room.

    I think it’s surprising how FAST you can clean a bathroom, and what a huge impact it makes — that’s why the bathroom is my favorite room to clean! (Also, I always make sure I get to be the first person to take a specially relaxing bath after I clean it!).

    Having a tiny, two bedroom house, also helps clean quickly!

    I’m not really a neat-freak, but I just can’t really relax and enjoy myself in a messy/dirty house. . .

  13. As a bonafide neat freak, I get a lot of “OMG how is your house always so CLEEEEAN?!” Yes, I do put in more time and effort than most people in the big jobs (I LIKE to, okay? I’m weird like that!) but one simple trick I share with people that seems to come as a big revelation to a lot of people is…don’t let things get messy in the first place. It doesn’t come naturally to most people, I know, but if you can direct your attention to it, it saves SO much time with minimal effort. Drop clothes immediately into the hamper instead of the floor. Dishes straight in the dishwasher when you’re done eating. Books and DVDs right back on the shelf when you’re finished. Stand in the doorway for ten seconds and sort the mail right away instead of tossing it into a knee-high stack. Wipe up a spill while it’s still wet, instead of leaving it until you have to chisel it up. That sort of thing. I pretty much never look around and go, “Ugh, I have to deal with this huge chore,” because I took 60 seconds immediately and kept it from becoming huge. And when all these small actions become part of the natural flow of your routine (difficult for some people, I know!) then pretty soon you don’t even realize it’s time spent cleaning. It’s just time spent AVOIDING cleaning. Win win!

    • I massively agree! I swear, cleaning things up almost immediately saves sooo much time. And people always comment that my house is really tidy/clean.

      But seriously… if you take you shoes off, put them in the line of shoes instead of just leaving them there (2 seconds). If you’ve just eaten, wash your plate (20 seconds). If you’ve spilt something, wipe it up (30 seconds). Put your clothes straight in the washing hamper or back in the draw (2 seconds, or maybe 30 seconds for putting something back in the wardrobe). These amounts of time don’t seem like a big imposition to me!

      It’s very rare that I think, wow, I’ve got so much cleaning to do, because I just do it every day. Well, it would be rare if I was the only one living here, anyway. 🙂

  14. I’m an audiobook fan. I’ve listened to the entire Wheel of Time series (well, all but the last book that isn’t out yet) and I’ve started listening to it again. There is no better motivator than me wanting to listen to my book. I even tell my boys to say ‘mom’, then wait for me to pause it before asking me something.

  15. The thing which helped me most was not getting bogged down in “where do I put this?”

    So I start out tidying by putting EVERYTHING that I can’t put away in 30 seconds or less in a blue plastic tub. Then I have a tidy everywhere, a blue tub full of crap that I can hide in a closet if I am in a hurry, and I can drag the tub around (it’s on wheels) from place to place putting things away.

  16. I love your advice!

    I don’t watch much normal tv – mostly dvds or itunes downloads, but what I do when I’m really struggling with motivation is set a timer on my phone for 10 minutes and see how much I can get done in that time. When I’ve done one set I move onto something different and do the same there.

    It’s amazing what you can get done in 10 minutes and seeing how much I’ve achieved is a great motivator!

  17. Great article! One thing I found that helps me is taking my outside shoes off when I enter my house. Its also a great excuse to find cute slippers for inside use !

  18. This is a great article, thank you so much for posting it! Makes the way I think about cleaning a little more ‘tidy’.

    I do have one comment about it; I believe that cleaning up on say a Thursday would be ideal for someone who enjoys doing other outside activities on the weekend. Personally, after a long, dragging Friday, I come home and cannot even begin to fathom cleaning anything. So I think a little extra motivation for Thursday will ultimately benefit one’s weekend by having a clean house and having more freedom to do the things that you want to do.


  19. Baskets. I love them, and I find that if I have a basket for things where I put them (say, my shoes that always land by the front door when I want to put them on upstairs in my bedroom–I do that too 😉 then when it comes time for them to get put “away,” it’s easy to carry them there.

    Tired of the pile of bread that lands on the end of the counter on grocery day, that inevitably ends up with bread falling into the recycle bin? Basket.

    Tired of the newspapers being strewn around the living room? Basket.

    Need someplace for the dirty dish towels? Bucket, actually, but that’s because they go in wet and I needed someplace to store the cleaning bucket.

    I have OCD, I like things organized, and I feel better when like things are put together so that when someone goes looking for something (tea, for example), I can say “It’s in the ___-looking basket on the third shelf down, right-hand side–in the basket labeled TEA.”

    Also, everyone now knows where to put things. Not sure where it goes, but know whose it is? Put it in their basket, and let them take care of it. Tidying up before a party? Your basket gets put on your bed. (We have a couple baskets that live in the living room for this purpose–and if you go more than a day with your basket missing, I WILL go into your room, dump the basket on your bed, and put the basket back in the living room where it belongs.)

  20. Inviting people over works so well! We’re only half moved-in right now (we’ve only been here a bit over a week, and only moved the bed a couple days ago), but my mom offered to come over and help us move in, and my kitchen was so much cleaner because of that! Also, we’ve invited both my parents over to celebrate my mom’s birthday a week from now, so that’s extra incentive to get all moved in sooner than we might otherwise!

  21. I’m a big fan of UnFuck Your Habitat (, and I do the thing of listening to an audiobook while doing consecutive 20/10 sessions of cleaning. 20 minutes of cleaning, 10 minutes of Tumblr. When my timer sounds, I shut the laptop and get back to cleaning. I’m remarkably productive that way.

    Sorting through and getting rid of stuff is a lot harder though. And when it’s all you do for a long time, well. There’s only so long I’m capable of that.

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