3 things you can do to keep your house habitable when you’re busy

Guest post by MelRuth

When you leave, I’m leaving hair all over the couch and knocking over your plant. Love, the cat. (By: Lucy OrloskiCC BY 2.0)
I recently managed to get a full-time job after almost a year of working part-time, ad-hoc hours. I maybe worked two five-hour shifts a week and had lots of time to myself. Therefore, for the past year, I was responsible for keeping the house nice, and enjoyed having nearly all day every day keeping the house clean and tidy. When I moved to full-time work I realized that I would not be able to manage to keep the house as clean and tidy as I was able to when I was out of full-time work.

I found that these three things have helped keep the house habitable and the housework manageable.

1. Change your desired result

You are not able to spend most of your day keeping your house clean now you managed to find “that job.” You will not be there to clean up when your cat knocks the plant pot off the sideboard — you will find it when you get home from work and are looking forward to your dinner. You’ll find that you just don’t have the hours in the day to do the deep cleaning projects — I liked to clean inside the cupboards and behind all the furniture. So, as part of adjusting to working life, you need to include your expectations of how clean and tidy your house should be.

2. Know the important things to keep tidy

You want your house to be nice to be in after working hard all day. This isn’t about keeping your house ready for your mother-in-law, or the “dust inspectors” to drop in at any moment. It’s barely about making it ready for your friend to pop in for a cup of tea. It’s about enjoying being in your home rather than despairing at how much you have to do. To achieve this know what makes your house look good and inviting to you.

For me, it’s making sure the sofa and coffee table are clear so that I can sit down and relax, and the kitchen counters being clear and having clean pots to make my dinner. This means that each morning I unload the dishwasher and then refill it with the dirty dishes, pots, etc from the night before, straighten up the cushions on the sofa and anything on the coffee table. This doesn’t get my house ready for visitors, but it does mean that I enjoy making my dinner and feel relaxed while watching TV, browsing the net or reading. You may enjoy a made bed, no laundry pile or a clean and sparkly bathroom and would rather spend time on that.

3. Know yourself

I get up 10 minutes early so that I can get in some house tidying time, and then do my make-up on the bus. I know that I am a morning person — I wake up and am keen to get on with my day, and I know that I’m one of those people who can do make-up on the bus. But are you someone who would rather go to bed a bit later, using the time in the evening to tidy up so the house is lovely for you when you wake? Are you someone whose caffeine kick hits just as you get through the door and likes to get things done then? You will need to take time to get these needed chores done so that you don’t have it all to do on your day off. You know when you have some time and energy to get things done so use this time to do your chores.

These three things are a help but they do not result in a spotless house Martha Stewart would be proud to call her own. I have found that I have to be dedicated to do the laundry so that it gets done and need to spend an hour doing the other things that need done at least weekly: changing the pet bedding, cleaning the bathroom, changing the sheets.

But these three things do help keep the house feeling habitable and the housework manageable and I have eaten a lot more home-cooked meals and sat on a lot less piles of stuff since I implemented them.

Comments on 3 things you can do to keep your house habitable when you’re busy

  1. One of my keep if tidy habits is to not let dirty plates even make it into the sink.
    They go straight into the dishwasher.
    If the dishwasher is clean I have to put it away (usually while cooking dinner – I’m in the kitchen anyway) so that i will have somewhere to put tonight’s dirty plates.

    When I lived in an apartment without a dishwasher I had a washing up bowl under the sink to put dirty plates in til I washed them so my sink was always clear and useable

      • Thanks 🙂
        I was always one of those people that preferred to wash up in a big bowl of hot soapy water rather than washing each item under a running tap.
        When I lived alone it felt like a waste to run a whole bowl of soapy water to just wash one dinner plate or breakfast bowl.
        So the hidden washing up bowl under the sink became my solution.
        I could stash my dirty dishes out of sight, leaving my sink free for any other uses and just wash up every couple of days once the bowl was full (I always rinsed food particles off tho so it didn’t stink)

    • You might have just changed my life! Last year we moved into a place with no dishwasher and the dirty dishes in the sink and on the counter have been making me crazy in between washing. I think we are going to implement this starting tonight!

  2. This doesn’t work for everyone, but I go out of town on the weekends a lot, which eats into my cleaning time too. So I created a list of chores I do before leaving for the weekend: put away all dishes and laundry, pour cleaner in the toilets, vacuum, clean and de-lime my electric kettle, clean the garbage disposal, etc. Then not only am I coming home to a clean house after a vacation, but I know that certain tasks (toilets, kettle, etc) will get done within the next month or so and don’t have to fold them into my normal cleaning schedule.

  3. I am a single mom- so time is very very important to me. I try to do as much as possible in the evening after my daughter goes to bed and on weekends. However, if it needs to be done after work or before work – i give myself a ten minute limit. That way I rarely lose time with my daughter. I also have her in daycare during the day, so if need be, I go home and clean on my lunch hour.

  4. I have my list of things too! I find that if I can get to these things every day, I feel like my house is consistently clean:
    1) Make bed
    2) Sink is empty
    3) Floors swept/vacuumed if needed – with 2 cats, it usually is needed

    Then, at the end of the night, if I have time, I just tidy things up before I go to bed. Cushions on couch, clothes put away, etc. Much easier than trying to do it all in one day. I also discovered the Tumblr Un-Fuck Your Habitat, which has awesome tips about managing cleaning with very little time.

  5. I love your way of thinking! There’s a minimum amount of cleaning that you just HAVE to do daily so you can use your space. Even when you are tired, forcing yourself to do the 20 minutes of housework makes the next 24 hours of living so much better.

    One spot that I always like to have clean is my bathroom sink, so I keep the supplies under the sink and wipe it down while I brush my teeth!

    • That’s my thinking. I hate cleaning so I know that if I do just a few minutes then life becomes so much easier. I’ve found that doing it at a time that’s good for me (the morning) is what works. Untill I had this realisation I kept hearing about how it was best to do chores before bed, but that never works because I am always too tired and fall asleep on the sofa soon after I have had my dinner, so all my good intentions don’t happen. I also don’t care about things being messy in the morning, its when I get home from work I want things to be nice, doing chores after breakfast gets that desired result, especially since it means I don’t come home to tea dregs in a cup any more.

  6. My boyfriend and I use two methods. The first is to pick three things you want done that day. Not always chores but we try to include at least one. The second method is to do the fastest chore super early in the morning. For me it’s quiet and distraction free period of time (I suspect parents would feel otherwise!). Plus, when I get home I know it’s done so I can focus on the other two tasks. Eventually we have a couple days where we can’t think of a chore to get done and get to use the three tasks for more exciting stuff!

  7. I just figured out the cleaning before bed thing like two weeks ago. I had some other before bed tasks (prepping dog’s food for in the morning when I’m a zombie, checking to be sure the doors are locked, setting up tomorrow’s gym clothes, etc.) so it was just as easy to wrap in ten minutes of picking up.

    I’d be happy to put my dishes into the dishwasher, but I cannot get it through my SO’s head that putting his dirty dishes into the sink and walking away is not acceptable and I hate that it all then falls on me to keep the sink empty.

    • Just a suggestion – if you don’t hate putting dishes in the dishwasher, why don’t you make a trade? You offer to stick his dishes in the dishwasher (which is not the same as always doing the dishes) and he takes a small chore that you don’t like doing in exchange. For example, I never change the toilet paper roll. I know, it’s juvenile. But I’ll just stick it on top of the old one. And I’m the one that just leaves things in the sink. It used to drive my husband batty. But now he just does it, knowing that I do much more of the heavy-duty-but-not-everyday cleaning, like mopping the floor and changing the duvet cover (which he hates with an unholy passion). We figured making the trade was easier than trying to change either of us.

      • Haha, this is how my husband and I function also. I haven’t vacuumed in a year, and he hasn’t had to go grocery shopping in a year! And when you do both tasks at the exact same time, it’s even better because you can relax together when they’re done!

        • YES – it’s so much better to find a solution than to always be mad at your partner for behaving exactly as you (actually) expect them to behave!

          It will probably make you happier to accept the bad habit and feel like you’re caring for them than to make it into a bigger and bigger issue for yourself.

          Only slightly related, but it reminds me of this Everybody Hates Raymond episode: “don’t let this be your giant fork and spoon”

  8. I sat down and came up with a master chore list of all the things that have to be cleaned and basically assigned one or 2 of those chores for everyday of the month. So now each morning i look to my calendar for my “chore of the day” I also do a quick pick up, manage the dishwasher and make the bed. I usually complete my cleaning in less than 30 minutes and nothing ever gets out of hand.

    • I used to do that but then I got lazy and have more of an ‘every day/every week’ thing happening. We do still do bigger chores occasionally, like mowing or flipping the matress or de-spidering the garage, but they normally happen when the grass/lumps/spiders are too much to bear.

      One thing I need to feel like my home is clean is a clean floor – but the man and I despise both vacuuming and mopping. $60 a fortnight goes to a cleaner – I’d rather clean floors than magazines or going out more regularly or more shoes etc, totally worth it.

      • Kudos for use of the word “fortnight.”

        My mom eventually hired a housekeeper to come once a week. We still had to pick up the clutter beforehand, but it saved her a lot of time, headache, and yelling at us to do our chores.

  9. Recently I had to start working overtime, and our flat, which was never really tidy to begin with, has trobule adjusting. ^^ I spend nine hours at the office, altogether maybe 1.5 hours commuting (including quick grocery stops) and at least one more hour working at home on my own projects. Add eight hours of sleep, and there is not much left to share between quality time as a couple and housework (especially if the other partner is away even more hours and can’t pick up as much housework). Usually I keep the kitchen counters workable because I love to cook, make sure the laundry is done in time (I don’t want a tumble dryer), take care of the cats, the balcony garden and make sure the bedroom is halfway tidy because it makes it a more pleasant experience to sleep. All other things – sofa, coffee table, vacuuming etc. – are jobs to be done when I have excess time AND energy (i.e. usually on weekends).

  10. You’re #1, “Change your desired result”, we call “Mutual Lowering of Expectations”. It’s how we kept things together once our second was born.

  11. My biggest pet peeve/downfall is the kitchen counter. It so quickly becomes a catch-all for mail, magazines, dishes, small appliances that need to be put away, etc.

    I’m currently on the lookout for an attractive small filer I can place on the counter to at least quickly and neatly disperse the daily mail.

  12. I’ve found I’m more willing to do things immediately when i’ve gotten home from work, before I sit and get into relaxation mode -i usually try and do one or two things then, like hang out the washing (god bless whoever invented the time delay on my washing machine – I set it to run the cycle so it’s only just done when I get home, then the washing doesn’t get that funky smell), iron shirts, or start the dishwasher.
    I straighten the bed when I get up in the morning and that makes all the difference to me – as the focal point of the bedroom it makes the whole room look tidier if the bed is!
    Everything else I do on the weekends, though I don’t vacuum or clean the shower as much as I probably should.
    I should note that living in a one bedroom apartment rather than a three bedroom house has made all the difference!

  13. My rule for tidying up is OHIO–only handle it once. So, for example, if I fold clean laundry, I immediately put it away instead of leaving it out to put away at a later time (okay, well, MOST of the time, anyway…). It’s a pretty useful system/mantra because it keeps me from dragging out simple, quick tasks into bigger, more time-consuming tasks (with the laundry example, if I don’t put it away right away, eventually I get a GIANT pile of clean clothes that takes a lot more time to put away).

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