I know a lot of people struggle with keeping the house clean, so I thought I would share what works well for me.
It is embarrassingly simple, to tell you the truth. Just like keeping the weeds out of the garden, the key is consistency so that it doesn’t get away from you.
This system has been finely honed down over the past 15 years and I would say we have used our current system for the last 5 years. It has stood the test of time for us.
We have a modified two-story house. The upstairs has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. The main level has our living room, dining area, kitchen (all open to the others), den/office, 1/2 bathroom and laundry/mud room. The basement has another living area, bar, bathroom, 2 bedrooms and a utility room.
When I think of cleaning the house, I break the house into 3 zones. The upstairs, the main level and the basement. Each one gets a different amount of cleaning attention, based on its use and the likelihood that guests will be hanging out in those areas. Obviously, the main level usually gets the most attention since it is where we spend the bulk of our awake time with each other and with guests.
Every day I sweep the floors in the entry, dining/kitchen, hall, 1/2 bath and laundry room. I usually do it each morning and it takes me about 6 minutes. It is like brushing my teeth – I don’t even think about it and it does not feel right when I don’t do it. Unless there is a major spill or we are hosting guests for dinner (and the floor needs it again), I do not think about sweeping any other time. I originally started sweeping every day when we had babies crawling on the floor all the time, but honestly, with a dog, cat and 6 people, there is plenty to sweep up every day. Sometimes when we are gone all day the day before, I can skip it, but those times are rare.
Three times a week I vacuum the main level – Monday, Wednesday, Friday. This consists of our laundry room rugs, the den/office and our living room (also our entry rug). I never skip this because even though I may think it does not need it, my Dyson tells me otherwise each and every time. I can’t even understand where all that stuff comes from, but it is there! I may vacuum up the stairs leading to the upper level if it needs it, but I really only do that once or twice a month. I am sure it could use it more, but you have to choose your battles, right?
Laundry is also done Monday, Wednesday and Friday. With 6 people, I usually have 3 loads, but sometimes I have 2 (sadly, it feels like a major treat when there are only 2 loads) or 4 (often on Monday, boo). On these days, I only wash our clothes. I will throw in towels (bathroom and beach towels), rugs, jackets and sheets as necessary on the other days. For us, it works best not to have to do laundry on the weekends. Sometimes I change it up, but again, that is rare. I find that the best thing about scheduled laundry is that everyone knows when they are to bring their laundry to the laundry room.
I do my best to sort clothes into light or dark, or if we have 3 loads; whites, dark and medium. Everything gets washed on cold and normal, except when I have a full load of just whites/unmentionables – then I do the sanitizing setting. I couldn’t care less, but laundry is my husband’s thing and he likes it when we use that setting, so I do it when I can. I fold the clothes (or hang them) as they come out of the dryer into everyone’s laundry basket and as they come home that day/evening, they bring their respective baskets to their rooms and put it all away. If I am not out running around, laundry is usually done by noon. If I am running around that day, then I try to get it done by dinner so it is not in our way in the laundry/mud room as we run to evening activities.
Other Daily Tasks
I had to really think about this one, as it has become such a routine that we don’t even have list that we check on it. Every night before bed, we clean up anything out-of-place in the main level. The last of the dishes go into the dishwasher, the toys are put away, homework is in the backpacks, paper is in the den (either filed or in a to do bin), the pillows and blankets are folded and put back in place on the couch. This is everyone’s routine and it works well for us.
Here is my philosophy: You are going to have to pick it up sooner or later. Why not do it right away and enjoy the clean before the next time you have to do it again?
That same philosophy goes for dishes. After dinner, everyone helps to clear the table completely. Between the 6 of us, the table gets wiped down, leftovers put in the fridge and the dishes loaded into the dishwasher. I usually do the hand washing (pots, pans, knives, water bottles from the day) while everyone else completes the other tasks. Clean up takes us about 10 minutes, and then it is nice and clean when we get back from our activities. I usually try to get the sink full of hot, soapy water as I finish up dinner, so the pans can soak and I can even get some of the dishes out-of-the-way before dinner (yay for small victories!).
I will say that we also tend to utilize our stair baskets when we are picking up, and those get emptied once a week or as needed, so not everything is put away every single day, but it is all contained. The only exception is when the boys have toys out that they want to play with over a few days – usually army dudes or cars. Then we let that go for a few days. They usually lose interest by then, and it gets picked up and put away.
Once a week the entire house gets cleaned. And by the entire house, I mean the upper and main levels only.
Here is my dirty little secret – I don’t clean the basement every week. I do it once a month only. I am lucky – it does not get that dusty down there, and it just does not get as much use as our main level. Typically, teenagers hang out down there (but not every night) and Chandler and Alex are pretty good about cleaning it up after their friends leave. I will fold the blankets or straighten things up when I am down there (usually once every day or two), but it only gets vacuumed about twice a month and thoroughly cleaned once a month. Chandler cleans the bathroom as needed, and he keeps up with it pretty well. I just don’t worry about it.
I think about the upper and main levels as two different cleaning jobs, so I might clean the upstairs on Thursday night while the boys are showering and then clean the main level during the day on Friday. I generally try to have both cleaned before the weekend. Cleaning involves dusting surfaces with a Swiffer Duster, cleaning the counters with my homemade Clean mixture and cleaning the glass or shiny surfaces with my Sparkle mixture. For the upstairs, I sweep the bathroom floors (and wash them as necessary) and vacuum the upstairs that day (so once per week the upper level gets vacuumed). I usually don’t worry about vacuuming the main level, as I already get that done 3 times per week (see above). Of course, the bathroom sinks, tubs, showers and toilets get cleaned all around (and they need it every week).
I wash the wood floors (not bathrooms) as needed, which ends up being every 10 days – 2 weeks, depending on the season. I am kind of lazy about doing the floors, so there you have it – I am not anal about every little thing. If I notice something needs attention outside of my normal clean, I either take care of it during the weekly cleaning or I make a note of it when I deep clean that space (once a month).
So, for example, if spaghetti sauce splattered on the wall a bit and I missed it when we cleaned up dinner, if I see it in the weekly clean, I just wipe down the wall. If I notice that the light fixtures over the island in the kitchen need to be taken down and washed, I might leave that for the monthly deep clean or some other time when I have a few minutes to tackle it.
Once a month I make the cleanings a deep cleaning, where I dust all the doors and window sills, vacuum around the baseboards and in the corners of the room. I dust things like the bed frames and around the base of the furniture – stuff I don’t do every week. Sometimes the deep clean for both the upper level and the main level happens the same week, but usually it is not the same week, so it is easier to fit into my routine. Plus, I find I get lazy when I am trying to deep clean both levels at once. I do a better job when it is just one area or the other.
I also tackle one area a month, which you can read all about in this post. I break down the areas of the house and yard into 12 months and focus on one area each month. This means that in 1 year, I ideally will have gone through every area of our house. I say ideally, because, well, life happens. But at least I am trying to fit it in.
When I notice a larger project, that goes on the Area of the Month list. This past winter, our living room had built up a few to-dos, like new paint, new curtains and a play table redo. Those went onto the Area of the Month list and became a bigger project. Other larger projects include spring cleaning and our big spring project list.
So by tackling a little bit each day, and a little more each week, I am able to spend a minimal amount of time, yet still have a clean (enough) house until I deep clean once a month.
This method has worked for us for more than 5 years; I swear by it! With few exceptions, I feel ready enough if someone stops by or for us to invite some friends over at the last minute. I love being able to welcome others into our home, and having it clean (enough) makes that possible.