May 14, 2015

How to Fake an "Always Clean" House

Once upon a time, someone came to visit and commented that my house is "always clean".  I may have laughed in her face. (Sorry, Mom...)
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On a typical day, my house is far from clean. There are toys on the floor, dishes in the sink, clean laundry in need of folding, and we currently have a minor ant infestation in my kitchen because I don't sweep as often as I should (meaning hourly - boys are messy!).

It doesn't bother me. I have kids. And a husband. This is as good as it gets most days.


When I know someone is coming, I can fake an "always clean" house in twenty minutes. Everything is put away, counters are cleared, beds made, and even the bathrooms are presentable. Jaw dropping may commence now.

I'm not in possession of magical powers (although that would be A-MAZ-ING, right?) nor do I have house elves stashed away in the basement.

I have a system.
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I saw that.  Didn't your mother tell you rolling your eyes at someone is rude?

Yes, I said "system".

"But I don't want to be restricted by a system," you say. "I'd rather just wing it and go with the flow."

How's that working for you? Hmmm?

That's what I thought.

If you think about successful businesses like McDonald's and State Farm Insurance, what do they have in common? How do they process so many customers and product/services? By winging it? Ha! Systems, people.

For example: You go out of town and find yourself at a McDonald's for lunch.  You order a hamburger and fries knowing it's going to be the same as the hamburger and fries at the McDonald's down the street from your house.
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Not only that, but you know what your service should be like. You know what to expect. How does that work when the two restaurants are hundreds of miles apart? Systems.

What about when you get into a wreck and call your insurance agent? Would you want them to "wing it" when it comes to your claim? Or would you want them to follow systems set in place so nothing gets overlooked or left out?
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Billion dollar companies use systems to ensure success.  Why would you want your home to be any different?

*steps off soapbox*

Back to my system...

It's nothing fancy. In fact, the best ones are simple and easy to follow.  Are you ready for this?  It's a schedule.  Shocker, I know.  Especially since I mentioned a cleaning schedule last week.

There are tons of websites out there with ready-made cleaning schedules for you to print off and use. They're pretty with flowers, scrolly lines, and fancy fonts that make you swoon and rush to the printer, frame in hand so you can hang it on the wall in a place you'll see it daily and never forget to follow it.  Two weeks later, the frame is collecting dust, your house looks like you hosted the Kindergarten Olympics in your living room, and you're wondering why it didn't work.

I know why. It's not your schedule.

Most of those cleaning schedules have daily, weekly, and monthly chores listed out in nice, neat columns.

That's great if it fits into your schedule. You know, the one you made after reading last week's post. (Hint, hint.)  What if it doesn't?  Maybe cleaning an hour a day just isn't feasible for you. Or you don't have time on Saturdays to do a marathon laundry session. That's fine. You need to do what works for you.

Enough talking.  Let's do this.

Step one: Determine what a clean house means to you.

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Ideally, my house would be picture perfect all the time, ready for a magazine shoot. Let's be real, though. I have kids. It ain't happening. As long as the dishes are done, clean laundry is put away, counters are clear, bathrooms are maintained, and beds are made on a daily basis, I'm happy. Add to that sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming for the weekly chores.  In other words, it's the base layer - under the toys, shoes, and books - I'm keeping clean.

The best way to determine your definition of clean is to list all the rooms in your house (including your yard, patio, porch, cars, and garage). Then list what you need to do get that room up to your standards. You can include things like wiping baseboards, disinfecting doorknobs and light switches, vacuuming out window tracks, dusting ceiling fans, and cleaning grout if you really want to be thorough and show the rest of us up.

Step two: Prep for success.

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This step isn't essential to start, but it sure helps. It breaks down into several mini-steps. I'll cover a lot of this in future posts.
  1. Declutter - get rid of anything and everything you don't need, don't use, and don't love. Less truly is more.
  2. Organize - a place for everything and (hopefully) everything in its place. We used to have toys scattered from one end of the house to the other and it took FOREVER to clean it all up. By separating the toys into different bins (Legos, blocks, cars and trains, pretend play) and only allowing one bin out at a time, I've reduced the immediate clutter. Plus, by knowing where everything goes, I've eliminated the junk piles that seem to accumulate on every available flat surface.
  3. Find cleaning products that you love and that work. Work smarter, not harder. I adore the Norwex product line. Environmentally friendly cleaning supplies that work better than anything else I've ever used. They've cut my cleaning time down to a fraction of what it used to be and anything that saves me time is a huge YES! in my book.
  4. Create systems for paperwork, schoolwork, donations, errands, etc. Yes, more systems.  Get over it.

Step three: Set aside time to clean.

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If you leave it for "whenever I have the time", it's not going to get done. A friend of mine cleans her house from top to bottom every Friday so it's ready for the weekend. My in-laws set aside Thursdays to do all their laundry for the week.

You don't have to have a huge block of time for it. If you can only manage fifteen minutes at a time, then do it. I like to clean my kitchen while waiting for things to bake or while thawing meat in the microwave for dinner. Bathrooms take just 10-15 minutes for all three as long as I wipe them down daily, so I do it between step aerobics and picking up my kindergartner from school. Laundry is scheduled for certain days - Mondays are colors, Tuesdays are towels, Wednesday are whites, and so on - because I get intimidated by a mountain of clean clothes to fold.

Step four: Recruit help.

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There's nothing that says you have to do it on your own. Many of my friends set aside Saturday mornings to clean the house as a family. With everyone pitching in, the work goes quickly and the rest of the day is free to enjoy other activities.

My 13-year-old son is in charge of emptying the dishwasher in the mornings and starting it at night. Even if he doesn't hand wash the rest of the dishes, not having to take care of that one chore helps me out a lot. It also teaches him responsibility. If he forgets to start the dishwasher at night, he can't empty it in the morning and I can't fill it as I go during the day, which means he has to fill it instead. He also does his own laundry and takes out the garbage.

Step five: Start fresh every day.

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You're going to have bad days. It happens. Just pick yourself off the sticky floor, dry your tears, and jump right back in. If you miss scrubbing the toilet one day, you will survive. So will the toilet. Just be better today than you were yesterday.

Step six: Encourage people to call ahead.

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I did just say that. I'm not telling you to set strict visiting hours or anything. Just say, "Call before you head over to make sure I'm home." It's that simple. It buys you a few minutes for the last minute tidy-up everyone does when company is coming. 

And that's it. I know it seems intimidating, but take it a little at a time. Choose one thing to improve on this week. Add something else next week. You'll get it eventually.

Or you can move into a new house and do it all at once. Whatever floats your boat.

Since setting up my system, I feel like I'm cheating on my housework. I spend less than an hour a day total doing actual cleaning and yet my house feels cleaner than ever. I'm more relaxed and I have more time for the important things in life - family, dream chasing, chocolate.

And now, when someone tells me my house is always clean, I simply smile and thank them. 

They don't need to know they've been fooled.

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