Keeping It Clean - 10 Steps to Keeping Your Home Neat.

Periodically it is asked of me how I keep my home neat and clean.  Granted I am a stay at home wife and I consider my home my 'job', but I have many calls upon my time and keeping it all in balance and keeping the house neat and clean is something I must stay on top of.

So what is the secret?  Habit and routines.

I will be the first to confess that I like a little routine and a lot of 'Oh what do I feel like doing today?' It's the routine part of what I do that keeps things running smoothly, looking nice and allows me that freedom.  What I do in my home works for us, but I believe these steps can work for every one.

When I was ill, John kept up the house on his own.  He didn't know just where to put certain dishes so he (very wisely in my opinion) put them on the baking counter, which is out of the direct line of vision if you're in the living room or the back entry area.  No one was the wiser of that little hot spot on that counter top.  He has seen enough of my routines that he kept up the house very well all on his own just using these 10 steps.

When I came home from hospital I spent perhaps ten minutes putting away those items he was unsure of, and  I didn't feel in the least overwhelmed by chores staring me in the face although I'd been gone 2  weeks.  That he was able to do this, while making daily treks to the hospital or working his 24 hour shifts,  convinced me that I was on to something really good that would work well for any one at all.

1.  Do laundry every day.

I used to think that I should have a laundry day, and I'd spend hours washing load after load of clothes and towels and sheets and spend my time doing nothing much besides laundry.  It was a chore!   I believed in separating clothes into white, dark, towels, etc.  It's not at all necessary.  That's the big secret.  Yes, occasionally I do want to soak a load of whites in bleach and at those times I might wash them separately, but honestly?  I haven't noticed a huge difference in our white clothes when they are washed with our other clothes, including dark.  We've just about figured out which new items are going to be prone to bleeding and will wash those separately the first couple of washings.

If you think this is not an economical way to do laundry, then I beg to differ.  When we had five children at home we were never without a full load and often two every single day.  Had I waited until 'laundry day' and we'd also stripped beds and washed towels on that day, I'd have done a total of 10 loads in a single day's time.  I would say we do laundry now about four times a week, with one of those being towels and sheets and possibly another of some sort of laundry from deep cleaning, such as a quilt or curtains from a room, etc.  John will occasionally wash a small load of clothes, what he refers to as a 'mutt load,' where he throws in anything at all just to make up a load.  We lower the water levels on the washer for small loads and we almost always use a short cycle since our clothing is seldom deeply dirty.

2.  Keep the dishes done.  I try to keep hand washing down to once a day.  However, I rinse and stack dishes in the dishwasher as much as I can and the rest are stacked neatly in the dishpan.  When the dishpan is obviously full, or I've come to the end of the day,  I will wash.  You'd be much surprised to discover how much nicer the kitchen looks with just that little bit of attention.  When I worked, breakfast dishes were stacked neatly and left to soak all day (there was no dishwasher in those early years) and those got cleaned up before we began our evening meal preparations.

Putting dishes away when they are washed and dried is a key part of that 'done' equation, as well.  Don't stack them on the counter; put them away.  I'll just bet you have a place in your cupboards or a hutch for dishes, so use that space and put things away.  I like to let my dishes air dry, but one of my last tasks each day is to empty the dish drainer and put away those dishes.  I've noticed when I fail to do that task my first vision of the kitchen is that it needs a lot of work...and often putting the dishes away does more for making it appear neat than any other.

3.  Keep things off the counters.  You've seen my kitchen counters in countless photos.  Honestly?  That's how they look 98% of the time.  I like to use decorative items, there are certain appliances that stay out at all times, but the bulk of my things are behind cabinet doors, whether it's appliances, dishes or foodstuffs.  Anything you can do to clear your line of vision will give the impression of  the kitchen being clean.

If you can't keep things in the cupboards then find a way to store that allows a cleaner line of sight.  I use a basket on top of my fridge to corral breads.  I keep the tin cake cover on top of the fridge because I think it looks pretty there, but as often it might store a cake or pie that might otherwise be on the counter top.  I have fruit in a pretty bowl or on a tiered plate stand.

I am often complimented on my baking center, seen in the photo above.  The canisters are pretty but necessary.  They look neat and free up cupboard space for me to store other items.    My mixer stays on the baking center counter for convenience, and I've made a cover from a vintage pillowcase... but what you don't know is that in the mixing bowl under that cover is where I store the paddles, and measuring cups!   I find stacking my crock pot on top of the microwave works for me because my upper cabinets are higher than the average.

If you can't fit things into your cupboards, I suggest that you cull things out.  I'm willing to bet there  are items you seldom use.  I'm forever reducing what I have in my kitchen.  I'm not a huge fan of appliances but I have a few.  I noted just this weekend that there are several items I seldom or never use anymore.  I'll be cleaning out my cabinets next month and putting those things in the shed or donating them.  Why should they take up valuable space if I only use them once a year, if at all?

And one more thing: wipe the counters down daily.  Crumbs and dust do nothing to enhance their appearance.  Take the dish cloth and wipe them down daily.  Do the top of the stove, too.  You'll likely spend a whole two minutes doing this but it makes a world of difference.

4.  Make your bed.  Seriously.  It does so much for making a room look well kept.  What's more you'll sleep better if your covers aren't tangled.  Just this morning, I took one set of sheets off the bed, put the other set on, before I ever left the room to put the first set in the wash.  It took me less than five minutes to strip and remake that bed.  It takes a little less time to simply make the bed up each morning.

5.  Vacuum and sweep frequently.  When all the kids were home, we vacuumed daily.  Now, with just the two of us, we typically vacuum two times a week and I sweep the kitchen and back entry every day.  I usually sweep the bathrooms twice a week.  We don't have pets in the house but you can bet we find plenty of dust and dirt every time we do these tasks.  I can vacuum the three most frequently used rooms (living room, dining area, and master bedroom) in about ten minutes.  Sweeping takes less than five minutes.

This is the second time I've mentioned 'time' for tasks. I used to put off things because I didn't have 'time' or didn't want to give up a more pleasurable activity (like reading or watching a favorite TV program) but one day I timed myself making my bed with a fresh set of sheets.  It took me four minutes. That made me aware that my thinking had been askew and I started timing myself at other tasks.  On days when I just don't feel well, I find the time  it takes during commercials on TV will get most tasks done.

6.  Empty trash cans.  I prefer to empty cans that are just half full if it's a public area such as your living room or guest bath.  An empty trash can seems to jut say the room is clean even if you've done little else.

7.  Swish/wipe down the bathroom daily.  I usually clean our bathroom three times a week and I check the guest bath twice a week.  I wipe off the counters, put away toiletries (we keep baskets on the counter for most used items), restock the paper and swish the toilet.  Done.  Time frame: 5 minutes.

8.  Clear tables and surfaces in the living/dining area.  John uses our dining table as his computer desk.  It's in one corner of the large living room and so he can see or hear TV while he's checking information and reading emails.  He keeps his area neat and nice, despite the stack of books,  so it's not a problem for me.  When we have dinner guests, he clears his things away in a matter of a minute, mostly because he only keeps what he uses daily there.  Ditto for the spot beside my chair in the living area.  I have a tin box where I keep nail file and lip balm, bookmarks, pens, etc. on one shelf of a small bookcase.  I keep my magazines in a basket that slides under a table.  We don't have a coffee table, but if I did, I'd keep decorative items on it and magazines in a basket underneath.  I am by no means a minimalist, as you know from seeing photos of my home, so don't think I simply don't keep anything out.  I just prefer that what people see is the pretty things and that they aren't distracted by the personal items I like to keep nearby.

9.  Get in the habit of putting things away right now.  A stack of laundry, mail, etc. can really detract from a room's appearance.  John uses the top of the chifforobe in the kitchen sitting area as his dumping station.  Tools, parts for machines, flashlights all get dropped there.  As well, it's where we keep our daily medications.  I bought three baskets and lined them up end to end across the back of the chiffarobe and all those items have their own spot.  I keep tools separate from his personal items, and medicines separate from those other things.  When we do laundry and it's folded, we put it away within a few minutes.

Ditto with items I use in the kitchen.  I tend to gather all the items needed to prepare a meal on the counter between sink and stove.  They don't stay on the counter, they get put back in the fridge or into cupboards right away.  I've made it my habit as I use an item to put it on the counter near the cabinet where I normally keep it, or I set items meant to go back into the fridge on the island.  It's a very efficient way to clear space and often John will come into the kitchen and begin putting those items away because he knows I'm done with them.

10.  Develop a morning and evening routine.  First thing each morning I load the dishwasher with the glasses or snack plates we put in the sink the night before.  I remove those items from the living room every night.

Mornings are the time I usually do a quick walk through of each room and I put things away, empty trash, make a bed, hang a towel neatly, put away clothes or books.  It takes me just a few minutes and is well worth not coming back home to a mess.

Evenings, I usually take a few minutes prior to 7pm and put dishes in the dishwasher, check counters are clean and fold any laundry we've hung to dry during the day.  I empty the dish drainer, put away the laundry, set up the coffee pot for the morning  and at 7pm I stop.  Just before we head to bed, we'll take any cups or glasses to the kitchen and put in the sink.  We both shut down our computers and leave our areas neat.   If we've an early morning appointment, I'll make sure my clothes are ready, which is easy these days since I set up a week's worth of outfits from shoes to accessories.

If John is working the next day, I pack his lunch bag with non-perishables and make sandwiches as I prepare our evening meal.  I keep those things together on a shelf in the fridge.  I'll set out the frying pan so I can cook his eggs.

These are my routines that work well for me.

The tasks listed above are not all I do, but they do constitute the bulk of what keeps my home looking neat and clean.  Anyone who has a home knows it takes some real work but just keeping up with these tasks will insure that the overall appearance is acceptable for guests.  I have daily and weekly and monthly routines that I cycle into my mix which incorporate deep or seasonal tasks as well.  But understand this: I do not spend all of my time doing housework.  I write, I read, I visit, I shop, I work on projects.  At most, I spend less than 2-3 hours on the house and often not much over an hour, so I think this is doable for any homemaker, even if she works full time outside the home.  I could, I think, easily manage my home by spending that 2-3 hours on Sundays (you might choose Saturday) on the deeper work and simply get by with these simple steps the rest of the week.

I hope you will try to incorporate these ten simple steps into your home routine and let me know how they work for you.


Tracy Lee said...

A wonderful list, Terri! Thanks for sharing what you do. :)

Anonymous said...

I have had people comment on how clean my home looks. Some of those times I had only been able to do the things you mentioned...or less No deep cleaning could be done or even some dusting undone. It is that the general look of the house was neat and tidy. That makes a big difference. To me the house need working on but thy did not notice those things. I read years ago too to make sure the one room where any unexpected gust would be using if someone showed up early in the morning. Having that one room ready and the kitchen dishes stacked and it straightened goes a long way if you get an interruption of a morning get. Once they are done then onto all the rest you want to accomplish that day.
Also the habit of scanning each room as you walk around the house all day and putting things right quickly or taking what belongs in another room there and putting it away etc. It happens so quick and naturally but is such a help isn't it.
There are times I feel like I am not getting enough done. At times our energy is too low or health is not up to par. If you do as much of the basics you mentioned all will be maintained and the heavier things can be done when you can do them. Even if you can only work in 5 minute increments. I try to do even one small extra job as much as I can. One drawer sorted and cleaned out. One window washed. Anything makes me feel good that I am working on things. Somethings are getting done that are not daily jobs. It thrills me so to see my home comfortable for us and welcoming. As nice as I can make it. It is a deep good feeling. No one but me may know what I accomplished that day but I do and it makes me feel so good!! The whole house looks brighter and better to me! Terry I think your home is just lovely. It shows that it is taken care of. That you give much thought and work in making it the special place it is for you and John. Sarah

Lana said...

My routines are very much like yours and I get the same sort of comments. I like to keep things neat so that I can have people drop by without feeling like I have to hurry around a clean. Yesterday I had a very sick friend come by for some essential oils and it was good to feel that I could tell them to just come and not worry about things. I have this situation quite often because of my training in kinesiology and essential oils and there is never time to clean as when people call they want to come now because they are sick or in pain. For me, life is just better with a clean house!

I am very much list driven. I have a master 4 week chore list the incorporates everything that needs to be cleaned such as baseboards, picture frames and cars. It was very freeing for me to not have to think about when to get everything done since they are all listed out. It is easy to keep up with everything when the chores are broken down into small tasks daily. I do laundry five days a week and have lived by the same schedule for about 30 years. My husband's niece recently posted on Facebook that she has started taking a their clothes to a laundry mat so that she can wash them all at once. What a crazy expense when one has machines in your own home!

Anonymous said...

I was brought up to have a certain routine. My mom always said if your dishes were done, the bed made, clutter out of sight and the bathroom clean that your house would look clean even if there were deep cleaning things that needed to be done. I find that I do laundry only once a week for the two of us and we often, unless we are going someplace wear the same thing (except undies) 2 days in a row. I can throw a load in go on about other things, throw them in the dryer, throw a new load in and go back to what I was doing, pull the first load out and hang or fold immediately, take things to the rooms they belong in as I go and it is not a time consuming task Neither one of us do intensive labor often, so we don't have a lot of really soiled clothes to lay around. I have a dishwasher and it gets loaded as soon as meals are done, pans soak while I cook. I remember my mom as a widow and we still laugh about it, that when you went to her house don't start the oven without looking in it. Her dishes were always out of sight, but because she used so few and it didn't really make sense to use soap, water, etc. for 2 or 3 things she would put them in a dishpan and put them in the oven and then do them at the end of the day.Another thing I am particular about is not having books and newspapers lying about. I put the newspapers in the recycle bin each day and books stay in the closet. I have very little open shelving. All my kitchen stuff is behind doors and I only have about 2 decorative things in my kitchen.
I keep "lists" in a drawer rather than on the refrigerator, another place that can look messy. I like to keep the patio tidy and the flower beds taken care of in the summer time as we seem to be outside more than in.
Sunday at our house is always a day of rest. Church, then a nice lunch with friends then home to rest, read or do a hobby,ect. Also a good time to think about the next week and plans for the week.
It sounds like your and my list are about the same. I have been at it for so many years that things just get done automatically without even thinking about it. It seems that I only need to do a deep cleaning, such as shampooing rugs, cleaning items that seldom get used about 2 times a year. I don't believe in doing unnecessary tasks. If I see a drawer is untidy, or a closet shelf needs straightiing I do it as I see it,not the entire closet or dresser, otherwise it becomes a major chore. Even when I am doing a spring or fall house cleaning there are drawers and shelves I do not clean because they have been already taken care of. I also have Gramps pretty well trained! LOL! Gramma D

Sew Blessed Maw [Judy] said...

Your house looks lovely, and you do a good job with cleaning /organizing and decorating. I love reading about all the things you do..

I do most of the same things on your list..When I was young and my kids were still home, I had an elderly lady tell me, " ALWAYS , 10 minutes before you go to bed, do a quick sweep of your kitchen, pick up your living room, and ALWAYS return everything to its rightful place. If you will do this, your house will be acceptable , to a drop in visit." I have always remembered this, and it is such
a easy way, to upkeep the little things. I added to the list.... to always empty dishwasher or sink of clean dishes.. Wipe down counters.. It makes mornings so much more enjoyable..
THank you for sharing your routine.. Have a blessed day. Judy
ps Do you have a planner? I am seeing lots of the ladies on the blogs/you tube, that say they cant run their home with out one?

Anne said...

Two things strike me about this post. One is that I also have found that you can mix laundry pretty well without worries. Like you said, a few things will run at first, but after awhile all extra color is long gone. I also don't have much that is white as it's a color I seldom wear.

Secondly, I am surprised so many ladies talk about having the house ready for "drop in" company. I honestly can not tell you the last time I had anyone drop in. Pretty much not for decades. Our social life is well scripted. And not only that but almost no one wants to entertain in their home anymore, but prefers to meet at a restaurant. The times have definitely changed.

Anonymous said...

Me too, I like to do pretty much what you've listed. I don't like clutter so I keep on top of it and put things away. It's become a joke in our house, if something isn't useful, out it goes. My hubby has started saying he is worried that he'll be put out if he isn't useful. Ha, no worries there! (Grin) I see washing whites with colors opposite of what you said. White undies leave white residue on colored t-shirts so I'm careful there, but other than that I wash things together, and I too do laundry throughout the week whenever I have a load. I use soap and water and a squeegee to make windows easy to clean. They aren't perfect but are much better than they were dirty! I also try and wipe up the bathroom/s every day.

Like you said, these jobs really are little ones that take just a few minutes. If one stays on top, the home is a welcoming place. Pam

Lana said...

Anne---You are so right! It is sad! We are guiltily of meeting at restaurants too but we do still try to have people in but it not very often for meals as it just tires me out for days with all the getting ready. We more often ask others in for board games and snacks here but it has been awhile. Thanks for the reminder.

Karla Neese said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you from your nosy friend! LOL I appreciate seeing what others do to keep their homes neat and tidy as it always gives me pause to look at my own "routines, or lack thereof" and tweak things to try anew.

Sparkiedoll said...

I just love reading your blog. It's so, well, not sure..normal?? but so different from me in the SE of the UK but still, so very much the same. Please keep on writing. Rose x

Crystal H. in Nevada said...

My husband used to think it was odd that I did laundry almost every day. Seems like there is always a load. When I was very sick with my heart challenges years ago all I could get done in a day was a load of laundry and my dishes. I would wash 5 dishes at a time through out the day. The same with folding and putting away. 5 at a time. It kept me sane though a very rough period of time in my life. I too do a lot of the things you do to keep my house running smoothly. Could be better in some areas but then again we are all works in progress. :)

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