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.