Simple Systems: Clean Your House as You Go (with an added burst)
By Leo Babauta
Who among us has the time or energy for housework?
Sure, we often make the time, if we don’t like living in a pig sty. But too often our homes fall into disorder, just because we are too tired or too busy to do a bunch of cleaning in our spare time.
Instead, make housework simple. Simplify your housework with two easy cleaning systems:
- Clean as you go. This is merely the habit of putting things where they belong, instead of leaving them somewhere to be cleaned later, as well as cleaning any little messes quickly, instead of letting the messes build up. More on this below.
- Burst cleaning. In my house, we call this a 30-minute cleanup, and it’s something we do on a Saturday when we don’t have much time for cleaning (which is almost every Saturday). The concept is to do a quick clean, in addition to the little cleaning you’ve done throughout the week, leaving your house (fairly) spic and span.
I’ve talked about the concept of clean-as-you-go before, but I thought I’d expand on it a bit after reader Jeff Lilly asked:
I have a question about your clean-as-you-go article. I sometimes have to let our bathrooms get pretty dirty for a while, because I simply don’t have the 30-40 minutes necessary to get in and clean them. If I could do a five-minute cleanup job every time I use them, it would be awesome. What exactly is your routine?
The toilet, for example: if I use the standard toilet cleaner and scrub brush, it takes at least 15 minutes because I have to let the toilet cleaner sit for 10 minutes in the bowl. Obviously, I can do something else during ten of those minutes, but it breaks up the flow of work, and no one can use the toilet during that time. Alternatively, I could simply clean the toilet bowl with a cloth and cleaning solution (which is actually my preferred method, since it gets it a lot cleaner), but if I use a new cloth two or three times a day, that adds up to a lot more laundry!
Also, the shower spray you use: usually these things are designed to be washed off during the next shower. Do you use it in the kids’ bathtub? Do you worry about the chemicals mixing in their bathwater?
Clean As You Go
Jeff’s excellent question allows me to use the cleaning of the bathroom as an example of clean as you go:
- First, I don’t actually clean the bathroom every single day … but every 2-3 days is about right for me. I clean when I notice a little dirt building up, or if I notice something needs cleaning.
- The toilet bowl, for example, usually stays fairly clean, but sometimes needs a quick swish. If I notice a bit of dirt in the toilet, I’ll spray it with a cleaner (any one will do if it’s not too dirty) and then do a quick swish with the toilet brush and flush it down. That only takes a minute.
- If you let things get pretty dirty, you’ll need to do a more thorough clean — such as the things Jeff mentioned — but after that, it’s just a matter of maintaining the cleanliness. You’ll probably still need to do a deeper clean every now and then (use your eyes and nose to determine that) but for the most part, just try to keep things clean.
- For the shower, again, if you keep it clean, you don’t need to use anything too harsh. Just a regular bathroom cleaner will work, if you’re cleaning it every 2-3 days. Just spray it down, and do a quick scrub either right before you get in the shower or while you’re in there. Only takes a couple of minutes, and then you get clean from the shower.
- I do a quick wipe of the sink when I notice it getting dirty (again, every 2-3 days). The floor of the bathroom, maybe once a week. The walls don’t usually need cleaning as often.
- As for the harsher cleaning sprays, yes, those can be harmful if you leave them in when your kids shower. I would recommend spraying, and then coming back and scrubbing and rinsing real quick, if you use those cleaners. But again, if you clean every few days, you won’t need anything too strong. Just a general cleaner.
This is clean-as-you-go for the bathroom: just a quick clean of the toilet, or sink, or tub, every couple of days. It only takes a few minutes, if things aren’t too dirty. I like to do a quick clean before I get in the shower, so I get clean after I dirty myself from cleaning.
But this concept can be applied to the rest of the house too:
- Wash dishes when you’re done with them. Obvious, I know, but too often we leave dishes to pile in the sink. When you’re done with dinner, everyone should pitch in to put away leftover food, wash dishes, and clean the table, stove and counters. Takes about 10 minutes.
- Keep counters and sink clean. If you cook or prepare food, wipe down the counters real quick when you’re done. When you do anything in the sink, rinse and wipe it down. Takes less than a minute.
- Keep floor clean. I find that most of the house needs sweeping or vacuuming only once a week, but the kitchen needs sweeping every day (I have six kids and a cat). We share this duty (although I often end up doing it), and it only takes a few minutes.
- Put away clothes when you take them off. If clothes are dirty, put them in the hamper. If they’re still clean, put them away.
- Put other items where they belong. Instead of laying something on a counter, table, or floor, take a few seconds to put it where it belongs. This is a simple habit that will save tons of time.
- Pick up before you go to bed. I like to do a quick pick-up before bedtime, of stuff that the kids left around. This leaves the house beautifully clean when I wake up in the morning. Only takes 2-3 minutes.
While clean-as-you-go keeps your house fairly clean throughout the week, you’ll still need to do some general cleaning, preferably once a week. But you don’t have a lot of time.
I recommend that you do 30 minutes of cleaning, once a week. We use Saturdays, but you can do it whenever you have the time. For us, the entire family helps out, but if you don’t have a large family, you can just do what you can in 30 minutes.
Here’s what a family can tackle in 30 minutes:
- Quick clean of the bathroom(s), including a wipe down of sink, toilet and tub, and quick clean of floor. Throw rugs in laundry.
- Quick pick-up around the house.
- Sweep floors, and mop if you have time.
- Clean kitchen a little more thoroughly than you do during the week.
If you don’t get all of this done in 30 minutes, don’t worry about it — you can always get it next weekend. But your house should be fairly clean.
Every 2-3 months, you should do a deeper clean — clean out the refrigerator, the oven, the cabinets, closets.
How to develop the habit
Don’t expect to be perfect at clean-as-you-go right away. It’s a new habit, and you’ll have a hard time with it at first.
Instead, try one thing at a time, for about a week or two at a time. I would recommend you follow the advice of one of my inspirations, Fly Lady, who says to start with the kitchen sink: just try to keep it clean and shiny. From there, work on the kitchen counters. Then the kitchen table. You might move to the bathroom sink next. And so on.
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