How To Clean When You Don’t Have The Time

How To Clean When You Don't Have Time from HousewifeHowTosThe busier your life gets the more you look to your home to be a place of comfort and order, but wind up wondering how to clean when you don’t have the time. The good news is that it’s possible, even in the middle of great stress, to restore a sense of order.

How do I know? Well, because after my husband’s cancer surgery we had a steady stream of house guests, most of whom were more interested in spending time talking with him than lending me a hand in the kitchen or with the laundry. It was tempting to simply throw up my hands because, really, who would blame me under those circumstances for not keeping a tidy house?

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But I know myself well enough to understand that my emotional state suffers when I let the house slide. So the first two weeks, when our guests and I spent most of the time at my husband’s hospital bedside, I learned a few tricks to get the house tidy enough in the thirty minutes between getting home and going to sleep. I’m so glad for learning those, too, because for the next six weeks we quite literally had visitors every single day, and I’d have gone insane if the house just kept falling apart.

So here’s what I learned.

Establish a routine. I have a daily housekeeping routine that I have followed for years, almost without fail. Because it’s a routine, chaos never really has a chance to take over, and that means it never really takes that long to do. I speed through it in less than a half-hour each day… and that’s in a 5 bedroom, 3.5 bath home! (If even that routine seems overwhelming to you, consider using my crisis cleaning checklist the first day, then moving on to the daily routine to keep things up.)

Decide what rooms are your priorities. I cook a lot, and my husband’s cancer treatments lower his immune system so it’s crucial that I keep the kitchen extra-clean. You may have other rooms that are more important. Do you like to unwind watching TV? Then focus your efforts on your living/family room. Love to soak in the bath at the end of the day? Then make your bathroom your priority. The point is to spend your time on the room(s) that will affect you most.

Be ruthless about clutter. Even the cleanest of rooms will look out of sorts if there’s clutter all over the place, but oddly enough an uncluttered room will look tidy even if it hasn’t been cleaned in a while. Do a daily walk-through of your kitchen, living/family room and entryway, picking up and putting away clutter as you go. You may not have time to dust and vacuum but those rooms will still seem clean.

Use free moments wisely. These days, I spend a lot of time waiting: on hold with the doctor’s office, for my son to get dressed for school, for the coffee pot to do it’s thing. Rather than just stand there, I’ve been doing my list of one minute chores (and the follow-up lists here and here). It’s amazing how much a difference those spare moments can make!

Get your family involved. I’m rather old-school when it comes to children helping around the house: I believe it’s essential life training, particularly now that schools no longer offer Home Ec courses. There’s a list of chores that kids can do taped to my fridge. When my son says he’s bored, when he wants to earn money or extra screen time on the computer, or when I just need the extra bit of help, I assign him a few tasks to help around the house. He always complains, but so what? When he’s done, he appreciates what he’s earned — even if it’s just my gratitude for not having to do it all myself.

Remember: your home should be homey. So many of us think our homes should look like those we see in magazines. You know what I mean: spotless surfaces, carefully arranged knickknacks and throw pillows, everything color-coordinated and new. That is NOT life. That’s NOT anyone’s real home! That’s a picture of a moment in time created by interior decorators. Even if they’re photographing someone’s actual house, they’ve brought in props and swapped furnishings. Then the photographer selects just a tiny scene from the whole room to show us, one slice of the very best part. Unless you plan on having a crew like that in your house 24/7, don’t try making your home look like that.

Home is a place where we retreat from the world to be with those we care about most, the people we don’t have to impress at all. Keep it tidy, yes, and clean when you can. Then relax and enjoy your life with your loved one. See those fingerprints on the wall, the coffee stains on the carpet, the crusty table tops for what they truly are: signs that a family lives and loves there.

Those aren’t stains or blemishes…they’re reminders that living well together is the most important task of all.


  1. Debbie says

    My routine is doing laundry when I run out of underwear. I clean the bathroom when I clean other peoples houses. While I clean other peoples homes my children sweep our floors. Each person has a day of the week to do dishes and my husband and I do dishes on Sunday. “Fly lady ” helped me get organized years ago and my house has been manageable ever since. Thank you for your article to remind me why I have an order to do things in.

  2. says

    Dearest Katie,
    You are running in over drive as I read here. That takes a lot of planning for having to drive each day 2 hours + the waiting time etc. Sure, kitchen and bathroom are always priority #1, especially for your dear husband in his present condition. Hygiene is very important. You are so right for actually living in your home. That’s what we do and it doesn’t need to be picture perfect all the time. Far more important is for having great memories of time spent with each other while the kids were little, when they became teenagers and so on. That’s what they will remember and we too. The discipline with a capital ‘D’ as you are raising your son by, is very important for each of us. Life is not easy and that way at least you know about self control.
    Hugs to you,

  3. says

    “Re-adjust your standards if needed”

    Going through chemo/radiation treatment everyday myself I’ve found this statement the meanningful.

    My sister/husband (both retired) are here for the long haul and I don’t know what I would do without them. However, they both do things differently than I do. But guess what,,,in the long run it doesn’t really matter.

    And WHEN I GET BETTER (that’s my mantra for everything I want to do now) I’ll do it the way I want it done! *S*

    Good luck with all your hubby’s treatments and take care of yourself, too. LET others help, if you really don’t like the way they did it, you can redo later!

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