Some days we all find ourselves wondering how to clean when you don’t have the time. Whether your job has you working extra hours, you’ve been ill, or you’ve been blessed with a new baby, the busier life gets, the more we all need our homes to be a source of comfort. Ironically, those are the very times it’s harder to keep up with housework.
I get it.
After my husband’s brain cancer diagnosis, we initially had a steady stream of house guests. Most of them were understandably interested in spending time with him. So was I. Their visits, while comforting, led to an even larger number of dishes to wash and more laundry to do. Few of them thought to bring a meal or snack, so in addition to caregiving for my husband, I was also constantly running to the store or feeding people.
It was tempting to simply throw up my hands because, really, who would blame me under those circumstances for not keeping a tidy house?
But I know myself well enough to understand that my emotional state suffers when I let the house slide. So after his brain surgery, 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. I’d have gone insane if the house just kept falling apart.
(UPDATE: My husband lost his battle with brain cancer after two years. Around the time he entered home hospice care, I wrote this article about how to help someone with cancer because caregivers in that situation should not also have to entertain and clean up after guests!)
Here’s what I learned.
How To Clean When You Don’t Have The Time
1. Routines are everything. I have a daily housekeeping routine that I have followed for years, almost without fail. Since it’s a routine, chaos never really has a chance to take over, so it never really takes that long to do. If even that routine seems overwhelming, to you, do some crisis cleaning the first day, then move to the daily routine to keep things up.
2. Prioritize. I cook a lot, so my kitchen gets messy fast. I also work at my kitchen table many days, so it’s important to me that the kitchen is clean. You may have other priorities. 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? Make your bathroom a priority. The point is to spend your time on the room(s) that will affect you most.
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3. Take 5 minutes to do this first. Even the cleanest of rooms will look out of sorts if there’s clutter everywhere, but an uncluttered room will look tidy even if it hasn’t been cleaned in a while. Take 5 minutes each day to walk through your priority rooms and pick up clutter. You may not have time to dust and vacuum, but the room will still seem clean.
4. Make use of spare minutes. 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 its thing. Rather than just stand there, I do one minute chores. It’s amazing how much a difference those spare moments can make!
5. Don’t go it alone. 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 wants to earn money or extra screen time on the computer, I have him do a few tasks. He 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.
MOST OF ALL…
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.