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Simple Systems: Clean Your House as You Go (with an added burst)

Photo by Shaylor

Every Wednesday is Simplicity Day on Zen Habits.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

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:

Burst Cleaning
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:

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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