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A housecleaning routine you can actually stick to

Need a plan to tackle cleaning tasks at home? These expert tips and checklists will help you get on top of your mess.
Woman cleaning bathroom sink with sponge
Set a timer for 15 minutes each night and get as many tasks on your list done as you can. Westend61 / Getty Images
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By Nicole Spector

It’s my day off and numerous low-key activities call to me: yoga, going to the dog park, sinking into the new Ta-Nehisi Coates novel; but a must-do chore looms over all these attractive options: my husband and I have to clean the house. We’ve been procrastinating for weeks and now things have gotten just a tad out of control.

The problem is that I have essentially set myself up for failure by saving all my cleaning for one day and without any kind of a plan. The trick is to create a cleaning routine that I can actually stick to. What might such a routine look like? Here’s what the experts helped me come up with.

Assess the mess and prioritize with a physical checklist

Nailing down the specifics should be your first step. What needs to be cleaned and how much time will it take?

“Look around and ask yourself which areas of your home bother you the most when they're dirty? These will be the highest priority,” says Ashleigh Edelstein, a marriage and family therapist. “It’s also important to think about your least favorite tasks; it could be washing the dishes, dusting or folding the laundry.”

I took Edelstein’s suggestion of looking around the house and assessing what needed to be done, but I still found myself overwhelmed, because basically everything is overdue for cleaning. This is where getting super organized can help. Start by writing tasks down, room by room in a checklist format.

Writing out each room’s chores will assist in staying organized and create a visual kudos as you begin to check off each task,” says Leanne Stapf, chief operating officer at The Cleaning Authority.

It’s a good idea to type up this list and print it out so that you (and everyone else in your house) can refer to it later.

“I have a bathroom cleaning checklist inside of a cupboard in each of our bathrooms,” says Kait Schulhof, author of the blog “A Clean Bee”. “Whoever is cleaning bathrooms that week can pull out the checklist and check off each task as it's completed.”

Be honest about what you’re willing to do

It’s crucial to be realistic with your goals.

“A consistently sparkling home would be great, but it's not always sustainable and one of the most common reasons people give up after a short time,” says Edelstein. “Have an honest look at your schedule to decide how much time you're willing to commit to cleaning every day. Some days, like weekends, will allow for more time, but not necessarily more willingness.”

Categorize tasks by day, week and month

Aim to tackle low-effort tasks on a daily basis, and medium-effort chores once a week. This way when it’s time for the monthly deep-clean of the living room, bedroom and kitchen, you’ll have less to do.

Your checklist should inform your schedule, but if you get confused (I did), heed the insights of Joe Budzienski, a self-described “cleaning fanatic” who launched the eco-friendly cleaning brand, ThreeMain.

“On a daily level, aim to do dishes, pick things up off the floor and wipe down surfaces. Once a week, tackle your medium-effort tasks, like dusting and vacuuming,” Budzienski says. “Then, when you go in for your deep clean once a month to clean floors and organize rooms, it’s a much easier task.”

Like the checklist, the schedule should be printed out and posted in common areas around the home.

“If you want to improve your household's chances of actually following that cleaning schedule it has to be hung somewhere visible,” says Schulhof. “Hang your cleaning schedule behind your front door, in the hallway near your garage entry, on your fridge, or somewhere else in your home where there is a lot of family foot traffic.”

Schedule it on your calendar — with reminders on

Now that you’ve got your schedule written up and taped to the fridge (or wherever), you should block out time in your calendar to actually do the assigned cleaning.

“Block out cleaning time on your calendar every day, even if it's just a few minutes of tidying up, and set reminders,” says Edelstein. “It's way too easy to swipe away an alarm and tell yourself you'll do it later, so make sure to set your reminder for when you're supposed to start. If you find you're still ignoring it, try setting your phone in a different room when you get home so it's harder to ignore.”

Delegate tasks to others (including kids)

“If you have other helpers in the house, you can start to designate rooms or tasks to each person as a way to split up the work and help get everyone in the swing of cleaning,” says Stapf.

Schulhof seconds this advice, adding that in her home, chores are divvied up “based on skill level (kids get the tasks appropriate for their age) and desire.”

Have your cleaning caddy pre-stocked and easily accessible

“Instead of wasting time collecting the cleaning products I need for a given chore, I have a cleaning caddy pre-stocked with all of the products necessary to get any cleaning job done,” says Schulhof. “Everyone in our household knows where it is and can grab it to tackle a spill or mess anywhere in our home.”

Bunch like tasks together

“Make it an easier time cleaning by combining tasks that intuitively go together,” says Brittany Ferri, an occupational therapist. “For example, cleaning the kitchen can be done right before you go grocery shopping. This will give you time to clean out the fridge and pantry, wipe down countertops, scrub the stove and note things you need to pick up. Then you can bring groceries back to a clean and organized kitchen to easily put away. Similarly, dusting and vacuuming can be done at the same time. You can vacuum your biggest rooms, then dust to catch any stray debris. This can then be followed by cleaning out the vacuum bag or canister, and also cleaning out the dryer's lint trap and wiping down any of those surfaces with stray or excess dust.”

How much can you get done in 15 minutes?

“I set a timer for myself for 15 minutes each night to get as many tasks done on my schedule as possible,” says Schulhof. “It's really surprising how much can be cleaned in just 15 minutes.”

Make your brain associate cleaning with a great book or fun music

Courtney Keene, director of operations at MyRoofingPal, says she used to loathe cleaning, until she implemented a practical schedule and slipped in some entertainment on the side.

“The biggest key for me is tying in something I want to do with something I need to do,” Keene says. “That works especially well for cleaning, which is boring and monotonous on its own. Instead of just listening to music, I'll put on an audiobook or podcast that I'm not allowed to listen to at any other time. It's only for when I'm cleaning, so I can look at it not as having to clean for an hour, but getting to listen to an hour of the book I've been dying to read.”

Jennifer Rodriguez, chief hygiene officer at Pro Housekeepers, likes to associate a theme with cleaning, usually in the form of music. “I’ll play throwbacks on Thursdays, for example and by the time I’m done listening a dozen songs, I am typically done.”

Bond with your family over cleaning, followed by a pizza party

Julie Gurner, a performance coach with a doctorate in psychology, suggests bringing your whole family in for some clean fun. Housework as bonding, perhaps? It’s not a bad idea.

“While this seems almost counterintuitive, being able to engage your partner and/or family, put on some music, and get everyone involved can be enjoyable,” Gurner says. “I've had some clients who say it's actually a fun part of their Saturday routine: They dance around, take on their own respective tasks, and indulge in pizza and Netflix after.”

Give yourself a break

The key takeaway here is to make cleaning something you don’t hate to do; so if you’re having a bad day or if you’ve just got too much going on, put yourself first and cleaning last. If, on the other hand, a dirty dwelling is adding to your stress, focus on putting in just enough work to feel better about your home.

“If you're particularly tired or really not feeling up to it, ask yourself what's the bare minimum that would feel good enough today?” says Edelstein. “Maybe you've got one hour blocked out to clean the entire kitchen. Could you just focus on cleaning the counter tops and cooktop? A perfectly clean home isn't realistic, so continue to think about what good enough looks like for you and scale back as needed.”

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