I once woke up at 6 a.m. to find my roommate merrily scrubbing the insides of our kitchen cabinets with a mug of coffee in her hand. In contrast, that task would have only occurred to me if A) I was moving out that day or B) something had spilled.
Suffice it say, I am not the type of person who lives for sparkling sinks and spare countertops. Cleaning, in my mind, is a necessary evil, one I push to the back of my to-do list until I absolutely have to check it off.
But I’m also a grown-up. I understand the appeal of a tidy home on many levels. First, it’s important and responsible to take care of your stuff; second, when your space is spotless and organized, it’s easier to feel a little calmer or happier.
However, I don’t like the time-consuming nature of housekeeping, which is why I’ve learned to prioritize maintenance cleaning—or, in other words, the ability to clean your home in 15 minutes a day.
Decide what “clean” means to you.
Ask any two people who live together what “clean” means, and chances are high that you will receive wildly different definitions in response. Even if you live alone, it’s good to know your triggers and limits.
What drives you crazy: fingerprints on stainless steel? Crumbs? Shoe marks on the floor? And, what doesn’t matter to you at all: stacks of mail? Dishes in the sink? Dog hair everywhere? What chores do you love, and which ones stress you out completely? What’s your core tendency: self-ascribed “neat freak” or a total slob?
Understanding your general attitude and approach to cleaning can help you figure out how to get it done according to your standards.
Spend 5 minutes on 3 rooms . . .
It’s like the saying goes, “You can do anything, but not everything.” The purpose of maintenance cleaning is not to do it all at once, but instead, make a little bit go a long way. I call this the 5-5-5 rule: Pick 3 rooms where you hang out the most, set a timer for 5 minutes, and straighten up one room. Repeat twice, and you’re done.
The key to this strategy is quick, light cleaning; essentially, your lowest decent standard for neatness. It’s when you simply tackle the daily dirt, dust, and clutter that accumulates in a single room. Think “good enough” rather than “perfect,” like the level of clean where you wouldn’t be embarrassed if an acquaintance unexpectedly stopped by.
For example, let’s say you spend the bulk of your time in the kitchen, living room, and bathroom. These rooms are typically the most popular “priority” rooms; additionally, they often function as high traffic spaces for any guests and in general. Here’s how you could approach these areas:
5 minutes: Living Room
Living rooms are easy—they don’t get that dirty, just messy. Your job here is to simply make it look better.
- Wipe any dusty surfaces, such as a TV stand or coffee table.
- Fold stray blankets and arrange pillows where they’re supposed to be.
- Sweep or vacuum the floor (bonus points if you have carpet; vacuum marks are very fancy).
- Remove whatever doesn’t belong, such as books, dog or baby toys, random sweaters, shoes, etc.
The end. Go watch Hulu.
5 minutes: Kitchen
Ah, the kitchen: Where everyone hangs out no matter what; where you eat, drink and be merry at the expense of every dish you own, where stacks of paper and lunch containers and burp cloths are littered everywhere. (No? Just me? OK then.)
There are two tricks to keeping your kitchen in order: an empty sink and countertops free of crap that isn’t kitchen-related.
- Put dirty dishes in the dishwasher, or if you don’t own one, rinse and stack the dishes neatly. Or, you know, do them. (Tip: Clean your dishes after every meal, and they won’t pile up. Annoying, but true.)
- Put your stuff away! I am the guiltiest of this, as I tend to use my kitchen island as a pit stop for coming and going, but seriously, do it.
- Clean your counters with antibacterial wipes or DIY lemon-scented spray.
Look around. Feel proud of this moment. Vow to keep your kitchen this pretty all the time.
5 minutes: Bathroom
Bathrooms are my kryptonite. I hate smudged mirrors, grimy rings in the toilet bowl, and strands of hair on the floor. (Long haired women who may or may not have recently had a baby, I know you feel me on that last one. Ew.) I’m only human, so these things happen. Here’s how get it over with as soon as possible:
- Squirt some toilet cleaner into the basin and let it sit. Return a few minutes later, use the weird white spiky stick that only costs, like, $2 at Target to scrub away the gross buildup.
- Close your shower curtain.
- Grab glass spray and a paper towel, and clean the mirrors, sink, and counter.
- Empty the trash on your way out.
And spend 15 minutes on 1 room.
If one room is really bugging you—like, you just cannot let it be—then spend all of your 15 minute time slot deep cleaning one room as much as you can. We’ll use the same examples as above.
You’ll want to do everything already listed, and then intensify your efforts like so:
15 minutes: Living Room
- Put all blankets and pillow covers in the washer.
- Lint brush or vacuum couch(es) or chair(s), especially if you own animals. Every time I do this, I am horrified by the amount of hair on my neutral colored couch.
- Clean underneath everything; you may be equal parts horrified and surprised by what you will find under there.
- Dust any artwork, photos, or shelving. Open your windows and wipe down the frames and glass.
15 minutes: Kitchen
- Sweep the floors and shake off any rugs outside.
- Take the trash out.
- Wipe the outside of cabinets for fingerprints, as well as frequently touched parts of appliances, such as the fridge or microwave handle.
- Set out fresh hand towels.
- If you have a garbage disposal, cut a lemon or lime in half and throw it down the drain with the water running and the disposal on high.
15 minutes: Bathroom
- After you’ve cleaned the toilet bowl itself, wipe down the actual toilet: the base, top, lid, seat, under the seat, even the lever (think about how many people have touched it before washing their hands! Even you!). In fact, wipe down everything toilet-oriented; you will be so glad you did.
- Do the same for the walls of your shower, plus the showerhead, arm, handle, lever, whatever you’ve got.
- Drizzle Softscrub (it is chemical-laden, but it is the best; if you have natural suggestions, let a girl know) on the floor or base of your tub, allow it to sit for a few minutes, scrub it off, and everything will be brand-spanking-new-looking.
- Wipe down the light switches. The same logic as the toilet handle applies. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
When in doubt, light a candle.
Seriously, if you lack five or fifteen or even one minute, swipe a match and bust out a candle. No matter how messy someone’s home is, if there’s a candle lit, I assume they’ve done way more cleaning than they probably have. It’s a total trick—and it works.