Spring Cleaning in Thirteen Weeks

My home is more or less decluttered. I mean, I don’t have to do more than a routine decluttering on a periodic basis to make sure that I keep up with problem areas. Drawers may get stuffed occasionally, but surfaces tend to be relatively tidy.  While I hardly keep the house perfect, I do have daily, weekly and quarterly chores. Technically, I probably should do some of these things monthly. I don’t. So there.

Daily Chores

  • Make bed
  • Swish-n-swipe bathroom
  • Evening clutter patrol
  • Clean up kitchen after dinner
  • Quarterly Chore (weekdays)

Weekly Chores

  • Dust
  • Vacuum
  • Get trash to curb
  • Mop kitchen and bathroom floors
  • Wipe down fridge shelves in prep for grocery shopping
  • Change sheets

This is not a lot of work in a decluttered house. It also means parts of the house could get really grody, as there is other stuff that needs to be done (after decluttering. You’ll never get to this stuff before decluttering). If you haven’t decluttered so that you only own what you can reasonably store, part of your weekday thing probably should be five to fifteen minutes of decluttering (if this matters to you. Hardly a moral imperative).

So, how do the Quarterly Chores work? Well, my list is actually thirteen weeks long rather than 12, but hey… Who cares? Stuff gets got to on a semi-regular basis, and that’s plenty good enough. This isn’t tool and die making, so precision isn’t that damn important. Your house will be different, but I wanted to give you an idea of how this works. Few chores take more than five or ten minutes, unless you’re starting from something really nasty (like my fridge recently. I added the wipe down every week thing because I NEVER want to do THAT again!) Another thing that you should notice is that I do have some regular decluttering of places that in my house tend to collect it. I think it’s something like a quarter of the chores. If you do it every three months, you’re going to find that you’re looking at a five minute job after a year or so.

Are there things missing from this list?  Oh yeah.  Absolutely.  If it becomes truly problematic, I’ll add ‘em to the list and have a longer rotation.  I don’t care about perfection, but just that detail cleaning gets done somewhat regularly. What I won’t do is try for more than a few minutes a day cleaning.  I’ve proven time and again I won’t do it, so it’s better for the chore to be broken down and put into a long rotation than do it “perfectly.”  I cannot urge anyone who is Housework Challenged strongly enough not to try for “perfect.” You’ll never live up to perfect.  Good, on the other hand, is completely possible to maintain.

I put the list under a cut because, it’s LOOONG.

Quarterly Chores

Week One

  • KITCHEN: Declutter Fridge and Calendar board
  • KITCHEN: Declutter Pantry Cabinet
  • KITCHEN: Declutter Spice Cabinet
  • KITCHEN: Declutter under sink
  • KITCHEN: Declutter baking cabinet

Week Two

  • DINING ROOM: Polish chairs thoroughly
  • BATHROOMS: Wash Bath Mats (NO DRYER!)
  • DINING ROOM: Polish Silver
  • LIVING ROOM: Declutter Entertainment Center (Including cabinets)
  • KITCHEN: Clean Cat’s Water and Food Bowl. Dust off Cat’s food bucket

Week Three

  • BEDROOM Declutter a desk or bureau drawer
  • BEDROOM: Wash Curtains
  • BEDROOM: Declutter Plant Stand
  • BEDROOM: Declutter Filing Cabinet
  • BEDROOM: Polish Furniture with Pledge

Week Four

  • HALLWAY AND DOJO: Declutter Printer Table
  • HALLWAY AND DOJO: Declutter bookshelves
  • HALLWAY AND DOJO: Pledge dust bookshelves
  • HALLWAY AND DOJO: Shine Mirrors
  • HALLWAY AND DOJO: Dust baseboards and get cobwebs

Week Five

  • KITCHEN: Scrub Down Counter Tops
  • KITCHEN: Declutter Tupperware
  • KITCHEN: Scrub Down Small Appliances
  • KITCHEN: Scrub down kitchen faucets
  • KITCHEN: Clean off top of fridge

Week Six

  • BATHROOM: Scrub around entire commode
  • BATHROOM: Dust Baseboards
  • BATHROOM: Scrub Bathroom Mirrors
  • BATHROOM: Scrub Tub
  • BATHROOM: Declutter a Cabinet

Week Seven

  • LIVING ROOM: Clean Windows
  • LIVING ROOM: Vacuum Under Cushions
  • LIVING ROOM: Clean Ornaments
  • LIVING ROOM: Vacuum Under Furniture
  • LIVING ROOM: Clean glass and electronics

Week Eight

  • JUNGLE ROOM: Clean and declutter shoe shelf
  • JUNGLE ROOM: Clean Dragons (Yes, I do collect something).
  • JUNGLE ROOM: Clean Windows
  • JUNGLE ROOM: Declutter generally
  • JUNGLE ROOM: Sweep and Mop floors

Week Nine

  • KITCHEN: Polish Cabinet Doors
  • KITCHEN: Wipe Down Baseboards
  • KITCHEN: Scrub Large Appliances
  • KITCHEN: Clean Out Fridge
  • KITCHEN: Run Self-Cleaning Oven Cycle

Week Ten

  • BEDROOM: Wash Comforter and Shams
  • BEDROOM: Wash Windows
  • BEDROOM: Clean Mirrors
  • BEDROOM: Declutter Vanity
  • BEDROOM: Dust Baseboards

Week Eleven

  • DINING ROOM: Run china through gentle dishwasher cycle and dust hutch
  • DINING ROOM: Clean Corner Cabinet Thoroughly
  • DINING ROOM: Dust Baseboards
  • DINING ROOM: Wash Windows
  • DINING ROOM: Declutter Hutch Drawers

Week Twelve

  • BATHROOM: Vacuum The Prince’s Bathroom Vent Fan
  • BATHROOM: Vacuum My Bathroom Vent Fan
  • BATHROOM: Vacuum Muscle Boy’s Bathroom Vent Fan
  • DAUGHTERROOM: Tidy room (She doesn’t live with us full-time or this would be her baby!)
  • DAUGHTERROOM: Dust and Vacuum thoroughly

Week Thirteen

  • WHOLE HOUSE: Windex light switches
  • WHOLE HOUSE: Windex Door Knobs
  • WHOLE HOUSE: Dust Picture Frames
  • WHOLE HOUSE: Clean glass lighting fixtures
  • WHOLE HOUSE: Clean Front Door

Would have baked a cake

I’m baking a cake for my son’s birthday party tomorrow. Now, today was a busy day and I had to do a lot of shopping, so when I was making the list, I considered picking up a box o’ cake mix and making one from that.

I didn’t.

This isn’t a “go me, look at what a good Mommy I am” moment. The cake I am making probably won’t taste much different from a mix. It’s your incredibly basic chocolate cake that I’d be perfectly comfortable talking a ten year old through making. The reason I didn’t buy the boxed mix was nothing more than looking in my pantry, realizing I had everything I needed to make a cake anyway and figuring it was stupid to spend the money, plus the knowledge that in terms of time, it would have been six of one, or a half a dozen of the other. If I hadn’t had all the ingredients, it might have been a box o’ cake.

I would have felt no guilt about that, either.

It did get me to thinking, though, about how we perceive the effort involved in making a meal as well as a book I’d read recently.

When researchers watched thirty-two two-income families cook dinner for four days, here’s what they saw: It took people an average of fifty-two minutes from the time they opened the refrigerator door to the time they sat down at the table, whether they used a box kit like Hamburger Helper or cooked everything from scratch. The only difference was that meals cooked from scratch required about ten minutes more active time— minutes spent chopping and sautéing, for example— than box mixes.

McMillan, Tracie (2012-02-21). The American Way of Eating (pp. 211-212). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

While it’s partially a matter of perception, she goes on to say something else that’s a really interesting point:

Box meals don’t save us time any more than going out to eat does, and they don’t even save us money. What they do instead is remove the need to have to come up with a plan for dinner, something that’s easy when you’re a skilled cook— and bafflingly difficult when you’re not. The real convenience behind these convenience foods isn’t time or money, but that they remove one more bit of stress from our day.

McMillan, Tracie (2012-02-21). The American Way of Eating (p. 212). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

It’s why I, who am definitely a skilled cook, considered choosing a box mix for a cake when preparing for a party. It wasn’t that it was going to save me time, really. What it meant was that I wouldn’t have to go to the trouble to look up a recipe for the materials I already had on hand. (My smartphone has become my cookbook. What can I say?)

Though one thing Ms. McMillan may not have considered (and this is probably because as she mentions in her book, kitchen skills played no real part in her childhood or growing up years) is that even skilled cooks will order out or have an easy go-to when tired or stressed. There are ways to avoid it if one knows how, of course. Meal planning, shopping to a list, planning meals based on likelihood of how busy one will be on a particular day – all of these things are necessary to being able to have cooking be less of a stressful chore and more of a pleasant routine. And this isn’t a skill that’s generally taught, even in home ec classes these days.

How Do You Keep Your House So Clean?

I used to boggle at my mother being able to keep her house as neatly as she does. I always rather had visions of her spending hours sneaking in cleaning when I was at school, or during the summer, when I was at friends’ houses or summer jobs. It had to be that way, because keeping my room neat was such a damn ordeal! When I moved out, I found trying to keep a neat house totally overwhelming, and wished I had the energy to spend those hours and hours cleaning that I thought my mother put in. In the last few years I’ve learned this wasn’t really so. Most of the cleaning I actually saw her doing was the work that was getting done.

My house is quite as neat and clean as hers is these days. No, I don’t spend a great deal of time on the house. Know why? I don’t bloody well have the time to spend hours cleaning. If it took that kind of time, neatness simply wouldn’t happen. Call it an average of 15-20 minutes a day doing actual cleaning, and tack on a few minutes for clutter patrol.

What Mom Really Tried to Teach Me (And I Didn’t Listen)

My mother really did try to teach me to keep a clean house. No, it wasn’t Housewife Training, but more Grownup Training. She tried to teach my brother the same thing, after all. She grew up with someone who kept house the way I used to – let the clutter and mess get so overwhelming that it’s intolerable and/or embarrassing, then spend an effort worthy of the Augean stables only to be worn out and not really into doing any more housework for a long period of time. Mom, who actually learned from that nonsense, did things differently when she became mistress of her own home.

There are four basic principles that my mother tried to teach me, and one I learned on my own that doesn’t quite jibe with the way Mom does things, but works for me. Combined? I get a neat home, and don’t spend a whole lot of time at it.

Put it away right away

When you come in the door, if you habitually take off your shoes, put them on the shoe shelf. Have a place to hang up your backpack and jacket, and put them there right away. Have a place for your keys and put them there right away. Sort mail over the trash can and have a place for the bills if you still do paper bills. If you have a cup of coffee and you’re not going to have any more, either wash the mug or put it in the dishwasher.

Finished with a book? Put it back on the shelf. That pen you used to write a note? Put it back in the pen mug or your desk drawer. Dishwasher washed dishes overnight? Put those dishes away while the coffee’s brewing. See a piece of paper that fell on the floor? Pick it up and throw it away right now. Dirty underwear? You do have a laundry hamper near where you undress for the night, yes? Don’t leave the underwear in a figure 8 on the floor. It takes two seconds to put it in the hamper.

Now, if you’re dealing with a Very Cluttered Home like mine used to be, you’re probably staring at me in astonishment. Put things away? I can’t open the blasted drawer! What’s the matter with you? Hamper? Darlin’, if you could see my Mount Laundry, you wouldn’t be telling me to put my underwear in any hamper right away. It’s overflowing!

Clutter makes things take more time

I used to have a deacons bench that was my toy box. It would get stuffed with crap I tried to hide when Mom insisted I clean my room. Part of the End of Holidays ritual was to clean out my toy box and get rid of toys I no longer wanted. Now, you’d think a kid who had 20 cubic feet of storage space for toys would be able to clean her room just fine, but never got rid of stuff I didn’t use or love except at practically gunpoint.

So, when I was told to dust or vacuum my bedroom, it would take for-blasted-evuh. Did Mom tell me that it wouldn’t take so much time if I would put my stuff away? Yes, she did. I didn’t start doing it until I was in my late thirties. I timed myself dusting my bedroom yesterday. 00:02:34. Two minutes and thirty-four seconds. The whole house took about eight minutes, and I have a pretty good-sized house. (In all fairness, I did skip my son’s room for more or less the same reason my mother didn’t dust mine, I expect!)

It’s not the cleaning chores that take a lot of time. In general, they really don’t. It’s cleaning around the clutter that is so excruciating. Now it’s taken me several years to get my house to what I consider “properly” decluttered.

Cleanup is part of the job

The last step to making dinner is to clean up after dinner. The last step in sewing an outfit is to vacuum up all the snips of fabric and thread and put away the sewing machine (I don’t have a dedicated craft room.) Make your bed on arising. This last was a childhood requirement. I fell out of doing it for a period of time as an adult, and I’m going to have to say that was a Big Mistake. With a comforter and pillow shams, it takes less than a minute to make a bed, and it’s hard to believe how much better it makes a room look until you’ve gotten into the habit.

If you mentally tag cleanup as separate from the activity at hand, you’re giving yourself permission to make “later” “never”. I get it, don’t get me wrong. When I’m finished with an outfit, putting away the ironing board, the sewing machine, all the notions and all that is a pain in the butt. Never mind those projects that take several days to do. But if you mentally tag the job as unfinished until tidying up is done, you find that it genuinely takes less time to keep things tidy.

A good example of this would be laundry. Laundry isn’t done when the dryer goes off, or things are dry on the line. Laundry is done when you put your clothes away.

Take a few seconds now

I had to go upstairs to go to the bathroom while writing this – coffee, you know. My bathroom is right off my bedroom, so as I passed the bed, I saw that my son had delivered everyone’s clean and folded laundry to the appropriate bedrooms. I took about two minutes to put away some socks and hang up some shirts and pants before coming back downstairs to finish this particular section of the article. Could it have waited for me until bedtime? Well, yeah, and if there were a blood or fire emergency, it could wait days. But I am writing. I can think about what I’m writing while I hang up clothes!

This is a serious change from my usual M.O. In the past, thinking I was being more efficient, I’d wait for the household to have Washed All The Laundry before I would even consider putting things away. After all, putting it away in a big chunk instead of load by load saves time, right? It’s efficient.

Sure, if you actually put away that mountain of clean clothes in a timely fashion. If you do, more power to you. I wouldn’t.

There are lots of little tasks like this. Spill something on the floor, wipe it up right away and it’s quick and easy. Wait, and it’s a dried, sticky mess. Take a second while coffee is brewing to wipe off a counter and it’s using waiting time for usefulness. When you walk through a room to another room, scan and see if there’s anything that really belongs in your destination and put it there. You were going into the other room anyway, right? It’s the little minutes that add up.

Break down the big jobs into little jobs

No-one in my family is particularly moderate. Mom comes closer than the rest of us, but even she really isn’t much into the moderation thing. We have no middle gears. If we needed to chop wood for the winter’s heating (yes, we heated with a wood stove), we had to Chop All The Wood. Decluttering my toybox? Well, yes, but we cleaned out my closet, under my bed, the bookshelves and everything until my room was Perfect. The theory was I had a clean slate to Keep Things Tidy From Now On and Forever.

Now, Mom never let the rest of the house get cluttered, so this wasn’t an issue. But I learned something about trying to train yourself into the habit of keeping up on keeping things clean and organized. You gotta pace yourself. Cluttered home? Really, no kidding, commit to a little bit of time a day to do that. It’ll take some time. In my case it was a period of years. Thing is, over those years, the house did finally get decluttered to the point where I only have to do some really quick maintenance decluttering in my regular detail cleaning schedule.

Even now, with a reasonably decluttered home, I certainly am not going to then spend time on marathon cleaning projects. Heck no! That time I spent decluttering (call it 10-15 minutes a day) is now spent on some tiny little detail cleaning project that I never ever used to get to. You know, dusting the baseboards in one room, or vaccuming behind the sofa. I’ve put these tasks (there’s over 100 of them, none taking more than fifteen minutes to do) on my daily reminders in a very long repeating rotation, so they all get gotten to (shaddup, I’m allowed some bad grammar) but it’s never this marathon, “ZOMGWTFBBQ! I GOTTA CLEAN PEOPLE ARE COMING OVER!” nonsense.

Yet guess what?

The house looks good and I don’t spend hours cleaning.