Lost in the household
January 4, 2011 11:55 AM   Subscribe

How can we manage to do our chores despite working all day

Help! My signifcant other and I are lost between piled dishes in the kitchen, worn clothes on the floor and books all over the place. To say it bluntly, we have huge problems in getting our housework done. We both work during the day and when we get home we usually have only energy to cook some food and feed the cats. Everything else stays unfinished. The weekend does not look any better. We have tried to make plans and distribute the household choires but could not stick to it for very long.

Here comes the question: How do you manage to keep your household clean despite working all day? What are you best tricks and tips for us? Can you recommend us any books?
posted by jfricke to Home & Garden (55 answers total) 95 users marked this as a favorite
It really helps if you stop making more work for yourself: wash dishes as you cook, or put your used plates and silverware in the dishwasher right after you eat. Don't pile them in the kitchen. Same thing for the rest of the house: don't put your clothes on the floor, and you won't have to pick them up later. Put your books away as you're done with them. By not creating the mess in the first place, you're avoiding having to clean more later.

I'm a big fan of cleaning while you have a minute. When you walk into the kitchen to get something to drink, take three minutes to put away dishes (yes, that's really all the time it takes) or scrub the stove quickly. As you pass through a room on your way to the bathroom, pick up a thing or three. You can also try the method of setting a timer for 15 and cleaning one room for that time. You'd be amazed at how much you can get done at that time.
posted by runningwithscissors at 12:00 PM on January 4, 2011 [20 favorites]

Hire somebody. Seriously, have someone come once or twice a week. Nothing is better than coming home to a clean apartment.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:01 PM on January 4, 2011 [9 favorites]

If you can, take a day off of work (you probably need the rest!), and hire someone to help get you caught up and sorted out.

Next, schedule 20 minutes every morning before work to clean.

Go to bed earlier, so you aren't tired all the time.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:02 PM on January 4, 2011

This weekend, cancel all your plans, and just clean. Call it your New Year's Cleaning Resolution.

Ok, now the hard part is done. Now, every time you make dinner, do the dishes IMMEDIATELY afterwards. For one thing, they are so much easier to clean, and secondly, you only have one meals worth of dishes to do, so it takes almost no time at all. Everytime you disrobe, put your clothes DIRECTLY IN THE HAMPER. Do laundry once a week, even if it's a small load. The key is to NOT let things build up to the point where it's an impossible task.

It'll take some getting used to, but once you start doing it, you'll wonder how you ever lived any other way!
posted by Grither at 12:02 PM on January 4, 2011 [7 favorites]

You could hire a virtual assistant to help you out with administrative type chores.

That way, it will free up those 30 minutes chunks of the day that go to navigating phone systems that can be put to use handling housework.
posted by just.good.enough at 12:04 PM on January 4, 2011

Do you come home, cook dinner, feed the cats and fall immediately asleep, or do you do other things when you're not at work? I'd bet cash money on the latter, even if it's watching TV.

You're avoiding housework because it's unpleasant and not a lot of fun. It becomes overwhelming when you avoid it too many times in a row, because then a five-minute exercise (washing the dishes and putting them away) becomes an hour-long slog.

The first step is putting your house in order, and finding a place for everything. Dishes go three places: in the cabinets when clean, in the drainer when wet, and on the table during dinner. No place else. Clothes go four places: in the closet/drawers when clean, in the hamper when dirty, in the washer while being washed, and on your bodies while being worn, not on the floor.

Make a habit out of cleaning the thing you're at. So if you're in the bathroom, spray and wipe down the shower walls after showering, clean the sink after brushing your teeth, and wipe down the toilet (quick brush inside) before bed. In the kitchen, clean pots and pans immediately after use. If you're watching TV, do so while mopping, dusting, or vacuuming.

It takes some getting used to, but it's way easier to maintain a house in a perfectly clean state than it is to clean a house that you've spent time actively messing up. Eventually, you can reach a place where the only scheduled "cleaning time" that isn't part of your daily routine will be big stuff like doing the windows.
posted by xingcat at 12:07 PM on January 4, 2011 [7 favorites]

To a certain degree you just have to do it, but in small bites. I suspect by "energy" you don't mean you're physically too exhausted to move, but just not really up to the task. If you make doing a couple little things each day a habit it won't feel so bad. Make sure the sink is empty of dishes before you go to bed and the pile won't get so insurmountable. We have a few laundry bins in our room so we don't leave clothes everywhere: white dirties, dark dirties, and another bin for clothes we'll wear again before washing, so everything not put away or being worn gets tossed in a bin. Put your books away after using them. Generally we catch up on everything else over the weekend.
posted by ghharr at 12:08 PM on January 4, 2011

I usually tidy up while I'm waiting for something else to happen. For example, while the coffee is brewing in the morning, I put the dishes away, empty the kitty litter, fold laundry, etc. Usually I keep going until all my "chores" for the day are done and then coffee is my reward. Also, I do the same thing while the microwave is on. It makes it more of a game for me to get things done.

I do this every day, and once a week I'll do a "big clean" where I'll do bathrooms, etc.

I am a crazy neat freak and everything in my house is always organized and put away. I also have a 6 month old baby, so YOU TOO can be organized in your home!
posted by katypickle at 12:09 PM on January 4, 2011

We don't get much done during the week other than meals and dishwasher filling & emptying. On Saturday we do laundry (sometimes it gets left to Sunday.) I tidy the house and try to get things back into the rooms they belong in. I try to get the bathrooms cleaned and some vacuuming done (whatever I didn't get done last weekend.) That's pretty much it. My husband meanwhile is doing household repairs, groceries, cooking, etc, etc. Our house is not spotless, but it works for us. Sometimes we plan company for dinner so we'll really get things sparkly clean.

Also, to reinforce the comment by runningwithscissors above: I've adopted the saying "Be kind to your future self." Put things away as you use them.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:10 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Right; what runningwithscissors said. A place for everything, and when you're done with that thing, put it in its place. Do the dishes after dinner, and take turns doing that (or, as at our house, one person cooks and the other cleans). It only takes a few minutes if you do it every day, but if you let them sit, the itme it takes increases exponentially, it seems. and I will assume that not everyone can afford a cleaner (or want to save your money for other things).

On weekends, take a few minutes every Sunday and run the vacuum or sweep. Again, doesn't take long if you do it every week. Buy a few containers of those clean wipes, stash them around the house, and when you happen to notice, say, that the bathroom counter is messy, whip one out and give it a quick wipe. 30 seconds.

And if you're so inclined, invite friends over on the weekends; nothing motivates me personally to clean like the thought of someone coming over.

What it comes down to is you have to JUST DO IT. You can take a little less time reading or playing games or watching tv, if you want a clean house. Once you both get used to seeing it clean, it'll make you want to clean when it's dirty.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 12:12 PM on January 4, 2011

Kitchen, clean as you go. Everything else, if you use it, put it back. THen hire someone to do cleaning such as bathrooms and vacuuming.
posted by AugustWest at 12:14 PM on January 4, 2011

Best answer: What works for me is to take 15 minutes a day to do chores. This is enough time to do dishes, or vacuum a couple rooms, dust the house, etc. It's the overwhelming aspect of appraising ALL the work to be done that paralyzes and demotivates people from taking on tasks.

If you both can manage 15 minutes after getting home from work, it's more manageable and you'd be surprised how much can be accomplished in 15 minutes!
posted by loquat at 12:16 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What if you just took 10 minutes a day and pecked at it? If you're both doing 10 minutes, you're at a total of 20 minutes per night, which is a whole lot better than zero! You just gotta make yourself do that 10 minutes, no matter how tired you are..
posted by Glendale at 12:19 PM on January 4, 2011

Best answer: Loquat's idea is what I was going to suggest was well.

Come home, set the timer for 15 minutes. Both you and your SO clean whatever needs cleaning, BUT ONLY WITHIN, NOT MORE, NOT LESS than those 15 minutes.

When the timer goes "ding", you're done. Seriously. Hug. Hi five. Eat a cookie. Celebrate.

Try it out for a week. You'll find the place a lot cleaner. On the weekends, you may want to set the timer for 30 minutes or an hour, if you find the place isn't getting as tidy as you like.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:22 PM on January 4, 2011

A friend just told me about a cleaning competition she and her SO have. This is not my game, and I have never tried it, so I don't know all the details, but it sounds like the kind of thing that would be tailored to an individual household.
Every week (or month?) you compete for points, the person with the most points at the end gets a prize. In their case the prize was dinner cooked by the loser every night for the next week. They accrued points by doing various cleaning tasks, which they kept track of on a wall chart. When you finish a task you sign your name next to it so the other person knows it's been done. I think different tasks have different point values, which you then tally up.
I gathered from their stories that things get pretty lively on the last day of the competition as you scurry to get the most things checked off.
Now to me this sounds like an awesome way to do things when you have kids, but it seems to work for this couple pretty well. It helps get you motivated to do the little cleaning tasks when there is a prize at the end, and who doesn't like a little friendly competition?
posted by purpletangerine at 12:26 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Someone here posted the best advice I got in 2010: "Don't put it down, put it away."

If you must put it down, place it in an established transition spot. My spots are: 1) Next to the front door (for objects going outside); 2) at the base of the stairs (going up); and 3) at the top of the stairs (going down). Clear those spots as often as you can and *deal with the stuff.*

Make sure everything has a home, a place where things are always stored when not in use. Finding a spot once alleviates the frustration of trying to find a different place to put it every time...and then having to find it again. What doesn't have a home should go in deep storage or out the door to a thrift shop. Again: deal with the stuff.

Leave a room better than you found it, which means, as mentioned above, picking up at least one thing (wiping a counter, putting something in the trash) every time you pass through it.

Use "stupid time" efficiently. Brushing your teeth? Wipe down the sink while you do it. Maybe get a headset for your phone so you have two hands to do chores with while you talk. Watching TV? Sort and fold laundry.

Crock pot cooking is your friend (see today's post for a start, and check out "Not Your Mother's Slow-Cooker" for ideas).

I've said this here before--when you *do* have a small chunk of time, work around the room as though it's a clock face. Start at 12 and keep cleaning around the room.

Baby wipes are awesome quick clean-up tools.

None of those tips will fix anything systemic, and especially if neither of you are bothered by the level of mess and/or it's not really impeding your lives. The whys and wherefores of holding on to stuff are a different question, as is the inability to follow through with stated goals. These tips are stopgap measures at best.

Have less. Give your possessions established homes. Deal with clutter and mess as you go, and as you have a minute. Figure out how much disorder you're comfortable with and work from there. I am not Martha and you don't have to be either.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:28 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Addressing the clothes on the floor, we use a hamper like this to hold everything throughout the week, and the compartments really save us sorting time later. This kind of hamper is nice for us because we can wheel the whole thing to the laundry room on the weekend.

As far as getting the energy to do these chores, it's primarily because I personally hate ant and roach infestations of my house, so I'll do everything I can to keep them out. If it means having to do the dishes by myself every day of the week, so be it; I'd rather take 10 minutes of my TV/computer/game time away than face the horrible monstrosities that will result.

How much time do you really have when you get home? What do you do on the weekends when you're not working? Like others have suggested, it's usually more of a mental roadblock than a physical limitation that holds us back from doing these chores. We've often created a habit of logging some TV or computer time after dinner or work, but it was only when we made a new habit of cleaning did anything ever get done.

One thing that has helped me is my iPod. I used to think that chores were another bit of work that I didn't want to deal with after a week at the office, but by using an iPod for music or audiobooks, it turned a chore like dish-washing into "me time." I can be alone with my thoughts and it becomes rather therapeutic to get away from it all. YMMV, of course.
posted by CancerMan at 12:30 PM on January 4, 2011

Best answer: Another idea I like is the "27 things" trick. It's a good weeknight thing to do because it's short. Take a garbage bag and walk through your house and throw out 27 things. Could be a broken lamp or it could be a grocery receipt off the kitchen counter. Stop when you get to 27 things. You're done.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:30 PM on January 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

A "touch once" policy helped me keep my shit together before we had kids. This means, coat never gets laid on chair coming in: it goes in closet as soon as I take it off. Mail is brought inside, handled, filed/recycled accordingly, right away. Dirty clothes straight into hamper, not left on floor.

Basically, nothing ever just gets set somewhere to be dealt with later. It is either in the process of being used, or it is put in the place where it lives when it's not being used. If something doesn't seem to have a place to live, you establish one.

If you build this habit, then you don't have to waste much time tidying up, and then you can distribute the actual cleaning tasks through the week--the bathroom wipedown, the load of laundry, the vacuuming.
posted by padraigin at 12:34 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

The 27 Things trick is among those mentioned in the FlyLady world. I will warn you that it is HIGHLY geared toward stay-at-home Christian moms with lots of (possibly homeschooled) kids, but there are plenty of things in the book and site that are worth thinking about for people with any type of home and any type of home life. At the very least, see if your library or used bookstore has one of her books.

In addition to making sure that everything has a home, you should probably take a big inventory of your stuff to see if you can reduce the amount of things you have. If it doesn't have a home (or a couple possible homes), you don't need it. If you have fewer things, or less space, to take care of... well, just what it says on the tin :) You'd be surprised what you can do without!
posted by Madamina at 12:37 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a fan of both "clean as you go" and continuous cleaning. Don't let things build up and then schedule a large cleanup, just always be tidying one thing. If you're getting a drink, put some dishes away or wipe the counter or load the dishwasher or unload it.

When you're continuously doing small cleanup tasks, and looking for ways to shortcut others (like taking off clothes and putting them into pre-sorted laundry bins), it never builds up, it never feels out of control, and it never intimidates.
posted by fatbird at 12:47 PM on January 4, 2011

This recent thread may have some value for you.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:47 PM on January 4, 2011

It really helps if you stop making more work for yourself: wash dishes as you cook, or put your used plates and silverware in the dishwasher right after you eat. Don't pile them in the kitchen.


I have a friend who works on film sets. "Wrapping" evidently means finishing up the shoot and putting all the tools of the trade in their correct place.

A common phrase for him is "Always be wrapping." Which means always, always, always be coiling cords, putting caps back on lenses, etc, directly after you use them. That way, you can go home faster at the end of the day.

So now, when I cook or do anything around the house that could create a leave-able mess, my mantra is:


I say it out loud, while I prep a salad and put the knife directly in the dishwasher. I sound nuts, but hey— I hardly ever have to go out of my way to clean.
posted by functionequalsform at 12:51 PM on January 4, 2011 [9 favorites]

Hiring somebody is great for the big tasks you find that you never have time to even begin - especially stuff you hate doing and find that it's a huge chore which causes you to sacrifice a precious day off to get it done.

However, a professional cleaner is not going to be able to do much about the everyday stuff like dishes and picking up clothes. Unless you have the kind of money where you could have live-in help. Leave socks and underpants on the bedroom floor every night for a week, and by the end of the week your room is a pigsty. Leave a meal's dishes in the sink longer than overnight, and next thing you know the kitchen is a seemingly insurmountable obstacle course of disgusting food dirt.

I used to clean houses in college and got slightly annoyed when the client left a sink full of dishes and clutter everywhere. It took me that much longer to get the real work done, and with stuff like "where does this book go?" there's an incredibly high margin of error compared to the person just doing it themselves.
posted by Sara C. at 12:57 PM on January 4, 2011

I am also terrible at staying clean and tidy. My best attempts are when each day:
  • I pick up around me before I go upstairs to bed - so dishes in the sink, books or whatever put away, trash in the bin
  • In the mornings I bring down any dishes in the bedroom.
  • I wash the dishes before using them in the evening.
and that's it.

Weekly, trash goes out on trash day, and spend less than 30 minutes cleaning on the weekend (like 1 job). I have a sorting laundry hamper that I put my clothes into (separate sections for colours and whites etc) and I run a load in the evenings when the hamper is full, or I run out of clothes, whichever is sooner.

Yes, this does mean that my house is never very clean and tidy. But when I follow this system it's always acceptable to me. That's enough.

If you struggle a lot with 'tidy' the only solution is indeed to have a place for everything, and for that place to be near the point of use, and to always put things back. Too much stuff makes this impossible. Get rid of stuff and acquire the right kind of storage.
posted by plonkee at 12:57 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm organizationally challenged. The "throw something away now"/clean while you work/ten minutes then a reward stuff is key for me. I also swear by transitional spaces, disinfecting wipes, and inviting my judgmental-yet-helpful sister over to visit. My perfectionism is my enemy; the ability to mop a floor then declare myself done in the face of unwashed counters is something I strive for (since the alternative with me is apparently looking at the kitchen, declaring it a loss, and moving out a year later and thirty "I eat at Taco Bell every night now" pounds later.) Every sock in the hamper is a victory.
posted by SMPA at 1:01 PM on January 4, 2011

If you have fewer things, or less space, to take care of... well, just what it says on the tin :) You'd be surprised what you can do without!

I wish I could favourite this more than once because it is so true. I have always been overwhelmed by housework as I go to work and school. After seven years of living in our house, I realized that I simply had too many things to take care of. At the end of this whole exercise, I was amazed by how less I had to clean or dust. I'm not a hoarder - I just had a lot of stuff from the first 30 years of my life that I didn't need! Unclutterer is a great way to start.
posted by Calzephyr at 1:02 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

To be honest, we combine two things that make it work for us:

1) Hire a cleaning lady to come once a month for the actual deep-cleans.
2) Do 15-minute "cleaning blasts" where we each agree to spend 15 minutes (using a timer) to clean whatever it is that's bothering us, separately.

I'm not going to lie and say things are pristine in our house, but the combination of the two works out fine for our lifestyle, which sounds similar to yours.

We decided that the cost of a cleaning lady once a month is worth paying money to free up our time - her cost is less than what an entire Saturday of cleaning is worth in time. And neither of us have a problem saying, "Honey, let's do 15," and both clean for exactly 15 minutes, and then go back to what we were doing.
posted by juniperesque at 1:04 PM on January 4, 2011

This is a recurring issue in my home but that is for another day.

Two things that have helped:
- hiring someone. Seriously. It might sound bad but think of it as an investment in your relationship and your sanity. You can have someone come once and never again. The feeling I get when I come home to a clean place after someone else has done it is just lovely. I feel like a Disney princess. And it's easier to keep a place clean once it's clean.
- I don't really listen to podcasts but I got in a habit of listening to a podcast (Savage Love!) while doing the dishes. It makes me want to do the dishes. And I hate doing the dishes.

Good luck - I know it's not easy.
posted by kat518 at 1:04 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Two suggestions:
- One person cooks dinner. Other person cleans while dinner is being prepared.
- Get rid of clutter. If your closets and drawers are stuffed, it's impossible to maintain order.

Houses need about 15-20 minutes a day of "routine" cleaning - that's kitty litter, fresh towels, mail sorting, floors swept. If you do that 15-20 minutes every day, it's not a problem. When you let it slide for two weeks, it becomes overwhelming.

I don't know how other people get motivated to do it, but here's my thing. I want our home to be welcoming and to be a haven for us. When it's a mess, our home fails to do that. That doesn't mean it needs to pass some white glove inspection, but it does need to be tidy.

Beyond daily maintenance, you need to do a deeper cleaning once or twice a month. We used to do a "big cleaning" every few weeks. That took us about 3-4 hours. Now we pay someone to do that and it's worth every penny. Either set aside the time or the money to do the big cleaning.
posted by 26.2 at 1:04 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

One little thing I do daily is - every time I either leave or enter a room or level of the house, find 1 thing that either needs to be put away or tossed in the trash. Then do it right away. Its not a huge thing, but it keeps a lot of nit-picky stuff from piling up.
posted by ducktape at 1:08 PM on January 4, 2011

Nthing the "tidy / clean up as you go" posts. Makes it so much easier!

What works for me is walking through the front door, putting my bag down, hanging up my coat, and then spending 20 minutes on cleaning / tidying. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200 (i.e. don't turn on the tv, don't turn on the computer, don't answer the phone, don't fix yourself a snack, and most of all, don't sit down!)

It's amazing how much you can get done in 20 minutes. If you've got a bit of a backlog, the first couple of weeks will be focussed on getting things back on track. After that, you'll be searching for things to do after about 10 minutes - "I know, I'll wash the bedroom curtains!" or "oooh, I haven't descaled the kettle in a while". And your house will become a haven, making it so much more relaxing for you when the 20 minutes are up and you can veg out on the sofa feeling virtuous rather than guilty.

Also, what can you do while watching TV? Ironing? Putting a load of washing on in an ad break (actually lots of stuff you can do in an ad break)? Paying bills online?

Good luck!
posted by finding.perdita at 1:20 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

I sent you a MeMail with short but effective daily and weekly tasks. I religiously avoid the terms "routines" and "chores."

Some people refer to a "TMT" or a "ten-minute tidy" for decluttering and neatening (not cleaning itself).
posted by jgirl at 1:28 PM on January 4, 2011

Bah! Don't pay someone to clean your apartment. Man. Look, try to follow these two rules:

1) A place for everything and everything in its place
2) Always be doing a little thing

These rules will keep you organized, multitasking, and efficient. BUT - this is the key - you will only follow them if you take pride in how your place looks. If you are actually kind of ok with it, and you aren't really embarrassed if people come over and see fuzzy green mold on the dishes and get a whiff of some serious old laundry funk, then you won't ever bother with the rules. If, on the other hand, you want to keep the place in a condition where you could spontaneously have people over and feel totally comfortable, then you will follow the rules.

For rule 1, try to have some simple organizational rules for where *everything* in the house goes. It's actually pretty easy to do: All books on the bookshelf. All large cooking appliances in that cupboard there. All oversized utensils in that drawer. All containers of all sorts on that shelf. All cleaning supplies under the sink. Keep the rules simple, but make sure you follow them. This way, maybe all the books aren't alphabetical, but they're in the same place. Maybe all your files aren't organized, but you are always sure that a receipt will be found in that one single disorganized pile and nowhere else. Clothes are always in a hamper, even if it is overflowing and the colors aren't sorted. You are never searching for pens or scissors, because they are only ever in that one drawer.

With that bit of organization, you have some breathing room.

Now, for the multitasking. Are you waiting for water to boil for the pasta? Wash some dishes. Did you put the washing machine on? Well, while you for the cycle to finish, you can: Do a quick little sweep! Wipe down the counters! and -- here it is -- ensure everything is in its place.

"Big cleans" are then reserved for organizing each of the "places", mopping, windows, cleaning out the fridge, that sort of thing. They can happen once a year, really, if you like.

Apparently, my great grandfather used to always say "a place for everything and everything in its place", and my great grandmother would say she was going to inscribe it on his tombstone.
posted by molecicco at 1:35 PM on January 4, 2011

I get overwhelmed at the concept but if I decide to just clean THAT counter off, it's good enough. And having one clean spot makes the other things seem less daunting. Sometimes I'm so inspired I'll clean that OTHER counter off, but if not, it's okay.

Things I really hate, like folding laundry, I make myself devote 5 minutes to. It's amazing how much laundry can get folded in 5 minutes.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:53 PM on January 4, 2011

People have covered most of the stuff I would have said, but my personal trick is the teakettle.

Every morning, I wake up, take a shower, and make a mug of tea. I use a heat-on-the-stove teakettle, and the rule is that for as long as tea is being made ready (either the water is working on boiling or the tea is steeping), I must be cleaning/tidying/otherwise putting things in order. I may stop the instant my tea is ready. And then, hey! Tea!

This works out to between 10-15 minutes every morning to empty the sink, put dishes away, throw laundry in the hamper, etc. It makes a huge difference, and was the only thing that saved me from living in a complete sty when I was in grad school and working two jobs.

And as for folding laundry, it's best to either do it straight out of the dryer or while watching a movie/tv show you enjoy soon thereafter. Otherwise it builds up way too long. (I'm still working on this one.)
posted by athenasbanquet at 2:42 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Get rid of horizontal surfaces. The more of those you have, the more crap accrues on them. Small tables and ottomans are useless except for accruing crap.
posted by Etrigan at 2:49 PM on January 4, 2011

I assign each room and each task a day - the bathroom gets wiped down on Wednesday, for example, and the dining room table gets de-cluttered on Thursday, etc. So, some rooms stay trashed until their day, but no room ever gets totally out of control because it never goes longer than a week and I don't feel the weight of the entire house on my shoulders because I only have that one room or task waiting every evening. No one task takes more than a couple of minutes, whether it's dishes or the cat box or whatever, so it really can be done - it's when the whole house is trashed that you need hours. The trick is not getting to that place.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 2:56 PM on January 4, 2011

It's so hard to do when you both work full time!

I ask myself two key questions: why is it hard to keep such-and-such area clean? What would it take, equipment-wise, for us to just do it?

For the bathroom, the problem is I hate fetching all the stuff to clean it. The answer? Now each bathroom has its own toilet brush, its own roll of paper towels, its own cleaning spray. I can clean while I'm already in there and it's no effort, no ordeal.

For the piles of old mail I used to have, I thought I was just waiting for the chance to rip up all the personal information, and I never got around to it. What fixed that? Getting a shredder. Now we have no piles of paper. (You also have to have a mindset of not keeping anything to look at "later" - no catalogs, no solicitations for charities, etc. These are all online now, so tossing the junkmail doesn't mean I won't give to the charity/shop the store.)

We put a mini-vacuum in the kitchen/dining area to clean up crumbs because it's so much trouble to haul out the big vacuum.

So do whatever you can to make cleaning easy on yourself! Then you'll actually do it.
posted by Knowyournuts at 3:53 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Flylady is not just for stay at home moms. Check out the website, no need to buy the book.

posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:31 PM on January 4, 2011

n'thing small bites.
Put on the kettle for a cup of tea? Wash some dishes while you wait for it to boil - amazing how many dishes you can get washed in a few minutes.
Waiting for your partner to get out of the bathroom? Find the nearest surface and put something away and throw something out.
Heading to the kitchen for a drink? Bring something with you - trash to throw out, laundry, whatever.

Little bits of cleaning feel good and fit nicely into an existing schedule without being all "AUGH I have to CLEAN now I don't WANNA!"
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 4:40 PM on January 4, 2011

Best answer: If you are geeks, there's always Chorewars!
posted by lollusc at 4:47 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Etrigan, your comment about horizontal surfaces is so true! I call those places in my home "shit collectors" because that's where everyone puts their shit. They are the bane of my existence. I try to scoop them off as soon as I see them starting to fill up.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 4:52 PM on January 4, 2011

1. Assign chores to each person based on what they find least odious. I don't mind laundry or shopping or making the bed but I hate sweeping because it makes me sneeze, so my boyfriend does it.

2. Assign chores to each person based on what they care about. If socks on the floor bother you more, the you should be the one to pick them up.

3. Do housework together! It makes it more fun.

4. Not only should there be a place for everything but that place should be sustainable. Like, am I really going to file my papers? No, so I just keep them in a nice-looking box on my desk. Much easier to put away, and I just sort through them occasionally. Am I really going to take the empty can of cat food all the way to the recycling when I feed the cat? No, so I put an extra bag for the cans right next to where she eats.
posted by mai at 4:53 PM on January 4, 2011

Cannot nth enough doing a crazy cleaning overhaul on a weekend or two or whatever, a kind of cleansing fire-type approach if need be, and then ever after getting into a routine where you automatically associate certain acts with the relevant ensuing clean up--you need to get your brain into the habit of thinking "okay dinner is over, now we clean the dishes" and "okay my shower is over, my clothes and towel automatically go in the right hamper" "okay I'm done cooking, time to take out the garbage" "I just got in from work with the mail in my hand, I sort the obvious crap RIGHT NOW before I even take off my shoes and toss it in the handy little garbage pail right by the mail tray" etc. To help make this easier, make sure when you do your crazy cleaning overhaul you plan so these things are the easiest thing to do--the right spaces and rhythm/routine for taking care of the dishes which means eating with enough time afterward so you're not conked out and it's too late to do them, said garbage bins or hampers on your natural path when you need them, etc. Couple these set up path-of-least-resistance associations with days of the week or moments in the day if need be--that's what works for me because I just get easily overwhelmed or distracted or forgetful otherwise and let things get away from me. But if it's Wednesday or Sunday after dinner I KNOW it's garbage time. If it's Monday, Wednesday, or Friday I know to water all the plants before I begin eating breakfast. If it's Thursday afternoon after work it's laundry time. The weekly grocery ads and coupons come Tuesday so I know Wednesday after supper is the best time for me to start the weekend's grocery list and ensuing week's meal plan (good because it also gives me time to sleep on it and remember/add things I initially don't think of). The first week of the month means it's time to sort the mail pile ruthlessly. Etc.
posted by ifjuly at 5:06 PM on January 4, 2011

These are all great tips. We struggle with this alot at our house too. The only time we seem to get our act together is when we have company coming over. Does that motivate you at all? Because maybe you could plan to have a party, and do the deep-clean needed to make it presentable for your friends. Or maybe if it's not friends, it's having Mom and Dad coming for the weekend. Then you enact all of the great advice above to keep it clean.
posted by cabingirl at 5:31 PM on January 4, 2011

Flylady is not just for stay at home moms. Check out the website, no need to buy the book.

This is so true. I work full-time and Flylady has really helped me -- 15 minutes at a time. In fact, I stopped doing it and there's lots of clutter. I need to get back to it.

You can sign up for the daily email, and it will tell you what to do for 15 mins. each day. If you follow it, it's easy, and actually fun.
posted by la petite marie at 6:05 PM on January 4, 2011

Put it off. Let the dishes pile up until the time is right to address them. You don't really have to feel guilty if there are unwashed dishes. Life is more important than dishes.

You do have to feed the cats, but they'll let you know when that time is.
posted by ovvl at 6:44 PM on January 4, 2011

I've started adopting this method. Set aside 20 minutes each day, and in those 20 minutes you do one thing. One day, it's tidying the living room. The next, it's the kitchen. The next, it's the bathroom. The next, it's vacuuming all the floors. Etc. The link takes you to a suggested schedule, with specific tasks assigned for each day out of a month.

20 minutes isn't enough to tackle the whole house, but it's enough to do the dishes. Or dust the living room. So yeah, when you start out, at first you'll have a nice clean living room and the bedroom will look like crap, but so what -- you'll get the bedroom the next day. And - I bet having that nice clean living room will make you a little more reluctant to mess it up again for a couple days, so by the time it comes time to clean the living room again, you'll get through it in only fifteen minutes instead of 20, and think, "wow, that wasn't so bad..."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:04 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I couldn't be further from a Christian stay at home mom, and I am also a huge Flylady fan. Made such a difference in my life, and in my conception of myself - who knew *I* could be a neat person!!
posted by Salamandrous at 7:46 AM on January 5, 2011

I work full-time and am in grad school, so my awake time at home is severely limited, too. I have two mantras: "Never leave a room empty-handed" and "Don't put something off just because it's easy."

There's always something that needs to be moved from one room to another, even if it's just a mug.

I do a few dishes or wipe the countertops while I'm waiting for the kettle to boil, or for the microwave to heat my dinner. I pair socks and fold T-shirts while I'm watching TV.
posted by vickyverky at 11:05 AM on January 5, 2011

To address the lack of energy to do things, you could try meditation. I've found that if I feel totally drained after work, after I do 15 minutes of seated meditation I have the energy and willpower to do household chores. They even seem strangely satisfying when I'm doing them. Your mileage may vary.
posted by ekroh at 11:05 AM on January 5, 2011

I am a crazy neat freak who lives in one of those design blog minimalist homes and my deep dark secret is I never actually set aside time to clean. Everything has a place, and when I use it it goes back to it's place. Thing's places are as close to arm's reach from where I use them as possible. Maybe I am super anal for thinking about the most efficient place for every fork to be, but the only cleaning I do is vacuum once a week.
posted by bradbane at 11:52 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow and thank you. I never expected so many answers. It is difficult to mark one answer or more answers as the best. We will try all the different advice you had for us and I'll provide some feedback afterwards in this thread.
posted by jfricke at 10:20 AM on January 6, 2011

I apologize if I am reposting something that was said already here, I noticed somebody suggested hiring a cleaner, and I would second that.

However, just have them come for about a month or so.

Your house will be clean, and whatever mess has piled up will have been brought down to nearly nothing.

Now you just need to maintain that clean state, which is a lot easier than trying to clean the huge mess that has accumulated over time.

Psychologically, it is difficult and may even seem overwhelming to even *start* on cleaning your house when it is a huge mess.

I had this same problem before my wife left me. Our house was a huge mess, the kitchen was filthy to the point where we couldn't even cook without being forced to clean a space to work in.

It was depressing, and frustrating, and any time I had a chance to clean I would spend the first half hour wringing my hands not knowing where to start.

Now that I have moved out and into a new living situation, with two roommates who are both neat people, any *tiny* mess (like a single cup, or plate, left out of place) is immediately flagged on my radar as needing to be picked up or cleaned. So I do it, and it takes all of 20-30 seconds to put a dish in the sink or just quickly clean it and put it on the rack to dry.

The mess no longer accumulates and "cleaning" is easy since it is now just an ongoing process that I'm always doing while I'm moving from room to room in the house.

So for you, I would suggest having a housekeeper (or just beg some of your close friends to come help out for a day) to clean up your big mess that you have now, and then it will be much easier for you and your other to keep it clean from there on out.
posted by farmersckn at 3:11 PM on January 6, 2011

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