How to Keep your House Clean the Smart Way

It could be that I have a plague rat-like tolerance for filth and disorder or it could be I am just uncommonly lazy, I don't know. What I do know is that for a long time, I lived in what amounted to a hazmat spill within the walls of a nice little mid-century modern bungalow just inside the 610 Loop. It took me far too long to learn that if I did a little housework every day, I didn't need to rent a bulldozer and burn an entire weekend cleaning every time my Aunt Frieda started making noises about a visit. 

I'm the first to admit that the idea that it is both smarter and easier to do many small tasks over time rather than all of them at once in a state of panic is something the average relatively bright six-year-old comes up with on their own without much effort and certainly without the need for serious soul searching and the threat of an intervention from loved ones.

The idea is simple: don't wait till the house needs cleaning to clean it. You may have to sacrifice one last weekend to do a top-to-bottom whole house scrub down, but once you've done that, the rest is maintenance. You will find the time spent cleaning decreases because you're maintaining cleanliness rather than restoring it. 

A Clean House is Healthier for Body & Mind

Yes, living in a space that is not a biohazard prevents some illnesses, but don't underestimate how much a clean and clutter-free home benefits your mental health. Keeping your space tidy is kind of like getting to wear your favorite outfit--the one that always ups your confidence and your mood--every day of the week. You just feel more put-together, more like your best self, and, frankly, happier. Coming home from work, knowing that you don't have a pile of dishes in the sink and something your cat coughed up on the hallway rug, does wonders for your commute.

Getting Started

Figure out what needs to be done and how often.

  • Go through your home room-by-room and write down all the tasks needed to deep clean each room
  • Decide which rooms or areas need weekly attention. If you're lucky enough to have things like a guest room or a dining room that are only used when you have company, they won't need to be cleaned as often.
  • Decide which tasks need to be done weekly to keep your home clean, and which tasks can be done less often.

Now, take a look at your daily and weekly routine. What part of the day will work best for you?  Look at your average day and decide when you have the time and, more importantly, the energy to do your daily chores. For me, getting up a little earlier works best. I find scrubbing the counters, making the bed, and spot sweeping or running the vacuum are good cool-down routines after a morning run or workout.  Also, don't underestimate the virtue boost you get when you've marked a handful of tasks off your to-do list before you head out to work. 

Daily, Weekly and Monthly Checklists

Cleaning routines will vary widely. People with kids or pets will have more tasks than people who live alone. Newer houses, generally speaking, are easier to keep clean than older ones. The lists below are just the basics. You can add or subtract from them based on your needs.

Daily Cleaning Routine: The Key to a Neat Home       

  • Start your day with a quick bedroom tidy-up: Make your bed, put away clothes, and declutter surfaces.
  • Maintain kitchen cleanliness: Wipe down countertops, clean dishes promptly, and sweep the floor after meals.
  • Keep bathroom surfaces spotless: A daily wipe-down of sinks, countertops, and mirrors can make a big difference.
  • Address immediate messes: Spills and messes are inevitable; tackle them promptly to prevent them from becoming bigger issues.

Weekly Cleaning Checklist: Deep Dive into Cleanliness       

Mondays: Living Areas       
  • Dust surfaces and electronics.
  • Vacuum or mop floors.
  • Launder and replace linens.
Wednesdays: Kitchen
  • Clean kitchen appliances, including the microwave and oven.
  • Empty and clean the refrigerator.
  • Wipe down cabinet doors and handles.
Friday: Bathrooms     
  • Scrub the tub, shower, and toilet.
  • Change towels and bathroom rugs.
  • Toss expired toiletries.
Saturday: Bedrooms   
  • Vacuum carpets or clean floors.
  • Rotate and flip mattresses.
  • Declutter and organize bedside tables.

Monthly Cleaning Tasks: Elevate Your Cleaning Game       

First Weekend: Declutter and Donate       
  • Sort through closets and donate items you no longer need.
  • Declutter common areas and storage spaces.
Second Weekend: Deep Cleaning
  • Dust and clean light fixtures and ceiling fans.
  • Wash windows and window coverings.
  • Clean carpets or schedule professional carpet cleaning.
Third Weekend: Seasonal Maintenance       
  • Check and clean HVAC filters.
  • Inspect and clean gutters.
  • Deep-clean appliances like the dishwasher and washing machine.

Tips for Success: Making Cleaning Manageable       

Everyone needs to pitch in. If you share the home with anyone--a spouse or partner, school-age children, roommates, etc., they need to do their part. Nobody likes cleaning and since everyone contributes to the need for cleaning, work should be divided fairly. This is especially true if both partners work full-time. If you're a guy and have somehow made it to 2023 with the belief that cleaning is "women's work," I know some burly maintenance workers who will happily relieve you of that notion. 

Set a timer: Tackling tasks in short bursts can make cleaning more manageable and less overwhelming.

Create a reward system: Treat yourself after completing a cleaning session to stay motivated.

What I learned

I have cleaning blindspots: The lists above are pretty comprehensive, but keep an eye out for those things that you never seem to get to. Maybe it's the window sill whose Venetian blinds are permanently closed because of the creepy neighbor, or the baseboards, or the tray under the dish rack. Add them to your list. 

Cleaning well made me ruthless: The diorama with taxidermied mice depicting the Big Kahuna Burger scene from Pulp Fiction that I picked up at a yard sale seemed a lot less sardonic after I had dusted it every week for a year. Similarly, the chair by the front door whose elegantly swooping lines were always covered in jackets and junk mail and all the other things one jettisons and forgets upon returning home started looking a lot more like a clutter magnet than the sidewalk treasure I originally thought it to be. Both are now living in my attic and are not missed. I'm not saying every stick of furniture and tchotchke needs to 'spark joy,' but chances are good you're hanging on to stuff more out of inertia than anything else. You should at least consider setting it free to clutter someone else's home.

You will find a system that works for you

There are as many philosophies and systems for maintaining a tidy home as there are tidy homes. Here are just some of the books at your library to help you on your clean home journey.

The Complete Guide to Eco-friendly House Cleaning

A Monk's Guide to A Clean House and Mind

The House That Cleans Itself

How to Keep House While Drowning