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How to Spend Less Time Cleaning

by on July 5, 2013

Editor’s Note: This is a guest-post by Katie Koll.


The catalyst for the cleaning project described below was the discord that I sensed between my own productivity and value system. I realized that the value I place on having a clean apartment does not align with the way I handle cleaning. That led to a search for a way to better align that value with my time allocation. The way I handled cleaning before this project may sound familiar to some readers: do the minimum amount until a part of the apartment gets visibly filthy or mentally uncomfortable. For example, “I feel like it has been a long time since I vacuumed, and it is giving me the heebie-jeebies.” Or, “There is an unhealthy amount of build-up under the refrigerator.” Or, “Guests are coming today, and I want the apartment to look clean.” Sometimes, one of those mini-projects would lead to seeing something else that needed cleaning. This impulse-cleaning chain of events sometimes continued until I was either running late, frustrated, or overwhelmed. After all, impulse-cleaning is rarely scheduled, controlled, or intentional.

Something had to give. While searching for a solution, I talked with a friend (Lynn Reinacher), who said she had seen something on Pinterest about keeping your home clean in 15 minutes per day. Feeling skeptical but knowing I needed to start somewhere, I searched and found a few different options. Despite their differences, their implied goal is a perma-clean apartment. If this works, I thought, I will be able to increase my overall productivity. How?

  1.  No more emergency cleaning. Having an apartment that never needs “emergency cleaning” meant I would never have to drop what I was doing to clean. That would increase the likelihood of sticking to the rest of my schedule with fidelity. Plus, by replacing my ultra-flexible “I’ll clean for a while on Saturday” approach with intentional cleaning in a fixed amount of time, I would get a large block of time back on weekends. That would leave room for projects more directly related to my goals (see Jonathan’s article). It would also increase time I could spend on weekend recreation, which leads me to my next point.

  2. No more cleaning-related stress. Getting stuck in the impulse-cleaning cycle is stressful, and so is having a yucky living space without a plan of attack. Having a perma-clean apartment would decrease my counter-productive stress level. Plus, I would increase the payoff of cleaning, because checking things off a list feels good to me. If I made a list to check off each day for cleaning and stuck to it, I would get the mood-boosting payoff each day. That would feel better than collapsing after a bunch of emergency cleaning and being unsure of what I had accomplished.


Convinced it was worth a shot, I got started.


Monday: sweep & mop kitchen and bathroom

I realized that this project would take a mindset shift in addition to to time allocation shift. It was a challenge not to clean other things I saw when I got real close to the floor. For example, the toilet was now up close and personal, and it was not pretty. I resolved that I needed to remain faithful to the schedule in order to decipher its true effects, so I abstained. It took 13:30 minutes for two small rooms, and that included starting up the Jambox with some cleaning tunes, getting all materials out, and putting them away. Being new to this kind of cleaning, I was not even handling all materials the most efficient way possible. I stood back and surveyed my freshly-cleaned floors with a smile. This isn’t bad at all, I thought. I made a mental note to rearrange cleaning materials later on to free up even more minutes next time.

Tuesday: scrub bathtub and toilet, wipe down mirrors and counters

Took the full 15 minutes, but I got a little carried away with a toothbrush on some of the grout, also wasn’t done putting all the shower supplies back in when timer went off. I think that has to do with how inefficient it was to move all our shower supplies out of and back into the tub. I made a note to change the storage of these supplies and even decrease the amount of items we keep in there. Again, it was difficult not to address areas I saw that need attention in the future, i.e. the toilet brush holder (EEK!) But, I reminded myself that if this is to be sustainable long-term, it has to be a true 15 minutes.

Wednesday: wipe down mirrors and counters (kitchen and bathroom) and dust

This time, I prepared myself mentally to intentionally spend the full fifteen minutes, because a question in my life remains, “How does one know when one is done dusting?” When he or she is covered in dust? When everything looks shiny? When the dusting cloth has touched every surface in the abode? When the high-traffic areas are dust-free? I am still unsure. I started with high-traffic and high-visibility areas, and then realized I had never, in the 11 months we have lived here, dusted the ceiling fan. That was gratifying, because chunks of dust plunked down onto my dust cloth. However, I am trying to trade in that gratifying once-in-a-long-while cleaning feeling for a hopefully more gratifying my-apartment-is-perma-clean feeling. I made a note to make the ceiling fan a biweekly dusting project. I almost ran out of time before I got to the mirrors in the bathroom, but in the nick of time, I ridded them of their toothpaste and fingerprints and put my supplies away. Three days in, this is not that painful!

Fast forward to the end of the week, and every major area of the apartment was significantly cleaner. Plus, I reminded myself that it would only go uphill, because I was already feeling the positive effects of eliminating emergency cleaning and cleaning-related stress. 

At the end of the week, I decided to change the cleaning schedule slightly based on how it played out. It is included below. I challenge any readers who are interested in the payoffs of perma-clean living spaces to tweak it until it works for your living space. 

From → Personal

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