How to Clean a Messy House . . . and Get It Ready for Guests! (with a Printable Checklist)

The holidays are pretty much here. I’m guessing that there are very few people who host holiday gatherings without feeling any stress at all. And if your home is messy (or worse than messy), you’re probably already experiencing panic at the thought of getting it clean and ready for the guests who will ring your doorbell in the next month or so.

I’m a slob . . . but I love to throw parties. I generally try to avoid giving advice around here, but over the years, I’ve come up with some basic steps that I use to get the house in shape for a party.

My list . . . is just that . . . a list. It’s nothing life-changing, or even new-fangled, but it keeps me on track.

Because it’s just so easy to get off track.

You know, start cleaning the living room and end up running out for paint to completely re-decorate the entryway.

This is my year to host the Thanksgiving meal for my side of the family. Because of the deslobification process I’ve been going through for over a year now, I’m feeling OK. I have quite a bit that I want to do to be ready, but it’s vastly different from the last time I hosted three years ago.

Honestly, that was during the deepest darkness of my slob-issues. I remember saying “no” to everything (with my reason being that I had to get my house clean for Thanksgiving) . . . for the entire fall.

Yep, from September on . . . I was stressed out.

But I’ve also used these same steps to keep myself on track getting ready for a party that’s a week or two away. And even now when my house is in much better shape and I am able to have people over somewhat regularly, I use it to get the house ready for a special event. Basically, it can be expanded or contracted according what’s needed at the time.

messy house

Step 1: Take a deep breath, get out your calendar and some paper, sit down at your table . . . and be realistic.

How much time do you have until the doorbell rings?

How messy is your house?

Who is coming? Are we talking about a future mother-in-law, or your best friend from college who stepped over your dirty undies for four years and knows how you really are?

What type of visit is it? Are your guests coming for a meal only? Are they spending the day, or several nights? This will determine how you prioritize rooms that need to be cleaned. You can probably keep the master bathroom out of sight if there are other potties that day-guests can use, but if 8 people need to shower in the morning, you will have to open up all available bathrooms.

What do you want the day to be like? Do you envision yourself spending two days ahead baking, setting a gorgeous table, etc.?

Once you have an idea of where you want to get, and how long you have to get there, you can know how much time you have to complete each step of the list. And if you’re a person who likes to divide tasks up into the specific numbers of days you have left, ummm . . . go ahead and subtract 2-4 days from what you think you have.

Life never goes exactly as planned.

Step 2: Make a list of rooms, prioritizing them according to where guests will spend the most time.

Get up and go first to the room where you imagine your guests will primarily gather. Look around. Try to see things through the eyes that you will have on the morning of your event.

I can successfully ignore cobwebs on my dining room light fixture on regular days, but I know that my heart would sink if I noticed them on Thanksgiving Day at mealtime.

Write down the rooms in order, and under each room write the the things you want to do which aren’t covered by everyday cleaning.

Why prioritize by room? It doesn’t mean that rooms at the bottom of the list get no attention. Its main purpose is for you to see which rooms aren’t even on the list. While someone may stumble there, the chances that guests will be hanging out in your laundry room or your linen closet are pretty slim. While your inner response to that statement may be “Duh,” I’ll admit that I’ve been known to become overwhelmed with the overall mess, determine to change my ways once and for all, and then waste two days re-organizing a space that no guest would ever see.

Because I get so easily distracted, it helps me to have an in-order-of-importance list to go back to when I find myself fixating on something that isn’t even on the list.

Step 3: Throw stuff away.

Walk around your house, going through the rooms in order of priority according to your list, carrying a black trash bag. It needs to be black so mini-people can’t see what you put in it.

You’re looking for trash at this point. A dead plant, a stack of school papers, broken toys, etc.

Step 4: Declutter.

Go through your house, again in the order of your list, and remind yourself of things you’ve been meaning to get rid of. Maybe an old printer, maybe a huge pile of outgrown clothes, maybe a furniture piece that seemed like a good idea when you bought it, but has never looked right.

Stick it in the garage for your next garage sale, or even better, take it to a donation drop-spot right now.

At this point, you should start to feel some hope. If you’re normal perhaps you feel like you’re done.If you’re like me, you’re kicking yourself for having put all of that off for so long, and seeing how much there is left to do.

Just a warning, this can be a paralyzing step for someone like me. At this point in the process, I find myself constantly referring back to my priority list, and my list of overall steps that need to be finished in the time that I have. I’ve been decluttering for over a year now, and I’m far from done. Keep your time frame in perspective, and let it determine how extensive and thorough your decluttering can be. (And see the end of this post for a few of my most tried-and-true cheat methods.)

Step 5: Clean the kitchen.

Face it. People congregate in the kitchen whether you plan it that way or not. And a clean kitchen means you’ll be able to do all of those things you need to do to prepare for your guests at the last minute. If you’re a long way out, go ahead and clean your kitchen thoroughly now, then run your dishwasher every night and empty it every morning. I’m amazed at how doing that helps me be able to get it party-ready in a hurry.

Step 6: Clean the bathrooms.

People use bathrooms. Clean them well, and then check them for clutter daily, wipe them down pseudo-daily, and re-clean them once a week until the event. While yes, bathrooms need to be cleaned just before company arrives, I’m putting this here because it’s possible that some people’s bathrooms might need full days blocked off for an initial cleaning.

Not that I would know.

Step 7: Clean rooms in order of priority.

You’ve already trashed and decluttered, but that’s just what has to be done before you can clean. Straighten the rooms, putting everything in place, and tackle the above-and-beyond-what-should-be-daily-cleaning tasks that you wrote down in step 2.

Remember to pace yourself.

Step 8: Dust.

Step 9: Vacuum/Clean floors.

Step 10: Repeat.

Yes. Repeat.

If your home is in total chaos, this list may take months the first time through. But if you have time left, go back through the list. Each task will take less time (possibly much less) the second time.

If you have a week, your methods and expectations are going to be different than if you’re thinking about an event three months away. Do you have time to strive for perfection, or are you just hoping to survive this event?

Remember that everything you do in cleaning your house has one goal . . . to make your guests comfortable. Pace yourself. If you open the door and immediately go to your room, curl up in the fetal position and cry because you’ve been so stressed out getting things ready . . . your guests aren’t going to be comfortable.

I’m hoping that this year, since I’ve been working through my deslobification process for 15 months already, I’ll be able to be thorough on each of these steps. But three years ago, even blocking out the entire fall season, that wasn’t a possibility.

If you need to . . . cheat. Save up and hire a maid to come do a final cleaning. Shove the last remaining clutter into your master bedroom and lock the door. Haul out your unconquerable pile of dirty laundry and . . . lock it in the trunk of your car.

Do what needs to be done for you to be able to greet your guests with a smile and enjoy your time with them.

Here is the printable PDF:

Steps to Clean a Messy House

 

For a detailed, step-by-step guide for getting your home under control, check out my e-book, 28 Days to Hope for Your Home (Not for the Mildly Disorganized).

 


Free Printable Household Cleaning Checklists at ASlobComesClean.com

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Comments

  1. Mara ~ Kosher on a Budget says:

    Love this list! Especially the tip about having the garbage bag be black… for mini people…and, in my case, the husband!

  2. Nony the Slob says:

    Thanks Mara! Yes, the black trash bag is a total necessity around here.

  3. I would not dream of inviting anyone I know into my house for any reason. I love them way too much for that. But, I will be using this list for my pretend party (for motivational reasons). :)
    Thank you for posting it. Thank you for this blog. You don't know how encouraging it is to me. I see a lot of me in the blogs you post, and seeing the changes you've made, encourages me to make some changes, too.
    Thank you!

  4. Nony the Slob says:

    Oh Trish, I completely understand! I'm so glad the list can help you.

    And thanks so much for your encouraging words.

  5. Tried to print the lists (yes, I need these things, and thanks), but google docs just printed blank sheets with headers and footers only, despite the fact that the documents pulled up correctly for me on my screen. Any hints?

  6. Okay, you can delete my last comment. I realized that I have to tell google docs to print it (not my browser), then it will open acrobat reader, then I tell _it_ to print the document.

  7. Nony the Slob says:

    Glad you can use the lists, Amy. I went ahead and published both of your comments because I thought maybe it would help someone else if they had the same problem.

  8. Thanks, I printed this out. I'm having Thanksgiving too and I'm starting to panic a little!

  9. Great blog before the holidays! Come over to my blog today and get the recipe to make pumpkin bread in your crock pot…while you clean! Almost no effort "company food"!

  10. One Red Daisy says:

    Thanks! I love your suggestions!

  11. purple squirrel says:

    Ummm… I could so have written a line or two (or more…) in this post~ I definitely relate!
    Thanks for your tips and encouragement!

  12. Amy @ Cheeky Cocoa Beans says:

    Love your list! Thanks!

  13. Mama Rachel says:

    I'm new here, but can I just say how much I totally LOVE your blog! You crack me up! :-D

    And it's so comforting to know that there are others out there just like me who struggle to overcome major slob tendencies! ;-)

  14. Nony the Slob says:

    Welcome, Mama Rachel! And yes, you can always say that I crack you up, it's my favorite of all compliments!

  15. Melissa says:

    Omg, too funny – we have to use a black trash bag around here too, only in my case it’s for the Stuff-To-Be-Donated bag. It’s fairly easy to convince my children that if something’s broken or torn or damaged beyond repair, it needs to be thrown away (only because I’ve been pretty relentless about this for years). However, when it comes to those ‘still useable but not by us, thank you’ items that are good enough to pass along to others – it’s a whole other story. Some toy they’ve declared “boring” or “babyish” can go ignored and unloved for months (years even!) until they see me put it in the To-Donate pile – then suddenly it’s their favorite toy for the next week or so (until I can sneak it out!)

    • lifes too short says:

      Ha ha I donated a puppy in my pocket hotel to school fair , only to buy it back, as it was wanted after months of non use, and then it was only played with for another month!

  16. Wow, this is a great post! I so identify with you. Great tips. I esp love the idea of prioritizing the rooms!

  17. I could hug you right now! I soooo relate to this, and often feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t have it all together. It is so refreshing to read this and realize that I’m not alone (although I KNOW that already, it’s just those moments when I am confronted with my imperfections, there is always the thought that no one else is as bad as I am.) I have an open house in two weeks, and even I have come a long way with my house and being organized, this method is going to be very helpful in getting everything ready for my guests. THANK YOU!

  18. I love that you address cleaning for slobs, most cleaning check lists assume your house is just dirty…they don’t take into account the hours it takes to find the carpeting! I am going to use this and I will have the house clean for Christmas (or at least cleaner!)!

  19. another quick tip: when your laundry gets REALLY backed up, just bite the bullet and take it to a laundromat. it’s worth the rolls of quarters to get it all done in a couple of hours!!!

  20. “Deep dark days”, by my lazy math, 3 years ago you had 3 really smalls in your house and really smalls can exacerbate slobishness exponentially. It has been a hard lesson that one small task like putting up a shelf in a laundry room can take many days when you have small children (and are on the slob spectrum). I have one particularly depressing shelf from when I was pregnant with my third(?) child and that makes about 2.75 years of carrying a “mental note” to “put up laundry room shelf”.

  21. OMG the concept of listing rooms, and prioritizing them *just made angels sing hallelujah in my head*!!! I’ve been SO overwhelmed with vacuuming in this new abode I live in, and that concept will TOTALLY work here. I have upstairs, downstairs, carpet, hardwood –lots of cat hair & dust — and I have been chasing my tail for a year now trying to combat it all. There is just SO MUCH. I had a system in my former home that worked, but it just does not work here. YAY! Light at the end of the tunnel! TY Nony!!!

  22. It’s great to know that other people are not total neat freaks and have the same hidden messes. Your lists are easy to follow for even my husband and kids, and the humour keeps me motivated. Thanks

  23. I can’t seem to find your printable checklist. Help!! Thank you

    • Hmmm. Have you found it yet? The two links toward the end of the post get you to it, and it worked fine for me. Let me know if you still have problems.

  24. I would really love to use your checklist but I cannot find them in this post. What are the links called that I need to click? Thanks so much

    • Karen, there are two links toward the bottom, just above a black line. They worked for me, but let me know if they aren’t working for you!

      • I do not see the black line you are talking about. I do see purplish-pink “cleaning” and “cleaning checklist” links. Are these the ones your talking about? When I click them, they take to another website and not a printable list for getting my messy house ready for company. I really like your books. I think they are going to help me focus on my house :)

      • I do not see the black line you are talking about. I do see purplish-pink “cleaning” and “cleaning checklist” links. Are these the ones your talking about? When I click them, they just take me to different pages not a printable list. What am I doing wrong? I really enjoy your method of just focusing on a few items a day

  25. I can’t find the link to download either…. HELP!! :)

  26. YES!!!! I’ve been watching your posts for several months and now no matter what I’m taking the plunge and digging in! Just now reading/finding this post on where to begin and it sums me up to a tee! Just say adults A.D.D.!! I’ve always just allowed myself and my girls to throw stuff wherever and blamed not having enough storage for things not being put away or not having a home. Our home is tight and the clutter magnifies the small spaces! So I’m officially sick of it! I am keeping this post close so I can start the journey! My girls are wanting to have sleepovers and my answer is always NO- and that’s not fair- so wish me luck!! :)

  27. I don’t see the links either. Only what the article is filed under or tagged. I would love to get these lists!

  28. I am laughing at your suggestion for my unconquerable pile of laundry… And I would seriously consider it if my truck had a trunk. Luckily my master closet is at the back of my master bathroom, because my mother is coming to visit. Now to get the guest room guest ready. Thank you for your realistic humor.

  29. This is exactly what I needed to read. As a new stay at home(soon-to-be) momma I thought I’d have no trouble keeping the house clean. Wrong! I’ve felt pretty overwhelmed the last few weeks and you’ve really helped things seem more manageable.

    The cheating tips made me chuckle. I once put dirty dishes in the oven when my mother in law came to visit.

    • When I read the trunk cheat, it reminded me that my mother-in-law once told me that in her younger days she would put dirty dishes in the oven too when last minute company was coming. I LOVE and laughed out loud at the trunk suggestion. And now we have a mini-van trunk and a car trunk! I’m so doing this if it comes down to the wire at Thanksgiving and the laundry (or some pile of papers) gets neglected!!! Woohoo! :-)

  30. I SO wish I could find this checklist. (Your other lists are great.) Like some others there is definitely no black line or links. Could you repost them in a different place perhaps?

  31. I can’t see a link either. Is there a way to create a new post and paste the list in that post? I would love to have it. I have guests coming this summer! ;) Thanks!

  32. I can totally relate to your saying no to everything for the entire fall. I hosted Christmas for both sides of my family a few years back (40 people!) and had a list of big weekly tasks to do to prepare – starting in MAY! Every weekend there was something like scrub the ceiling, paint the corridor, all the way through to cleaning off the cobwebs and scrubbing out the oven. It was a good motivation to get a lot of home improvements done quickly, but I wouldn’t want to d it again soon. Oh and 3 of the guests were allergic to cats, and we have two long haired ones, so I spent Christmas morning on hands and knees scrubbing down skirting boards and re-mopping to be sure they could get through the meal without reacting. (A little hint – if you don’t have time to pull down curtains that cats like to hide behind, and an allergic person visit is imminent – putting garbage bags over the bottom foot of the curtains DOES work LOL).

  33. I’m so glad I’m not alone! This list just helped lifted a heavy burden of stress I was feeling for my mom’s visit next week. She has been cleaning up after me for 30+ years, I just want her to come and relax. If she sees a mess, she will clean it and I will feel horrible.

  34. I have been married 33 years. The kids are starting to move out. I can finally get a clean house. I can’t wait to tackle this house using the ideas I just read. Will keep you posted.

  35. Jessica says:

    Just thought that the comment about the laundry in the trunk was funny… But be careful! Just after I had a baby , my pastor’s wife brought a meal over for us and suggested that she put it in the oven to keep it warm until we ate. I panicked …. That was where I shoved the dishes I had not finished washing!!! Talk about uncomfortable!

  36. I was having the same issue regarding the link for the lists. I was originally reading your blog in Internet Explorer (IE) but then tried it in Chrome and I can see everything now. In fact – in IE the blog post stops part way through step 4…I wouldn’t have known there are several more steps if I hadn’t pulled it up in Chrome.

    I hope this helps some other users who are/were having trouble…try a different internet browser!

    I just found your blog today and it feels great to know I am not the only one! I especially enjoyed your…if you are a person who does this…then don’t buy this ebook lines…very funny! I will be buying them both today!

  37. Don’t be alarmed, but…I think you might be me. Or I might be you. One of those.

    You’re the only person I’ve heard besides myself describe getting “paralyzed” when we get overwhelmed. I even somehow managed to get paralyzed if I need to wash dishes, and there’s something in the sink already. A normal person would just do the obvious thing and move it, but not me. My brain doesn’t work that way.

  38. Thanks for the tips.. it helps to have a checklist. Cleaning the floor is one of my most dreaded chore!! Recently, I’ve been using a spin mop which has significantly cut down on my cleaning time. Really love it b/c I don’t have to wring the mop on my own and it cleans better than anything else I’ve tried. The microfiber mop head is super effective.

  39. I love reading your stuff. :) You are following the same journey I have. The only place that I can’t quite relate is…spending three months to clean for an event???? Wow. I am not only distractible and visually unobservant, but also a major procrastinator. I can’t even imagine thinking ahead that far. Seems to me that if you truly stuck with this plan for that long, you’d surely be a Cleanie by the time it was done! And of course, there’s always the fact that I completely resist ANY kind of planning, so I would never know I was hosting an event that far ahead. So I guess what I’m saying is…you’re way ahead of me, girl! If you plan this efficiently, I am totally impressed.
    Of course, here I sit in my family room, which has boxes in the corners because I have no idea what to do with the stuff…I guess I don’t always get that decluttering accomplished at all.

  40. Oh gosh, laundry in the trunk reminds me of the time I put dirty dishes in the oven, and my visiting (horrible, now ex) sister in law actually opened the oven to warm something up! She promptly closed it and moved on to open the equally scary/dirty microwave!! I have 5 children 12 and under, and feel so overwhelmed with the mess sometimes. Thank you for these great ideas, and for making me smile, too! :)

  41. Debbie Peterson says:

    I can’t find the printables! Help please!

    • They are links toward the end of the post, and there is a big pink square that says “Click here for the Printable Checklist.” If you’re not seeing it, you might try another browser. That helped someone else.

  42. Rosita Aldrich says:

    Thank you so much for the info! Someone else with ADD…that’s what it feels like sometimes! My mother cleaned houses for other people and ours was the last…I was determined I would not do that;fastforward many yrs. I would love to decorate etc, love to look at how things could be doesn’t seem to get there for me. I am embarrassed to have people over esp. on spur of moment. I needed this …thank you! Blessings and Happy New Year!

  43. I love your tips. I’m a little “OCD” I diagnosed. Lol. I love a clean organized space. That being said, I am married to a procrastinating professional renovator. (Procrastination only on our house mind you). I gave up on a clean house because he has been renovating it since I was pregnant with my last child. We are still not done. That child is a bit over 14 yrs old now.

    With the scaffolding, sub-floors, construction adhesive, 2 x 4s, insulation and protective layer of dust. I grew tired. No matter how hard I tried. Nothing looked clean and we were always so far away from completed room. I totally gave up.

    I know I said we aren’t finished but I have a few room that are 98% finished yet it seems impossible to kick-start my cleaning. When it starts my husband and son say I’m impossible to live with. I become obsessed with not having anything on my kitchen counters. Every speck and crumb is offensive and needs to be annihilated. However, I also see every little imperfection, every cobweb and every little project my husband said he was going to complete months (sometimes years ago).

    Well, that is now off my chest.

    I will make an attempt to make 2014 a much more consistently cleaned/organized home.

    Thank you,
    Rickie

  44. Sorry about some of the mistyped words. It’s late and I’m on an iPhone.

    Goodnight all,
    Rickie

  45. Thanks for sharing this! I’m hosting a jewelry party in a little over 3 weeks & my house is a disaster as usual. Glad to know I’m not alone! I’m excited to try this process. I usually save all the cleaning for the day before or the day of whatever event it is. I can’t do that this time because it’s on a Friday after work. I’ll really just have time for some touch-ups & snack preparation. I’ve definitely done the “dirty laundry in the trunk” kind of thing a lot. I’m hoping this process will help to lower the amount of things I just box up and hide in a panic right before everyone arrives!

  46. JavaKitten says:

    Nony,
    I love the way you organize your thoughts before the big clean. It’s pretty much how I get ready for big trips. I have to think backwards first…
    We’re leaving Friday morning which means I have to at least basic-clean the house Thursday. So that means I have to pack Wednesday, which means I have to GET THE LAUNDRY DONE by Tuesday. ‘Cause we need clean clothes to be available for packing dontchaknow. Of course, it never totally works out. I usually end up trying to pack & clean on the same day and leaving later than I’d planned. But it still helps to have a plan in mind. Even if I’m a little off-track, at least I’m not totally de-railed!

  47. I LOVE this concept, “It needs to be black so mini-people can’t see what you put in it.” I should have thought of it. Thanks so much!

  48. I like the cheating tips at the end. Definitely been there… Hauling huge piles of laundry to one of the kids closets or locking my door because that is the last room to be cleaned! Lists are fantastic! I’ve finally gotten to the place where we are in maintenance mode on a daily basis instead of cleaning overhaul mode… And I’m thankful… 4 kids can be a destructive force to reckon with when cleaning, and I face that battle everyday! Lol

    Thanks for the post… There is hope for humanity!

  49. I’ve been reading through your site all morning, since I’m trying my very best to stop being a slob myself. D:

    I hate when people are coming to my house…I’ve been having people over for Christmas for the past couple of years and Christmas this year….

    When people come for a day, I usually end up carrying EVERYTHING into my room and putting it on the bed, to hide it. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, this means I either have to sleep downstairs, or, usually, it just gets moved onto what WAS a clear floor and either way, it takes FOREVER to go through it, by which time, there’s a fresh load of clutter in all the areas that THIS load was originally moved from!!

    I have identified my main two problems; I work in a charity shop and so find cheap treasures which I bring home in small loads, and I don’t have a car, so the huge loads of clutter which have built up from the small loads of ‘treasures’ can’t easily be taken back OUT of the house.

    I need to stop buying things….

    Thanks for all your tips and sheets etc…hopefully, I’ll get there at some point.

  50. Can’t tell you how grateful I am to have found you Dana/Nony. I can relate to you so much more than some of the other (wonderful in their own right) decluttering gurus. You are so funny, so real, and so helpful.

    My sister-in-law is coming for Thanksgiving in 22 days. The house is bad, bad, bad … Did I mention the house is really, really bad?

    I’m an older mom, with a five-year-old whom I adore, but who is also a mess making machine. I have tons and tons of laundry to deal with on top of the clutter. Any suggestions for dealing with all of it plus fatigue? The basement is full, the garage is full, and there aren’t many other places to stash stuff, but there are some.

    Should we just put them up in a motel? Then I wouldn’t have to worry about having rooms ready for overnight guests and all the bathroom cleaning. Is that horrible?

    Thanks so much for giving me hope when I had just about given up.

    • Just get started! Work your way through the list, focusing first on the common areas, and then decide when it’s closer if you can have them stay. If you’re worried about reservations, you could always make a reservation and then cancel it if you’re going to make it.

  51. Hello – regarding this post – when you declutter, does that include putting away things that do not belong in that area? Or do you do that when you “Clean”?
    Thanks!

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