The Layers of a Clean House

The three layers of a keeping a clean house

We spent last week enjoying the world’s most gorgeous weather.

Look at this picture:

keeping a clean house

It’s the stuff family memories are made of, right?

I wonder if I’ll remember that we didn’t eat breakfast until noon?

Because the fire kept going out. 

Even though our coffee never perked, it was a blast.

A mile away from that campfire-on-the-shore shot is my parents’ place where we stay.

It’s like a microcosm of my life.  My cleaning life.  Kind of a Slob Blogger research lab.

Let me explain.

On the day we arrive, it’s always comfortable and welcoming.

And clean.

We remove dustcovers from couches and beds and immediately begin relaxing.

There’s no dishwasher, but the fact that things are so perfectly comfortable is great motivation to use as many paper products as possible and wash everything else right away.

To keep it comfortable.

And this lasts a day or two.

Usually we only stay a day or two, but last week we stayed five days.  Five days is plenty long enough for the novelty of an always-perfectly-clean kitchen to wear off.

I know what it takes to keep a kitchen/house under control.  I’ve even written a book about it.

But oh . . . it’s just soooo much harder to do when you’re technically on vacation . . .

So on day three, I fell behind.  I want to blame it on the fact that we spent the first half of the day cooking breakfast a mile away and the second half driving to “town” for haircuts and shopping.  Those could be shaped into proper excuses, but it’s likely I would have let things go no matter what was on the agenda.

On Day Four, I still didn’t feel like cleaning the kitchen.  But I did.  Because Day Four was our next-to-the-last-day.  And the last day at the lake (whether it’s day two or day twelve), is Cleaning Day.

For real.  There’s no getting around it.  There’s a numbered list on the wall and everything.

So Thursday, our next to last day there, I started peeling back layer one.

I knew that if I put off the dishes another day (even though we hadn’t cooked at all on Thursday), I’d be de-disasterizing instead of cleaning.

And there’s a big difference.

Pre-blog, I thought I cleaned, but I really only ever de-disasterized.

Going from Perfectly Clean to Lived In and back to Perfectly Clean within five days helped me think through how the layers of a clean house work.

Layer one is daily stuff. 

It’s the stuff that isn’t a project. It isn’t a stop-everything-while-we-tackle-this task.

It’s a habit.  Just a habit.

It’s the most important layer.  If I keep up with this layer, it doesn’t even feel like a layer.

Layer two is decluttering.  I was going to say that layer two is cleaning.  But thanks to the Lab environment of the lakehouse, I realized my mistake.  On the last day when I’m worrying about sheets being changed and floors being swept and details being noticed . . . we remove all of our stuff before we clean.

Our stuff doesn’t belong in there.  It doesn’t have a permanent home in that space, so leaving our stuff in there makes it difficult/impossible to really clean.

Real Life Translation:  If something doesn’t have a home, it’s clutter and needs to be removed so cleaning can happen.

Layer three is cleaning.

It’s the weekly (or kinda-weekly) things like vacuuming and mopping and stuff.


It’s so much easier to peel back one layer at a time than three layers at once. 


If this makes sense to you, and you want more home management strategies that actually make sense (to us not-naturally-organized types), check out my new book, How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind. The book will be released wherever books are sold on November 8th, so pre-order now. HowToManage_3D


layers of a clean house pin at


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  1. 1

    Really good post! I have never thought about it this way before, but it is so true!

  2. 2

    De-disaterizing, or as I like to call it, catastrophic cleaning, (I like alliteration!) is all three layers at once, then?

    I have something I call my morning routine which is layer One. Make bed, swish nd swip bathrooms, laundry, dishes, pick up and put away: I find that if I do these daily (and I don’t) the house practically cleans itself!

    It’s projects which get me down. I get so involved–and they are lways so much more fun than housework. (Heck, trimming my toenails is more fun than housework!)

  3. 4

    Sometimes, your posts come at the right time — when I need a kick in the butt to keep cleaning. Sometimes they come at the wrong time — when I’m desperately trying to ignore the mess around me. Strange that those are the same time? I’ve got some bad layer 1 mess around me right now. 6:12? Fine, I’ve got 8 minutes until supper is ready… I’ll be a good girl and peel back that layer!

  4. 5

    I. LOVE. THIS.

  5. 6

    Shh. I think I have more than three layers in my office. I’ve got all of my stuff…plus it seems to be the catch-all place for things that don’t have a home. To make an excuse, there is no storage in this house, so I have the tall plastic thing that holds my wrapping paper in the corner. I also have plastic grocery bags full of paperwork I always intend to get to…and then prefer to forget. Maybe I’ll work on that for a while tonight. I’d rather burn it, but that’s probably the layer I need to start with. If I don’t resurface in a week, send a search party please. 🙂

    • 7

      The fact that architects seem not to believe in storage is one of my pet peeves. One can live in a *smaller* house more comfortably than a *larger* one, if there’s enough good storage designed into it. It’s so much easier to keep things neatly stored in dedicated storage spaces than when you’re trying to store them in living space!

      • 8

        YES’ our big open plan house had bedroom closets and kitchen cupboards, but everything else just went into the blackhole of the garage. Between lack of walls between rooms, and big windows, and The set of stairs being open to the room i had space for 3 billy book cases at the end of the room farthest from the kitchen, no other storage/display space. Zero. Zip. Nada.

        Our traditional flat here in the UK has as much living space. For the bedrooms we had to buy standalone wardrobes for the clothes, and we have the same shelves and dressers as back in the US, so no change, rally, in what can be stored in bedrooms. But the rest of the house, instead og being a giant room with Long lengths of wall, is 4 seperate rooms (living room, dining room, kitchen, and room sized central entrance hall) plus 2 walk in closets (called a ‘press’). All the rooms and closets have walls against which can be placed bookcases and cupboards and sideboards, or which can have hooks and shelves attached. Things can be stored or displayed where needed, rather than boxed up in the garage. Pictures can be hung! Tis glorious!

  6. 9

    Love this!!

  7. 10
    Jennifer says:

    this was well timed, with making cleaning checklists being this week’s declutter 365 mission….

  8. 11

    I beg to differ. You found four layers. You forgot to number the layer that is the list that tells you what to make sure you clean. You Just follow that list. Thorough and complete.

    May we please see the list? And what are the dust covers made of? What do they look like?

  9. 13

    I never get past 1st layer- I, hubby and children don’t pick up we just keep adding to it.

  10. 14

    Wow. Just wow. Every now and then…even at 47 years old…someone posts something that suddenly makes things crystal-clear. This post did that for me. I totally get it now. Better late than never!

  11. 15

    This post just helped me figure out my first three month resolutions. January I will work on daily habits. February decluttering habits and March cleaning habits. What a perfect article to read as I transition back to the real world (health issues). Thank you!

  12. 16

    I’m reading this as the two overloaded baskets of mismatched mens socks stacked in front of a TRASH bag full of more of them ruin my “me” time taunting me. Socks. My mortal enemy. I know I am not alone.

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