This is a post about a bare minimum house cleaning plan. But first, some comparison.
I’ve been working out again. This isn’t a post about working out, but I have. And as I’ve started back up (for the forty-jillionth time), I’ve been thinking about how it relates to keeping my house clean.
If you’re one of the many who’ve read every post of this blog, you know I’ve said that before and fizzled before.
I went to the gym, I did Camp Gladiator, I did the 30 Day Shred for about four days, I tap danced.
Some things worked better than others. And like housekeeping before this blog, each gung-ho-at-first new method that eventually fizzled made me more skeptical about the next time being worth even trying.
My new strategy: Workout like an old lady.
After CG lost its sparkle (ummm, 5 a.m. is not my sparkliest hour), I did nothing. At all. For months. And felt yucky.
Around that same time, the awesomeness that happens when you are over 40 really started happening. I bought reading glasses because somehow the words in my Bible mysteriously shrank. I accidentally made the font bigger on my Kindle one day, and then realized it was much easier to read, so I left it bigger.
As I accepted this not-so-young-anymore reality, I thought of so many older women I know who aren’t overweight, and I considered what they do.
What do they do? Something. They all do something.
Many walk. Some actually ride their exercise bikes instead of hanging clothes on them.
And the ones who are just normal, healthy older women are the ones who don’t do dramatic stuff (hello, 5 a.m. burpees). They do boring stuff. But they do it consistently.
So I’m going boring this time. 30 minutes on the elliptical. Every day that I can.
I’m hopeful this mindset change will work since it’s the same mindset change that brought my house out of Constant Disaster Status.
I’d tried so many fancy-schmancy methods.
I had a legitimate fear no method would actually work for me.
So I just started doing the dishes.
And by doing that, and oh-so-slowly adding on a new super-boring and non-glamorous habit when the last one started feeling natural, I made progress.
Eventually, I identified the bare minimum.
Because, that’s what I wanted to know.
What is the very least I can do to keep my house under control?
I wouldn’t have actually put it that way, but it’s what I was really asking myself when I said things like, “Why does it seem so easy for everyone else to keep their homes from turning into a pigsties, but I feel like I’m swimming through Jello??”
The short answer was habits. But I knew that. I wanted more detail.
Tell me, EXACTLY, which habits, at the barest of bare minimums, will keep my house from looking like elephants live here.
Specifically, elephants who change clothes six times a day and disrobe in random rooms at random times and leave their elephant-sized dishes all over every random surface that exists.
Clarification necessary because I’m pretty sure an elephant house was less messy than my house was pre-deslobification process. Except we did use toilets.
So what is the very least you can do to keep a house under control?
Do the dishes. If nothing else, do the dishes. Everyday. Like, every single day. And if you miss a day, catch up. On the dishes. If nothing else.
Sweep the kitchen. I know this one gets some people worked up, so skip it if you want. If your kitchen floor is always perfectly fine because you never lay things down and forget about them being there until the doorbell rings, great. If you notice it needs to be swept before you need a full-sized push broom, awesome.
Check bathrooms for clutter.
Set the timer and do a five-minute pickup.
Those are the bare minimum. The barest. The absolute min-i-mum.
But just like the consistently-walking older women whose clothes fit well (even though they can’t deadlift 500 pounds), those four bare minimum housekeeping habits have an amazing effect.
They make a house livable.
They make a front door openable.
They make my heart palpitation-free, even when someone mentions they will be “stopping by” in a few minutes.
If you also find yourself wishing someone would just explain WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN to keep your house from being a disaster instead of giving you a list of Eight Easy Steps to Achieve Housekeeping Perfection, you’ve found your people. And you need my book. Learn more about How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind here.
I read and loved your book. That is how my mind works too. I laughed so many times because that is me too. I’m on the dishes step right now and I do find other parts of your book trickling in at times. Like this morning, I noticed something that had broken in my bedroom months ago and a box from Christmas and threw them out. I like how you mention, that cabinets are containers that give a specific limit that something needs to be taken out for something to be put in. Going to have to go back and read about purging rules again before I tackle a project. I have too much stuff and I need to purge and declutter and now I know how… I had a hard time getting rid of stuff a while ago and was cleaning with my husband, and he said that if it costs less than $5 just toss it. We can easily buy it again if we need it later. That helped immensely…
Joannie Layne says
What a great tip!! I will use it today. Thank you![
Joanne Murphy says
Try the 5 minute timer when you start a task. It helps to keep you focused on just that task. You can always reset it for another 5 minutes, if you are really into getting that task done. Then distractions don’t have ‘time’ to trick you! I used the timer and set myself up, to clear only one drawer : example a kitchen drawer. The timer kept me focused . Enjoy your housework as you see the transformation!
Joanne Murphy says
Suppose to be a reply to Amanda M. Patterson.
I love what you said about reading glasses! I suddenly needed them, and I fought myself about it for a while. I growled every time I had to put on — or take off — my glasses. But I eventually accepted that it could be worse, and likely will be worse, so I’d best learn to accept it. I like what you say about doing boring exercise, but accepting it and doing it every day — or it will get worse!
Joann Hnat says
The exercise thing (which I have shared in the past) is another example of project brain. “I will do this new program or diet, it will make me lose weight and be healthy, and then I will be done.
When in reality, diet and exercise are like the dishes. You have to do them every day.
Deb f says
Thank you for sharing. It’s so hopeful to hear someone like me get better. Not perfect but better. 💞
Tacha Philpot says
I finished reading your book last night. I already have a donate box filled with stuff, I’m recycling jars instead of keeping the “just in case” and I even purged my daughters drawers of extra clothes. I feel like something finally clicked while reading your book.
Dana White says
Oh this makes me so happy to hear!!
Amanda M Patterson says
Imma read this article, I’m excited to, but I scanned through hoping there was a bare minimum checklist. Honestly, I am a person who makes a 15 minute job take 2 hours because I get caught up in the details in moments that aren’t necessary or when it really isn’t helpful. I was hoping a minimal checklist would help me stay more focused, but I’m unsure. When I go to ‘clean the floors’ I start out in my head with a swiffer wetjet, end up on the floor with a scrub brush and a magic eraser 🤦♀️🤷♀️
Why do I put off mopping? Because I really want to pull everything out from the wall, sweep the floor, dust or scrub the baseboards, and then mop… “ain’t NOBODY got time for all this!!” so it waits and I do little foot-mop jobs when I notice a spot on the floor. (Damp rag under the foot and scrub til the spot goes away.) Eventually, one morning while sweeping the floor, I will decide to just run the mop over all those swept floors. So easy!! (Spring and fall, I tend to actually do that deep clean mopping, but otherwise, the house is staying pretty good.)
I discovered Dana’s first two books the summer of 2021 and they CLICKED with me!! My house is presentable 95% of the time for the first time in 48 years! I’m still decluttering at the speed of life, and will probably be doing so for the rest of my life, but it works! Don’t stress, just get into the habits and adjust them to suit your life. It gets easier each time.
I bought a beautiful new Amish-built end table last month and THREW AWAY the old stereo thingy that we had used as an “end table” for years the minute we brought the new end table into the house. The new piece is still sitting there with the lamp on it and my purse parked on the shelf underneath. Nothing is piled on it, nothing is leaning against it; it just sits there holding the lamp and keeping my purse where I can grab it without trying to remember where I put it THIS time! I smile every time I dust it! (Which is much more often than I used to dust!)
Heh, I have the stereo thing by my bed that holds lamp, sleep apnea machine and distilled water therefore no rush to replace with beautiful new 2nd table as I won’t see it with those 3 necessary items, grrr
Melissa Middleswart says
Good thoughts–why would any of us want to do more than we really need to? And I smiled at the “older woman whose clothes fit” because I have hated exercise most of my adult life and for the past 20 years at least (I am now in the “older woman” category–when I started this I was in my 40s) I have consistently walked for 30 minutes at least 6 days a week, usually 7. Then a couple of years ago I started having a foot problem, so now I walk a bit and then I ride an exercise bike the rest of my 30 min. And despite the unwelcome shifts in weight that comes with aging, that daily walk which I combine with reading or a phone call so I won’t be so bored, has been enough to keep my weight consistent and my health OK. Go for it, but do it on a regular basis. Just like the dishes. : )
Rosemary Parker says
Thanks for the motivation. I’m terrible at house work and also terrible at exercise. Somehow I hadn’t connected the ‘start small’ dots which had worked for learning to keep my house tidy. I will start small with exercising. I’m actually semi-excited about exercise. Thanks.
So funny because I have had my dishes under control but have been using your strategies for my weight. Dishes and home maintenance are the boring and mundane things we have to do to have the house we want. Exercise and going through the evening without overdoing fun snacks are the things we have to do to have the health we want. I’m good at fad diets (“projects”) but just regular day in and day out taking care of my health by not giving into food boredom with a jelly bean binge is basically my version of doing dishes. If I’ve had dinner and am trying to talk myself into eating for fun, I say to myself “just do the damn dishes” and either don’t eat or have a piece of fruit. And I slide sometimes, just like I do with my house, but getting back up and “doing the dishes” is all I need to do to get back on track.
This. This is truth.
Never wanted a ‘thumbs up’ button so much…
Krysten T says
Doing the dishes and daily sweeping my kitchen are the best things I can do for my house. I often find that once I load my dishwasher my kitchen is really not that messy and I’m able to quickly finish cleaning the rest.
In my house because we have an open floor-plan picking up the playroom multiple times daily is a bare necessity if I’m going to be kept from embarrassment when someone comes by.
I love your blog! I’m glad your book is doing so well.
My best friend runs several MILES everyday! Ugh! She’s as tiny as a thimble. If she can’t run she does an exercise video. She listened to your book and told me I had to listen because it was everything I’d been complaining about and now she understood me better. I listened and she was right!! Now she’s trying to get me to exercise but she gets that I don’t want to do it just to do it because I like “projects” and exercise is NOT a project! Walking for 20-30 minutes is possibly more my speed. My doctor suggested that I make it part of our homeschool day- take the boys on a nature walk. Good idea, just need to make it a habit like doing the dishes.
Homeschooler here and I keep thinking I need to make a daily nature walk a part of our day, good for so many reasons but…Ugh! Maybe I will do it…
Pretend you live in Scandinavia: part of their educational excellence is that the children are outdoors every day!! They dress for the weather and are outside every day–rain, snow, sunshine, whatever. Let your kids become the specialists in different areas–insects, plants, birds, weather, ice crystals, whatever piques their interest. It will be good for the whole family. (Right after eating is a great time to walk–helps mobilize glucose into the muscles as fuel instead of into fat cells as fat storage.) The outdoors is a great way to de-stress everyone.
I love your strategies and hate cleaning! I’ve been a long time reader and today’s post hits home. We generally did the bare minimum like you mention above. But anything more? Forget it. For New Years, I took the plunge to make a system for my house. I was inspired by your your idea of “5 minutes” from your five minute pickups. Even my kids can tolerate a five minute job (not without complaining…but I can tolerate five minutes of complaining, so we’re even). Anyways, I wrote out all the jobs in our house that weren’t getting done on a regular basis and broke them into five minute chunks. Instead of cleaning the whole bathroom (which might take 10-15 minutes) I split it into toilet, mirrors/sink, and floor. Then I put them on Popsicle sticks. Everyone takes a stick after dinner and does one five minute chore a day. For the first time in my life, celebrating the boys’ Birthdays was easy. My house was already under control and I could just hang a couple streamers and throw some food together. It’s been over 2 months now, so the habit must have stuck, right?
Thank you for being there in my inbox and podcast. It is so great to know there’s hope for me and my home!
Oh I love this idea, especially for a family with kids, but even just for me too! I think I’m going to put a bunch of small chores that I forget to do regularly on popsicle sticks and pull one a day to do in addition to my daily tasks. Thanks for the idea!
Dana, love this post and the analogy. I know it’s about keeping up with the house, but I think there’s an exercise blog in your future! 😉
Dana, I love you. you’re exactly right!!
I’m applying your method to housekeeping AND working out
My husband and I just joined a gym (I heard that eye roll). But spending the money is a motivator for me.
30 minutes is my marker right now. Just move for 30 minutes. I like the recumbent bike because I don’t have to balance and I can just close my eyes and mentally wander off. I like the idea of calling someone…
Dana White says
No eye rolling here! I’d had the gym membership for MONTHS before I went . . .
And I read on my Kindle while I do the elliptical. It’s that much more motivation to workout because I get to read for 30 minutes!!
Christy M says
Great post! I am 41 and started working out in January. I’m on my tenth week and I think that one of the reason’s I’ve kept it up is that I just started with no pressure. I didn’t overwhelm myself with big diet changes along with my new exercise. Last week I felt ready to work on my eating habits and started using an app that is similar to weight watchers. I had done ww years before so I had an idea of what it entailed. Same goes with the house. Sometimes I just have to make myself do something even when I don’t want to do anything.
As a Health Coach I recommend this baby steps approach to my clients. After reading this article, I realized that is why I enjoy reading your blog so much. You recommend the baby steps approach to keeping house that I use toward physical activity and eating patterns. With my clients, starting from no deliberate physical activity, we work up to 150 minutes a week as our goal. If we need to start with 5 minutes that’s what we do adding more as the client becomes stronger. I like to have my clients build this habit into their day so they do it without even really thinking about it.
Alina @ DeclutterBlog.com says
“Some actually ride their exercise bikes instead of hanging clothes on them”. That’s not me definitely:-)
Thanks for the post, Dana!
Reading your post, I can relate. Last week, I was thinking about why its so hard to keep my house under control along with my weight, looks etc. (Im one of those people that other “looks” minded folks like to give advice to about hair and makeup – Ive gotten to the point in my advancing years where I kinda stop listening to them as I dont wanna learn to use a flat iron) I want things to look good but there never seems to be enough time or energy. Why can others do it and why cant I?
So I think the problem is I try too much or too hard or too fast. Im very impatient and want things done now and its discouraging to not see results. So I decided that I will try to control my weight by following a version of the “Skinnygirl” health plan, one part of which is moderating or modifying what you eat. If you eat something fatty at lunch, eat light at dinner,etc. Have it all but dont have everything at once. And I need to add exercise, even if its walking the dog or doing leg lifts on the couch. So I can relate to what youre saying….why make it hard when it doesnt have to be? thanks for your blog and posts – they are entertaining and inspirational. (PS – I recently downloaded your new book and started reading…very interesting – thank you for writing it)
So do you and your family take summer vacation? Do you know where you will be spending it this year? Do you do personal interventions?
Fun to read this post and to read all the commenters’ experiences. I’m also a “born messie” who has spent years learning to get my home under control. It’s just like you say, little steps, every day, will get you there. Great encouragement you are giving out, Dana. Don’t give up, either on the house or on the exercising. You can do it! 🙂
Now I am certain we must be related. Going to try working out like an old lady – after I do the dishes!
This post is so true!
After having my baby boy last September, I could not get myself motivated to do anything cleaning wise. I just wanted to care for him. Then in January you started your live videos and I decided to just start with the dishes. Now, I’m able to keep my house relatively clean almost all the time and no what to do to get back on track after those crazy busy weeks.
My question is: What is the bare minimum I can do to keep my muddy kitchen floor clean? I H.a.t.e pulling out the mop. I’ve tried so many mopping inventions, but my linoleum has those pock marks that keep dirt unless you’re on your hands and needs scrubbing. It takes so long, and with the dining room I dread cleaning around table legs. I will sweep once a week or so, but I live in the muddy PNW and no matter how many welcome mats I have the shoe tracks are all over my kitchen. Unfortunately, taking boots off at the door won’t work, since my husband is in and out of the house with big tie up boots.
Gillian Hochmuth says
I know your comment to this post was a long time ago, but I have the same problem.
For Christmas, I got the Bissell Crosswave vacuum mop. It has a rolling scrubbing brush & suction like a vacuum, but uses a cleaning solution & a dirty water tank to store the grossness.
I have an open floor plan where my kitchen/dining room/living room/entryway are one big room. I can’t just “sweep the kitchen” because they’re all one continuous floor. If I sweep just the kitchen “area” there is a distinct line on the floor where I decided the kitchen stopped.
Now I use my Crosswave (almost) every day & can now keep the mud tracking & sticky spots to a minimum. My floors finally look & feel clean with no streaks or spots where only the top layer of dirt was cleaned off.
Heidi Erickson says
Try a Rumba and run it everyday. I run it everyday in my basement where the three cats drag cat litter. It cuts down on the dust in the whole house. They are expensive, but it’s like having a maid vacuum everyday for you. My husband and I got it for Christmas one year.
I invested in a Shark auto robot vacuum. Love it! SHARK ION Robot Vacuum R85… https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FX7394L?ref=ppx_pop_mob_ap_share
Ok, I love this. I knew this, sort of, but laid out this way it makes it really clear to me. I’ve been down and out for the last few days with a bad cold and literally done nothing, and it’s like my house just lost it’s marbles. It’s a great object lesson for me, and a reminder to be patient, every if it’s not “all done” doing something every day makes a huge difference!
I love the idea of applying what you’ve learned about housekeeping to health, fitness, and weight loss! PLEASE WRITE MORE ABOUT THIS…including how to apply it to eating habits. That’s the hardest part for me (& the part that makes the most difference for weight loss since 80% of weight loss is dietary, not exercise-related)…and for a long time I’ve been thinking the same principles you use for getting your home under control (consistency in the small boring aspects) are probably the same principles that will help me get my BODY under control, but I haven’t known how to apply them. I’ve gotten as far as “my BODY is also a container!!!!” but haven’t been able to implement beyond that realization. I’d love to hear about your process if you apply the housekeeping principles to weight loss. THANK YOU!!
Don’t snack while cooking. (I can wipe down things instead.)
Don’t eat before breakfast or after an early supper. (I do my dailies before breakfast.)
Put the goodies I crave where I will have to put forth effort to retrieve the one at a time I allow myself. (Basement means some stair-stepper time!)
Walk at least 10 minutes after at least two meals. In really bad weather, do 30 seconds of sit-stands and a full arm weight /resistance band workout. (We have started picking up litter as we walk so we get squats and bends in, too!)
When I eat out (no fast food!) take half the meal home for supper or the next day.
I’m starting over again today–I had started bringing up 2-3 bits at a time and bought a package of thin mints which disappeared very quickly when I put them in the kitchen fridge. The scale isn’t lying, sadly. I can’t wait for biking weather to arrive in the Midwest–we bike for miles once we get back into decent weather.
If your house was like mine….. After decades of my sidekick leaving his dishes stacked in the sink or on top of the dishwasher, while I not so consistently would put the few dishes/utensils I used IN the dishwasher and would run it full with his still stack in sink and countertops; I tidied up the kitchen one day of all the mess…grudgingly.
Then placed the (used for years and ignored) 4×6 index card I’d made with Clean printed on one side/Dirty on the other with magnet sandwiched between and laminated that told what was inside the dishwasher into the little sawed slot of a sawed slot of a little wood iron shaped recipe card holder and placed that ON TOP OF the dishwasher. I did write “Place the ______ dishes utensils in the dishwasher” on the outside of the card above and below DIRTY.
I didn’t even add Please.
Magically the dishes make their way into the dishwasher and it gets run and emptied by whomever has discovered the need to run it or empty it so dirty dishes can once again be placed inside.
I never said a word. Just the little card in the handmade recipe holder. Google wood iron recipe card holder. Mine does not have the clothespin, but has a slot sawed in the tip of the iron.
If I had only realized the card needed to be ON TOP of the dishwasher…in the place where dirties stack up.
That little holder was never used and destined to be put in the Goodwill box. But one last two-fold reason to keep it…use it now and where it might do some good.
You have blessed me with your cleaning tips, let me bless you with workout/eating tips – find something you will do 80 percent of the time. It’s ok to have a day you do not work out, it is ok to have a non-healthy meal, but your 80 percent normal needs to be working out and eating right. That’s the goal. Not perfection, repeatable real life, as you say, over and over and over.
Theresa Roma says
I found my home stays neater when I take the time to return an item to the place I got it from when done, NOT later. Also saves sanity when needed again, no looking all over for it, saving time and temperment.
It gets freaky when other members of the household start doing that, too. After taking some measurements, I laid the ruler down. When I went to put it away a few minutes later, I couldn’t find it!!
Me: “WHERE did I PUT that ruler????”
Husband: “Right there. I put it back in the kitchen drawer.”
Kelly P. says
I think you are right with the dishes thing. I do not do the dishes thing and my kitchen looks like the cupboards exploded. If I did the dishes then at least there is enough room for cooking dinner that night and some empty space to rest your eyes.
And then my mother-with-the-perfectly-clean-house won’t be scared.
Elephants. I laughed so hard. Thanks for making my day.
My bare minimum is bed done, load of dishes and load of laundry a day! Those three keep me from sinking 😆
Dana, seriously, Girl, your books are awesome. Books that are not meant to just read once. They are classic. They are Keepers. They will pertain to any era.
But, I emailed you a month or so ago saying that you are now expected to write a third book. You’ve got the three layers of cleaning. The everyday stuff, the decluttering and the real cleaning. Now we need that ‘real cleaning’ book. So many people our age and younger truly don’t know how to do it.
This is reminding me that I promised my friend I would buy her your books for her birthday. Uh oh! It’s in a few days and I don’t have the money! lol I guess it will be belated, then, because I’m definitely treating her to these.
Oh and btw, you DID kinda have to explain it to me about the donate box- that it didn’t have to BE a BOX, but anything that can be taken straight out to the car and doesn’t come back in. I have a huge Rubbermaid box, the kind that sorta kinda looks like a casket. I have it on a bottom of a shelf in a back room. But the box has to STAY and I always have to find something to unload it into on the day I donate. So NOW, I’ll remember to put things in a bag or smaller box before putting it in the casket until donate day. (can’t keep it in the van, that’s where my kids need to sit, lol, those kids are keepers.)
Thanks for your books, they are blessing me, and I learn something each and every time I pick it up and read.
Dana, you are so right, exercise is like “just do your dishes”. Not only did weight come on easier, but stay on more persistently as I got older, but the habits of daily movement just got harder… Well, intermittent fasting, eating with purpose, and moving as a habit (like doing dishes) has made a world of difference to me. Over 50 doesn’t need to be the worse years anymore…
Keep up the good work, and keep up the good habits. They will pay dividends, trust me!