Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life: Mega Cleaning Action Plan
Today’s the day, time for me to unleash one enormous post and time for you to finally make a cleaning schedule and get started down the path to a new life. One in which you don’t have to limit having people over to times when you know you’ll have a few hours to frantically surface clean the whole place first (or is that just me?). That’s the goal anyway, and below is the action plan to help get you there. So grab a cup of Jo, some pen and paper, and get comfy – we’ve got some work to do.
Step 1: Make a List
Regardless of whether you decide to go minimalist or crafty-crazy in setting up your cleaning schedule, we all have to start with a list of what needs to get done. The key is to make your list comprehensive but not daunting. And that means different things for different people.
The Type A/unequivocal Claire’s of the world can go crazy here. If that’s you, grab a fresh new notebook and take an hour (or two) to write down absolutely every cleaning task you can think of. If you really want to get wild, you can break down what needs to be done room by room. As an example, here’s a link to a kitchen and bathroom chore list sent in by a particularly generous and freakishly organized reader (you know, in a good way).
The rest of us need to be a little more selective. If I try to squeeze everything from shaking out rugs to dusting my keyboard onto my final schedule, I’ll have heart palpitations every time I walk by it. If we can be successful getting the basics done, then after a while we can add in the things that we notice are still getting overlooked. In fact, some of you may prefer to keep it really simple and just list the rooms that need to be cleaned each cycle. Here are two examples left by readers in the comments of our first cleaning post:
Sunday: Kitchen (a deeper clean than usual and meal planning)
Thursday: Living Room
Friday: Craft/Play Room
Saturday: Entryway and upstairs hallway
Mondays – Laundry and kitchen
Tuesdays – Vacuum and sweep
Wednesday – Living room and bathroom
Thursday – Bedroom
Friday – Son’s room, guest room
If you need more help with what to include, here’s another reader-suggested list that looks fairly manageable. As I explained when putting together my paint chip chart, my day naturally breaks up into 3 parts (morning, nap time, and afternoon), which makes 15 “slots” per working week. (I decided I’d do meal planning and grocery shopping on the weekends but try to stay away from cleaning).
I blocked out spots for things like work, regular play dates, and kid activities. Then I tried to keep my list to a number that would allow me to do one task for each remaining spot. You don’t have to be that precise though – at this point just aim to generalize your tasks enough to have a manageable list (i.e. “bathroom” instead of “scrub toilets”, “clean shower”, “empty bathroom trash”, “widex mirrors”, etc.) Take a pen and make four or five columns on a piece of paper titled “daily”, “weekly” (along with “biweekly” if you want to do a 2 week cleaning schedule) “monthly”, and “infrequently”. Then fill each column in accordingly. Here’s what mine looked like:
Some of you will look at that list and think, “Seriously, she only mops her floors every two weeks – gross!” and others will think, “There’s no way I’m getting around to cleaning out my oven every month”. You have to make a realistic schedule you think you might actually have a prayer of sticking too! Honestly, seeing mopping on the schedule less than three times a month made me shudder a little. But I also know, as much as I’d like to, I’m just not breaking out the steam mop every week. That’s actually why I wrote down my “daily” tasks. I’m not going to put them in writing anywhere on my cleaning chart (if I’m doing them daily I shouldn’t need the reminder right?). During this step, however, it made me feel better because I could see that I’d be lightly sweeping and spot cleaning the floors daily (which is just a fancy way of saying wiping them with a washcloth when the dog treks in mud or S throws her food on the floor).
Step 2a: Turn Your List Into a Calendar
This is the point in the plan that you have to make a choice. Refer back to your results from the Cleaning Schedule Pop Quiz. If you were a Claire, definitely proceed with step 2a. If you were a Phil or a Cam you could do well with an interactive calendar, or you may want to skip ahead to the checklist in step 2b instead. Don’t spend too much time fretting over which method to choose, go with your gut and get on with it.
If you’re a calendar girl (or guy), take your list and assign each of your tasks to a day of the week. For a weekly setup, this free cleaning list printable might be just the ticket. Also, the weekly plan I featured on the initial inspiration board is a customizable pdf.
I’m also thinking of making you a simplified edition of my paint chip chart (pictured above) in case you’d like a quicker way to set up an interactive two week schedule. Let me know if that’s something you’re interested in. In the meantime, reader Lauren put together this version – it does require a little sewing but it’s magnet and lamination-free.
I went the two week route because of the added flexibility (I could plan to clean the bathrooms every Tuesday but only vacuum upstairs every other Friday). Another option for the two week schedule, suggested by reader Korey, is to deep clean one area of the house and lightly clean another each day over a two week rotation (e.g. Monday – deep clean kitchen, lightly clean bathrooms, Tuesday – deep clean living room and lightly clean office, etc.).
Instead of writing directly on your printable, consider laminating it and using a dry-eraser marker. That way the schedule can be modified if you’re having a funky week.
Make sure to make a regular spot in your schedule for your “monthly” and “infrequent” tasks. For example, maybe every Tuesday afternoon you pick a monthly task and every other Wednesday you try to get an infrequent task done.
Of course, you can always go high-tech too. I’ll talk a little more about The Fly Lady later in this post, but it’s worth mentioning that she has teamed up with Cozi to offer this popular app. Quite a few of you commented that you’ve had success with motivated moms ebook and printable chore lists. Upon investigating it looks like they also have an app,as well as a “lighter” free version, that might be worth checking out. (Note: I am NOT an affiliate for this company. I briefly entertained the idea based on multiple endorsements from you but I couldn’t preview the materials on the site so I didn’t feel comfortable moving forward). Here’s another reader-suggested option:
“I use the ipad app (they also have it for iphone/ipod) HomeRoutines. I set up what needs to be done daily. I clean a different room everyday. This way some part of the house is always clean. I clean living room on Monday, basement/laundry room Tuesday, Kitchen Wednesday, Bathrooms Thursday and bedrooms on Friday so my weekend is free. I also do the laundry on Friday and change the beds and do that laundry on Monday.”
Just to be good and thorough before we move on to step 3, here’s a link to the above reader suggested weekly cleaning schedule and below is what my (ideal) two week schedule looks like:
On the last day of the two week cycle, I put “monthly or infrequent task”. Since I currently have 4 monthly tasks, I’ll occasionally do one of my infrequent tasks instead and the monthly tasks won’t quite get done once a month – oh well, it’ll still be a lot more often than it’s getting done now.
Step 2b: Turn Your List Into a Checklist
If the idea of waking up each day only to be confronted by a to-do list makes you want to stamp your feet and yell, “You’re not the boss of me!”, then a master check list may be more your speed. In fact, a lot of readers commented that they’d prefer to break everything up into 15-20 minute tasks they can check off as they’re able throughout their day or week. This would be the perfect system for doing so.
As with the calendars, you can keep it super simple (One reader simply had a white board with 7 chores and each day she’d check one off. If she misses a day, she breaks up the chore into smaller parts and spreads them out over the remaining days of the week). But you might want to consider incorporating lists of the monthly and infrequent tasks too so you don’t forget about them. For that, I’m partial to the personalized cleaning checklist above. This one’s not free but if those pretty colors motivate you to keep the house clean then isn’t it worth the three bucks?
Reader Kim wrote in to offer up these free printables from her blog. They’re perfect for sticking in a binder or notebook (if that’s what floats your boat) and they’re available either blank or filled with suggested chores.
Again, consider laminating your checklist and writing with a dry-erase marker to allow for flexibility.
You may want to write tasks that can be accomplished in 20 minutes in a different color than those that will take an hour or longer. That way you can easily get a visual sense of how much work you really have left for the week.
Of course, there are app options for the check list too. Facebook fan Karen posted this on my wall:
“I love Wunderlist for all of my to-do’s, including cleaning! Some cleaning tasks go on my “Weekly” list; when the task is done, I just bump it forward to the same day the following week. Less frequent tasks are on a “Rotating” list; those I do, check them off, and when they are all checked off, I uncheck them and start working through the list again. This is for stuff that doesn’t HAVE to be done daily or weekly”
See the “resources” section at the end of this post for more options.
Step 3: Build Some Good Habits
A lot of you wrote in and mentioned The Fly Lady system. I don’t follow her site but I did check out an old version of The Fly Lady book a few years ago. Honestly, I don’t remember too much about it (I do recall some hilariously antiquated stories about her failure to be a proper housewife) but what really stuck with me was her emphasis on creating micro-routines to continually keep the house clean so you won’t ever have to spend hours cleaning it.
Along those lines, Real Simple has an inspiring 30-minute-a-day list that lays out the 15 seconds – 5 minutes a day each individual task will actually take you. I’m not always great at completing my daily routine but I’ve found that having one really helps. Here are some of the things I attempt to incorporate into my day:
Wipe down the kitchen and bathrooms whenever I’m in there. I use Clorox wipes (but wish I was organized enough to make these) and give the sink, counters and even the tub or toilet a quick wipe down whenever I remember.
Keep the dishes and kitchen sink clean. I unload or load the dishes as needed whenever the kids are eating. It’s just easier to do when they’re contained (although C has started doing the silverware). The Fly Lady actually has this whole obsession with the kitchen sink. I just lived far too long without a garbage disposal or a dishwasher as a grad student. The thought of what I would face when I let the dishes pile up back then still gives me nightmares.
I try not to let the toy clutter get out of control. I’m not a stickler but once the kids have played with, and moved on from, two or three toys they need to pick them up before getting anything else out. Once the kids are in bed, I take 10 – 15 minutes to straighten up, make sure the dishes are done, and wipe down the kitchen. I do this mostly because I can’t really relax unless at least that much is done and I think the kids’ play is more productive in a picked up (if not clean) house.
Another thing to consider is to incorporate a monthly or bi-monthly deep clean into your life – if for no other reason than it will allow you to let yourself off the hook a little the rest of the month because you know it’s coming. It could be one day or spread out over a week. Reader Shareen commented, “During the first week of each month, I spend a little extra time for the deep cleaning, including washing sheets.”
Step 4: Tackle the Laundry
What is it about laundry that I just can’t seem to get a hold on? Maybe it’s that the incessant piles are never-ending, especially with two little kids who love to play in the mud and are still working on mastering the use of forks. Whatever it is – I’ve been told, by all of you, that the key to conquering laundry is to do it every day if you can. So far I can’t, but I have found that even getting a load done every other day makes a world of difference. Plus I’ve scheduled in “catch up laundry time” once a week.
Most everyone sorts their laundry by color, one reader wrote in to say she does hers by family member (makes it really fast to put away, I would guess). I categorize my laundry by what I’m Ok with sitting in the dryer and getting slightly wrinkly and what I’m not. (Sidenote: this isn’t really an issue if you iron. I don’t – in fact, I dropped my iron behind the washing machine a month or two ago and haven’t yet found the need to fish it out from back there). So once a day, in the morning if I’m really on top of it, at naptime if not, I try to throw a load of wash in. If we’re going to be home in the afternoon, I’ll do a load from my closet (grown up clothes = high wrinkle aversion). If I won’t be available to immediately hang up the clothes, then I try to wash things like towels, jeans, or kid clothes (they don’t seem to wrinkle much anyways and I’m really not bothered by it if they are – my poor neglected children). Then I fold and put them away after the kids are in bed.
Other Good Stuff to Keep in Mind
Double Up When You Can – One of the best tips several of you gave was to take advantage of the kids being occupied whenever possible. I already mentioned doing the dishes while the little ones are eating. One brilliant reader suggested cleaning the bathroom while the kids bathe.
Get Everyone to Pitch In – A lot of you pointed out that the kids and spouses need to be involved in all of this and I couldn’t agree more. But I’m not going to even try to tell you how your family should do it. One reader suggested this post on 43 chores young children can do. Here’s my favorite reader write-in on the topic:
“I love to involve my kids in the chores. My 5yo can help to sort laundry (and eventually he’ll be able to do it alone.) My older kids all have a day to do their own laundry, grouped by twos. Then, they will also throw in clothes that go with their colors. This has really helped since I started working. Because my husband is amazing – he taught each of the kids one or two dinners that they could make and now if he or I aren’t able to get dinner made, one of the kids will do it.”
Do Whatever it Takes to Stay Motivated – Whether its seeing a made bed every night or getting to check three things off a list every day, do what you can to stay motivated. Reader Skin & Blisters (that’s a blog name not a person name) has an inspiration board on Pinterest. She wrote, “When I look around and see mess, I go and look at it to remind myself I want a clean, clutter free home – I know that sounds a bit daft but it’s been working and I have a little rule in my head that I’m not allowed to pin anything if I’ve gone on their just to look at motivation!!”
You Don’t Have to Clean What You Don’t Have – The more often you can work a trip to Goodwill into your schedule, the less you’ll have to clean. We’ll be doing an entire Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life segment on this topic so for now I’ve just made sure to put a spot on my cleaning calendar for “organizational projects”. On this topic one reader wrote:
“I have a box both upstairs and downstairs. When something starts making me crazy (closets are my hot button) I take a bag to it. Even it if it doesn’t totally fix the problem, it gets me a little more sane & more likely to finish it up soon.”
Stay Flexible and Cut Yourself Some Slack – Another thing a bunch of you agree on was not to be too hard on yourself. Try to realize things will come up and you’re just not going to get to everything all the time. Here are two relevant write-ins:
“I clean things in this order, as I feel like it, then cycle back around: wash sheets/towels, clean bathrooms, vacuum carpet, mop hard floors, dust. When I have extra time, I do the thing that’s bugging me the most (clean the oven, sweep the front porch). Everything stays mostly done and I’m not constantly self-criticizing for not doing all my “Tuesday” tasks”
“I need to have a master list of have to do this week, like to do this week, and in a dream world I would like to do this week. And then not stress if I only get one or two things done.”
That, believe it or not, is everything! There’s a lot here, I know, but I wanted to have it all in one post so you could book mark it (or even better pin it!) to come back to whenever you need an inspiration boost, a new printable or app to try, or just want to chuck your current system and try something completely different. As always, I want to hear from you! Let me know what here looks the best to you, what you’ve tried and what you’re planning on trying. And good luck!
Here’s my best attempt at listing everything mentioned above along with any additional resources you all sent my way. I couldn’t include all of your insights though, so be sure to check out the comments in the first post in this segment for even more good stuff.
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