REDUCE CLUTTER. One of the easiest cleans you can do in your home is simply to throw things out. Yes, it can be stressful to purge if you are a natural hoarder, (and one look at “Clean House” should convince you that you don’t want to be one) but less in a home is definitely more. The best way to do it is in stages and room by room. If you have a lot of clutter, trying to tame it in one fell swoop will just frustrate you.
Grab a large garbage bag and pick a room. Even if you can’t throw it all out, throw out things you don’t like, don’t use or where deadlines have passed. (Invitations, bills, etc.) Establish a simple system for bills, receipts and mail – file it, act on it or throw it out. If you want to cut down on bill clutter, go paperless and have bills emailed to you. Have a file cabinet that is organized with the things you need to keep on file – receipts, bank statements and tax returns, etc. The rule of “a place for everything and everything in its place” always helps. If there’s something you don’t have a place for, than either throw it out, don’t buy it in the first place or make a place for it by tossing out or reorganizing something else.
SPOT CLEAN. Don’t get overwhelmed with dirt and mess before you do major housecleaning. If you pick up behind yourself and train your kids and spouse to do the same, you will have less work on your hands when you do thoroughly clean. If it’s impossible to get your kids and spouse to pick up behind themselves, then add a basket or hamper to everyone’s room and have them throw dirty clothes in there so that they can be collected from each room when laundry time comes. Clean up as you cook, even if it’s just loading the dishwasher as you go. One rule of spot-cleaning in the kitchen is to never go to bed with a full, dirty sink. It’s a rule that works because there’s something about a clean sink that helps keep the whole kitchen in order.
HAVE CLOSED TRASH CANS. One thing that always looks messy is an overflowing garbage can. If you are in the city where garbage pickup is once a week, make sure your outside cans are big enough to hold all your family’s trash, and don’t keep a lot of trash in house. A garbage can that fully closes is worth the investment and keeps your kitchen looking neater and smelling better. If you use dumpsters, then take your trash out regularly, daily if you have a big family.
KEEP DECORATIONS SIMPLE. Unless you’re one of those people who decorate the house, the dog and the kids in Christmas-themed gear, (and if you are, you can still keep all the decorations, wrapping, outfits, and lights .in organized containers for storage) you don’t have to go all out with Christmas décor. Lights, candles, bows and inexpensive wreaths can keep things inexpensive and festive, while also retaining order. If you’re going to put up a tree, a tree skirt keeps needles from a real tree in the proximity of the tree instead of being tracked all over the house. If it’s an artificial tree, a skirt will add a neater appearance to stacked gifts.
TEACH KIDS GOOD HABITS. If you have kids, you know it can be next to impossible to keep a house spotless. The idea is to teach your kids how to clean up from as early as possible. If you can keep good storage in their rooms – whether you use a multiple shoe bag that hangs on the back of a door as toy storage, teach kids to put toys away in a trunk or hamper or show them how to keep an organized closet – you may not have to deal with sullen teenagers who roll their eyes when cleaning is mentioned.
As for pets, sadly, they can’t be taught to organize their food and water dishes or pick up their own hair. You have to be organized for them by keeping food areas clean and swept and keeping litter boxes emptied. The essential tools for pet hair clean up are a handheld vacuum, a dust mop and an oversized lint roller. As pet hair is so hard to clean, it’s also a good idea to simply cover your pet’s favorite sleeping places with a sheet that can be removed when company’s over.
PREP FOR GUESTS. If you and your family simply wipe your hands on your own towels, you will need to put out some hand towels for guests. Since guests often forget personal toiletries, buy a set of travel-size items (usually a dollar or two) at your favorite drugstore or big box retailer. It can include lotion, toothpaste, shampoo and bars of soap for houseguests.
Make sure you have decent pillows and varying weight blankets and comforters for guests who may be colder or hotter than you’re used to. (And if you know your house is either very warm or barely above freezing, that’s even more important.) Make sure bedding and towels aren’t threadbare and are clean. It may sound obvious, but if you’re not regularly using the extra blankets/towels, you might not realize how raggedy they’ve gotten. Nobody wants to come to the house with the thin, tiny towels. Discount retailers have plenty of options, so no excuses.
If you’re having guests, give them both regular and bottled hand and body soap. Some people just won’t use soap unless it’s in solid form. (If you have expensive body gel potions, and teenagers are coming, put those out of reach and have them use the stuff you provide. Otherwise that expensive shower gel will be gone.) Candles and scents are nice, but some folks are scent-sensitive, so have unscented options available as well.
PRIORITIZE BUSY ROOMS. When you consider having to clean up your entire house, depending on its size, it can be a daunting proposition. Don’t do it all at once because if the job looks too big, you may get overwhelmed and never finish. Prioritize the busiest rooms, and do it over a couple of days. Kitchens and bedroom are always going to get the most traffic, so do them first. After that, prioritize the public areas like the den, dining room and living room, and then the guest room you reserve for company. You can always
just leave the door closed on rooms you don’t want folks to see.
If time is short and your situation is desperate, pack all your clutter into disposable grocery store bags and store in a closet or the basement until you have time to wade through it all. Don’t shortcut kitchens and bathrooms, though. If nothing else, those are the rooms you should give the most time and include mopping and hardcore cleaning.
USE EASY CLEANING PRODUCTS. The best way to get cleaning is to use convenience products. Your mother or grandmother may have cleaned hardwood floors with her bare hands by getting down on knees and scrubbing the floors, but you don’t have to do that. There are a myriad of products to make cleaning easier. There are mops that wring out with a twist, and you never have to get your hands dirty. There are disposable toilet cleaners. There are natural cleaners that will clean well without you having to open every window in your home to avoid nauseating fumes. Washable microfiber cloths are your friend, especially if you live in a home where dust accumulates. Flushable bathroom wipes are invaluable for spot cleaning. Use any and everything that you can to make cleaning faster and easier, and do not blink when any relative who cleaned the old-school way has anything to say about it, unless they are willing to clean for you.
GET HELP IF NECESSARY. Do not be one of those people who has to do everything yourself – or that’s what you’ll end up doing. If you’re a super neat freak, you may have to, but that’s your issue to handle. Anyone else should sign up some help from spouse, kids, friends or anyone else. If you have a big house and are planning a big holiday party, then go ahead and hire outside help. Please don’t waste time feeling guilty because your guests will not care who cleaned; they’ll just appreciate that it is clean. And don’t think we’re just talking to women, because there are men who are much neater than their messy wives.
Let go of perfection if you’re a busy mom or dad during the holidays. You don’t have to be perfect, as long as you’re providing a space where your friends and family can enjoy themselves.