Almost 20 years ago, a 21-year-old me turned up to live in a house with strangers. A friend had told me the university let vacancies in their student flats for cheap over the summer. The only catch was you were randomly allocated a place – sight unseen, flatmates unmet. I had a fulltime job with a two-hour round trip commute and was about to start part-time study. The flats were walking distance to work and school, and the rent wasn’t much more than the cost of my commute. It was a no-brainer. I signed up.
Much more gungho in those days, I still remember how incredibly nervous I was meeting my new flatmates for the first time. I needn’t have worried – we went on to spend years living and travelling together and they’re still some of my closest friends. Years later they confessed they had some reservations about me when I first moved in. To start with they assumed I was just unpacking, but after eight weeks they realised having piles of stuff all around more room was just the way I lived. While they’d never have guessed from looking at me, I was the messiest person they’d ever known.
Fast forward twenty years and I have a new normal. A few months ago, some relatives were in town. We went out for lunch at a local bar and had a great time. They had some time to fill in afterwards, so I invited them back to our place. I simply gave the toilet a quick scrub and chucked a new hand towel on the rail while my husband got started making the coffee. Six guests, zero warning, no problem.
So what changed? Well it’s definitely not that I discovered a great love of housework, not at all! I married a neat freak and some of his good habits rubbed off on me. I had a baby and didn’t want him to choke on stuff, so I picked up my game. And then I realised I actually like a clean and tidy house.
Simple tips to keep your home clean and tidy
I still hate housework. I want the results, but without having to devote too much time and thought to it. Here are my tips for keeping your home clean and tidy without it being a big deal.
- Set yourself realistic expectations – For a start, you do not live in Buckingham Palace and the Queen is not coming to visit. You want a home that functions well and is safe. It doesn’t need to look like a spread in House & Garden.
- Designate a place to keep your keys, wallet and phone – the key hook by our door is seriously the second best Christmas present my mum has ever given me (the first best was a childfree night in a hotel).
- Implement the 1 minute rule – if a job takes a minute or less, do it immediately rather than later. Things like sort the mail as soon as it comes in, empty the bin when you see it’s full, hang up that jacket, put stuff away straight after you use it. As a lifelong chronically messy person this has been life-changing.
- Make a list of things that need to be done daily and fit them into your daily rhythm – mine are washing (first thing), unpack dishwasher (morning), make meals (it’s feels constant!), stack the dishwasher, clean kitchen, wipe down tables (after dinner), sweep the wooden floors (after dinner), quick tidy and reset the living room to adult mode (after dinner), clean up spills and messes like to damage anything (ad nauseam – do children ever grow out of this?). My husband and I share the after dinner chores – one handles the kid’s shower/bed routine, while the other cleans up.
- Make a list of the things that need to be done weekly and schedule a time to do them – for me it is Tuesday mornings – vacuuming, mopping, clean bathroom (the joy of only having one bathroom, only one to clean), dust a bit. I also try and do one deep cleaning mission a week e.g clean microwave, clean the runner on the ranchslider. Our garden is a disaster zone at the moment, but our approach is to treat doing outside chores in the weekend as family time outside. We may have the longest grass in the street, but I choose not to care about that.
- Buy less stuff and pare back what you have – when you’re frantic, decluttering is just another overwhelming thing to do. Instead, focus on not buying so much stuff. Then declutter a little bit a time. On a daily basis, you’ll notice it makes your life a lot easier if you declutter these areas: your kitchen junk drawer, under the kitchen sink, your bathroom cupboard and your linen cupboard. Try doing one a week for the next four weeks, it will make the world of difference. Parents with young kids, add toys to your list. Check out How to declutter toys with the guilt for my advice on how to get started.
- Hire help, you’re allowed – This is a great option if your financial situation allows. Buying yourself more time by outsourcing housework is a proven happiness booster. It could be some gardening help, a weekly cleaner, or a one-off deep clean a couple of times a year. Too expensive? It may be more economical than you think. For example, if you are so knackered and rushed that you are buying dinner on the way home a couple of nights a week, it’s probably just as cost effective to pay for a cleaner for a couple of hours. Use your new found time in the weekend to relax & rejuvenate (you could nap, that’s allowed too) and you’ll have the energy to make your own dinners. You won’t be spending any more, you may be saving and you’ll probably be eating better too.
- Share the load – if you can’t afford, or don’t want to hire help (I don’t like the thought of outsiders cleaning up my mess – it’s weird I just don’t), there are other ways to lightening your load.
- Get everyone in the house contributing – set a time when everyone cleans together. Make a list of jobs, divide them up. When must husband and I used this method, we switched lists each week – it saved one person having to clean the toilet every week.
- Work with a friend – one day they come to yours and you do your place together, another day you go to theirs and do their place together. At my son’s kindy, some parents formed a gardening group. One morning a week they all go and do gardening at one members place, about once every six weeks they all come to yours and do a garden blitz. Plus there’s cake.
What’s your best tip for taking the hassle out of housework?