My Top 5 Cleaning “Ah-Ha” Moments

Cleaning seems easy enough. How hard can it be to push the vacuum around? But developing a system that works for you to keep your home clean on a regular basis takes time and insight.

These are the ideas that completely changed my approach to cleaning, so that I could spend less time doing it with better results. I’ve come a long way from the teenager who had piles of clothes everywhere and couldn’t keep her room cleaned up.

Cleaning and picking up are separate jobs.

I spend about two hours a week focused on cleaning our home, but almost everything is picked up before I start. If I were to start with picking up, I would spend all my time on that and never get around to the cleaning!

Picking up toys, dishes, books, and socks is a daily habit and a family activity, because there is no possible way that I could do it all by myself. If the house looks messy, we declare “clean up time!” and for the next five minutes everyone runs around putting stuff away. We don’t just put away our own stuff, we all help to pick up after each other.

The cleaning goes much faster if things are put away and you don’t have to clean around them.

Plan a routine.

Some jobs need to be done daily, some weekly, and some are monthly or seasonal. You don’t need to clean your whole house top to bottom every time to feel like you’ve done a complete job.

Knowing your daily jobs can help you focus on the basics during times of stress. But which ones are those? It depends on your home and your family life. It might be keeping the kitchen sink clear, sweeping the floor, making the bed, and wiping the table.

Frequent is better.

Ten minutes of vacuuming once a week is more helpful than forty minutes of vacuuming once a month.

If you clean more often, it’s not so overwhelming, and it’s easier to keep things clean as you go. Your bathroom sink might just need a quick wipe instead of an all-out scrub.

Work for significant improvement.

If a mirror only has a couple of spots on it, do you spray and wipe the entire mirror, or do you just clean the dirty spots? Some people like to do the whole thing so that it feels clean to them. Or maybe someone helped you wash the dishes, but you kind of want to do it yourself so you will know they really are clean. That’s fine if you want to spend all your time cleaning everything by yourself.

Save time by just cleaning the dirty stuff. Then marvel at how much better things look.

It’s about taking care of people, not taking care of stuff.

But you already knew that.

Which cleaning philosophies make a difference in your home?”
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I have my cleaning broken down into routines: daily, weekly, seasonal. Each routine is then broken down even further. It makes it not so intimidating when I get behind and need to play catch up.

    Tiffanie´s last post…My Closet Runneth Over

    • Please share some daily/weekly etc breakdowns.

      • My first breakdown is into Morning, Afternoon and Evening routines. I then have plans for each day of the week and add items for whatever room I’m working on that particular week. Seasonal items would be like the Spring Cleaning Party I have been trying to start but just can’t seem to get the time needed. Hope that helps!!

        Tiffanie´s last post…My Closet Runneth Over

      • A few examples:

        Daily – make bed, wash dishes, see if you need to run the dishwasher, see if the trash needs to be taken out

        Weekly – clean mirrors, dust, vacuum, sweep, mop, clean bathrooms

        Monthly – more detailed dust or vacuum

        Seasonal – dust the ceiling fan, clean under the kitchen sink

        If you have pets or small children you might want to sweep or vacuum more often than weekly. That’s why you always need to tailor someone else’s plan to fit your own needs.

        • yeesh…. we vacuum the living areas – dining, kitchen and learning rooms every day. With 4 of us home together crafting, cooking and eating all day it needs it. But there’s 3 kiddos to help so everyone only does 5 minutes of vacuuming.

    • I like to remember what my beautiful mother (of 8) said to me this summer:

      “The floor is there to serve you, not you to serve the floor.”

      I love that and it was a great moment for me to remember that it’s ok to “let it go” when I need to!

  2. Love it. Looked through a book yesterday at the bookstore called something like…Life’s Too Short to Fold Fitted Sheets. It’s not about perfection, it’s about taking care of you family. I definitely agree with “just cleaning the dirty stuff.” That’s pretty much my philsophy.

    • I’ve actually stopped folding fitted sheets at all, I fold them over in half, stick my hand through and give it a twist and then tie it in a knot, its takes 3 seconds and its contained… I store sheets inside their pillowcases in the closet too…

  3. I hate cleaning, I have no system and my house is rarely “clean”. We pick up our stuff, but the everyday cleaning just doesn’t happen. I’ve been creating little systems one by one. I’ve got the dishes under control (which used to be a huge problem), now I’m working on other things. I like the idea of cleaning what is dirty. I also try to use flylady concepts of cleaning quick each day so you don’t have to do the big cleans once in a while, but having a hard time sticking with it. You motivate me though. so thanks.

    Jackie Lee´s last post…Living the Law of Attraction and Parenting With It Too!

  4. I have a weekly cleaning schedule that works for me. It’s great b/c I rarely have to do a big clean up before we have guests.

    pam´s last post…Sunny Days

    • That’s right, as you get your house in a managable state, you can be more spontaneous with guests and playdates…instead of thinking..I’ll invite them once I get my house in order! (Yes I am speaking from experience!)

      Meeks´s last post…I am so sleep deprived!

  5. My philosophy is avoid DOOM! Doom is that sinking feeling you get when you are staring at a pile of work you’re behind on and you’ll have to take the day off work or stay up all night to catch up. Avoiding doom means covering the basics, which for me are:

    1. The budget must be updated regularly so we’ll know if we’re living within our means.
    2. We all need clean clothes when we go to get dressed in the morning, and to have fresh towels and sheets when we need them.
    3. We need to be able to produce dinner at home most of the time because it’s good for us and it supports our budgetary goals.
    4. We need clean dishes and to keep a good level of hygiene in the kitchen and bathrooms.
    5. The floors need picked up and not having crud on them.
    6. I should be able to have people over at any time without it being a federal case or us having a nervous breakdown and having to be sent flowers.

    So if I can stay focused enough to do these things, everything keeps on an even-ish keel.

    Dad is in the House´s last post…Shop European-Style?

  6. Self control and self discipline sum up my way of cleaning and organizing in my home.
    Self control = the less stuff I bring into my home, the less time it takes to clean it.
    Self discipline = frequent picking up after each item is used/handled equal less re-organizing time.
    Of course these two helpful habits took me a long time to establish. I am doing better now then 10 years ago when I first started the FLYlady system.
    The most important daily task for me would be to have a clean sink (it calms my spirit to see a clean sink first thing in the morning). The weekly chore would be the vacuuming. Monthly menu planning would save my sanity at dinner time and cleaning the garage would definitely be a seasonal job. I do have more daily/weekly/monthly/seasonal chores than those I just mentioned. The point is, If I can only do one thing, those would be the ones. My attitude has changed over the years toward keeping our home. The perfectionist in me has finally surrendered and I (and my family) thank God for it.

    Our Lives´s last post…Tackle it Tuesday – Spice Cabinet

  7. These are my home maker cliches.
    Hey it works for me.

    Don’t put it down put it away.
    Where would I go to look for this?
    Look after the corners and the middles look after themselves.
    One small load of laundry every day.
    Never take a shirt to the laundry without a coat hanger.
    Bus each way.
    Could I invite someone over if I meet them while I’m out?
    Like with like.

  8. I was just cleaning today and thinking that my system is working fairly good, but I would like a more regular system so I know what I need to be doing each day. On a daily basis I sweep or vacuum(we have a golden retriever and a long-haired cat), do dishes, and do at least one load of laundry. I also make sure the living room, dining room, and kitchen are clutter free before we go to bed. In the morning I make sure our bedroom is picked up. The kids are in charge of their rooms and I have them pick them up daily as well. You are right, making sure things are picked up helps the cleaning go so much faster. Thanks for the post!

    Michelle Traudt´s last post…Proverbs 31

  9. The very best cleaning advice I have is from Jaimie Martin of Steady Mom… clean when it bugs you. That one simple idea has revolutionized our home. Instead of constantly feeling like I need to clean or should clean or whatever, when I notice something I go ahead and clean it. I never spend more than a couple of minutes cleaning at a time. It’s WONDERFUL!

    Toni Turbeville´s last post…RECIPE OF THE WEEK : Paella

    • I know which post you mean; I’ve linked to it before. Here it is if anyone else wants to read it: Intentional Cleaning by Steady Mom

    • Yep, I clean when it bugs me. I don’t dust every day. I remember reading somewhere that being raised in an overly-clean home can actually cause kids to develop allergies and asthma. That was certainly true with me. My mom had a special cleaner for every single surface (for example, the bathroom required five different products), and she had us dust every week with a vengeance. As an adult, I am severely allergic to dust, mold and cat hair. My brother and I both had asthma.

      So I am not as worried about dust as my mom was. Already my kids are healthier than I was as a child, probably because they’re not exposed to twenty-odd cleaning products on a weekly basis.

      Just today I cleaned the bathrooms. Because they were bugging me. Unless they bug me, I don’t worry about it.

    • My mother once told me, “A woman feels like her kitchen floor looks.” I also think bathroom floor, toilet, etc can be used.

  10. I have a weekly docket/cross off list of things that I do every day (sweep floors, wipe counters, laundry and clutter). Then every day I add something different to clean – Monday is bathroom day, Tuesday is dusting day and so on. I love having a set “big job” every day. The house is semi-clean most of the time this way. Next week I’m detailing my weekly docket on my blog if anyone’s interested :)

    Rachel, I love the taking care of people, not stuff mantra – very refreshing!

  11. My time is valuable + my kids need my attention = I hire someone to clean once a week. I still pick up several times a day, do dishes, laundry… but the actual cleaning is done by someone else. In fact, I find that she has a lot better chance to get things clean, because she can devote that 4-5 hours to it. I would be forced to do it in max 1 hour increments, which is not very effective.
    The other thing is ironing. I line dry everything, so our ironing stack is high. My husband tells me he does not need his undershirts being ironed. He is right. It is a luxury to have your undershirts ironed. This is precisely the reason why I do I iron them. So he knows he is loved.

    • so sweet!

    • This is an inspiration to couples everywhere looking for ways of staying in love….

    • Hi Eszter – Hiring sounds like a great idea! How much does your cleaner charge? I would love someone to come twice a week for an hour! and i can spend that time with the children down the park! :)

  12. I try to clean a little everyday to avoid lengthy clean-ups. Our daily routines are pick up and put away,make beds, 1-2 loads of laundry, clean tables and counters, vacuum the downstairs living area. Everything else is as needed. I spend only 30-1 hour a day managing stuff and clean-ups.

    Kim´s last post…Brave Boy

  13. Now that my kiddos are older (and can make bigger messes) the cleaning philosophy that works best for me is “we all do this together”. We do chores every morning for about one hour (this includes brekkie dishes). This is when everything happens except a really major job like scrubbing the shower. I also wash the kitchen floors on a separate evening after supper vacuuming (done by kids). Training kiddos when they are young to help is very beneficial in the long run even if it takes more time when they are little.

  14. I have found very recently that changing one habit keeps down the chaos and makes me feel like the house is under control. That habit is ……to finish completely whatever I am doing. It’s very simple and basic, but unless I am very conscious about what I am doing, I leave little bits of stuff outeverywhere. This ultimately robs me of my sanity and makes me feel like I am doing a bad job of managing the house and my life. So when I have come home in the afternoon, I put EVERYTHING away that is out of place, ( and encourage the kids to do the same) the coat, purse, shoes, mail,etc. and when I sit down for tea before starting dinner, I put away the milk, and spoon and throw away the tea bag before I enjoy my tea. I have a habit of leaving my study guides out because I might want to study a bit more today. Then the day gets away from me, and my books are cluttering the dining room table. It is better for me to put them away completely, and if I have the time to study more I can just take them out again. So simple, but I never did it! And the stuff left out just added to my stress. It takes time, but I ask myself if not now, when? Am I going to feel like dealing with the lunch dishes while I try to rustle up dinner and help with homework? It is just easier to deal with it promptly and be done. It feels so wonderful to have the decks cleared. When I have this habit down solidly I will be a terrific role model for my girls, and I can teach them this very important life enhancing skill.

    • That is excellent advice. It is so hard for me to finish what I am doing (with my toddler asking for things and not so patient for me to finish my task) but I can see how it would really make cleaning up easier if I can just finish what I am doing completely. (And finish with grace and a smile.)

  15. We’re in the middle of packing for a move and nothing is tidy OR clean! Lol!

    Normally my hubby will pick up if I ask, but if/when he washes dishes I find food still caked in the fork tines or soap bubbles dried onto glasses…after only two years of trying to kindly explain the difference between clean and dirty I think I’ve given up and resigned myself to doing it all… :-)

    Kait Palmer´s last post…Condensing

  16. Oh it was a really genius day the day I discovered that cleaning and packing up were two completely distinct jobs!!! We tidy quickly before each meal and if I intend to do a big clean (usually Thursday as I start to think towards the weekend) then I make sure our tidy up is complete the night before. There is nothing better than getting up to mop a floor and it is tidy and ready to face it!!! Lovely post as usual!!!

  17. I think when I finally realized how good it feels to have something clean, I started to view cleaning things as doing something for “me.” That doesn’t always get the bathtub scrubbed, though :).

    I also like to pair certain tasks with fun things, like folding laundry with catching up on the latest episodes of my favorite tv series online, or listening to upbeat music on my iPod when I do the dishes.

    Often, when I clean, I go for the items that will make the biggest visual impact once they’re dealt with first. For example, there might be several dishes sitting on our counter waiting to be washed, but I’ll go for the biggest ones or the ones that are holding up the rest because they’re “soaking.” I also might tell myself I’ll just wash ten dishes, but then end up doing the whole thing in the end.

    Jenni @ Life from the Roof´s last post…Favorite Frugal Recipes: Homemade Bagels

  18. I always love your pictures. Quite Inspirational! I’m thinking a good first goal would be to get to a place where I can take a few like them of my CLEAN house kinda like the beautiful homes you see listed for sale – they always look so nice when picked up and presentable though I always have to force myself to think how it would look five minutes after moving in – once all the STUFF comes in – a photo spread of a realistic balance might be a fun way to tackle this. Thanks for the push. Love your site.

  19. I don’t really have a schedule, but being newly married (and newly with an apartment to keep clean) I know it’d be better to get into one. Right now my schedule is, if it needs to be cleaned (and I remember/have time) then I do it. Great idea…cleaning vs. picking up. If things are picked up, I feel much better about starting to clean!

    Those photos are beautiful and inspiring. I spent an hour today scrubbing the shower because it hadn’t gotten done in too long. I wish my bathroom looked like that one! :)

    Oh…and while I generally agree that “it’s about taking care of people, not taking care of stuff” I do think taking care of our stuff, being responsible and making sure things last, is important too. Not as important as the people, but…I mean, even if it won’t affect anyone, it’s a matter of being responsible for your stuff.

    Nikki ‘Trexel’ Moore´s last post…"Indian Stew"

  20. Two of the most useful tips I’ve heard:

    1. Always have something working for you while you are working on something else (i.e. start a load of laundry while you are cleaning the kitchen)

    2. Spend 5-10 minutes before bed doing a quick run-through of the house. Pick up clutter, straighten pillows, etc.

    These have revolutionized my cleaning!

    • We have a dishwasher that needs to be monitored (sometimes the fill valve doesn’t close, and we need to kick it, otherwise it will flood the kitchen). So if the dishwasher is running I’m always in the kitchen, cleaning other things and tidying up while listening for that sound that says I need to kick the dishwasher. It’s become part of my routine now, and my kitchen is much cleaner!

  21. I am not a natural at making routines, and sticking to them, and I don’t have a need for order. So I am slowly switching to getting more routine orientated.I am slowly developing one habit at a time, and then keeping on top of it. You basically have to work on getting a clean slate, and then ALWAYS keeping on top of it. I used to be the type that would leave a dish if it didn’t fit in the dishwasher, thinking “oh, I will clean that tomorrow”. Instead of cleaning that dish, another one was added to it, etc etc…then it does get overwhelming. So now I have to clear the bench every day. I have to clear the car every day. I have to do a load of laundry every day. Simple concepts for some, but it has taken me a while to get on board! Loving it now! So much easier to keep on top of the house, and I don’t have to feel down because of the “to do list” of jobs that need to be done starring me at me as I walked around the house.

    Meeks´s last post…I am so sleep deprived!

  22. Most of my weekly cleaning entails picking up and doing it very frequently. If I walk in my front door and feel like things look relatively neat then I’m feeling pretty good. “Really cleaning” the bathrooms and kitchen 1 a week is a must and that seasonal cleaning….well, that just happens whenever the urge comes over me!

    Tina@RideOnToys´s last post…The Radio Flyer Big Wheel

  23. I do one room a day such as Mon: livingroom, Tues: a bedroom, the dishes are daily. I try to make sure the kitchen is clean before bed. I try to make sure the kids pick up any toys or clothes on the floor in their rooms before bed. We do a general clean up in the evening. We have a dog so I vacuum a lot through out the week. I’m thankful for hardwood floors. I love the idea of just cleaning the dirty stuff.

    Rana´s last post…It’s the Law!

  24. Jessicah says:

    We have the living/kitchen area downstairs, and 2 bedrooms upstairs. I don’t have a set cleaning schedule, but I split by halves, one day will be “downstairs cleaning day” and another will be upstairs.

    Every day before going upstairs to bed I spend 3-4 minutes making sure that the whole downstairs is tidy. I must say, I like having 2 floors, bc if guests drop by they rarely go upstairs, and I make sure that the downstairs is always picked up, and that the toilet/sink in the downstairs are always spotless. That way I’m always prepared for last minute guests, and if our bedroom or the soon-to-be-baby’s room get a little cluttered no one is the wiser. :)

  25. Vacuuming has become the hardest chore for me, where it used to be the easiest. My baby is TERRIFIED of the vacuum cleaner, and scheduling “You take the baby so I can vacuum!” time is a piece of work here. We’re working on it. :D

  26. This year, one of my New Years resolutions was to establish as many of the FlyLady habits as I could. It slowly happening but my perfectionistic self wants it much faster!

    But two things that have helped my routines the most are: coming up with a cleaning rotation that works for me instead of trying to fit into some of the fabulous ones I see in Blogland and thinking of myself as a housekeeper instead of a maid! My husband thinks this I’m hilarious for making this distinction but it has really revolutionized my approach!

    Here’s how my thinking goes: We have maids in our homes and we don’t realize it. We have washers, dryers, crock-pots, and many other appliances that do our work for us while we can do something else. These are our modern equivalent to having maids! So every morning I get up and put my “maids” to work while I, the “housekeeper” do the big picture things that keep the house running, like menu planning, budgets, etc. All I do is go behind the “maids” at the end and do the finishing touches- ie. take five minutes to fold and put laundry away, or unload the dishwasher and shine my sink.

    My house is much cleaner than it used to be now that I think that way!

    Rhiannon´s last post…What kind of mama are you?

  27. You’re so right: I spend about 15 minutes every morning after the family leaves for work/school and before I dive into work “picking up”. Then, I spend about 30 minutes later each day doing different cleaning chores from my set schedule.

    That way, I don’t get stuck cleaning for 2 hours every weekend.

    Meredith from Penelope Loves Lists´s last post…How This Blogger Stays Organized: meet Jules from Pancakes & French Fries

  28. Christine says:

    THANK YOU!!! I’m a horrible housekeeper. I’d hire a maid in a heartbeat if we could afford it. I am, admittedly, a slob. I have come to accept this. However, you made a point that turned on a light bulb for me. Picking up and cleaning are different! No wonder doing laundry is such a pain – first I have to locate all the laundry, then sort it, then wash it. I could save so much time if it were already in the hamper! Ditto for vacuming. Thanks.

  29. I feel the same way about my house, tiny bites finish the plate. I woke up super early today, stoked and a little nervous about work and wiped down my kitchen when the coffee was brewing, I can’t wait to get home now because one thing is already done. Nothing like taking a quiet moment and making it payout in spades….

  30. My biggest issue is kids toys and art work management. We try to use 10 minutes tidy, where we clean up everything possible in 10 minutes, we get lot done and it does not seem too long.

    Zengirl: Happy Heart and Mind´s last post…Simplifying your financial life

  31. Oh, i always have a big problems with cleaning my apartment, so your post was very helpful, thanks a lot :)

    rent Manhattan apartments´s last post…TREGNY February Stats: Renter’s Market on NYC Apartments Makes It Through Another Month

  32. I finally got serious about a cleaning routine when I decided to put my house on the market. I’m a single mom to one little girl, and a full-time teacher (to other kids as well as my own). I found I just couldn’t do everything in a week, which meant that the same job (or jobs!) was always left undone. So I numbered a list, 1-10, and divided my house into ten zones. On the 1st, 11th, and 21st of each month, for example, I focus on my living room, and so on. I leave less important jobs for the 9 and 0 days (so I don’t freak in February), and if there’s a 31st, my basement gets the once-over (it’s a old home, and we don’t use the basement for anything but cat litter and storage).

    Of course, this leaves me much more free to “clean what’s dirty,” even if it’s not the right day! And I just received an offer on my house! I hope this system works for packing and unpacking, but I’m wide open for suggestions on that one!

  33. I love your post! We just moved and I am still trying to get into a routine here. With new school times, and activities on all new days I have had to start all over! I hope we all get into a groove soon! Ok, off to unpack some more boxes!

  34. Great post! Developing a cleaning routine has made my days so much easier. Routines always feel so hard for the first few weeks, then I can breeze through them. I try to keep this in mind when adopting a new one.

    I’m consistently amazed by how much fun and productive cleaning up is when we do it in the evenings as a family, especially with music. When I was growing up, my best friend’s family worked altogether after a meal to clean up the dishes and kitchen. Their house was always sparkling, and more importantly, they always seemed to have so much fun cleaning together. That’s the model I hope to emulate with my family.

    Abby @ New Urban Habitat´s last post…A Spring Giveaway!

  35. I love how you constantly remind us that “It’s about taking care of people, not taking care of stuff.” I enjoy reading all your blog posts!

  36. Perfect. I have a daily, weekly, monthly schedule as well, however since our family is small, I typically pick up as a I go and don’t feel guilty if the house is a mess, but I’m spending time with loved ones. I also set a timer for say 10 minutes and start cleaning. My goal is to try and beat the clock by doing a certain set of tasks (say loading/unloading dishwasher and wiping counters) before the timer goes off. Once it rings, I can chose to stop or continue until I wish to stop. That way I know I got at least 10 minutes of cleaning in. Oh, I also get in some exercise by running around to beat the clock.

    Tiffany´s last post…$5 Challenge Inspiration

  37. I know people have a love/hate relationship with Martha Stewart but…. I really love her Homekeeping Handbook. She also breaks cleaning jobs down to daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally. The book is really useful for its tips on cleaning different types of materials.

    Nancy´s last post…Berry Good!

  38. Just found your site thanks to The Nester. GREAT post. Sometimes, i need a reality check. I have four kids which means I have 8 extra hands and legs that can help! “KIDS!” Uh oh, time to get busy…

    Mel´s last post…30 Days Of Giveaways on InCourage!

  39. Love this post. SO with you on the picking up thing.

    For a ‘light clean and tidy up’ I run. I gather a washing basket and tuck it under an arm and time myself and sprint around the house as though I was taking part in a reality show race and might win a million dollars.

    I throw things in and redistribute in the appropriate room, then I grab a cloth and tear around and wipe all the dirty bits (just you suggested).

    In 15 mins – my house looks gorgeous and I got a workout! (though no million dollars…)
    Tania McCartney´s last post…make your own vintage feather christmas tree

  40. This is good stuff. It’s true life is less stressful when the house is picked up.
    Katie @ Imperfect People´s last post…Choosing to cheat

  41. I am an artist and I have lots of crafty mama friends. When my two oldest kids are in school, I have a Thursday morning get together called “Craft n Coffee”. We all work on individual projects. Having this gathering forces me to clean my house every week. I’ll do some on Tuesday, and the floors and baths get taken care of on Wednesday. Sometimes I end up with muffin crumbs and toys all over after this gathering, but I always feel better. I need that motivation.
    Also, baskets!!! At the bottom of the stairs, in the kids room, for clean laundry. They aren’t too big so they MUST be emptied. But if you have that spontaneous guest stop by you can collect socks and toys in a flash while they make themselves comfortable.
    I love making happy messes. Crafts and baking. Even if my daughter finds her scissors and makes confetti all over the floor, or my “helpers” stir the flour in a little too roughly and get it everywhere. Those messes are happy ones. Having a kid-safe spray and reachable rags are good for “helpers” after too.
    katiek´s last post…Fabulous