No Time to Clean? What to Do.

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For the days when you have too much to do, just take care of the essentials.

Three posts I really want you to read:

Changing Lives One Laundry Load at a Time

My Top 5 Cleaning “Ah-Ha” Moments

How to Make Things Harder and Do Nothing

What are the essentials at your home to keep things running smoothly when you don’t have much time to clean?
About Rachel

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


  1. This was me last night! I got home at 5:30 and had family coming to stay with us at 6:15…and I just got back into town! Yikes!

    For us it was

    Change the Sheets, duvet cover
    Put away folded laundry
    Quick clean the bathroom
    Sweep the hardwood floors
    Put away all the extra out-of-place stuff (I’d rather them see extra books lying around than dog-hair covered carpet!)

    Kait Palmer´s last post…We Finished No Spend Month! Albeit a bit early

    • I’m always a little humored when people say that they have to clean the house for company. I feel that I have more cleaning to do when company leaves, which is why I don’t volunteer to host parties–the house would need more cleaning when everyone leaves. Not worth the hassle.

  2. Ha! This is so true– thanks for the reminder! I would say: personal hygiene, home hygiene (stinky trash or other messes), laundry, dishes, bathrooms, floors, THE REST OF IT. :)

    liz´s last post…walking my cat

  3. Oh, thank you, Rachel. Sometimes I just need someone to tell me the very, very obvious to pull me out of my centrifugal spin. ♥

  4. Love this!

  5. Kathryn Fenner says:

    Decades ago, Heloise pointed out that if your bathroom is sparkling clean, folks won’t notice the rest. If you use Pine Sol, the scent will further fool them.

    My boyfriend back then used to call where you start “Picking up the big chunks”–you deal with shoes on the living room floor, dishes lying around and so on. If you get in the habit of carrying things with you when you head where they go, you won’t have nearly as much to do there.

    This presumes that you don’t have smelly kitchen garbage–that goes without saying for me. The wastebaskets can stay.

    Now personal hygiene–again, that’s basic stuff. Doctors judge mental health based on it, and you really do feel so much better when you’re clean!

    So I guess I’d say Personal hygiene, Smelly trash, Big chunks, Bathroom, Dishes in dishwasher, Vacuum (we have a German Shedder Dog), Readily visible dust, and FTW, Windows, Baseboards, Extras

  6. Brilliant-I love it! Since I’m 8 months pregnant I am definitely in survival mode, and as long as we have clean clothes and something to eat, I’m happy!

  7. personal hygiene,kitchen counters, floors, laundry, bathrooms. Cleaning bathrooms is the worst!

  8. I like the idea of this pyramid, but one thing that needs its own category in our home is “surfaces.” It’s amazing how much cleaner a home feels when horizontal surfaces are clear of clutter, whether they be floors or nightstands, beds or kitchen tables or countertops. It’s not an essential, but it’s something that I try to keep up with if I have the time and want a bigger “clean” feeling for the time I have to put into it. But with two little boys ages 3 and 1, I usually can’t expect the major surfaces to all stay clear at once until they are in bed :).

    Jenni @ Life from the Roof´s last post…How less can you dress

  9. I’m 16 weeks pregnant with #3, work full time, have 3 dogs, and just put our house on the market. I was MORE than overwhelmed and finally swallowed my pride and hired cleaning help.
    I can keep up with showers and laundry right now… that’s about it :)

  10. I agree, Jenni. Even if it’s just putting from the counters to the sink while I do other stuff. Makes a huge difference.

    Yeah, our kitchen is the first real room people walk into in our home and I try to keep it picked up because it seems like it “sets the tone” for the rest of the house. The toys scattered all over the living room floor don’t seem so bad if the kitchen is clean, for some reason.

    Megan @ Meanwhile, back at the ranch´s last post…Chicken Littles

  11. Somedays I’m just happy when everyone leaves the house with clean underwear.

  12. I love this! I should print it out for those tough days, lol!

    Mrs. Wright´s last post…Dirty Little Secrets

  13. I actually wrote a whole post about this (you can click on my name if you want to read it all), but basically my belief was to lower your standards significantly, and then to make sure you and your family are comfortable with laundry, kitchen and bathroom cleaning, making sure food is in the house to eat, tidy as you go (within reason), and lastly ask for help from others.

    I do like Rachel’s idea of showering first though. I have a much brighter outlook on life after a good hot shower.

    Taylor at Household Management 101´s last post…Assembling Your Teams Playbook

  14. OK, you are my new hero. First of all, I’m totally printing this and putting it on the fridge. Secondly, I think I’m going to apply the pyramid idea to other household management areas. Thanks for sharing!

    Jaimie´s last post…The Town Mice and the Country Mice- our Trip to the Countryside

  15. Denise C. says:

    I’ll admit before I had kids I was a “cleaning perfectionist.” I even tried to keep that status up after my son was born. It came to a screeching halt after my daughter came along 23 months later.

    Now…for me…it’s:
    -Run at 4, come back and shower (before my husband leaves for work & the kids are up).
    -Laundry (throughout the day, evening)
    -Trash (no need to have a stinky home)
    -Basic cleaning : vacuuming (not as often as I should)
    : bathrooms (see above)
    : dusting (that is one I have not done in awhile…) :)

  16. Oh, this made me smile. Well done.

    Anna´s last post…Friends and Blueberry Jam

  17. Your hierarchy looks like mine. What also helps things LOOK clean taking one big laundry basket–not for laundry , but clutter. I run around clockwise in each room with a 5-minute timer on and go,go, go! That’s 5=minutes TOTAL , not per room! Making the bed does wonder for the bedroom, too, and filling the sink w/ PineSol for a little swooshy shwooshy even if I don’t do the toilet!

    Zoanna´s last post…Confessions of a Football Mom- Day Three- Sweat- Tears and Notes to Self

    • Danielle says:

      Hah! I just did the laundry basket thing for the first time today. Now, i’ll just have to make sure those things don’t sit in the basket for a week…

      • Well, I have been known to let it sit for a good while, but at least my eyes see ONE thing (a basket) and not 49 at a time!

  18. That hierarchy perfectly explains the order of my priorities … My poor, poor floors.

  19. Joy from Just Plain Joy says:

    Hi Rachel! So fun to see you over here at Simple Mom! I love this pyramid…it totally puts it in perspective :) Thanks for reminding me!

    Joy from Just Plain Joy´s last post…Central Coast Baby Saves Mommy’s Life

    • Joy from Just Plain Joy says:

      Ok, feeling stupid…I had two windows open and had a mommy brain moment! I think there should be another pyramid that includes blogging at the top!

  20. I’d put “Make the Bed” high on the list. It really makes the bedroom look put together, even when there is still clutter around. Conversely, a clean room looks messy if the bed is still unmade. In our old house, you have to walk through the master bedroom to get to the back of the house, so shutting the door on a mess is not an option.

    Lindsey´s last post…The Good Side to Airing Dirty Laundry on the Blog

    • I totally agree about the importance of a made bed. I guess I wasn’t thinking of it as part of cleaning because I just do it naturally as part of my morning routine. It only takes a minute, but it makes such a difference.

  21. I hate cleaning tubs/showers. The easiest way to do the walls is while you are in there having a shower. I spray the walls, have my shower and then scrub/rinse the walls. The tub/floor can also be done while you’re in there, but if you use strong cleaners you may not want to stand in it. We squeegy the walls after every shower which extends the time before they need cleaning again. I recently started a new program for the kids bathroom. Last one up on Saturday has to clean the shower when they are done. Far less sleeping in and wasting the day lately.

    On a normal day if I can keep up with the laundry and dishes I figure everything else is gravy.

    • I use shampoo and a scrubbie – it gets rid of soap scum and smells much better than most cleaners.

    • Hate cleaning bathrooms etc????
      Get a watersoftner!!!!

      I bought one a year ago; it is a amazing device that saves me loads of cleaningtime by removing the chalk and magnesium from the water. No more cleaning the shower, showerhead, fosset etc. No more chalk in the toilet, no more removing the chalk from the coffeemaker, waterboiler, washer etc.

  22. Good for you putting take a shower as the largest section! For me my personal cleanliness usually falls into the smallest catagory and i’ve really noticed how depressed it makes me. As soon as I step out of a shower feeling cooled, calmed and collected, EVERYTHING looks cleaner to me. I should tatto this on the back of my hand to remind me, take care of myself!

    Christa Waltenbaugh´s last post…my girly dress from a simple long t

  23. I’ll really need this list once my baby arrives! Thanks!

    Nicole´s last post…water with a splash

  24. I used to love, love, love the smell of pine LySol for cleaning–until I started using it to clean out the bucket between ‘episodes’ when my kiddos had the flu. Now I can’t stomach it. :(

  25. I love this too. I think it might look slightly different for everyone, but it’s so important to prioritize instead of being all-or-nothing!

  26. Rachel P. says:

    For me, making the bed means folding the dry laundry. Then starting another load of laundry means the floor can be vacuumed because the laundry is off the floor. Then because I vacuumed, I want to sweep but I clean the kitchen first because I can brush crumbs onto the floor and sweep them up. And once the kitchen is clean and swept the broom and dustpan are out so I sweep the bathrooms. As long as I’m there I might as well wipe down everything with some soapy water. But then the towels are used, so those go into the laundry and fresh ones are put out. But I use the damp washcloth to dust everything first before tossing it into the wash and I can’t dust without picking up the clutter and putting it away. Now my kitchen is clean, my bathrooms are clean, there are clean towels for everyone, the floors are clean and the beds are made. Huh, and my ADD mother wonders how I keep my house clean. That’s my hierarchy.

    • I love to clean this way, but I had to start looking at each job individually after I had two kids. If every job had a previous and a next, then I never had time to do them.

      One day though, when the kids are grown, I might go back to this way. So thorough and efficient!

  27. Omigosh my friend just sent me the link to the post about how to make things harder so there is nothing to do. I love it. Thanks for making me feel better. Because that’s exactly how we are feeling and I actually look at each pile in several rooms and a giant one in the basement but I can’t get it all together. I was actually going to post on Monday about some things I’m trying to keep together. Thank you again. lol :)))

  28. Thanks for this, Rachel! I have mono with two active little girls, and it’s hard to know how to wisely spend what little energy I have. This is going on the fridge, for my husband and myself! :c)

    Rachel´s last post…The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  29. This is just great! I think I’ll post this on my fridge. :)

    Appetite for Conversation´s last post…Fun With Ola

  30. Things that always make me feel more organised are to clear the kitchen benches of clutter, wipe them down and the breakfast table and open doors/ windows and let in some fresh air!

  31. I love this! Thank you! And I love that having a shower came first. I always feel so much better after that!

  32. Rachel-
    Have you used or have thoughts on a steam mop? Our old one died when I tried to change the sponge, and I’ve read a bunch of reviews saying steam mops are both easier, more effective, and allow you to clean with just water rather than chemicals. They cost a bit more up front, but given how much I hate mopping (not to mention the ick factor of seeing the dirty soapy water and putting that back on the floor) i thought it worth trying – plus i figure over time just water will save money on house cleaning products. thoughts?
    p.s. we are pretty good about dishes, laundry, etc, but found the serious cleaning wasn’t getting done. When we got desperate my husband and i set a once-a-month hard core cleaning schedule: first saturday morning of the month. in between we run the roomba in the dining room, a sponge on the counters and sinks, but this way we know at least once a month we really clean up the piles, dust and vacuum and mop it all. so far it’s worked well for us.

    • Hi Brenda,

      I haven’t tried a steam mop. Since I live in an apartment the floor space I have to mop is small. I usually just use a rag and wipe up any spills. Occasionally I’ll use a regular mop, but it only takes a minute or two.

      I don’t know if a steam mop is more effective, but I don’t think it would be a cost savings. It’s hard to imagine spending that much money on house cleaning products, and you have to consider how long the mop might last before you need to replace it.

      You can use just plain water with a little tea tree oil or vinegar if you want to avoid chemicals.

      If the water is gross then you should try the two bucket method: one bucket for clean soapy water, and the other bucket to rinse.

      I know mopping can be a chore. Hope you find a way that works for you!

    • I got a steam mop for Christmas,and I love it! I use it in the kitchen, bathrooms, laundry, and entryway. I always hated mopping, but my steam mop actually makes it (almost) fun. It takes me way less time now. You just fill the mop base with water, attach the mop head and pad, plug it in, pump it a couple times and wait for the steam. No bucket, no chemicals, no rinsing, no extra steps. And I feel really good that there are no residual chemicals for my daughter to crawl through on the floors. The mop pad can then be thrown in the washing machine (no fabric softener) when it get dirty.

  33. Great diagram – an important reminder for us Type A’s!

    El Bilson´s last post…How to Declutter Your House the Easy Way

  34. I just wanted to add that I get my kids from very little on up to help out with the cleaning. As long as you make if fun or turn it into games they enjoy it. So then we get to spend quality time together, teach them how to care for themselves and their home, and get ALOT accomplished. For example, my floors always look like they could use mopping so, I get a small bucket of sudsy water (bubble bath works) and give them four washcloths or sponges and let them go to work. The love to slip and slide all over the floor on their hands and knees. Then when they are done they get towels to do the same thing with to dry them up. Floors feel good, kids had fun, its a lovely thing. Sometimes we even take the buckets and sponges to the bathroom and they do the tub/walls etc.. there before they get showered.

    • I agree with Melody. When you finally arrive at the place where the kids can start helping, it changes everything. Their routine is to wake, dress/hygeine, make beds and pick up their rooms before breakfast. They are responsible for making sure all their dishes make it to the dishwasher after meals and snacks. They help dust with plain damp rags and my eldest vacuums. I do the rest, but having just that little help save loads of time. Even if I can’t deep clean, tidy rooms and floor spaces makes all the difference. I use Pine Sol too and it makes the house smell fresh! I should add that my kids are 9, 5, and 3.

  35. Shower: optional. But I think each person should make this hierarchy their own. Good idea.

    Jena (Organizing Mommy)´s last post…Rebound!!

  36. Love love love. I think about these things so much and just don’t have the talent you possess for boiling it all down to a few neat sentences.

    Sarah´s last post…Today you are this many

  37. LOVE this! Really, if you do all those things your house will look pretty good, for the most part… very simple.

    I’m one of those people that will start a major mess making decluttering project when there are dishes in the sink and laundry to be folded. I’m working on this and I love this visual.

    The Butterfly Nest´s last post…Sleep- Glorious Sleep

  38. I love this…I hate cleaning and as someone said earlier, it’s hard enough to do jobs that you hate, add being overwhelmed to that and it just seems horrific. This is simple, direct and a good reminder to just eat the elephant one bite at a time and in what order. Thanks!

  39. Oh how funny! Rachel, I usually read your posts in my rss, now I will have to come check out your comments more often :-) I love the pyramid. Thanks for helping us keep things in perspective. I second the kiddo helping comment. My kids are 5,4, and very soon to be 3. They adore helping me! They fold their own laundry, help dry dishes, LOVE helping wipe up the floor, and when we work together on their rooms it gets done so much faster. I tend to forget that they can actually help me now, lol.

  40. Just bookmarked this page – I am so overwhelmed by the mess in our house, and I clean daily! It’s just our kids are like tornados. I find if I focus on one surface at a time, then at least I can see some sort of progress.

    Unplanned Cooking´s last post…Our house plans come back- and it’s a…

  41. Thank you so much for this post!
    I grew up in a tidy home. My dad is still a clean freak, of which I am grateful. So my mom tried to please him with a clean home. She was very successful in passing on good cleaning habits. But when I got married and moved into my own place, I guess I just let my guard down, completely. And since my husband appreciates a good meal rather than a clean home, I let it get out of hand. Now with a third child on the way, I have been making drastic changes in my lifestyle, so we can all better enjoy our home and so that I can successfully pass the habits and benefits to my children.

    Karisa Rivera´s last post…Plan para Cocinar y Congelar

  42. I LOVE it!! Thank you for reminding me of the priorities.

    Relishing Life´s last post…5 Ways to Show Your Love- Your Husband

  43. Great list, and while I agree with most said I couldn’t help but to say that taking a shower is usually on the bottom of the list for me, after all the chores and what not are done (sweeping, mopping, dusting, laundry, cleaning bathrooms, kitchens, living room, dishes, washing the windows, and taking out the trash) than I would need a shower after all of that, well. Maybe after I was done with the yard work actually (cutting the grass, pulling the weeds, picking up the dog doo doo, etc…) Whelp enough of me babbling. Again great list and comments, keep up the good work and clean houses everyone!

  44. I always feel overwhelmed with chores… thank you so much for this.

    Vanesa´s last post…Changelog for August 14

  45. For me, making my bed every morning makes a huge difference in how I feel about my bedroom’s cleanliness. That and vacuuming the floor before the cat hair gets to be too obvious.

    Showering is a great one for the bottom of the pyramid. It’s true, I feel so good and positive after a refreshing shower!

    Love this pyramid and reading everyone’s comments.

  46. I just had to come back and say that I’ve been using my own similar, adapted-for-us version of this since this post, and it has revolutionized the way I clean my house! I’m zonked out from pregnancy and in “survival” mode, so it’s been perfect for keeping my priorities straight.

    I’ve learned, though, that if most of these things are done, then the house is pretty darn clean. Truthfully, if I do these and then dust a couple pieces of furniture in my main area, you would think I’d done a major cleaning!

    I can be a bit, ahem, unfocused, and this keeps me from taking on anything bigger until the basics are done (which, right now, they hardly ever are!)… which keeps me from feeling overwhelmed!

    The Butterfly Nest´s last post…Sleep- Glorious Sleep

  47. Oh my gosh…I found this on a day when I have been completely overwhelmed and like a failure, and it’s like Handel’s Messiah is singing your praises in my head and I read this. It’s an epiphany. It’s brilliant. It’s everything I ever wanted.

    It’s my desktop background so I can see it EVERY DAY.

  48. I LOVE this! With two small children it really it tough to get everything done.
    Kelly´s last post…Remembering to play

  49. Thanks, I really love the funny approach to cleaning you’ve got. I’m working on exactly that myself. Keep up the good work, I love your blog!
    Maaike Quinn @ Life with FlyLady´s last post…HomeRoutines- My favorite to do list app for my iPhone

  50. My mother was a clean freak. I am not. My daughter came out of the womb and immediately cleaned herself off. I think it skips a generation!
    Colleen Mitchell´s last post…Bed Hog

  51. And I love the pyramid by the way!!
    Colleen Mitchell´s last post…Independence Day

  52. Involve your family.

    Make a list. Prioritize and time each chore.

    Planning saves time…