The Lazy Genius Guide to Cleaning Your House
It feels easier to burn it down than to clean it sometimes. So much dust, so little time. Necessary arson, you guys. But even so, in the fire, we'd lose the charts we never checked off and the homemade cleaner that smelled of Easter eggs and sadness.
Today, we find a better way.
You don't need a magical cleaner recipe, an allusive sponge that's been keeping you from your cleaning potential, or instructions on how to use your vacuum.
You already have everything you need to succeed... except a strategy. Which we're going to create in 3, 2, 1...
Step One: Know your angles.
Right now, your perspective towards cleaning is likely volatile and antagonistic. Dirt is the enemy, and it's winning the war. Sometimes, I feel like the dirt in my house is toying with me; it's a psychological predator.
"Go ahead, Kendra, and clean that bathroom. It'll stay shiny for DAYS."
And then in four hours, it's caked with my kids' toothpaste and a container of baby powder aggressively dispersed by my toddling daughter.
It feels like we can't win, so what's the point? Just pseudo-clean when people are coming over, and let that be the routine, right? Maybe. But if you aren't in the habit of inviting people over, you might reach arson mode quicker than you'd like.
You need a perspective.
If you listen to The Lazy Genius Cleans the House, you'll hear the ten principles of keeping your home, and those principles might shift you from a time of war to a time of peace.
We see cleaning as a utilitarian drudgery, but if we shift our perspective to keeping the home instead of cleaning the house, we allow ourselves the chance to recognize the good parts.
Decide what clean means for you, redefine cleaning as replenishing good things, and keep in mind why home is a place you love to be. Those principles along with seven others can reignite an appreciation for the domestic without turning you into June Cleaver.
Know your angles. Find your perspective. It makes all the difference in how you see your home.
Step Two: Prioritize the emotional.
The bigger your house, the more there is to do, but even if you live in a studio apartment, a robust list of cleaning tasks are vying for priority. What do you do first? What's the most important use of your limited cleaning time?
Prioritize tasks that make the biggest emotional difference.
Consider your soul, your mood, and your attitude; what task has the biggest positive emotional impact? It's different for everyone, so you get to decide yours.
Let's say you have half an hour to clean something, but everything feels like it needs doing. Bathrooms, floors, the kitchen, tidying... you could be here all day (and probably feel like you should). But you can't, and there's no shame in that. What can you do that makes the biggest emotional impact on your soul? Physical impacts matter, but if you recoil at a dirty bathroom yet spend your time tidying the living room, you'll still feel like you accomplished nothing, that you're still losing the dirt war. Choose what has the biggest emotional payoff.
For me, it's my kitchen. If the kitchen is shiny and tidy, I feel like I'm keeping my home. Sure, I like a clean bathroom, but a few toothpaste smudges don't have the same affect on my soul that a sink of pots does.
If you live with other people, consider their souls, too. It could be that your spouse or teenage daughter have very specific opinions about certain areas of the home that they've never verbalized. Consider all the souls in your house, not just yours, and make a plan together to prioritize what makes everyone feel lighter and less murderous.
Step Three: Limit products, use the best tools, and have a million rags.
What makes cleaning hard? It's gathering all the things you need. It's having a different spray bottle for every surface. It's having the same brand of vacuum that Moses had while still ponying up for organic cleaner you don't even care about! And it's DEFINITELY holding rags that just wiped off a toilet.
Have one or two solid cleaners that can travel from room to room without needing a guidebook.
I currently use this guy, and it works well on everything. Kitchen, bathrooms, nasty tiny spots on the floor, tile, windows... all of it. Sure, there might be a bathroom cleaner that's a tiny bit better or a product that leaves my floors 0.01% shinier, but is it worth lugging around 17 "best" cleaners when this one does a great job on everything? Cleaning is easier when you limit your products.
Cleaning is also easier when those products do what you need them to. Does smell matter? Use something with a beautiful scent. Does green cleaning matter? Focus on a single recipe that does a dozen jobs. You could have a long list of requirements for your cleaner, but if every box must be checked, you'll never settle. This isn't marriage; it's something to spray on your sinks. It's okay to settle, as long as your top one or two priorities are met. Don't get bogged down.
When it comes to tools, use the best you can for what you specifically need. If you have stairs, invest in a vacuum that handles them well. If you have a million hardwoods, buy that Swiffer, son! Skimping on tools is directly correlated with your sanity. Truly. Yes, you can clean with subpar tools and might have to because of budget and space restrictions, but if neither of those are issues, consider investing in tools that do your prioritized jobs really well.
And seriously, y'all, have a million rags. Sometimes I'll go through half a dozen in a bathroom because I HATE holding a wet scummy rag. You might as well dip my hair in dirty toilet water than make me use one rag for the whole bathroom.
So save up old washcloths, microfibers that have lost their way, t-shirts... have a bucket full, and use them excessively. And since you already have your laundry under control, adding a few rags to the pile each week is a breeze.
Step Four: Know the last time you did something.
If you're not into a regular cleaning routine of floors on Mondays, bathrooms on Tuesdays (I'm not either), it's nice to know the last time you did something. Yes, follow Step Two and prioritize what has the biggest emotional impact, but on the days when you have more time or human reinforcements to help you get a few cleaning tasks done, it's important to know what needs attention based on the last time it was done. Sometimes I forget if I cleaned the bathroom within the past week, so high fives all around for those of us with ridiculous memories.
You can have a little sheet on your fridge or a note on your phone, or if you want to just hit Print, you can download a free printable here.
Step Five: Clean with the grain.
Your personality and your house play a huge role in how you approach cleaning. Follow your natural leanings and ignore everything else. If you're not a scheduled person, DO NOT HAVE A CLEANING SCHEDULE OHMYGOSH. You'll just fail and get frustrated. No thanks. If you're having trouble figuring out what your cleaning preferences are other than "I hate cleaning," ask yourself when you hate cleaning the least? Work with what you've got, man.
It's easy to become overwhelmed by strategies. Should you clean by room? By task? Should you do the same thing on the same day week after week? There are many approaches, and you're allowed to choose what works for you, your people, and your space.
I've tried and spectacularly failed at them all. I do love a schedule, but as Groundhog Day as my life with tiny humans is, it's still super unpredictable. My approach? Every Sunday night, I look at the week ahead. I scratch out a quick meal plan, make sure I'm not forgetting any important appointments or school plays (because I've never ever missed one of those because it wasn't written on my calendar FACE PALM), and jot down a few cleaning tasks. I literally schedule it into my week, and no week ever looks the same.
This approach works better for me than the "bathrooms on Tuesdays" method because if I'm not able to clean the bathrooms on Tuesday, I don't have to wait until the next Tuesday to do it; I never feel behind because there's nothing structured to get behind on. As an example, this week, I cleaned my master bathroom floor on laundry day (because all the laundry baskets are already out of the room), I vacuumed as many rugs as I could while holding my giant vacuum-frightened toddler on a morning with no errands or appointments, and wiped down the kitchen on a night when dinner came from the freezer and I didn't have a ton of regular kitchen-y tasks. That's it. No bathrooms or dusting or "rotating linens" (y'all, what does that even mean?).
I know that I can't clean my entire house every week, so I don't. I decide. You can, too.
Know how you think, when you hate cleaning the least, what your house needs to hum along nicely, and do only what makes sense in that framework. Clean with the grain, girl.
Step Six: Set limits on everything but the fun.
One of the most important parts of cleaning is knowing when you're done. If you don't set limits on the time or the task, you'll always see something else to do, especially if you have other humans in your house who constantly prove that entropy is real.
You need limits. Clean for 20 minutes and declare yourself a victor. Wipe down one bathroom and save the other for another day. Dust as many surfaces as one Swiffer rag can handle, and then peace out. Clean everything from your waist up and save the bottom half of the house for later. (Yes, that's a thing and surprisingly fun.) Set limits on your time, your task, and even your cleaning products.
What you never set limits on? The fun.
We all know it but forget too quickly. Music. Candles. Podcasts. Cleaning a room as a family but everyone has to talk in a cockney British accent. "Pahs the soap, GUV-NAH!" (Don't knock it until you try it.)
Surround yourself with things that truly make you feel happy, that are genuinely fun. Cleaning might not be the time for contemplative music and political podcasts that just get you riled up... unless riled up is the only way you'll get a tub shiny. Personally, I blast Bieber and will never be ashamed of it.
We understand the importance of details and nuance in lots of areas, but cleaning gets a raw deal. Plan your fun with as much dedication as you do the actual task. It'll make the process exponentially better.
Step Seven: Have less stuff.
Stuff is the enemy of clean. It's the most powerful weapon in your Dirt War. If you set your timer for ten minutes, nine of them are spent picking up stuff, clearing off surfaces, and wanting to set your mail corral on fire.
I created a little ebook called The Swap that helps you declutter forever, but no matter your approach to stuff, having less of it makes cleaning easier. Always.
Step Eight: Never screw up again.
You will absolutely go days without cleaning. Your toilet will have so many rings. Your pots will have enough food caked on them to make you cry. Guess what? That doesn't mean you've screwed up.
Life is unpredictable, messy, and rebellious against our systems. Yes, we can do things the Lazy Genius way and create longer expanses of sanity, but there will always be breakdowns. There will always be dust bunnies the size of actual bunnies and towers of dishes because everyone is always eating. It's the nature of a home.
And that's why you will never screw up.
A home is meant to be lived in. It's meant to show signs of people and activity and freedom. We have to replenish the good things because good things long to be used. Let them get used! Let your house be a place to live in. Seeing signs of life isn't failure; being militant about constant shine is.
Expect the mess. Rejoice in the life it brings. And then clean whatever brings your soul back to equilibrium. Cleaning like a Lazy Genius doesn't mean you always have a clean house. That's bonkers ridiculous. Cleaning like a Lazy Genius means you're spending time on the things that make your home feel alive and your soul feel at rest. Shine is an occasional byproduct.
You are not a screw up. You are not failing as a mom, wife, or woman. It's just dirt, guys. Let it win against your home but never against your soul.