This post on cleaning schedule of a working mom was originally published in May 2014. I updated it in June 2017. I now work from home and take care of my mom who lives with us but have shared a current day in my life here.
Spell check does not recognize the made-up word of “smean”. So, I’ve got that going for me.
Let’s just start off by saying I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have five of the answers. What I do have is a system that works for US. Our system is not a reflection of what is right or wrong or anything like that. How we do things is not an indicator that you need to do it the same way. Got it? Let’s move on.
As the daughter of people who like “stuff”, clutter makes my boobs sweat. Growing up, no horizontal space was safe from a heap of something. Every shelf, counter, or piece of furniture had do dads, decoration, or crap on it. I’m Type A (for those of you who know Meyers Briggs, I’m ESFJ), and my brain cannot focus when I am physically surrounded by clutter. A friend, upon seeing my house for the first time, described my decorating style as “you know what the homes look like AFTER the producers come in on the show Hoarders”. It takes me years of living in a place before I’ll hang pictures because plain white walls are so soothing to my soul.
About 90% of the time, if you walked into my house without warning, I wouldn’t be embarrassed. The other 10% of the time is when of course you would actually come over. I’m like Monica from Friends in that I do have a spare room full of stuff, but let’s be clear, the rest of the house is pretty orderly and tidy.
In this day and age, everyone is busy. I can’t think of a single person I know without a busy schedule. I am no exception: I’m gone from the home about 10.5-12 hours a day, my weekends are never restful, and for the last four years, my husband has been gone four to six days a week (overnights included). The good news is, Gwyneth Paltrow has wisely pointed out that my life as a working mom is way easier than her life as an over-paid actress with a whole fleet of staff. Because as she put it, working women have time in the morning to get things done. And I totally do; waking up at 4:30 am to get everything done is such a treat! Living the dream I am. Talking like Yoda again am I. Damnit!
A pristine home doesn’t fit neatly into my life, but a tidy home is possible. Read on for a few tips and tricks that have been developed to work for me over the years to become the cleaning schedule of a working mom.
1) Choose a tidy house over a clean house
Stay with me on this one. I know you’re ready to bolt because it seems gross, but keep reading, please! By keeping my house tidy, I’m more able to see when it is dirty, thus motivating me to clean it. And if push comes to shove, if someone pops by unannounced, at the very least my house is tidy.
2) Be a truck driver
I once worked at a restaurant in Moscow, Idaho that was crazy popular for their “ladder night” of beers; a mini, small, medium, large, and then an entire fishbowl (an actual fishbowl) of Bud Lite for $7.95. God bless America…or “Merica. The place was always crazy, and woefully understaffed. We didn’t have any expediters (people who help plate the food, get soups and salads ready, etc.,) or bussers; you did everything yourself. Everything but cook. It was CRAZY on a Friday and Saturday night during football season.
My boss always said “be a semi-truck driver”, i.e., never walk around with an empty load (that’s what she said). Never come back to the kitchen without dirty dishes, and never go out into the dining room without a pitcher to refill drinks or clean silverware for the cutlery bucket (that is for my three Canadian readers).
This has served me so well in keeping a home tidy. I never walk downstairs without laundry to toss in the washer, or clean canning jars from the dishwasher to store in the basement. And I never go upstairs without a load of clean laundry, a bag of groceries, etc. I swear it sounds so crazy, but once you allow this to become second nature, your efficiency will skyrocket.
3) Get rid of cable/turn off the TV.
What in the world does that have to do with a clean house??? Everything and nothing. When Troy was laid off (April Fools Day 2010 – NOT FUNNY), we did everything to cut costs, but cutting cable was one of the hardest things we did. Looking back, I have no idea why it was so hard to pull that trigger, but I think I felt like some weird person for not having 479 channels.
The day our cable was finally shut off was a turning point for my productivity. I suddenly remembered that there was life without HGTV and the Food Network. Instead of watching people make food, I started making it myself. Instead of watching people talk about saving money, I saved my own by turning off the stupid machine. I still watch almost everything I want to watch, but more cheaply and on my laptop or on our Roku.
I “do” laundry almost every single day. I start a load either in the morning, or right when I get home from work. After Jack has gone to bed, I hang it up on my three drying racks.
The next evening, I throw everything in the dryer with a wet rag or dryer balls (hee hee) for about 10 minutes to get the “crunch” out, and then I fold it. Actual hands-on time; about 5-15 minutes a day. I’d much rather have perpetual laundry than try and get it all done on a weekend day, and feel tethered to my laundry room. I know many people who feel overwhelmed by the mountain of laundry that greets them each weekend. While I don’t adore doing laundry on the daily, the actual work I have to put into it is very small.
I keep a metal tub on our fireplace hearth by my kitchen to throw kitchen rags in since I go through them so quickly. When the bucket is full, it gets a nice wash.
For more laundry tips, check out this post.
We have a mix of disgusting rental house carpet, Pergo, and tile/linoleum (in the bathrooms). After this summer’s remodel to accommodate my parents moving in, we’ll have hardwood upstairs, and carpet in the bedrooms (barf). We’ve had all hardwood before, and I highly prefer it, but I have allowed the carpet as a concession to my darling spouse. (update: I got all hardwood. 🙂 )
My goal (read as goal, and not something that always happens) is to vacuum the whole house once a week. In our $1,500 a month 600 sq ft Los Angeles apartment, I would just have to plug the vacuum into one outlet the clean the whole place. Currently, it takes me about 30 minutes to do a quality job. We have a 5-year-old Hoover Windtunnel and it’s been really decent for us. (update: we got a Shark and it is the best thing ever).
In February, I posted about wanting a cordless vac for quick clean ups. I ended up buying this one from Costco with my yearly rebate (FYI, that is an Amazon link, but if you have Costco, the same vacuum was $25 cheaper there). Let me tell you something. If that vacuum was a woman, I’d take her to dinner and get her pregnant. (Oh yea sensitive types, CALM down. It’s a running gag from 30 Rock. Never seen 30 Rock? DEAL BREAKER!).
This cordless vac is everything I could want and more. I took it to work before a big event because we had to make sure our offices were spotless, and three of the employees fell so hard in love with it, that THEY went out to buy one. Did I mention part of it detaches to become a dust buster? Oh hell yes, I love that thing.
For mopping, I use a Bissell steam mop, and have used it and like it for years. Works great on the Pergo, the linoleum in Jack’s and the downstairs bathroom, and the tile in our bathroom.
The goal here is once a week. Sometimes it is less, and sometimes it is more. I use baking soda to scrub the toilet and sanitize it with plain white vinegar or Bac Out, an awesome product made by Biokleen, which is made in Washington State. Counters, sinks, and the surfaces of the toilet are cleaned with homemade surface spray.
When I need a quick clean, I use my three minute bathroom cleaning routine. I deep clean the bathrooms probably every other time I clean. Deep cleaning involves tubs, showers, baseboards, etc.
I can’t handle a dirty kitchen left overnight. The idea of having to wake up in the morning to clean it just stresses me out. We use the dishwasher because it saves more water than washing by hand, but I do totally wash by hand as well when I am cooking large batches of something. I clean as I go when cooking, and sometimes that creates a lot of dishes. If I have used my oven during my cooking session, I throw any oven-proof dishes on the oven racks to “air dry” using the free heat. Now, if only I could remember to check the oven before preheating it the next day…
With the dishwasher, I run it when it is completely full (my version of full, not Troy’s in which there are three dishes put in there half-assed) immediately after dinner on the energy saving mode. When it is done, I open the door and pull out the racks to dry overnight, making sure I turn all the lids so that they can drain. By morning, everything is dry, and I didn’t spend the extra money to use electricity to dry them.
We’re supposed to dust? Oh, my…
Honestly, I rarely do. That’s terrible, I know! But, when I do, I skip the expensive bottles of store-bought stuff and simply use inexpensive Homemade Dusting Spray. When I have extra thirsty wood, I use a clean terrycloth towel to rub pure olive oil into the wood a little bit at a time. Here is a scratch on an old buffet I found at a garage sale for $15 (that later turned out to be worth $1,000…):
And here it is after the walnut oil:
And here is a side by side comparison of the same piece of furniture oiled up and non-polished:
Walnut or olive oil is pretty cheap and can make furniture look beautiful. Now, I’m not certain if it is safe for every piece of wood furniture, so always test a small unseen place before using it all over.
I think that’s about it for tips and tricks on the cleaning schedule of a working mom. Now, it’s your time to share your favorite ways to be efficient while cleaning!