Here’s the thing you may have noticed about houses: They don’t clean themselves.
Which is unfortunate, because if houses cleaned themselves you could spend less time cleaning yours, and more time doing something more fun, like watching “The Golden Girls,” because dang, that’s actually a great show.
A few simple daily habits could make it seem like you’ve got a self-cleaning house.
Rules like . . .
1. Dedicate 20 Minutes a Day Every Day
You don’t need to set aside 20 hours one day to get things in order. You only need 20 minutes every day.
Focus on tackling clutter in just one room. You might only pare down a single drawer or shelf, but “it will make you feel accomplished at the end of the day, and at the end of a week, you will see how much you can declutter,” says professional organizer Helena Alkhas.
2. Follow a “One-Minute” Rule
Small tasks add up quickly when you’re saving them to do all at once. So if it takes less than a minute to complete, do it immediately.
Put that cup in the dishwasher rather than the sink.
Break down that Amazon box for recycling right after you unbox your goodie.
(Hot tip: Want a reminder of how much you can get done in a minute? Next time your coffee goes cold, pop it in the microwave for a minute, and just stand there. For the whole minute. It’s kind of a long time.)
3. Start a Load of Laundry Before Work
If you have a full load in the hamper, toss it in the washer while you’re getting ready for work. When you get home, you’ll already feel ahead of schedule with just drying and a little fluffing and folding to do.
Beware of running the dryer while you’re out; a linty dryer hose is a fire risk.
4. Always Leave a Room With Something in Hand
Whatever room you’re in, chances are there’s a toy, cup, blanket or T-shirt that needs to be delivered back to another room.
Oh hey, conveniently, you’re always walking into other rooms. Why not pickup a hitchhiker or two?
Every time you leave a room, take a quick scan for anything that belongs where you’re going, and you’ll start habitually keeping clutter under control.
5. Deal With Your Mail Every Time You Bring It In
With so much of your important mail going straight to your inbox, sometimes you’ve got days of fliers and junk mail to wade through every time you make it to the mailbox.
To banish paper clutter from your home — and make sure you catch anything actually worth reading — immediately sort through your mail, recycling the nonsense and putting the keepers in an assigned spot.
6. Scan and Trash Weekly
You don’t really have to choose between forgetting what time the reception starts and stumbling over your cousin’s wedding invite for three months.
Thanks to this fancy technology stuff, you can clear out all receipts, invitations, insurance documents, and other important paperwork.
Take a few minutes every weekend to scan and save everything, then toss it all it the recycling. With smartphone apps like Genius Scan, you always have the tools in the palm of your hand.
7. Tidy Up During Downtime
In the five minutes it takes to nuke your lunch, you can unload and possibly reload the dishwasher, or wipe off the countertops and appliances. You’ll be surprised how much order you can restore to your home during these normally wasted waiting-on-something moments.
8. Make Your Bed as Soon as You Get Up
There’s a reason the Marines start the day with this simple task — also known as “wake and make.”
According to retired Admiral William H. McRaven, author of Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life . . . and Maybe the World, “It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.”
9. Do Chores in the Same Order
Whether you’re cleaning on a Saturday or Wednesday, your mind (and body) will move more quickly from vacuuming to mopping to dusting if you check chores off in the same order — making it easier to keep your home tidy and clean.
Headphones and a throwback playlist are a recommended, but not required, part of the routine.
10. Spot-Clean Bathrooms Nightly
Just as clutter attracts clutter, bathroom funk quickly multiplies.
Stock every bathroom with Lysol wipes and you can quickly and easily clean the countertop and toilet when you brush your teeth or help the kids get ready for bed, Alkhas says.
While wiping, you’ll naturally put away the floss, hair ties, and other clutter in your path.
11. Stop Dirt and Clutter at the Door
Establish a house rule that shoes, bags, jackets, and “pocket items” — your keys, sunglasses, wallet, and phone — are stowed in a drop zone at the door.
Make this easy to enforce by assigning one hook and open shelf for every member of the family — double that for those with lots of extracurriculars, Alkhas says.
12. Clean Out the Fridge Weekly
Don’t let moldy leftovers take over shelf space.
The night before your garbage day, “wipe off the shelves and clean out anything that has no chance of being eaten,” Alkhas says. You’ll get a clearer view of your food options and open up space for ingredients needed in the coming week.
13. Empty the Dishwasher Every Morning
The conquest of a homemade dinner (OK, a “home-prepared” dinner, most days) feels short-lived when you’re left with a mountain of dishes and no place to put them.
Take a couple minutes every morning to empty the dishwasher and you’ll stay ahead of the game.
14. Conduct a Nightly Tidy-Up
Every night, take a laundry basket on a tour of your house and pick up anything that’s out of place. “You don’t have to put it away now. If you want, plan to do it on Saturday and it won’t take much time at all,” Alkhas says.
If there are more than two people in your household, separate the day’s clutter into assigned baskets for each family member to put away daily or weekly.
With this routine, Alkas adds, “you’ll wake up to a living room that’s decluttered and a kitchen that is tidy, and you can start your day fresh.”
15. Follow a Clean-Out Schedule for Your Storage Areas
Just because it’s hidden behind a cupboard door doesn’t mean it’s exempt from clutter status.
Establish a schedule, perhaps every month, to rid a specific storage space of its dead weight — like expired food in the pantry, excess gadgets in a kitchen drawer, or the cupboard holding the gazillion ragged dishtowels you’ve had since your tiny college studio apartment. (It’s time to let those go.)
16. Keep Everyone Involved
When one person leaves a dish in the sink, it paves a slippery slope for others to follow suit.
So have a “The Brady Bunch”-style family meeting to make sure everyone understands their responsibilities and chores for maintaining order in the home. Serve brownies. They’ll show up.