Clean House 101

By Chandra Orr

January 7, 2011 5 min read

Realistically, it should take just a few hours to clean a typical family home. The key to speeding up the process? It's all in the preparation. With the right game plan, you -- and your family -- can get the job done in a short amount of time.

Follow these four steps for a shipshape home in less time:

1) Conquer Clutter First: It may seem counterintuitive to clean before you clean, but a quick sweep through the house to return stray items to their rightful places makes for quick and easy work.

"Cleaning consists of two separate tasks: organizing and cleaning. Before you can really clean, you have to get the clutter under control," says Christine Shuck, author of "Get Organized, Stay Organized."

Instead of stopping the vacuum every few minutes to put the kids' shoes away or trying to dust around that stack of unread magazines on the coffee table, tidy up before you buckle down. Put away the clean laundry; toss the newspapers in the recycle bin; and get the toiletries back in the medicine cabinet.

"It's amazing how much clutter a few people can generate. The day before cleaning, have the kids put away their toys, gather their dirty clothes and strip their beds," Shuck says. "Call it the pre-clean stage. After the clutter is under control, then the cleaning can begin."

2) Work Systematically: Map out a cleaning route before you begin. Whether you clean room-by-room or task-by-task, be consistent and stick to the plan. Work top to bottom, left to right, and don't retrace your steps.

To speed up the process, take all of the necessary cleaning supplies with you as you move from room to room.

"You can save a lot of time when you assemble all the cleaning products and tote them around with you from room to room as you go. This way, they're all right there when you need them. Sounds simple, but it's a huge timesaver," says Tess Whitehurst, author of "Magical Housekeeping: Simple Charms and Practical Tips for Creating a Harmonious Home."

Take an empty laundry basket with you, as well. Anything that needs to be returned to another room goes in the basket. When the whole house is clean, spend an extra five minutes putting those errant items away.

3) Limit Distractions: You stop to wash the dishes, and suddenly you just spent two hours on the phone with your mom. It's easy to let time slip away when tending to housework, so set some parameters.

"An average-size house should take about two hours from top to bottom for one person to clean," Shuck says. "It takes longer because of distractions -- the computer, the kids, the phone, paperwork, the need to eat. Eliminate the distractions; focus on the task at hand and it will get done quickly."

Vow to work free of interruptions. Set a timer, and pop in your favorite CD. Commit to cleaning nonstop for just one hour. Have the kids pitch in with the understanding that the video games, television and texting will have to wait -- and hold yourself to the same standard. Don't stop to answer the phone. Don't check your e-mail. Don't make unnecessary trips back and forth between rooms. Just focus on the task at hand.

4) Do Your Daily Chores: Once you have a "clean slate," keep it that way.

"You have to keep on top of the daily mess. Every day bust some clutter and some dirt. If you have a clean field to vacuum, dust and wipe down each week, it isn't so overwhelming," says Marni Jameson, author of "House of Havoc: How to Make -- and Keep -- a Beautiful Home Despite Cheap Spouses, Messy Kids, and Other Difficult Roommates."

Spend 10-20 minutes each evening doing a sweep through the house. Toss out the junk mail and newspapers; tend to the dirty dishes; wipe the kitchen counters; clear off the family desk; and return the television remote control to its rightful place. Ask the kids to put their toys and backpacks away, and be sure everyone puts dirty clothes in a hamper.

Designate an area for recyclables, and use it. Collect unwanted items in a central location, and donate them to the thrift shop each month.

"Make sure your whole family gets on board with the plan for household order," Jameson says. "If you're the only one committed, it won't work."

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