These 4 Small Habits Have a Snowball Effect on Your Clean Home

updated Nov 1, 2020
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(Image credit: Sarah Crowley)

There are some cleaning chores that actually have very little effect on the visible cleanliness of your home. If you never lift your cushions to vacuum the seats of your upholstered furniture, no one will know (until they reach for a lost remote). And if you never declutter your closets, well… the mess is literally behind closed doors.

But there are other chores—even some very small ones—that, left undone, snowball into a much bigger mess and a much more annoying task to tackle.

To keep your home humming, pay attention to the following small jobs:

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1. Folding the clothes when the dryer beeps

You might be great at washing clothes when they’re dirty, but do those baskets of clean clothes pile up while you’re waiting for the right night to fold them all? Folding clothes while they’re still warm isn’t just cozy—it helps prevent wrinkles and having to iron (or wear wrinkled clothes, or avoid said clothes) down the road. Use the dryer cycle ending as your folding cue and folding and putting away your clothes will be a small, manageable task you can do in a few minutes—rather than a monumental obstacle you have to set aside a whole day to get under control.

Tip: If you spend a lot of time away from home, try setting your wash cycle to start on a delay so you’ll be home to switch clothes to the dryer and to be there when it beeps.

(Image credit: Sophie Timothy)

2. Putting shoes where they go when you take them off

My family doesn’t wear shoes in the house—we all take them off by the front door. So “doing the shoes” is an official chore in our house, one I ask my kids to do when the foyer has become so strewn with shoes that the mess has reached the tipping point. For homes without a shoes-off policy, I can only imagine that the shoe situation is like our sock situation: They’re sitting around wherever the wearers reached their tipping point of “Oh I’m home, time to get comfortable and take my shoes off!”

It’s no fun going around the house picking up armfuls of shoes or searching for them frantically when you have to leave the house. It’s also no fun, for anyone, to remind everyone to pick up their shoes. Have a home for everyone’s shoes and cultivate the practice of putting them there before ever putting them down.

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

3. Washing dirty dishes

This is always the example I think of when I remember or espouse that “cleanliness begets cleanliness.” It’s easier to put just one or two more dirty dishes in a sink that already has a couple dishes waiting to be washed in it—but it should give anyone pause to put dirty dishes in a clean, empty sink.

Washing dishes right away keeps the sink clean and empty, and with any luck, reminds others in your household to do their own dishes. In addition, washing dishes right when they’re done being used keeps you from having to scrub off dried-on food and, again, makes most daily dish-washing a job that takes a couple minutes rather than a mini-marathon at the end of the day before it’s time to prep dinner.

(Image credit: Sylvie Li)

4. Keeping counters and tables wiped

If there’s one thing that drives me up the wall, it’s having to dodge sticky spots on counters or the table. To dispel the anxiety of wondering where you can sit something down (homework, mail, a casual cookie), keep a cleaning rag or wipes handy to take care of any spills or messes as soon as possible, and wipe the table down immediately after it’s used.

This habit also keeps you from having to clean up the things that get dirty from being set down on existing messes, as well as the spaces that get dirty from having those dirty things put away (such a snowball!).

This habit will also save you from spreading the mess around. For instance: If you set a container down onto a splatter of syrup, and then put the container away in the fridge, you now have three sticky spots to clean up rather than just the one quick swipe you could have made at that initial syrup spill. This keeping-surfaces-clean habit has the out-sized reward of keeping the interior of your fridge and cabinets clean for much longer.

By staying reasonably vigilant to take care of clean laundry, doffed shoes, dirty dishes, and messy surfaces when they are small problems, you’ll empower your future self to enjoy a perpetually clean home.