8 Small Cleaning Routine Changes That’ll Make a Big Difference in Your Life

published Jan 15, 2024
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A woman puts a plate in the dishwasher rack
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

I’m not huge on New Year’s resolutions, but I am really big on taking advantage of fresh start energy. Whether it’s a new day, week, school year, or, yes, year, I love harnessing the feeling of a new beginning and making small changes that add up to something big over time. 

Along these lines, when the new year hits, I like to consider what kinds of tweaks I can make at home that will make my family’s daily life easier and create the time and space for the things that matter most: being together and making new memories. I know that, especially when it comes to how I maintain my home, making a point to take care of things when they are small and right in front of me goes a long way in keeping household tasks from becoming overwhelming projects that eat into my family’s free time. 

Here are small ways to tweak your cleaning routines and habits to make it the cleanest year yet, with less effort than ever.

Take inventory of the fridge and pantry before shopping. 

Meal planning is one of my favorite ways to streamline grocery shopping and home cooking. But if I’m not careful to “shop” my fridge and pantry before heading to the grocery store or placing my delivery order, I end up with more than I need, creating a storage problem and wasting money. On the other hand, scanning my fridge and pantry to use up anything that’s in danger of going bad or that I don’t need to buy new again ensures that I make the most of what I already have. 

Put dishes in the dishwasher rather than the sink. 

This one is big and operates on the principle of “mess begets mess” or, conversely, “cleanliness begets cleanliness.” Here’s what I mean: It’s so much easier to add dirty dishes to dirty dishes that are already in the sink. But a clean, empty sink is much more likely to inspire choices that keep it looking that way. Putting those lunch dishes in the dishwasher and then also making sure to wash that travel mug now rather than later are small decisions that could make the difference between a sink piled with dishes when it comes time to make dinner or one that’s fresh, empty, and ready to work hard during dinner hour. 

Wipe down the fridge before putting in new groceries. 

Giving the fridge a quick wipe-down when it’s at its emptiest (before you fill it with new groceries) can drastically extend your time between full fridge clean-outs. Plus, it keeps your fridge interior more sanitary in the meantime. 

Do one cleaning task every time the microwave is running. 

Or the coffee is brewing, or the tea kettle is boiling water. Habit stacking is one of the best ways to make sure your chores get done quickly and painlessly. Here are some mini tasks you can start (and finish!) in under three minutes.

Credit: Minette Hand

“Don’t put it down.” 

Making a concerted effort to put things away rather than putting them down (dealing with them while they’re in your hand) will make a significant difference in how tidy your house feels all the time. Additionally, your routine cleanups will take much less time because you won’t have to go around putting a bunch of stuff away first. 

Practice one in, three out. 

Decluttering is essential to a home that’s in order — and it’s not a one-time event. Stuff is always coming into my home, and if I’m not vigilant things pile up and become an overwhelming decluttering project. I far prefer to practice “micro and perpetual decluttering” by making sure that things also leave my house as others are coming in. I love to supercharge the standard one-in, one-out advice by replacing it with one-in, three-out. This strategy allows me to keep up with decluttering and maybe even make up for any missed opportunities.

Add donation drop-offs to your weekly errand run. 

This one is huge for me. I’ve had boxes and bags of donations that sit in my garage for months, and while it’s nice to have my drawers or kitchen cabinets cleaned out, these bulging bags aren’t doing my garage any favors. This year, I plan to designate a day a week to drop off my donations. I’ll probably tie the task to a weekly outing, like my son’s speech therapy appointment, which takes me right past my favorite donation center anyway. 

Fold laundry while it’s still warm. 

Staying on top of the laundry is probably my biggest home-keeping struggle, no matter how many methods I try. I had some visitors this week and invited them to catch up on laundry while they were at my house. I saw my friend fold her load right when the dryer beeped, without even taking the laundry out of the laundry room, and I was inspired to give this another go. Maybe this will keep the clean loads from piling up. Who knows — I might even put the folded laundry away!

What cleaning tweaks will you incorporate this year?