This Is the Only Time I Break My Mom’s Household Cleanup Rule

published Oct 1, 2023
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Credit: Minette Hand

More than 15 years after first having my own place to tend to and clean, I’m still becoming aware of all the things I learned from my mom. Some habits that she taught me have been obvious, like scrubbing out the kitchen sink with a powdered cleanser every night, which has become part of my nightly kitchen shutdown routine. Other tricks she taught me are things I’ve done less consciously, like putting a damp paper towel over the emptied contents of my vacuum cleaner or doing “postage stamp” vacuuming.

Still, other household habits are less specific tasks and more mantras, reminders that play out like my mom’s voice reminding me gently but firmly that there should be “a place for everything and everything in its place” or that “many hands make light work,” sayings that no doubt were passed down to her. 

One of these internal reminders that’s been so helpful is “Don’t handle it twice if you can handle it once.” The phrase reminds me not to set the empty Amazon box on the kitchen floor but to toss it into the garage (IYKYK) instead, or to just sign the permission slip and stick it in my son’s folder rather than adding to the paper clutter on the counter and risk an important paper getting lost. 

But I’ve recently realized that there’s one time when it saves time and effort to purposely not deal with one thing at a time. This isn’t to say that I don’t agree with my mom’s advice; I wholeheartedly do. It’s the no-nonsense version of the 10/30 rule, which has helped me not put off cleanup tasks and keep a generally more tidy home. The scenario where I think it’s better not to “handle it once” is more of an “exception proving the rule” situation. I stop myself from only handling it once when it makes more sense to batch process a task that has more than one step.

Batch processing refers to doing all of the same steps at once rather than doing all the steps of a task sequentially over and over. For instance, batch processing in whole-house cleaning could look like dusting the surfaces in all the rooms rather than cleaning each room from top to bottom. This saves time and energy because you’re picking one task, along with the tools to perform it, and knocking it all out at once throughout your entire space. 

When it comes to household tasks that work better with batching, I’ve learned to put aside the otherwise sage advice to only “handle it once.” Emptying the dishwasher is one of the main times I batch process instead. Rather than picking up each item and putting it away without setting it down at all, I unload my dishes by category. If I can put the item away without having to leave the dishwasher, as is the case with many of our plates, bowls, and glasses, I put them away right away; taking the dish out and setting it in the cabinet is just one movement. 

However, for the categories that do require me to step away from the dishwasher, such as mugs or cooking tools, I’ll set the items down until I finish unloading everything else. This way, yes, I’m handling multiple items more than once, but the process as a whole is more efficient because I’m not walking back and forth across the kitchen a bunch of times. 

I’m thankful, as always, to my mom and all the big and little things she taught me. I’m especially grateful that she passed on the mindfulness about how to do things efficiently. This awareness is what has empowered me to break one of the “rules” she taught me when it makes sense.