I Took a “Cleaning Vacation” for a Week — Here’s How It Went

published May 20, 2023
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Illustration of a woman on her couch reading and relaxing surrounded by a pile of laundry, a broom, and some cleaning products
Credit: Subin Yang

I am the primary housekeeper in my home, just like many other women in dual-income heterosexual relationships. I never minded so much when it was just me and my husband in our tiny apartment. But since becoming parents and moving to a bigger property, the cycle of cleaning and chores seems never-ending. 

All this is to say that I am exhausted. So when I was introduced to the concept of a “cleaning vacation” by Katie Berry, the author of “30 Days to a Clean and Organized House,” I was intrigued. She says that being the primary housekeeper is a job too, and like any job, you get time off — so why not take a vacation from cleaning? Of course, there are some bare-minimum things you’ll need to do, but other than that, take a week or two off and “[fill] your soul with things that make you happy.”

So I did just that. Here’s how.

How to Take a Cleaning Vacation

As you would with any vacation, do a little prep work ahead of time, and “figure out the least you can do to stay sane and do that,” says Berry.

Step 1: Set a date. 

Just like with a regular vacation, you need to get prepared. Set a date and a length, considering what is realistic for you, and any events you have coming up.

Step 2: Decide on your non-negotiables. 

“It’s going to be different for every home,” Berry says, depending on your household needs and caring responsibilities. Your non-negotiables might include things like keeping food prep areas and toilets cleaned for hygiene reasons. They can also include finding easier alternatives, which might be too wasteful or expensive to use all the time, but would make your non-negotiables easier during your cleaning vacation, like eating off paper plates or wiping the toilets with disposable bathroom wipes.

Step 3: Prepare. 

Just as you’d get supplies and pack for a regular vacation, you may need or want to do a little prep work for your cleaning vacation. Berry advised me to “pre-load” some cleaning tasks, like getting caught up on laundry or prepping and freezing a few meals. 

For many people, there may be an elephant in the room when it comes to preparation: Should you discuss your cleaning vacation with the other adults in your home? “If you talk about it ahead of time it’s a vacation, if you don’t, then it may be perceived as a strike,” says Berry. If the people you live with already take an active role in cleaning, there will need to be a discussion with them about whether they will also take a cleaning vacation at the same time, or whether they will pick up the slack from your cleaning vacation. 

If the distribution of domestic labor is currently unfair, or your cleaning efforts seem to go unappreciated by the other adults in your home, a “cleaning strike” might be in order to redress that balance. “Sometimes it’s good to remind our partners that we’re doing this voluntarily,” says Berry.

Step 4: Take a vacation. 

Once you’re ready to go and select how long your time off will be — whether it’s as small as a weekend or as big as two weeks — then you can finally take your much-needed vacation.

Credit: Photo: Sidney Bensimon; Prop Styling: Anna Surbatovich

My One-Week Cleaning Vacation Plans

I took a week-long cleaning vacation and set up my non-negotiables as follows: 

  • Dishes and kitchen counters (maximum once a day to clean)
  • Picking up toys (maximum once a day, and only the baby’s mess)
  • Bathroom surfaces (as needed with disposable wipes)
  • Baby laundry (if needed)

Before I took my cleaning vacation, I made sure that the house had been dusted, vacuumed, and mopped recently, and that I was mostly up-to-date on laundry. I also made sure that we had ingredients for plenty of easy, one-pot meals so that we could still feed our daughter fresh food while minimizing the dishes.

I did give my partner a heads-up before I took my week off cleaning, and he was supportive. He has a higher tolerance for mess than me and had an extra-busy time at work the week I set for my cleaning vacation, so we agreed that he wouldn’t intervene unless the mess was seriously bothering him, but that he would keep up with his designated chores (like dealing with trash).

How It Went

By day one, I had set my non-negotiables and decided that any chores I do will be done once per day and in the evening. Putting our breakfast dishes in the sink without feeling guilty is a revelation. I also had more time and headspace to play with my daughter throughout the day when I’m not worrying about getting to the chores. 

When the evening came, I did find myself overwhelmed with things, like the dishes and counters, that were only touched once instead of cleaning as I go. The mess can build up fast with a little one. As nice as it was to have more time in the day to focus on her, I found myself not feeling relaxed.

A few days in, I caved by vacuuming the living room. My daughter is just starting to crawl, and mud got tracked inside from the garden, so it wasn’t fair to make her crawl around in it. I only vacuumed the space where she plays, though, instead of doing the whole downstairs like I normally would if I got the vacuum cleaner out.

I also did a small load of laundry, as my daughter needed clean vests. I have to admit, seeing the rest of the laundry pile up gave me a bit of anxiety. I knew that I would get to it eventually, and while it was nice to take a break from it, I couldn’t stop thinking about the catch-up I’d have to do.

By then, I noticed something interesting about leaving the dishes until the evening: Sometimes my husband would just take care of it. I had thought I usually did them because he didn’t want to do them, but I guess he just wants to do them on his timeline (I’m normally a “do the dishes after eating” person, and he’s an “I’ll do them in a bit” person). 

By the end, I surprisingly felt restored by my week off from doing all those bigger cleaning tasks and the laundry. I got to spend more undistracted time with my daughter and was able to work (or even read a book!) during her naps without feeling guilty for ignoring the housework. 

Afterward, I spent the Sunday afternoon tidying up, cleaning down, and vacuuming the main areas of our home. I see this as similar to unpacking and catching up on life admin after a regular vacation. 

Final Takeaways

Barry shares that when you’re done with your vacation, you’ll know the spots that need the most attention and the others that don’t have to be addressed right away — and she’s completely right.

I have found a couple of “trouble spots” where the mess has piled up quite spectacularly. The windowsill next to my husband’s end of the couch was a mess of sweet wrappers, the shelf next to my favorite armchair was awash with coffee rings, and the floors in high-traffic areas were filthy after a week without vacuuming. Since then, I’ve put a small trash can by the couch and will keep vacuuming the floors in those high-traffic spots regularly. 

I’ve also found a few things that I can probably let go of. Doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen counters only once per day actually let me relax because I wasn’t constantly trying to find a moment to do it. I knew I’d get to it eventually, so I could stop trying and just be in the moment with my daughter during the day. 

On the other hand, I spent more energy worrying about laundry than I normally do. With an infant, and my husband having a very messy, physical job, the laundry does pile up fast when I don’t stay on top of it, so I prefer to do a load each day during the week, as the catch-up was brutal.

My cleaning vacation helped me to recalibrate what was important in my cleaning routine. It also let my husband see and appreciate some of the household tasks that had previously been invisible to him.