These 5 Words Changed How I Think About My Cleaning Routines Entirely

published Jan 29, 2024
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I’ve always bucked schedules and anything that dictated my time. You wouldn’t catch me with a study schedule in college, and I don’t think the word “routine” was a part of my life (by choice, anyway) until I was well into adulthood. 

As with so many things, hindsight puts things into perspective. Eventually, I realized that the only reason I could afford to eschew any kind of time management plan was because my time was all my own. Once it wasn’t and the demands of maintaining a home and taking care of young children dictated my time, I began to realize the value of schedules, routines, time budgeting, meal plans, and anything that cut down on decision fatigue and helped ensure that I got things done.

One of my very first articles for Apartment Therapy, in fact, was about cleaning routines. “The House That Cleans Itself: The Power of a Weekly Cleaning Schedule” explains how making and keeping a cleaning schedule gives you a house that’s pretty much perpetually clean. 

I’ve gone through many life and circumstance changes since I wrote that piece. I’ve added a few more children to the mix, lost and gained some pets, and made a big move to a significantly larger house. I’ve had help with cleaning the house during especially chaotic seasons, but most of the time I’m responsible for keeping the place clean and in order myself — with the help of my husband (always) and also my children, who are now old enough to pitch in. 

So my routines have changed, adapted, and become more and less complicated in various ways. I have to fit more cleaning into less time and a busier schedule. I’ve had to learn how to take the five-minute chunks of time that present themselves while the coffee is brewing to do what I can to clean up the kitchen, and I’ve had to learn to let a lot of things go because being present and people are more important than a pristine space. 

But one thing has never changed, although it’s something I’ve only just begun to appreciate: Cleaning routines make me free. 

Far from being a time-suck or a to-do list I dread, having a well-thought-out cleaning plan (and sticking to it as best I can) both ensures that I get done what I need to do and, much more importantly, that I’m not cleaning or stressing about it when it’s time for something else.

Here’s what I mean: When I know that, as a family, we will do a Power 10 before we sit down to dinner, I’m not nagging my kids constantly about the shoes they left out or the school papers that are still sitting on the counter because they got distracted as they were telling me about something funny that happened at recess. When I have a nightly tidy-up session scheduled, I can enjoy my little kids’ bedtime routine without being distracted by the toys that are still out. When I know that cleaning the microwave is coming up on my weekly kitchen deep clean, I won’t feel like I have to do it right when I notice it or it won’t get done. I also won’t feel that I’m neglecting it while I focus on cooking dinner. 

Having a set time to do certain tasks, a time that comes up regularly, means that I am free from the tyranny of undone tasks that feel like they’ll never get done. I’m free from the unseen labor of holding a running mental list of chores that never end. Having a cleaning routine means that when I see something that needs to get done, rather than getting distracted or frustrated, I can remind myself that I’ll get to it because it’s on the schedule. I tell myself that my “cleaning routines make me free” and I’m assured that whatever it is will get done — at the right time, without taking away from what I’m doing at the moment. 

Cleaning routines, far from controlling my time, have given me my time back and, although I’ll forever be adjusting and tweaking and tilting, I’ll never let them go.