My Foolproof Cleaning Strategy Comes From an Annoying Restaurant Saying

published Sep 2, 2022
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When I was a teenager, I started waiting tables at Pizza Hut and didn’t leave food service until after college. I switched from Pizza Hut to Lone Star Steakhouse, to a delightful spot called Pizza Capri in Chicago, then became a pastry chef at the short-lived Chicago location of Eatzi’s Market and Bakery. And throughout my food service industry jobs, I heard one phrase over and over. If you’re a food service employee, you probably already know what it is: “If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean.”

Raise your hand if you’ve heard it and rapidly grew to hate it because managers everywhere used it to keep you busy doing menial side work. I’ve heard this phrase umpteen times, but unlike other food service industry employees, I actually love it — and even built my home cleaning strategy around it.

“If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean” basically means that if you’ve got the time to sit down and do nothing on your shift, then you should be cleaning something. Pick up a rag and wipe off the counter, restock the shelves, and make sure all the dishes are clean. It’s part of the reason service employees are so exhausted all the time — because it’s hard to take breaks without someone yelling at you to grab a broom.

At my home, it doesn’t mean quite the same thing. I understand that people need downtime to relax, including myself. But I also know that if I’m bored, I could easily dust something to take up some time and end up with a cleaner, more settled household. If I’m lounging on the couch watching TV, why not also grab the Swiffer and clean up any hidden mess on the hardwood floor? If I’m cooking something and waiting for the timer to go off, there’s no harm in wiping down the counters with my ever-present stock of Clorox wipes.

Here’s why it works so well for me: I’m a tidy person without a lot of time. I don’t like mess or clutter, but it’s hard to tame it when I’m working and caring for three pets all the time. So if I can tack cleaning onto something else, where I have little pockets of time to clean throughout the day, it makes the whole process easier on me. Sure, I have time to lean. But I also have time to clean because it’s time that I’m not wasting sitting around doing nothing.

I have no doubt that when I have a child, I’ll start parroting “if there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean” to them, like a tidy-mother catchphrase. I already do it to my fiancé, who I’m sure just loves it. But regardless of who agrees with me or not — and who I irritate with the saying along the way — it’s made a huge impact on my life.

Do you have a cleaning catchphrase? Share it in the comments.