This One Change Completely Transformed the Way I Think About Cleaning

published Mar 27, 2024
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A woman puts a plate in the dishwasher rack
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

I’ve heard it said that trying to clean up a house with kids in it is like trying to brush your teeth while eating Oreos. I know firsthand how true this can feel as a mom of five, which is why I put a great deal of thought and effort into creating home habits and systems that allow me to have a fairly clean home most of the time — without missing out on life because I’m cleaning all the time!

But life is constantly fluctuating, especially in a household of seven, and it seems that once I figure out something that works, a schedule change or a new activity happens and I have to try a different approach. Because of this, I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to manage the “constants” in our house in streamlined, efficient ways. 

When I recently came across this wise IG post by Cedric Thompson, Jr. discussing ways he fine-tunes small moments in his everyday life, his message resonated with me so much. Thompson uses the example of organizing his keys in the order of his life — from the house to the car — to streamline and prevent “moments of friction” that would occur with his children before even walking through the front door.

“Identifying the behavior, finding the root of the turmoil, and putting it in order restores my calm and reduces impulsive reactions. By continually fine-tuning areas that feel chaotic, I create more space for myself and the people I love,” he says in the caption.

I love this perspective and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Although Thompson’s example had to do with his keys, I began considering ways that I could apply the principle of “reducing friction” in ways that I manage our home. What are the places in our home that feel chaotic or messy — not physically necessarily, but in the way they’re addressed? 

Here is a list I came up with of ways to reduce friction in my own home when it comes to cleaning and organizing.

  • Use a small laundry bag for socks. Putting dirty socks in small mesh laundry bags before washing them keeps socks from getting lost; it also pre-sorts the laundry by type, making it more efficient to fold. 
  • Create a designated space for items in the place where they end up naturally. This is why my house has shoe storage by the front door, the garage door, and an additional basket by the back porch door. 
  • Accept that some messes are just a part of life. Our dogs drip water from their mouths when they drink, and I was constantly wiping the floor. So instead, I put an absorbent, washable rug under their water bowls. 
  • Make storage easy to access. Even though we have a storage ottoman in our family room that was originally intended for stashing blankets, no one ever wanted to move the trays I keep on top of the ottoman to lift the lid. To address this point of friction, we just added a big basket to the side of the fireplace so it’s easy for everyone to toss their blankets in. 
  • Run the dishwasher every single night. This might not make sense for every family, but for us, running the dishwasher every night (and emptying it every morning) makes our kitchen run more smoothly. 
  • Take out the trash every single night. In the same vein, taking out the trash nightly ensures that the bag isn’t full during the dinner rush.
  • Do one load of laundry a day. Making laundry a daily habit keeps laundry from becoming an overwhelming task that takes hours. 
  • Use backstock before shopping. Making it a point to use what I have on hand before adding more food to the fridge and pantry keeps these spaces from getting too full, which increases functionality and saves money. 
  • Have zones and routines. Having zones that each family member is responsible for maintaining and having delineated routines for performing cleaning tasks takes the guesswork and conflict out of chores. 

Addressing points of friction through strategies like these, some of which I’ve done for a while and some of which are new, makes our entire home run more smoothly, which, ultimately, makes us happier at home. 

Looking to spring clean? Sign up for Apartment Therapy’s 10-day Spring Cleaning Cure, a free guided program that’ll bring you one step closer to a tidier home.