Cleaning During Stolen Moments

our vacuum

I wish that I could simply set aside an hour or two each weekday to focus solely on house cleaning, in order to keep my home in tip-top shape. Yet when I try, up pop all manner of interruptions. A toddler who needs help on the potty or simply a snuggle from mommy. A 6 year old who needs help with her math word problems. A request for a snack to bring with him as my husband runs out the door.

Interruptions and distractions are a normal part of this season of life. I don’t want to wish them away or try to micro-manage my days, because this is simply par for the course and many of these moments are the stuff of life, where relationship happens.

Nonetheless, I still want to live in a home with at least some semblance of cleanliness. What’s a busy mom to do?

Clean What I Can, When I Can

Though there are some tasks that I try to schedule in on a weekly or daily basis (vacuuming, sweeping the kitchen, dishes, etc.), a lot of the other ones I am learning to fit into the 2 or 5 or 10 minutes that present themselves throughout the course of the day.

For busy mamas, sometimes the easiest way to keep things clean is to claim whatever “stolen moments” you can to get the job done.

Some time ago, I was reading how Steady Mom keeps her house clean. I was thrilled to learn that I was not the only one who found that at this stage of life, it was easier to maintain the bare minimum basics regularly, but address other deep cleaning on an as-needed or “when it bugs you” basis.

When I walk by and happen to notice that the piano is crazy dusty, I quickly grab my duster and tackle the piano. Just the piano. Not the whole living and dining room.

duster on piano

This has helped me to release the feeling that I ought to be maintaining some perfect cleaning routine to ensure that every part of my house gets tackled on a regular basis. It just wasn’t practical, and to be honest, it wasn’t happening.

Since I’ve lightened up on myself, I feel like I can keep up with the absolute necessities better (daily kitchen duties, laundry, bathrooms) and the other stuff? I clean it when I see it, or when I get a chance.

I won’t be winning any “homemaker of the year” awards, but whoever said that was my goal in life? I want my home clean enough for comfort, ease of living, and to be sanitary, but beyond that I have other priorities that take precedence.

Tricks That Help Me Squeeze Cleaning in When I Can

These are some of the little tricks and techniques that have been helping me to keep cleaning time to a minimum, and still keep things mostly under control.

Use moments when I’m doing other things. Some mental tasks allows us to do something physical at the same time, to maximize those moments. A few examples:

  • While talking on the phone (I often save phone calls for when I’m putting laundry away)
  • While listening to an audio file (a sermon, an audio book)
  • While having a conversation with someone (obviously there are many instances where this doesn’t work, but sometimes I can have a great discussion with my daughter while I wash the dishes or tidy the kitchen)
  • While supervising the kids in the bath (my favorite time to clean the bathroom!)

Keep cleaning supplies in different locations. I have cleaning supplies in two of my three bathrooms (and guess which bathroom gets cleaned the least frequently?), as well as in the laundry room and kitchen. When I can grab what I need in that one spare minute I have, it makes giving the bathroom a quick wipedown possible since I don’t have to take up that precious minute by running downstairs to grab what I need first. I also find it helpful to keep a few extra cloths in each bathroom.

cleaners kept in bathroom

Use your “dirty” laundry. Another thing that I like to do is use towels in the bathroom that need to be washed anyways to quickly wipe up the counter or floor. It makes less laundry, and gives me a good excuse to clean with towels that were already “dirty” anyways (I’m talking about ones that are only moderately dirty like bath towels, otherwise they won’t be of much use to make things clean, right?).

Don’t try to do everything. Do that one simple area or task. Unless the time is there to expand the task (and sometimes when you get started you realize that you have more time than you thought, so go with it if you’re already in cleaning mode). But generally I try to just do one or two quick things, because something is better than nothing.

Do two-for-one jobs:

  • When I wash the dishes, I take 30 seconds to scrub the sink while it’s already wet and soapy.
  • If I’m wiping the counters, I can use the spray and wet cloth to wipe the front of one appliance.
  • If the vacuum’s already out, why not do a quick vacuum of one couch or chair?
  • While putting towels and cloths into the wash, sometimes I take one of them and quickly wipe off the tops of my machines before tossing it in.
  • When I’m carrying a load of laundry up or downstairs, I try to take a quick look around to see if any stray items need to be returned to their homes, and carry them as I go.

Use a timer. I like to just set the timer for 5 minutes or 12 minutes or however long I have and see how much I can get done. This makes me work harder and faster (that’s almost like exercising, right? Bonus!) and knowing that there is an end in sight helps to make the job go by more quickly and enjoyably.

How do you squeeze cleaning into those little moments? What tricks help you to minimize your cleaning time?

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  1. When my water is heating for tea I quickly do either kitchen task or fold a quick load of laundry – since I drink multiple glasses a day it keeps my kitchen looking nice and helps me keep control of the laundry! I use a timer too – funny how even adults can be motivated by one!

  2. Such a great reminder to do what we can, when we can!

    I used to read and try to follow Fly Lady, but it was just too much for me, and overwhelming, but I did take away an important lesson that I still repeat to myself at times – Housework done imperfectly still blesses my family.

    I, too, often get caught up in having to clean the whole room, finish the whole task before I feel okay about it. But, like you said, doing something is better than nothing. And every little bit that I do to clean my home, without going overboard to the actual neglect of my family, blesses them and allows them to live in a (mostly) clean and happy home.

  3. What a wonderful post! Very well said. Thanks for the reminder that doing a little is okay in this busy stage of life.

    I will be sharing this post with friends.

  4. These are all really great tips! I work outside the home (almost full time), so I’m always trying to multi task the cleaning when I am home. When I’m wiping my one-year old’s face and hands with a washcloth after a meal, I take the clean side (if there still is one!) and use it to wipe down her high chair, a windowsill, or the top of one of the radiators that needs dusting. This helps me tackle one of the little projects while I have the wet cloth in my hand and really doesn’t take much extra time.
    I have also found that having a routine for weekly chores really helps (like sweeping every Monday and Thursday/Friday, cleaning the bathrooms on Tuesday, mopping on Monday, vacuuming Wednesday…etc.) This normalcy helps make sure the important things get done regularly, and if my floors or laundry need extra attention at other points, I’m not totally overwhelmed by it.

  5. Thank you for this! I do the same thing. 🙂 I have the hardest time keeping up with dishes, but if I just take a few minutes here and there to unload the dishwasher, put a few things in, wash a pot, etc. they don’t pile up quite as much! I also try to include my 2-yo in some cleaning – giving him a rag to wipe the floor while I’m washing it, letting him play in the water while I do dishes, etc.

  6. You are right on the money! Every season provides different challenges and if we open up our minds to bigger possibility we can still make it! I began using moments just like you to make a difference in my home rather than just letting those slip by. You can accomplish a lot when you put your mind to it. I love sharing this idea with the moms I work with too – they love finding time that they didn’t know they had! 🙂

  7. I appreciate the “flexibility” that is allowed for in your style of caring for your home. I follow several homemaking blogs, and sometimes I feel rather inadequate because I don’t follow a strict schedule with my housework, schooling my children, and cooking. I just know that I would FAIL if I tried to be so regimented. I still get things done, but I like to fly by the seat of my pants. It is just my personality. Different strokes for different folks, “they” say.

    Alot of your cleaning times are the same “tricks” I use. I love cleaning the kid’s bathroom while they are playing in the tub. I swear it is the cleanest room in the house. The baseboards and doors get a regular cleaning because of their love for playing in the tub for looooong periods of time. 🙂

    It really is amazing how much you can get done in 15 minutes. I set a timer a lot of times, and generally I can “beat the clock”, and it makes me feel so good to get a job done in less time than I allotted for it. My challenge is staying on task. I tend to wander as I clean. For instance, when cleaning the kitchen I stop to take the crockpot to put in the pantry I see a jacket and shoes not in the mud closet, so I have to stop myself from doing that and just focus on getting the kitchen done (gotta beat the clock). 🙂

    Okay, I’m done rambling. Thanks for “listening”.

  8. Thanks for the tips. It seems hard to fit it in these days, between my time on the computer, babysitting the grands, and picking the others up from school and running errands. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like there is enough hours in the day to do everything I need to do or want to do.

  9. Love, love, love this Stephanie! I am a big fan of using dirty laundry myself. One of my favorites is tidying up the bathroom while my toddler is in the tub. This is a little different, but when I am doing things which require items to go downstairs, I THROW EVERYTHING I possibly can down the stairs, such as dirty laundry and trash (in their bags of course!), and carry breakables down at the last. Alternatively, if I have books and larger items, I use the laundry basket to carry them down after throwing the laundry and trash down. Naturally, I do this when the rest of my family is also upstairs, and aim below the stairs so I don’t trip on something coming down!

    This is great stuff. Would you consider letting me use this post as a guest post on my organizing blog? It seems like we have a lot in common, specifically, a passion for being debt-free, and living a life of order.

    1. @Shelley, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who actually throws things down the stairs. That’s how I get sheets and towels down to be washed. 🙂

      Unfortunately I can’t allow it to be used in full, because of how Google views duplicate content. But, you would be welcome to take a few paragraphs of it as a quote, and then link to the rest! Thanks for asking!

    2. @Shelley, In our last home the bath room on the main level was over the washer in the basement. So we had a hole cut into the storage closet floor in the bathroom and dropped our dirty clothes down to the washer.

  10. I like to make the boys clean the toilet if they leave the lid up or forget to close the door while they’re going. My toilets have never stayed cleaner! 🙂

  11. This sounds great! Have any tips on how to do all this and not be anxious and perfectionisty about it? LOL….

    Getting rid of clutter has been the biggest help that I ever have done for cleaning. I still have a ways to go but its already easier. Forcing myself to do it is harder but I try to focus on the end goal and it helps.

  12. Back when we had stairs, I liked to keep a pretty basket at the top (and/or bottom). I’d pile things that needed to go down (or up) in the basket and haul it down the next time I went down (or up). That made it feel like the house was still clean even if I had a load to take up the stairs.

    Setting the timer for 10 minutes and seeing how much I can get done has worked really well for me, as others have mentioned. I also do a much better job staying on top of the dishes when the dishwasher stays unloaded so I try to focus just on unloading and then the rest seems to fall into place. And living in a smaller space means it doesn’t take long for the ‘cleaning’ portion of the housework. It’s just the clutter that takes constant vigilance…

  13. I was cracking up as I read this because I do so much of the same thing! I was going to suggest (but you already do it) – clean the bathrooms while you are supervising bath time! 🙂 All of our bedrooms are upstairs, so I can usually tackle the upstairs pretty well during bath time. My kids are 7, 5 and 2 so they do pretty well with me continuing to peek in. Another very helpful thing (and I think someone mentioned this) to cut down on clutter – I have a “catcher” basket on the 3 floor landing and a “catcher” on the main floor. Then once a week, I (or the kids and I) will take the baskets to the basement and put everything in it’s home. My husband likes these because he doesn’t know where all those little things go, but he can still help pick up by throwing it all in the basket! 🙂 I hate dusting so I totally wait until I notice it and then wipe it! 🙂 Now that my children are older I am trying to involve them as much as possible, to help out! I’ve transformed my entire cleaning routine to safe and homemade so they can take over! Oh… these days are so short and precious. Enjoy them and keep breathing – they’ll be over soon and we’ll want them back! 🙂

  14. I do this ALL the time. I have a 6.5 year old (who has homework, reading, cue cards, spelling tests, etc, etc) and a 14 month old (nuff said LOL). So I clean when I can. Sometimes I get “lucky” and DH will take both kids outside for 1.5-2 hours and I can do a lot. But that tends to wear me out. So I prefer shorter spurts. One of my favorites is cleaning the shower while taking a shower. It certainly helps using natural cleaning products because you can actually breath while doing it!! I often supervise homework while doing dishes. Wipe things as I notice the dust/dirt. Over the years (especially with two little ones) I’ve learned to let go.

  15. I talk to my sister every Monday morning on the phone and we clean while we’re talking! My kids know that’s what happens so they know I’m not available during that time.

    Always tidy things. I have a basket by my stairs that I throw things in that need to go down. When I go down I take it with me and put the things away.

    Get your kids to help. If your windows need cleaning and you’re not going to have time, give them the spray (mine’s a natural one that isn’t harmful to them) and the cloth and let them go at it. Same with vacuuming. Let them vacuum their own rooms every other week. The week in between I make sure I do it myself so it’s done good.

    If all else fails, get the laundry done. That’s my mantra when I’m not well or super busy. They kids need clothes to wear and food to eat. Everything else can wait.

    I used to think I needed to set aside certain blocks of time to do my cleaning. I actually find it much more easy to get it done in very small bits of time here and there. I like it better too!

  16. I very rarely make a trip to another floor without bringing something with me to put away. I feel less cluttered when I don’t let things build up to go to one room or another…great post! Thanks!

  17. Great reminders! I too carry what I can along with me as I travel from one room to another. So if I have an armload to go to the bedroom from the kitchen, I will also have an armload to go from the bedroom to the kitchen or living room and dining room on my way there :). And I empty the dishwasher while making tea or coffee.

    Thank you for all you do. Your site is inspirational.

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