How to Keep a Clean Home: It’s all About Prevention

Written by Emily McClements, Contributing Writer

We’ve been talking about a lot of different natural preventions and remedies here at Keeper of the Home over the past several weeks, but today I’m going to venture off the beaten path a little bit and talk about a different kind of prevention – around the home.

We’ve all heard the saying, “An ounce of preservation is worth a pound of cure”, but I’ve come up with a little different version that I use to motivate me around the house. “Five minutes of prevention, is worth an hour of cleaning.”

Basically, the idea is this – take care of little tasks that take 5 minutes or less as soon as you can, to avoid having to pick up or clean for an hour (or more) later on.

For example, one task that only takes me a few minutes to complete is emptying the dishwasher. We run the dishwasher almost every evening before bed, and I try to empty it as one of my very first tasks in the morning. If I get the dishwasher emptied right away, then I can quickly and easily add dishes throughout the day as we eat meals and snacks, and keep my kitchen counters fairly clean.

But, if I fail to empty the dishwasher first thing in the morning, then dishes and other kitchen stuff, start to pile up in the sink or on the counter. By mid-afternoon, when I’m thinking about beginning to prepare dinner, I have no clear counter space left in my small kitchen and I have to spend a fair amount of time cleaning up before I can actually start working on dinner.

If I had simply taken the few minutes to empty the dishwasher in the morning, I would have saved the hour spent cleaning up later in the day.

Tips for Spending 5 Minutes of Prevention to Avoid An Hour of Cleaning

Determine your key 5 minute tasks.

Some 5 minute tasks are worth more than others. Some are more likely to save you time by doing them now, before they turn into a much larger job. These kind of tasks may include:

  • emptying the dishwasher
  • washing dishes
  • sweeping the floor
  • folding a load of laundry
  • sorting/recycling the mail
  • filing papers

All of these things take only a few minutes to accomplish them if you do them regularly and while the task is still small and manageable.

But if these tasks are put off, they create piles (or mountains!) of dishes, laundry, mail and paper that will take much longer to get through and may become overwhelming.

Peggy's Zen living room makeover, Seattle, Washington, USAPhoto by Wonderlane

Tackle your tasks at the time of day that they will be most helpful.

It makes sense to do your key 5 minute tasks at time when they will be most helpful and the most preventative for you. For me, that means emptying the dishwasher first thing in the morning. So, figure out what those times are and create a routine that works for you.

I have a list of eight key tasks that I strive to get done each day, and I have created a routine for when those tasks need to be done to keep me on top of things around the house, and to provide as much prevention against large chunks of time needed for cleaning as possible.

Avoid doing too many little 5 minute tasks.

As we already mentioned, not all small tasks are created equal. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I’ll just get this one thing done really quickly.” And end up doing lots of those little “one things” that don’t really add up to much.

While this may be somewhat unavoidable when you have small children in the house (don’t our days seem like an endless rotation of changing diapers, feeding children, cleaning up spills and picking up toys?) Don’t spend your whole day stringing together lots of different 5 minute tasks, or you will get to the end of the day and feel like you got nothing accomplished.

Pick your key tasks, like we talked about above, get through those, and then be done and move onto something else. Anything from larger cleaning or organizing tasks, to sitting down with your toddler and reading books for a half an hour.

If you do too many little tasks throughout the day, you can miss out on spending precious blocks of time on things that will help you feel productive.

We can all find 5 minute to get things done around our houses that will help to avoid the piling up of tasks that can become overwhelming to take care of, and allow us to keep our homes clean, peaceful and presentable.

How do you use 5 minutes of prevention around your home? What key tasks do you aim to get done each day to avoid spending hours cleaning later on?

Photo by Andrew Griffith

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  1. Emily,

    How true how true! Over the course of one weekend letting the house “go” I literally will spend an hour or a little more catching up on Monday morning… And I don’t even have kiddos yet (one on the way 🙂 ! I’ve found that I’m also more likely to be motivated to do something if I know it only takes five minutes. I’ve often timed myself doing a quick clean of the bathroom, making the bed, or vacuuming the apartment!


    P.S. I would love to know the eight key tasks you spoke of, the link told me I was looking for something that wasn’t there 🙁

  2. Great post! I love how you balanced your advice with the complementing advice not to get bogged down in TOO many five-minute tasks, but rather to choose the ones that make the most impact.

  3. Great tip about avoiding a multitude of little tasks.

    I definitely have to stay on top of the dishwasher too! My other 5 minute tasks are rinsing out the tub (we have a slow drain so this saves me from having to do a ‘hands & knees scrub’ more than once a week), a quick sweep and mop, I alternate which rooms to vacuum (by only doing one at a time, it never takes more than 5 minutes and the house is always is fairly clean), and I keep a nice basket in the living room to toss all the babies toys in before my husband gets home. So things can look really put together with out much effort. My husband is the only one who isn’t fooled, haha 😉

  4. If only I HAD a dishwasher! I find the same is true of our beside-the-sink dish drainer. If I empty it first thing in the morning, I am more likely to do 5-minute washes of dishes throughout the day, rather than needing to stand there for 1/2 hour and sort/wash/dry all the dirty dishes at once.

  5. I have found that as I am preparing dinner, I wash up the few items needed to start dinner. I keep hot, soapy water in the sink, and as I use a bowl, or a measuring cup or whatever, I wash it, dry and put it away. Then, once we have eaten our dinner, all we have are the few dishes we ate on and maybe a pan or two. Clean up is a snap and I can quickly move on to better things!

  6. My five minute MUST DO is squeegie and towel dry my shower when we are finished. Seems stupid to most people, but it takes less then five minutes and in the long run, I really only have to use cleaning products on my shower every other month! We have lived in our house for over 7 years. Our master bathroom shower is the one that is used by the 4 of us and two walls are glass and the other two tile. My glass is perfect – no hard water stains, no scum build up or anything. This is the one thing that I hated doing as a kid when my grandmother (that raised me) made me do it, but now as a mom and “keeper of the house” I am so glad we do this … it saves so much time. We have specific towels that are for drying the shower. If we all plan on showering that evening then the last person showering has to dry it – – my 12 year old hates being last!!

    1. @Kim,
      Oh, this is probably something I need to add to my list! I know that wiping down the shower and tub regularly keeps from having to do a deep cleaning of it as often – which I hate to do – so doesn’t get done as often as it should. If I just took a few minutes to wipe it down every day, it would definitely save hours of cleaning later!

  7. One thing we just started is “after supper jobs”. Our children are getting a little older now ~ 10, 8, 6 & 4, and my husbands mother (a VERY wise woman) had her children clean up the kitchen after supper, as she, like most of us, was tired after a day of work in the home. 😉

    Here’s how we broke it down: Isaiah (10) load & run the dishwasher & wipe counters, Calvin (8) sweep dining room & kitchen, Emma (6) put away food / leftovers, Jebediah (4) clear & wipe table.

    It took us about a week of “chore training”, and laying down “clean” standards, before the kids were tidying up without us. Someday our children will be “Keepers of their own homes”, so why not start training them now?

    P.S. I really like to sorting mail & filing paper tip ~ good one! 😉

    1. @Rebecca Dow,
      It is such a great idea to have our kids help us with chores around the house. Having your kids clean up after dinner has to be a great feeling, because that is one of the hardest tasks to do at the end of a long day!

  8. So true!

    In addition to the things like emptying the dish drainer, sweeping, putting away shoes by the door, etc., I try to do the not-so-usual things when I notice them. Like vacuuming the baseboards while I’m already vacuuming, or wiping down the kitchen cabinets while I have a wet rag in hand, or using the hand towel to wipe down the bathroom mirror/counter/sink then tossing it in the laundry. That way when I go to do a “deep clean,” it doesn’t take hours and hours from me noticing new things!

  9. I read your 8 key things, its neat that you have them on an actual list. Lists always mean I am more productive, but I haven’t made a list for that yet (which is surprising if you knew me, I have lists everywhere LOL).

    I’m curious what you mean by “swiffer” your floors. What do you use? Is it chemical free and non-disposable? I’ve been looking at buying a certain kind of mop but haven’t had the $ yet, something else keeps coming up. For now I do the floors with a rag on my hands and knees, and sweep/vacuum, but I hate doing that chore, and so its not done as often as I want. I’m curious as to what you mean.

    1. @Nola, Ok, oops I actually found your post on this when I went back to it to write something down. Sorry! I am still confused though…you bought an actual swiffer? Doesn’t that come with disposable parts? I don’t have a swiffer. So how would I get into doing this myself? Thanks

      1. @Nola,
        Hi Nola!
        The swiffer mop has a handle like a broom with a flat pad type thing attached at the bottom that you have to put a cloth over to use it to mop or sweep the floor. I use prefold diapers that I cut down to size like I described in the post and wash and reuse them. So, there is no waste.

        And I either do a dry “sweep” that just picks up crumbs, dog hair, etc, on the floor but doesn’t necessarily clean it, or I use my vinegar and water, or HM multipurpose cleaner, to spray the floor down and do and actual cleaning/mopping – depending on how much time I have and how dirty the floor is. So it’s chemical free too.

        I think when you buy the basic swiffer mop that it may come with a few disposable cloths to use with it, but the mop itself is just like a broom – completely reusable, you just have to have a cloth to put over the pad to make it work – and that is where you can either buy their disposable cloths, or make your own reusable ones. I hope that makes sense, it’s kind of hard to explain. Let me know if you have any more questions! 🙂

  10. There are “swiffer-like” dust mops at most grocery or department stores. My walmart has 5 different kinds. They have washable microfiber or terrycloth pads that you can use wet or dry.

  11. Good reminders!!! I totally have the dishes everywhere and no counter space prb after I cook in the evening. I need to empty the dishwasher in the morning!! THanks for sharing this! 🙂

  12. i appreciate this post so much! i have just recently started to rethink my cleaning process and schedule in an effort to improve how i handle it and the information here is so helpful. i plan on printing this out and putting it in my homemaking binder (which i began making earlier this week thanks to another post on this blog. i’m a new reader…does it show?)!

  13. I just had an epiphany about this today…I’m calling it my “Exit Survival Mode Plan” as far as housekeeping…My 8 month old was colicky until 6 months and still is a needy baby and my 2 year old loves spreading things around the house. In addition to unloading the dishwasher in the a.m. as soon as possible (my hubby tries to do this), I’ve decided to try to do a little more clean up than I usually do right after meals to prevent the mess…mainly wiping the table and sweeping up the crumbs from that meal and getting any stuff that doesn’t belong on the table and counters quickly put away. I’ve had a tendency to rush into the next thing and leave too much of that little stuff for later when it becomes “big stuff.” It will also help my toddler as well to make things more routine as I plan to make it a “You have time to play until mommy gets lunch cleaned up and then it’s nap time” kind of thing, or bath time after dinner. I think this will really help keep it presentable…seems so obvious now.

  14. I have 4 kids, a husband, and a father in law who lives with me. I struggle everyday to keep the house in order. I get no help from anyone in the house, doesn’t matter how much I complain about getting help or stress about cleaning up their own messes. Its still left for me to do. I have no time for me, I am really depressed, I feel more like a maid then a wife and mother. Please someone give me advice on what to do.

    1. Hi Jennifer, I have 4 kids and I totally understand! I was in this state of mind recently, feeling just so overwhelmed. I homeschool my older 2, babysit, just started a home business, and have other people and things all requiring my time and attention on top of loads and loads of dishes and laundry; it’s enough to make anyone depressed and crazy! I felt I was failing at being a good mother, wife, and teacher and, as far as time for myself, there is no time or money for that. So anyway, I had been really praying about how I was feeling and asking the Lord for help when a couple weeks ago during church I felt the need to lay it all at the altar, at Jesus’ feet. -“Cast your cares upon Him for He careth for you” 1 Peter 5:7- I left knowing a weight had been lifted off me. (By the way, you can approach Him the same way at home too!) The next day I read another homeschooling mom’s blog and some of her words in a post really hit me. She basically said, ” My job is my home, my husband, my kids, ….and when there is time we find ways to minister together.” My priorities were off! Keep your eyes focused on what’s important. God first- spend time in his word daily and in prayer. When you do that it IS your time! He will refresh you and give you strength! He will change your view of the situation. You are not a maid. You have an amazing calling as a homemaker, wife, and mother! The things that seem trivial and mundane are so important in the long run. You are shaping your children’s lives. You are helping your husband be a better man. You are caring for him so that he has the strength to take care of the family financially and spiritually. Hopefully he is leading in these ways- if not, then setting a good example through your life, love, and service is all the more important. Finally, read starting in Luke 10:40, about busy Martha working and asking Jesus to have her sister help her. He told Martha how she was troubled with many things and her sister, Mary, was doing what was needed: sitting and listening at His feet. Everytime I start feeling overwhelmed I can always examine myself and see the lack of spending time with my Savior, my best friend, my healer, my refresher, my source of love and strength and joy- JESUS! He is so loving and good. He cares about your every trouble and need, go to Him. You are in my prayers 🙂 Jessi

  15. Although my chore routine doesn’t look exactly like this, I do clean more for maintenance in order to avoid larger, longer cleanups later.

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