Who looks forward to cleaning their house? Unless your name is Alice, and you work for a family named Brady, probably not many of you. Unfortunately, as much as we dread dusting, vacuuming, and mopping the floors, the most time-consuming part of cleaning actually comes before the “real” work.

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You can’t mop the floor until you can find it. You can’t dust the table until you clear off the mail and other accumulations from throughout the week. You can’t do the dishes until you put away the clean ones and clear off the counters. Often, the work before the work is so overwhelming the job just gets postponed until the point where you either call a professional housecleaner or the health department. Take your pick. The good news is with a bit of planning and as little as five minutes each day, almost anyone can keep up on the tiny things that build throughout the week so that when cleaning day does come, you can breeze through the job quicker and without as much drudge work beforehand. Don’t have time you say? Five minutes is all it takes. Just five minutes. Set your alarm five minutes earlier. Read your horoscope once you get to the office. Forgo that second (or third, or fourth) cup of coffee. Spend just five minutes a day and you will be amazed at how much neater your house stays during the week and how much easier your heavy cleaning becomes.

A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place

As corny as it sounds, having a place for everything and returning items to that place will make a difference in how tidy your home appears. And let’s face it, appearance is everything. Getting in the simple habit of returning items to their rightful place when you’re finished with them will save you hours on cleaning day walking around, picking things up and puffing them away. Start as soon as you get up in the morning. Find a designated place in the bathroom for the toothpaste and use it, every day. Do the same with your brushes, combs, hairspray and makeup. A drawer or cabinet under the sink is better than a pile on top of the counter, making it easier to wipe the sink down on cleaning day. It doesn’t take any longer to put the toothpaste in the drawer as opposed to laying it on the counter, as long as you put it away when you already have it in your hand. On your way out, pick towels and dirty laundry up off the floor, storing them in a hamper or basket. You have to walk past the pile anyway. You might as well make the most of your steps. No extra cleaning, you’re just focusing your movements toward specific items. Now you’re got a tidy bathroom and you haven’t even dipped into your five minutes yet. In the kitchen, put clean dishes away immediately. Rinse dirty dishes as soon as you’re finished with them and store in the dishwasher or better yet, give them a little squirt of liquid soap and finish the job. It is surprising how little time it takes to wash your dishes as you use them compared to stacking them up for the entire day.

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A conscious effort in the kitchen after breakfast could cost you about a minute and a half. On your way out the door, watch for any stragglers that are left lying around. Check pillows from the sofa, the remote control on the table and the kids’ toys on the floor. Grab what you can while walking through the room and put items in their proper place. Time spent: 2 minutes total.

Handle Things Only Once

Long a strategy for office workers and those responsible for large amounts of filing, the act of handling objects as few times as possible is a proven technique for being more effective and saving time. Go through the mail as soon as you bring it in the house. Sift through the advertisements, throwing away any you know you won’t be using and filing the valuable ones in a pre-designated container or basket. Open utility bills and statements from creditors, giving balances the once-over to check for any obvious errors. After reviewing them, file immediately in a safe location where you can find them once bill-paying day arrives. And no, the dining room table should not be your safe location! Open correspondence immediately and file in a separate spot to make it easier to respond to. Keeping your correspondence separate from your bills is a psychological strategy which will help you remember to reply to that nice letter you received from your friend instead of blocking it out because it is stored with the less-than-pleasant electric bill. Finally, place magazines and catalogs where they will be read within the next 24 hours. Now your dining room table remains free from clutter, the bills and magazines are already sorted, and that hour-long chore on Saturday is virtually gone. Time spent: 1 minute.

Take Out the Trash

Akin to handling things only once, taking the trash out daily will greatly reduce the amount of trips you make to the garbage can on cleaning day. When opening the mail, throw the envelopes away. After putting the groceries away throw any unnecessary receipts and coupons in the trash instead of piling them in a comer of the kitchen. When you use the last of something from the cupboard or fridge, throw the empty container away instead of stacking it on the counter or worse yet, putting it back empty. Yes this strategy requires more frequent trips to the garbage can during the week, but the time spent in this activity is less than 30 seconds a day, as compared to ten or fifteen minutes on cleaning day. Remember, the stacking and sorting and piling add up exponentially during the week, making the time spent on cleaning day neatly four times as long as the cumulative time spent during the week. Time spent: 30 seconds.

Taming of the Shoe

Shoes, and the flippant storage of them, are one of the biggest nuisances to the person trying to maintain a clean house. We come home from work and kick our shoes off. We run inside from working in the yard and slide out of dirty sneakers. In the morning we can‘t find our shoes in the bedroom so we wear our slippers into the living room, searching for the heels we kicked off the night before.

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The most successful strategy for taming the shoe is to have a specific location, just inside the most commonly used door, where shoes can be stored. A storage trunk, toy box or cedar chest, depending on your décor, works wonders for keeping errant shoes under control. When the shoes come off just open the lid and toss them in. Everyone knows where their shoes are and the floor remains clear. Check daily for loose shoes and remind everyone in the household where shoes are to be stored: either their bedrooms or the trunk. Time spent: 30 seconds

A Clean Sweep

Two of the most dreaded chores on cleaning day is vacuuming and mopping the floors. One of the reasons these are so frustrating is because our floors are one of our most valuable home improvements and the amount of dirt and clutter we pick up just serves as a reminder of the wear and tear going on. However if you vacuum regularly during the week and sweep the hard surface floors with a broom three or four times in between cleaning days, the accumulated mess is reduced, saving you time on the weekends and extending the life of your carpets and floors as well. Even larger rooms can be given the once-over with the vacuum in a minute or so, so use your remaining minute a day concentrating on the floors of your home.

Keep Moving

Remember Sir Isaac Newton? He reminds us that an object in motion tends to stay in motion while an object at rest tends to stay at rest. Take advantage of the motion you already have to keep moving in the direction of a cleaner house. It doesn’t cost you any time to keep moving and puffing things away. In fact, it actually takes longer if you stop, because the force required to get moving again is greater than the force necessary to remain on the job.

Spend just five minutes each day moving toward a cleaner house and enjoy greater free time as a result – it may not be as easy as it sounds at first, but the end results are worth it!