I Had a Messy House for Years (Because of This Cleaning Mistake)- Podcast or Post #1

“My house is always dirty!” Learn how a busy mom who had a messy house got it under control & how she now keeps her house clean.

Do you struggle to keep your home looking presentable after you’ve cleaned it? Does it look decent for guests? But a few days after they’ve left, you once again have a really messy house and there’s clutter everywhere?

In this Podcast or Post, you can read or listen to what I realized was a big cleaning mistake that was keeping my house messy, and 3 steps I took to change it.

(Below you can read the post or play the podcast version- about 18 mins.)

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Play the audio for this podcast here or download it in full by clicking on the 3 dots to the right of the volume control. You may also choose to read the transcript below.

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Read the Post

Hi there! I’m Ellie, and welcome to the House Gone Sane Podcast or Post. I share home management tips and strategies that make home a little less crazy.

About Me (The Quick Version)

I’m a wife and mom & stepmom of 4 kids total.

And the brutally honest truth is that I used to be not so great at managing my home.

Related: 7 Cleaning Tips After Growing Up in a Messy House (Podcast or Post #24)

Gradually, though, I made adjustments to the way that I did things. And after years of struggles, I now finally feel like I’m in a good place with managing my home.

Why I Started this Podcast or Post

I’ve come to realize that there are other moms, women, and people who struggle with this. So I decided to add podcasts or posts on with my website.

Hopefully these strategies can help and encourage others who haven’t found a good home system and routine yet.

The Frustration I Had With My Home

I would clean pretty much every day for a significant amount of time. But my house was still embarrassingly messy a LOT of the time.

And it was overwhelming and frustrating. Short of cleaning in the middle of the night, I felt helpless as to what else I could possibly do to keep my home under control.

The Biggest Cleaning Mistake I was Making

dirty dishes pile up in the kitchen the day after they were washed

I was not consistently maintaining the areas of my home that I’d already caught up on.

When my whole house was out of control, there were dirty dishes & clutter piles on all of my counters. My stove wasn’t properly wiped down in days or maybe weeks.

So at this low point in my home, I would try to get it under control.

But it’s impossible to get a home all under control at once.

So I’d start in the kitchen, and I’d do the dishes and wipe down the stove. And I’d spend an entire day’s worth of cleaning making some serious progress in my kitchen- which is good.

The Next Day Fail

The next day, I would look around my house at other rooms and areas, that were now a lot worse than my relatively presentable kitchen. If I was still on my spurt of cleaning motivation, I’d then try to catch up on the bathroom that I hadn’t cleaned in a week or 2.

Now I know, some people can clean their bathroom once a week, and it looks fine up until that point. (With my family, that does not work, because we have 6 people, most of which don’t clean up after themselves.) So, a day after the bathroom is clean, it definitely needs attention to stay presentable.

Here is where I went wrong: I would totally forget about the kitchen, and I would move to another area of the house, which at the time, needed a lot more help than the kitchen, because it looked a lot worse.

And so, I feel like this is sometimes a common mistake, that may be keeping other people’s homes messy too.

From a logical standpoint, why would you re-clean something, or a whole room, that barely needs to be cleaned, when you have all these other areas of your house that look a million times worse, right?

If someone randomly stopped by, I wouldn’t be humiliated by my kitchen. Because even though, realistically, it probably wasn’t as clean as ideally I’d like it to be, it looked a whole lot better than pretty much every other room in my house.

So I’d forget about the kitchen, and I would move on to a different area.

As a result, the kitchen would gradually get worse. And I wouldn’t even notice, because up until the point where it was out of control again, it looked cleaner than normal.

Even if I was doing some dishes every day, which I often DID do- I pretty much did do dishes just about every day- I wasn’t keeping my kitchen presentable.

I Managed to Clean My House for Guests

a dining room table is set and the house is clean for guests

If we had guests coming over, I would get the house looking relatively decent. (At least, it looked better than normal.)

And I might keep it that way for a few days after, maybe a week after. But I’d struggle to maintain it for longer than that.

How Others Kept Their House Clean When I Couldn’t

To be honest it was very, very frustrating.

I would think, ‘how is it that other busy moms and people can keep their house looking as clean and neat as a hotel, and I can’t manage to keep mine that way even for a little bit?’

Then I realized my home never really got beyond a certain level of messy. So in a way I was actually maintaining a certain level of clutter.

In theory, if I could do that, then I could spend the same amount of effort maintaining a clean home, instead of a cluttered one.

I thought about people whose homes are consistently clean. I asked myself, ‘what do they do to keep them that way?’

And as silly as it sounds, I realized that they simply keep their homes clean.

They clean when their homes barely need to be cleaned. They wiped up the 2 crumbs on the counter, when I didn’t. And they’d wash all of their dishes every single meal, or at least daily, and not wait for the sink to get full, like I did.

They’d wipe off the smear of liquid on the stove or remnants of food that were on their table, instead of leaving it there.

My problem, was I would wait until things really looked like they needed to be done, instead of doing them when they barely needed to be done.

Why My House Looked Messy

Inevitably, because I would wait for my house to look messy before I’d clean it, it looked messy. And as a result, it would also take me longer to clean.

So, just an example, it would maybe take me 30 minutes to clean my stove with hardened spills on it, that I had to scrub off, instead of less than 1-2 minutes that it takes now, because I just wipe it off during my daily cleaning routine.

The House Cleaning Change I Needed to Make

If I wanted to keep my house clean, I couldn’t just ‘catch up’ on cleaning tasks. I had to find a way to maintain the areas of my home that I already caught up on.

Even though I wasn’t a fan of routines, I needed to make one that would allow me to keep up with my home.

But here was where I was at a disadvantage in comparison with people who have an orderly, clean home.

The Problem with Starting a Routine When Your Home is Messy

If I were to just figure out a daily cleaning routine, there’s no way I’d be able to actually do it all in one day, at least not at the beginning, in the first few days.

Because my home was so out of control and because I’m also really busy as a mom & wife, it just wasn’t realistic for me to be able to get through all of my tasks that I should do in a day, at first.

Just to clarify, I’m not saying that it’d never be possible, but it wasn’t possible for me to do it all in a day, at first.

The Solution that Ended My Vicious Messy House Cycle

clean & organized living room

I figured out a way to get into a routine, while catching up on my house, but without neglecting to keep up with what I’d caught up already.

By making it a priority to maintain the progress I’d made, and then doing that every day, before trying to catch up more, I finally broke a vicious cycle that had kept my home messy for so long.

Even though it didn’t make sense to wipe off the 3 crumbs on my kitchen counter, and even though someone might not even notice them, and even though I had piles of clutter in my living room that looked way worse, just by keeping that one area maintained and under control, before I moved on to do something else that day, I’ve made sooo much progress and maintained that progress throughout my house.

And that’s not to say that my house is perfect, because it’s not. But as a rule, it’s generally presentable.

Because I would catch up on one area and maintain that area before moving on to a new one, I no longer have those huge piles of clutter that used to be on top of all my surfaces in my house– all because I stopped making the mistake of not maintaining my progress.

This sounds kind of simple, but there are very specific strategies and methods that I used.

I want to just share a quick overview, so if you happen to be making the same mistake I was, (that I made for a very, very long time,) and you don’t know where to start, this is an actionable plan you can take starting today, to improve your home.

Just changing how I cleaned and being strategic, I’m now able to keep my home under control. And actually, I keep it clean in the same amount of time or less time, than I used to take with a cluttered house that was not under control.

So here is what I did to make that change.

3 Major Things I Did to Get My Home Under Control

1.) I did a walk-through of my house & wrote down every area in each room that would get dirty/cluttered/need to be cleaned at least once a week.

a daily cleaning checklist is shown, which can be used to write down all the cleaning tasks to do on cleaning days

Basically, I wrote down all the things that would get dirty after the guests left.

I wrote these in a logical order. I started with the room that I naturally cleaned first, which for me was the kitchen.

Know that your list doesn’t have to be perfect. I’ve changed mine a few times now, but you do want to start somewhere.

So just start making a list, and go from there.

Know that you’re not going to do all these tasks the first day. (That is, unless you have the time and you’re really ambitious.) I certainly don’t expect you to get through all of the tasks on Day 1 or even Day 5.

The goal is for you to be able to get through that list every day eventually.

That doesn’t mean that you need to do every task that’s on the list every single day. Just to go in order of the tasks on the days you clean and check if the tasks need to be done.

If a task doesn’t look like it needs to be done and the area is still sanitary, then skip it. You don’t want to waste time cleaning stuff that’s already clean and presentable.

When something does need to be done, then you do it.

That’s how I go through the tasks in my daily checklist.

However, as I said, I wouldn’t expect you to get through all of the tasks within the first few days, if you’re starting with a somewhat cluttered/messy home.

Someone starting with a very orderly home that’s just looking for a strategy/routine, they could likely get through all of the tasks in a day. That would be realistic, and it is the eventual goal anyways- that’s what we want to get to.

But with the strategy that I use, if you’re already starting with a cluttered home, you’re going to work your way up to it. This way it’s doable, not overwhelming, and you won’t burn yourself out while you’re trying to do that.

(Update 05/04/2021: Since originally writing this post, I have switched to cleaning 6 days a week and resting on the 7th day, so when I use the word ‘daily’ please understand it as most days but not literally every day.)

2.) I decided to use a countdown timer to time myself while cleaning.

pear kitchen countdown timer

Research supports the idea that timing yourself with a set amount of time actually makes you more efficient and helps you to stay focused.

I personally have seen good results from using a timer to clean.

When I clean for a certain amount of time, I’m focused on doing one task at a time. And I’m going to get as far as I can with the time that I have.

Once the first task is done, I move on to the next one, and so on, until the timer goes off.

Because I do it this way, I’m more focused on the task at hand and the time. I don’t feel overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done.

I can stop cleaning when the timer goes off, even if I didn’t finish everything on my list. I definitely didn’t finish everything in the beginning. But I did make serious progress in the beginning.

Using the method of timing myself, I would set the timer on my phone, for a set amount of time, to do my routine.

Id do one task at a time, in order, getting as far as I could every day before the timer went off.

Then, Id set the timer again. (Note: I would sometimes take a break in between if I needed it.)

This is when I would get anything done urgent or overdue. (I’d do any tasks that should be done that day that I knew I wasn’t going to get to yet with my routine because they were farther down on my list.)

My goal with this was to keep the rest of my house from getting any worse. I didn’t want to get any more behind on other parts of my home while I was making progress in my routine.

Currently, because I’ve made a lot of headway in my house, and I get through my routine, or a good portion of my routine every day, I now only set the timer just for my routine.

I don’t do the ‘catch up’ on urgent tasks anymore. Because I can pretty much get to all the tasks I need to do in that time. (But at the beginning I couldn’t. This is why I previously set a secondary timer for urgent & important tasks.)

As you catch up and maintain areas of your house, it takes less time to maintain them than to catch up on them initially. You can get more done in the same amount of time as you go on.

3.) I decided to be consistent, keep going, and to focus on keeping the visible areas of my house presentable.

woman wiping down kitchen counter to be consistent and keep her house clean

The visible areas are the areas that tend to get cluttered the fastest. They are also what make the house look messy.

So I resisted the urge at the beginning to unnecessarily organize the inside of a desk. Instead I’d focus on keeping the top of it, or the surface, clear of clutter and clean.

At the end of my checklist is to ‘deep clean or organize one area’ if I get to it. Full disclosure, I don’t do that most days. But surprisingly, just keeping the surfaces of my home under control keeps the hidden areas of my home in a better state, even though I haven’t thoroughly organized all of them.

Being consistent with the visible areas of my home has been the one thing that’s made the difference. So in a way, the routine and strategy I use are very simple, but they are also very specific.

What you do, how you do it, and the order you do it in, can make a big difference.

Benefit from Our Free Resource Library

In my free resource library I have a video on the order to clean each room. This video shows you a general, logical order of what to clean first in a room.

I don’t just base this on my own experience with cleaning my home. I also draw from my experience as a business cleaner for a few years. (I did learn some secrets and tips cleaning professionally.)

By cleaning in a certain way and a certain order, you’ll save time. And you’ll avoid re-cleaning areas you already did. When I cleaned professionally, I was trained to clean with a routine. I’d do certain things first and work my way around the building.

Our Daily Cleaning Roadmap can also help you to do this with your house.

If you can just start, and you are consistent, you can and will get your home under control.

If you sign up for the resource library or Daily Cleaning Roadmap & you stay subscribed, I’ll notify you of future podcast or post episodes. And I’ll also let you know when I add other resources to the resource library.

I also have a premium resource library, for a one-time fee, that has additional resources.

Everything I mentioned just now is in my free resource library, so you’ll get it all that for free. If you sign up today, you can get started on a routine with your home.

So that’s pretty much all I have for today.

Just maintain the progress that you make and be consistent every day, even if it means you barely need to clean something, do it! If you just keep things clean and be consistent, you can make progress throughout your house.

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Listen to our next Podcast or Post #2: Simple Meal Planning Strategies

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