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If you can’t do it all, do these three things.

Laura Vanderkam often mentions that one way to reduce the amount of time you need to spend on household maintenance is to reduce your standards.

If you decide that surfaces don’t have to be dust-free, you can dust less often (or never!).

jewelry drawer

Or if you decide that fingerprints on walls and mirrors aren’t a deal-killer, you can skip cleaning those regularly.

I subscribe to this style of thinking to an extent.

LED bathroom fan light


For example, I usually know it’s time to clean my shower when I happen to step in with my contacts still in place and notice the pink slime growing on the floor.

(Usually I shower without my contacts in, which means I can’t really see the floor.   Or the pink slime.)

I dust my ceiling fans only when they’re blanketed with dust, I rarely wash my floors (we do sweep every day!), I change our bed sheets pretty infrequently, and I’m not sure I’ve ever washed the outsides of my windows.

(This works best with jobs that don’t get incrementally harder the longer you put them off.   If you clean your bathroom mirror once a month, the job doesn’t take four times as long as if you cleaned it once a week.   You still have to spray the whole surface and wipe the whole surface down. It’s not really any more overwhelming!)

tallboy dresser painted black

Anyway, there are a lot of household jobs that can be put off/done less frequently without having serious consequences for your lifestyle.

So, if you’ve got to pick and choose what you can do, let those jobs go, especially if you’re in an unusually stressful or busy season of life.

Then you can focus your energy on the tasks that really will become problematic if they’re left undone.

For me, those are the following:

1. Laundry

It’s true: ten loads of laundry take the same amount of time no matter when you do them.

costco laundry detergent

But unless you’ve got an enormous wardrobe, you can’t put this task off indefinitely without experiencing some unhappy consequence.

You’ll eventually run out of clothes (this is inconvenient when you’re trying to get out the door!), and a huge pile of laundry is very overwhelming.

So, when I’m short on time for household tasks, I almost always prioritize laundry.   People need clean clothes. And towels.

(A bonus of having a smallish wardrobe is that you are forced to A) prioritize this task or B) face going starkers.)

2. Paper Clutter/Mail

This is another one of those things that has a tendency to pile up and become overwhelming.

decluttering papers

Plus, disorganized piles of papers often have important stuff hiding in them (bills, appointment reminders, tax papers, checks, etc.), and it’s easy to lose track of that stuff if you haven’t separated them from the junk.

These can be expensive papers to lose!

So, no matter what else is going on, I try to deal with paper clutter daily.

I immediately recycle any and all junk mail so that the only papers that stay in the house are important ones.

And then the important ones usually go on the fridge with a chip clip.   I have a chip clip for bills to pay, a chip clip for coupons, and I have a chip clip for checks that need to be deposited.

It’s not fancy, but it works for me. 😉

3. Cooking

Cooking isn’t a task that piles up over time, but there are a lot of reasons I prioritize this task anyway.

First of all, people need to eat every day.   You can clean your mirror once a month, but you can’t just feed people once a month!

Secondly, eating out instead of cooking has some pretty serious negative financial consequences. I can feed my family at home for several days on what it costs us to get one fast food meal, so eating out is kind of a dumb choice for us to make regularly.

Thirdly, eating out is almost always less healthy than eating what I cook at home.

So!   Even if I don’t always do a rock star job at other household tasks, I really, really try to cook at home almost all of the time.

It’s not like I feel compelled to make gourmet meals every night. I just need to get something that’s reasonably healthy onto the table.

What are your top three tasks?

I’d love to hear in the comments!

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Friday 22nd of September 2017

Our big three are laundry, dishes, and garbage/recycling. If we keep up with laundry then everyone has what they need to wear and it doesn't smell (l work very hard to only do full loads). By keeping up with the dishes the kitchen looks better, we are able to cook, and it doesn't smell or attract creatures. Same idea with keeping up with the garbage/recycling- plus less clutter if recycling is dealt with.

After that, ideally the floors and bathroom are worked on. The bare bones plan is to deal with health and safety first so the bathroom would be fourth.


Thursday 21st of September 2017

1) Cooking (ditto on expense and nutrition issues), although I do a "big cook/prep" and freeze once a week, which helps. 2) Dishes, because otherwise, in the big city, small visitors come. (Ew.) 3) Check mail/email and add to my to do book to make sure it's timely. Even if work is busy, I then can check that day to see if anything is priority and I can make a call, etc. on a five-minute work break.


Wednesday 20th of September 2017

We live in a small condo, so my priorities are 1. Definitely a spotless kitchen at almost all times so there is never a reason for insects to come into our place (plus with multiple food allergies in the family, obnoxious cleanliness is a must - even though all meals are homemade. Cleaning as I go has become second-nature to save my sanity, especially when I learned that some neighbors had dealt with roaches - ewww!). My kitchen is also tiny, so again, I have little choice. 2. Clean bathrooms at all times - one of my children and I each have super-sensitive sniffers and feel compelled to keep them obnoxiously spotless. 3. Vacuuming every other day. Even though we don't wear shoes indoors or live near a busy road, our dust bunnies magically multiply on a daily basis, and one of my kids has allergies so I often must vacuum daily with my bazillion-dollar (yet truly fabulous) Miehle HEPA vacuum. 4. Staying on top of paperwork.

I spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning and cooking, and as a result, there is way too much clutter building up and causing serious sleep-stealing stress.

I've just begun doing all the food prep and almost all the cooking on Saturdays, so that will free up some time to start dealing with the clutter, both kids' and adults'. Oh, and to start house hunting for an actual house!!


Wednesday 20th of September 2017

Our lists are pretty similar overall, although in my household we do laundry every other Saturday, just have it automatically set in my brain to collect all the clothes from the hampers as soon as I wake up on a Saturday morning to start the trek downstairs where my washing machine is.

Dishes are also hardly ever overlooked because it can be so frustrating to try to cook something or make a pot of coffee when they are piled high in the sink.

We also tend to cook at home precisely for the reasons you gave, and vacuuming also happens semi-regularly because we have dogs and if you don't do it, it just becomes a huge, hairy mess.

Laurie Villotta

Wednesday 20th of September 2017

I taught my girls from a very young age to fold clothes. When they were 2 they started folding wash cloths. Now at 9&13 the fold all the laundry and put it away every weekend. There are only 3 of us so I do all laundry over the weekend. I do not like the idea of laundry sitting in the dryer or clothes basket for the week. My girls also take care of our dog full time. They walk her,feed and water her everyday. They mow the yard,take out trash and recycling,load the dishwasher. I only clean on the weekends. I am too tired after getting of work to do much. I do the cooking some nights,but my mom feed them 3 nights a week. We have a small home and live in the upstairs so everything is very manageable. With online grocery shopping I do not need to be in the stores every week. Being a single is was mandatory that we all pitch in and take some of the stress off me to do everything. My girls are amazing and someday they will be very prepared to live on their own.

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