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A smoother-running household in one minute or less

Let me say up front that I’m in no way an exemplary housekeeper! I’ve been on and off the Flylady bandwagon for over 8 years (mostly off, lol), and I’ve tried many other methods of getting household messes under control. Because we homeschool, our house is very, well . . . lived in. Every day there are countless opportunities for the entire house to descend into clutter and turmoil. Suffice it to say, the constant vigilence that keeps chaos at bay is not something that comes naturally to me.

I am better at keeping house than I was when I started, though. There are several strategies that I’ve tried that have made a real difference in my ability to keep a (more or less) smoothly running and welcoming home environment. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is how much of a difference routinely getting a few small tasks right can make.

One of the most helpful techniques for making that happen? The “I thought of it, so now I have to do it” rule. It’s very simple, really. I have a few tasks, each taking about 1 minute or less, that I have to complete whenever I happen to think of them. No negotiation or procrastination is allowed, whatsoever. Even if I’m running late, I can take 1 minute to do something, if I think of it.

I’ve found that I can actually make myself do these tasks because I have timed each one, and I can tell myself with complete confidence that it’ll only take 1 minute, or 37 seconds, or whatever the time is for the task in question. It doesn’t take as much willpower as cleaning out a closet or decontaminating the refrigerator. In fact, once you realize how little time it really takes, you feel silly even considering putting it off for later.

So what kinds of tasks are suitable for this sort of exercise?

Well, one of my first candidates was emptying the kitchen trash can whenever it got anywhere even close to full. (This was the inspiration for my post, The Garbage Can is a Metaphor for Life.) As that post points out, you simply can’t justify piling up the trash any more once you realize it only takes a minute (or less) and doing it every time means you will never again have to deal with another Mount Trashmore.

Another good candidate is making your bed. This one seems insignificant, but it helps keep my whole bedroom looking tidy and comfortable. It takes me literally 20-30 seconds. If your bed takes longer than a minute to make up (and you are a reasonably mobile and healthy adult), you should seriously consider simplifying your bedding!

Swishing and swiping” the bathroom is another great example. Flylady showed me that this task actually takes only seconds each morning, as I’m getting ready for the day. (It probably takes about as long to actually do it as it does to read about it!) I:

  • Use my wet washcloth to wipe off the sink and countertop. (15 seconds)
  • Spray daily shower cleaner in the shower stall. (10 seconds)
  • Swish toilet, and wipe up any drips or hair with a hank of damp toilet paper. (15 seconds)

That’s 40 seconds to a tidy bathroom, on a daily basis. Mirror cleaning, sweeping, and mopping are done periodically, as I have the time. The key to success with this one is to be sure not to have too much “stuff” on your countertops. You don’t want to have to wipe around and under tons of clutter. Again, simplicity is King!

The task I’m working on now is a little trickier for me, because it does take 2-3 minutes. Unloading the dishwasher removes a huge potential bottleneck in kitchen cleanliness, though. You can’t empty your sink if the dishwasher is full of dishes. The overflow of dishes then backs up onto countertops, bars, tables, etc. One thing leads to another, so just clearing out that dishwasher makes the whole kitchen easier to handle. Because I’ve learned that 2-3 minutes really isn’t that long, I’m actually having pretty good results with this experiment, too. It really helps if your cabinets are decluttered enough that you can easily fit your dishes into them.

Tips for best results when using this rule:

  • Time yourself, at first, just to prove it really takes only a matter of seconds to complete your task.
  • Watch out when your silly brain tries to tell you, “I don’t have time for that right now.” Of course you have time for it! You just timed it, and it takes less than a minute. If you’d just done it right away instead of arguing with yourself about it, it’d be done by now!
  • Don’t add too many items to your list at once. This is critical to your success. Too many new ideas at once makes you have to think about strategies way too much. You don’t want to try to remember what and how and when you should be doing something, you want to spend your time actually doing something well. Figure out a simple way to get one or two things done, and then practice doing them as often as you can, until you can do them with hardly a second thought! At that point you can add another item to the list. I know you’re going to want to make a list with all kinds of little tasks on it. Do. Not. Do. That. Yes, I’m talking specifically to YOU. Why don’t you just pick two things right now? Have fun!
  • Institute a “triple jeopardy” rule, which means you can’t be forced to do more than 2 tasks in a row. When I started using the ITOISNIHTDO rule, I got a little intimidated by the thought that I’d think of task after task that I needed to do, and then I’d have to do them all at once. So, I made this addendum to help me relax. I can do the extra tasks if I want to, but I don’t have to do more than 2 of them if it isn’t a convenient time.
  • In practice, I often do chain several of these tasks together, especially in the mornings. I usually don’t mind, because I love how much I can accomplish with such little effort. If I get tired of it though, I can let myself off the hook after the first two.

I think you’ll find that as you gradually add items to your mental list of things you must do when you think of them, you’ll have more and more little tasks that you habitually do, without even thinking about it. I’ll be thinking about what I need to defrost for supper, and before I know it, I’ve wiped the bathroom counters and made my bed with no mental effort on my part.

If you are looking to add some good habits to your approach to housekeeping, consider trying the “I thought of it, so now I have to do it” rule. Let me know if it helps!

Also, I’ve mentioned a few possibilities in this post, but there are many more 1 minute or less tasks that can make a significant difference in how well your household runs. Feel free to add your suggestions for more in the comments!

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10 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Great suggestions!

  2. Anna

    Great advice! I love the ITOISNIHTDO rule.

  3. april

    Thanks a bunch, Melissa and Anna!

    And I just noticed that it looks like I made a typo. Technically, it should be ITOISNIHTDI, not ITOISNIHTDO. But it was late when I was writing, and frankly, it is pretty hard to spell that sucker. Definitely a candidate for cut and paste.

    In my continuing quest to vanquish perfectionism, (does it sound like I’m making any progress? lol) I’m just going to leave it be, instead of editing the post.

  4. I love this idea! I posted about it on my blog! This will really help out around here now that I’ve packed a ton of the “junk” up!

  5. april

    Thanks for the link, and for the great ideas! I especially love the “sweep the living room” idea. We think having to sweep is such a big chore, but really, you could do it 10 times a day and you’d only be out 10 minutes. (No, I’m not saying we should be sweeping 10 times a day!)

    Again, I think the key with that is to a)have the clutter up off the floor (my knitting pile had to be moved to make room for the tree yesterday, anyway) and b)Don’t obsess over getting it perfect.

    Which is better: making a big production out of taking 15 minutes to meticulously sweep every nook and cranny, causing yourself to put it off and do only once a week, or doing a quick 1 minute sweep once or twice a day? I bet the house looks better more of the week with the latter!

  6. Your welcome!

    I’m adding “getting up the dirty laundry” to my list. And now that I’ve cleared out a HUGE box of unnecessary stuff in my kitchen and moved the dishes to a different cabinet I think I might could empty the dishwasher in a minute (maybe two).

  7. april

    Yes, I need to get some more unnecessary dishes cleared out of my cabinets. I bet I could trim the dishwasher down from 2-3 minutes to 1 or 2.

    And, more importantly, the emptier cabinets will mean less brainpower is required. I think we put the dishwasher off sometimes, not because it takes a long time, but because we don’t want to have to think about how to get everything in the cabinets without injury to ourselves or our glassware.

    Jigsaw puzzles can be fun, but who wants to go through all that just to get the dishwasher unloaded?

    Yep, zen cabinets is next on my list.

    Oh, and my husband invented a laundry strategy that really works great for us. I’ll try to blog about that this week!

  8. mom o six

    To help with the dirty dish back up, when my assigned son doesn’t unload the dish washer first thing in the morning, he has to do all the dishes that have accumulated. He does these dishes on his morning recess on school days. This has only happened once or twice since we began with this rule and it means that I can easily do the breakfast dishes quickly in the morning since the dish washer is always unloaded before he starts school!

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