A Housework Routine That Keeps Me Sane

I am a very messy person. I can effortlessly make enormous messes by never putting anything away, leaving things out 'for later', and putting things in piles... because, well, why not? I also have a gene which allows me to sit in the middle of this giant mess, reading a book and oblivious to the world. It's a wonder I have never lost a child in amongst it all, really. For very many years of my housekeeping life, I lived in a rather tumultuous mess that I alternately ignored, or which worried me terribly, because I wasn't quite sure what to do about it. Then a few years ago, fairly simultaneously with starting this blog, we started a huge renovation, which required that we pare down our possessions to the bone and live in about three rooms for several months. It nearly killed me.

But I realised something important. I need far less 'things' than I had imagined possible, the house looked very beautiful with hardly any possessions in it when it was finished, and I didn't ever want to go back to living in a big mess.

Over the last two years I have slowly developed a set of routines that I mindlessly follow everyday. I know if I do it all, all the time, the house will be spotless. I rarely do it all, but I do enough, enough of the time, that it looks fairly OK all the time. I have since realised that the reason I was so overwhelmed by housework, was that I saw it as an enormous amorphous blob, without form or structure, beginning or end. Having a routine means that when I have finished the day's work, it is done. No more until tomorrow's jobs. Sufficient unto the day.. then I can read my book in a lovely tidy space instead.

Here are my routines. There is one for the beginning of the day, one for the evening, one for the days of the week. This means the weekends are gloriously free, except for the morning and evening ritual..


The last child, and The Man leave for school and work at 8.30 every morning. Before then, I aim to have the beds aired and made (I make mine, nag at the others), dishwasher emptied and repacked, first load of washing on. After the morning rush, I sometimes need another cup of tea. Then, cleaning up the kitchen, which generally looks like a bomb has gone off in it by half eight. Putting everything away, wiping down the counters, washing the dishes. Then I start at the front door and work my way round the whole living area (hall table, kitchen, dining, living room, hallway) putting away anything that doesn't belong, pushing in the dining chairs plumping up cushions. Feels very 1950s, but sadly I am rarely wearing heels and pearls at this point. Living area now clean and tidy, and will likely stay that way for SIX WHOLE HOURS! Do the same for bathroom, and change hand towel.


5ish I start nagging the children to clear the dining table and put away their stuff from the living areas. I continue to do this and cook dinner, and drive children to and from various extra curricular activities, all at the same time. After dinner, we try to parcel out the clearing and dinner dishes jobs more or less fairly. From 7 until 9 during the week during term time it is homework time, no TV or screens. The Man and I take turns (not in any kind of organised way) putting Posy to bed and cleaning up the kitchen. Wipe down the stove, sweep the floor. Again, a quick sweep around, putting away things that don't belong in the living area. This time we can make the children put them away. Then, peace again in a lovely tidy space. And maybe a drink..

Weekly Routine

Monday: Laundry. Wash everything in the washing basket until it is empty.
Dusting every room (except for the three older children's rooms, who theoretically do this themselves. Ditto vacuuming). Vacuuming all the rooms, including couches, laundry and bathrooms. Don't forget to vacuum the bathtub with the upholstery attachment. It looks almost as if you have cleaned it...
Grocery shopping. Menu planning.
Tuesday: Laundry. Master bed sheets and all the towels.
Cleaning the bathrooms and the laundry. Alternate weeks, scrubbing the grout, or mopping all the floors.
Wednesday: Laundry. Wash everything in the washing basket until it is empty.
Vacuuming living areas. Half and hour to an hour on The House Project*.
Thursday: Laundry. Children's sheets.
Friday: Laundry. Wash everything in the washing basket until it is empty.
Vacuuming living areas and bathrooms, including that tub. Cleaning toilets, basins.
Cleaning kitchen. This was once too big a project, so I broke it down. Each week I clean one of the four walls of the kitchen, vacuuming out drawers, cleaning down cupboard fronts, cleaning out fridge, cleaning oven, range hood, dishwasher, bin cupboard etc. It all gets done over the course of a month.

The Boy does his own laundry, and takes turns cleaning the downstairs bathroom with me. The Boy and The Girl wash their sheets on the weekend, the three oldest vacuum and dust their rooms (ha). They all give me a hand with everything else if they are feeling helpful at the time..

*The House Project. Starting at the front door and working all the way around the house doing everything that isn't covered in the weekly cleaning. Washing windows, light fittings, cleaning out cupboards etc. This takes several months because it is the job that most often gets dropped... still, at least it happens more often than never..

I would love to know how other people arrange their housework. It is not such a popular subject at dinner parties, but for goodness sake, everyone has to do it, and I am an incurable nosey parker. How do you get yours done?

Edited to add: I have since posted some very detailed (OK, obsessively exhaustive) daily routines to walk you through a week of household routines. You can find them starting here.


Heather said…
Vacuum the bathtub? I'm flummoxed. I've never heard of that before.

I am horrible at cleaning and I am horrible at routines. I'll spend a bunch of time making a routine on paper and by day 2 it is forgotten. Mostly every day I dust, sweep, vacuum, pick up clutter, and do laundry. I also wipe down the bathroom counters and mirrors and the toilets. At night I always clean up the kitchen after dinner. Otherwise, either my daughter or I will empty the dishwasher on the days it needs it. I mop the floors once a week, except for the kitchen which is done nightly. I only clean the tubs when it is obvious I have been avoiding cleaning the tubs. As for the windows...never. I never wash the windows. My husband will before we have a party, but I really don't give a hoot! Oh, and I iron clothes only when the situation is desperate. Wrinkles don't bother me so much, either.
Jo said…
Hi Heather - re vacuuming the bath tub - I have three girls with very long hair, which gets everywhere, particularly the bathroom. Hence all the vacuuming. One day while I was doing the bathroom floor, I thought, why not continue into the tub? Works brilliantly.
I love seeing the differences between households. See, you are a very conscientious mopper, but I would empty and fill the dishwasher twice a day. We clearly eat a lot more at our house!
I hate cleaning windows too, so I pay the children to do it when I am up to them. And I only iron school uniforms and business shirts. I don't mind this, as I feel I have a legitimate claim to choose the TV program if I am ironing. Everyone has to watch Downton Abbey or gardening shows while I am ironing..
Anonymous said…
Jo, growing up my response to request from my family to do chores was always, "I have to finish this chapter." My mother was always amazed I could sit in the middle of chaos and read. I still can! Which is just as well because my house is often messy. Can't help with a routine because I don't have one. More a mad, frantic cleanup when I have had enough! I continue to declutter in the hope that it wil make my cleaning and tidying up easier.

I don't iron my children's clothes, except the youngest's school clothes. Don't do my husband's either. He does his own. We do have some divisions of labour that work for us, eg I load the washing machine, he hangs out the washing and brings it in, I fold the washing. Kids' bathroom is up to them. Except when I have guests staying over, then I scrub like mad. I also have a PhD in nagging. And now I am back from my week away, will resume nagging to get the kids to do their bit.
Jo said…
Ha, your mother and mine have a lot in common!
If I worked outside home I think the division of labour would be a lot different. Currently, whenever The Man is home he has a paintbrush in his hand, for which I am very grateful, as I hate painting. So I think the arrangement we have is fair. He works full time, and does all the renovating (and washes the car, and does some of the dishes, and pours drinks while I'm making dinner, and fixes the children's toys, and changes the light bulbs..etc). I do everything else. Except for what I can achieve with the children by way of nagging... I mean, enabling their Life Skills.

You know, it has just occurred to me, that I still make school lunches for three of my four children. I am sure they could do that. I have just never trusted that they could do that AND get to the bus on time.. I'm sure a 17yo should be able to manage that though. I am just a tragic helicopter parent..

I hope your nagging, sorry, Life Skill enabling, works well for you these holidays..
Anonymous said…
Jo, your division of labour sounds fair. I read a book on happiness lately and it said people always assume their job is more critical/important and harder and that they do more - be it at work or at home. I thought that was spot on. Mr Sans and I always claim we have the more difficult chores! I am sure I am right!!!

I stopped making lunch for my eldest when he was in Year 11 after hearing the author of Growing Gorgeous Boys Into Good Men. She said boys will step up to the mark and make their own lunches. We were not helping them with learning life skills. Sure enough, he started making his own. And when I offered to make them occasionally, he was very appreciative rather than expecting. I made his lunches for the HSC year but stopped again when he started uni. My youngest is a different kettle of fish. I make his sandwiches or he won't eat or will buy junk. But next year after he finished high school, he too will have to make his own.

I will let you know how the life skill education goes. Today is "Clean your bathroom day" and "Use the vacuum cleaner well day".

But as it is soooo cold after Alice , I don't know if I can even get out of bed!
Jo said…
Lucinda, you are clearly the winner at chores. I can tell from all the way over here.
I am in two minds about lunch. It's kind of easier to do it myself, but that's not the point, really, is it. Can I stand for mornings to get even more chaotic? In the name of Life Skills?
I'm thinking of taking a leaf out of your book and staying in bed tomorrow. I have 3, yes, three, extra girls sleeping over tonight, and tomorrow morning will not be pretty. They will be making pancakes..
I could have written the first 6 lines of this blog post myself, as it describes me so precisely!! I'm not very good at housework routines, even though I do try. My goal is to be doing a little bit as I go and have a reasonably tidy house all the time, but I seem to still have to have monster cleaning blitz sessions as things tend to fall apart on the days I work!
Jo said…
I think the main reason I slowly began to develop this cleaning routine is that I HATE monster cleaning blitz sessions! Mind you, I haven't added work days to the mix. I am contemplating going back to university next year which will really test the system..
di said…
Just read your blog I keep a reasonable house but get so frustrated that I never get all things tidied away. I think if I follow your idea of keep putting things away. Only cleaning when cleaning. And special declutter sessions weekly I may finally get on top of what I call the not enough cupboards problem!!! Hoping your motivation works
Jo said…
Di, I am cheering for you here! I am currently in the middle of selling the house, and so I am all about tidy right now. Every morning I do a quick survey of all the rooms, and put every single thing away (or get the kids to) down to the last bobby pin. Of course, many weeks of further decluttering also went into this outcome! It is amazing to live in such a tidy house, and really needs only half an hour or so a day to sustain it. So you go for it, and let me know how it works out (also hearing you on the not-enough-cupboards problem!)

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