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Clean and Declutter in 7 Minutes

  • Wendell T. Webber

  • iStockphoto

  • Susan Gilmore

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Pare Down Paper

When it comes to household and family to-dos, I love to see what I can accomplish in the shortest possible time. It's so much easier to dive right in when you're only committing to a few minutes, agrees Ellen Kosloff, a time-management expert at Task Masters in New York City. "Besides, when we try to do too much at once we can feel paralyzed and overwhelmed." Her solution? Shrink big, tedious chores to a manageable size. What works best for me is spending minutes—and in some cases mere seconds—doing at least a portion of those chores. See for yourself. Try tackling any of the following tasks—each one takes less than seven minutes. You just might find you'll get lots done—and wonder how you did so much in so little time!

Pare Down Paper

  • Keep documents orderly. Don't just drop papers relating to insurance, renovations and your home business onto a common stack. File them in separate labeled folders, and you'll know just where to find the specific policy or bill of sale you need.
  • Stand next to a recycling container while opening mail. Toss in the junk items, then open everything else, chucking envelopes and the flyers inserted with bills into the bin.
  • Consolidate bill paying. If you pay each bill when it's due, you'll be handling bills several times each month. Instead, pay all bills at the same time for efficiency.
  • Organize your memories. Date-label packets of freshly processed photos. Writing, "June 15, 2005, family trip to Disney World," on the packet will make tracking easier when you're looking for the perfect photo for your family Christmas card.

What Do You Most Want to Hide?

When guests come over, what's your "trouble spot" that you most want to fix up or hide in a hurry?


Clean Routine

  • Vacuum high-traffic carpet areas twice per week—even if they appear spotless. It's a slam-dunk time-wise compared to vacuuming a truly grubby carpet.
  • Use a treated cloth (such as a Swiffer) on your hardwood floors and stairs in between regular vacuuming or wet-mopping. "The cloths get rid of all those dust bunnies, as well as cat hair and dander," says Miyo Amaral Bonvolanta of Chicago.
  • Do a "good enough" job now. Many chores aren't worth doing perfectly every time. If the shower stall or tub needs cleaning, do a quick-scrub or use a shower spray that cuts soap scum. Save surrounding tile and floors for a big cleaning day.
  • Use disposable moist cloths for fast bathroom wipe-downs. Hit the sink first, then the toilet tank lid, seat and base.
  • Before leaving the house in the morning, scatter Tang crystals in your toilet bowl and swish it around with a brush. "When you return home, swish again and flush for sparkling results," advises Maia Gibb of dustingdivas.com, a site that promotes nontoxic cleaners.
  • Start clearing out the junk drawer. The entire job could take hours, but removing items such as loose string or small papers will chip away at the mess a little at a time.
  • Jane Boursaw of Traverse City, Michigan, lets laundry build up in one huge basket. But on wash day, she saves time by sorting everything into separate piles—light and dark clothes, towels, sheets—before starting the first load. "That way I can just grab a pile and toss it in the washer without having to stop and sort between each load," she says.
  • Cultivate cleaning rituals. Amaral Bonvolanta runs her dishwasher at night before bed and unloads it every morning while making toast for the family.
  • Do a quick tidy-up last thing at night. Re-shelve books, stack magazines and put hobby-related materials back in their proper places. Drop clothing from the day in the hamper, and make sure your keys are where you'll expect to find them in the morning.

What Do You Most Want to Hide?

When guests come over, what's your "trouble spot" that you most want to fix up or hide in a hurry?


Fast Kitchen Tips

  • Cluster cooking chores. When making a casserole that includes three chopped garlic cloves and a salad dressing that calls for two, chop three cloves, set them aside, and immediately chop the other two. Do the same with other ingredients such as onions. That way you're only cleaning the knife and chopping board once.
  • Look for ways to double-task. Making tea? Put water on to boil and take a few minutes to wipe the kitchen counter, or check the fridge for old condiments or no-longer-fresh produce you can toss. While talking on the phone, bake cookies. My friend Linda clips her portable phone to the pocket of her jeans, dons her headset, and makes her soccer-mom calls as she mixes and bakes. Be sure to set the kitchen timer so you don't burn the cookies!
  • Sort and stash just-bought grocery items in their proper places. I used to stuff plastic bags full of produce on the bottom shelf of the fridge to deal with later. But I ended up wasting time rummaging through those bags to find the right veggies for dinner. Now I unwrap everything and put it in the crisper right away, where I can easily find what I need.

What Do You Most Want to Hide?

When guests come over, what's your "trouble spot" that you most want to fix up or hide in a hurry?


Kidding Around

  • Make tidying fun. When the toy-strewn living room has you near meltdown, clap your hands and say, "Let's see who can get 10 items back in the toy box first. I'm timing you—Ready, Set, Go!" If even half the mess is cleared up, you're ahead of the game!
  • Be playful. When Kia, a friend's 2-year-old, balks at brushing her teeth, she can drag the whole thing out for half an hour. So her mom sings the request: "Now it's time to brush your teeth, brush your teeth, brush your teeth." This makes Kia laugh—and eager to brush.
  • Stockpile gifts for other children. "I buy when I see great gifts for kids the same age as our daughters, who are 6 and 11," says Jeffrey Lee of Seattle, author of Catch a Fish, Throw a Ball, Fly a Kite: 21 Timeless Skills Every Child Should Know and Any Parent Can Teach (Crown). "Now we don't face frantic, last-minute buying on the day of a birthday party."
  • Review and update your calendar with each child's activities. (You won't show up for a school swim meet on the wrong day!) Boursaw recommends writing directly on your calendar rather than on sticky notes. "Otherwise you spend extra minutes transferring the notes later," she says.
  • Encourage kids to load their backpacks when their homework is done. "This will save you battling sleepy kids in the morning when they're getting ready for school," says Lee.
  • Give help now, not later. If your 6-year-old needs a little help with his homework, take time out from whatever you're doing. You'll not only save him some frustration, but helping your child is always time well spent—no matter how long it takes!

What Do You Most Want to Hide?

When guests come over, what's your "trouble spot" that you most want to fix up or hide in a hurry?

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