How to Load A Dishwasher (And Have the Dishes Actually Get Clean)

Loading a dishwasher is harder than it looks at first blush. Plates that don’t get clean, glasses with spots all over them, melted plastic takeaway containers — all these things and more can happen to your dishes. The good news is that there are some tricks and tips that will help you get the most out of your dishwasher – without a lot of headache.

Use The Right Product

There are three cleaning products that you need to know about in order to keep your dishes sparkling fresh.

  • Dishwasher detergent: This is not the same as dish soap. Unless your idea of a good time is cleaning a mountain of wet suds off of your kitchen floor, do not attempt to use Dawn or similar in your dishwasher. Doing so could also damage your dishwasher, so please just don’t. My personal preference in dishwasher detergent is liquid Cascade Complete, but I know people who swear by the dishwasher pods, and that’s okay too. I find that liquid dissolves better than powder form, so I recommend the liquid. It’s less likely to leave unwanted leftovers.
  • Spot rinse: This stuff is a blue liquid you find in a squirt bottle or a pod that clips to the upper rack of your dishwasher under the names Jet Dry, Finish, or similar. It keeps water spots from forming on your glassware. Useful but not overwhelmingly essential unless you’re cleaning for company.
  • Tang: A quick and cheap way to clean your dishwasher, which you’ll want to do from time to time. Fill the soap holes with powdered Tang and run a full cycle with no dishes in it. It’s surprisingly effective.

πŸ’‘ “But I drink Tang! Can it seriously be used as a cleaning agent, and if so, why am I drinking it?” Keep in mind that many foods have cleansing properties. Diet Coke can take corrosion off a car battery terminal, vinegar will remove urine from fabric, and lemon and baking soda will eliminate that nasty smell in your garbage disposal. Don’t let this fact turn you off of Tang, if you like drinking it.

Don’t Overdo It

Are you tempted to rearrange and cram that one last item in there, so that you don’t have to wash it by hand? Not so fast, tiger. One of the main reasons dishes don’t get clean is that the dishwasher is so full that the spray can’t reach every item in it enough to be effective. While running your dishwasher half-full is wasteful of both soap and water, running it excessively full may mean having to wash everything again, which is just as wasteful if not more so. You’ll spend less time and energy total if you wash that one last thing by hand and don’t have to redo the whole load because you overfilled the dishwasher.

My photo hosting is being a pain at the moment, but tomorrow I’ll try to post pictures of what a good dishwasher load looks like and what an overload looks like.

Turn It Towards The Water

Take note of where the sprayers are in your dishwasher. Most dishasher have a rotating one between the racks. When you load the dishwasher, turn it so the dirty side faces the sprayer.

On the topic of that rotating sprayer, don’t block it, or your dishes won’t get clean.



Rinse Your Dishes First

Get the worst of the food and crusties off the dishes by rinsing in the sink before you put them in the dishwasher. They don’t have to be perfect before you put them in there, but they shouldn’t be crusted over, either.

Everything Doesn’t Go

Some things shouldn’t go in the dishwasher at all.

  • Plastic types 1 (PET), 3 (PVC), and 7 (other): PET is meant for disposable plastic items and will warp or melt in the dishwasher. PVC is used for plastic pipes and outdoor furniture and is not considered suitable for food storage. Type 7 plastic is a catch-all category that may or may not melt and may or may not be toxic. It’s a crapshoot and the safest move is to simply recycle it.
  • Cast Iron Cookware: This includes any cookware like aluminum that has to be seasoned, but is most especially true of cast iron. Cast iron cookware will rust in the dishwasher, which means you’ll have to scrub the rust off with a Brillo pad and re-season it. This is a pain.
  • Fine china and special finishes: Fine china, handmade pottery, and some baking pans have special finishes that may be damaged or ruined in the dishwasher. In the case of fine china, it may also shatter or break when subjected to forceful sprays of water. Better not to risk it.
  • Wood items: Wooden spoons, picnic items, and bamboo can warp, discolor, go dry, or even burn in the dishwasher. Hard pass.
  • Excessively large items: If it’s big enough that it blocks the free rotation of any sprayer, it’s too big to go in the dishwasher.

Most other things will be okay in the dishwasher, although some things should only go in certain places.

Careful With That

These items should go only in the top rack:

  • Plastics 2, 4, 5, and 6: These are reusable food-grade plastics and can go in the dishwasher, but all plastics should be confined to the top rack.
  • Small items: Most items of this nature are okay in the dishwasher but need to be prevented from flying everywhere. Placing them in the top rack where they won’t be hit quite so hard is the best means of accomplishing this.

A Final Word

Remember that anything that goes into your dishwasher comes out hot. It also consumes a fair amount of water and electricity. A thrifty move that will also keep your from burning your fingers is to plan to run the dishwasher while you’re asleep. Electricity is cheaper in the wee hours of the morning in many places, and you’ll wake up to clean dishes. Many dishwashers now have delay timers for exactly this purpose.

Good luck! I’ll post pictures tomorrow of how I do it to aid in explaining how it works, when I can bend Flickr to my will.

Cleaning Supplies and Safety

This is a blog post that I never thought I’d write, until I knew someone who put Dawn in the dishwasher. If you have ever wondered about this, this is not a good idea. Different cleansers are formulated to tackle different problems and generate varying amounts of suds in the process. Using a cleaner for a purpose or in a way not indicated on the label may result in damage to the object being cleaned, personal injury, or just an unholy mess.

Ground Rules

Many cleaning supplies are toxic, acidic, basic, or some combination of the three. Observe these safety precautions when handling cleaning supplies to prevent accidental poisoning or irritation.

  • Always read the label first. The label will indicate if the cleaner is safe to use on a given surface, will discolor or stain fabric, should be used in a ventilated area, and more.
  • If your hands are easily irritated, consider using gloves and/or a mask when using cleaning products. Some of them absolutely require it. Asthmatics should keep an inhaler handy and use a mask.
  • Ventilate the space when using a strong cleaner. Turn on the bathroom exhaust fan, or open a window. Opening two windows, one on each side of the domicile, creates an air current that will move air through the house very nicely.
  • Never store cleaning supplies in the same area as food or anything that handles food. An entire locked cabinet somewhere in your house or flat should be reserved for these items. It is safe for them to share shelf space with non-food items such as pesticides, herbicides, gardening items, tools, paper products, and similar, but should not be stored with anything that comes into contact with food for humans or pets.
  • Similarly, whether you do self-checkout at the grocery store or have a checker do it, cleaning supplies should never be sent home in the same bag as a food or food item. Never do it yourself and don’t be afraid to correct a grocery store checker who does it.
  • Do not mix cleaners unless directed, and if multiple types of cleaner need to be applied to an area, rinse well between cleaners. Failing to observe this rule can produce toxic fumes or even an explosion.

‼️ Bleach and Ammonia

Advice regarding mixing ammonia and bleach can be summed up in one word: NEVER. Here’s why.

To put this into perspective for you, here’s some fun factoids about the chemicals described in that link.

  • Hydrazine was one of the components of the liquid rocket fuel used by the space shuttles.
  • Hydrochloric acid is present in your stomach acid. It’s also an industrial acid along with sulfuric acid.
  • It is possible for chlorine gas to escape this chain reaction. If it does, it’s corrosive and toxic and will appear as a green gas hugging the floor.
  • It is not true that mixing urine and bleach produces mustard gas. Mustard gas has sulfur in it, which is not present in this reaction.

Some things to keep in mind to keep this from happening:

  • This reaction can also happen if you are using concentrated chlorine products such as bleach or pool chlorine in the presence of water to clean something that has a lot of decomposed organic matter, such as an old fish pond or a composting toilet.
  • Urine is composed of ammonium salts and water. Under normal circumstances such as a bathroom or dirty diapers, the concentration of ammonia salts isn’t high enough to cause a dangerous reaction, and bleach is safe. However, a cat’s litterbox or a source of stale urine will have higher concentrations of ammonium salts in the urine and use of chlorine products such as bleach could cause this reaction to occur.
  • Use vinegar to denature the ammonium salts present before attempting to bleach items of this nature. In the case of the catbox, a mixture of Dawn and water to scrub it out followed by a cup of vinegar left in it for five minutes will suffice.

If you should accidentally cause this chemical reaction to occur:

  • Remove pets and children from the area.
  • Close interior vents and ventilate to the outside (open a window or turn on exhaust fan or both).
  • Get out of the area for several hours.
  • If you or anyone in the area experience any burning on skin or eyes or have trouble breathing after doing this, go to the nearest emergency room.
  • If any pets appear to be in distress, take them to an emergency vet.

A Final Word

Always remember: cleaning supplies, while necessary to the maintenance of any home, are usually toxic chemicals. Treat them as such, and treat them with respect and care.

How to Create Spaces For Things

I’m sure you’ve heard your mother (or grandmother, or aunt, or uncle, or grandfather, or other person in your life say “a place for everything, and everything in its place” approximately 1.3 umptillion times. It’s kind of like a Microsoft error message: absolutely true, and not very helpful if you don’t know how to decode it.

The problematic part of that adage for many people is the first part: “a place for everything”. Too often, a thing sits on the dining room table for weeks at a time because you don’t know where it should go, or because its place isn’t in your home. But, how do you determine where it should go?

Questions to Ask

To decide where a thing should go, ask yourself the following questions:

Does it belong in my house?

Is this item even mine? Is it useful to me? Will it be useful to me in the next year? Am I required to keep it? This question often needs to be asked of paperwork, which I’ll talk about in more detail later in the post.

If the item is not yours, it needs to go back to the person to whom it belongs, unless you have permission to borrow the item and are actively using it. If you’re actively using it and have permission to borrow it, proceed to the next question.

If you have a lot of visitors in your home, you might consider a wicker basket or box in your main room or near your front door that serves as a “lost and found”. Anything that someone left behind or that you borrowed and aren’t actively using should go in this box, to be reclaimed the next time that person comes over.

Some people have the habit of collecting items or keeping extras of things that might be useful “someday”. These people are called pack-rats. If you’re a pack-rat, ask yourself this: what are the odds I’ll need or use it in the next year? If you won’t, get rid of it.

Some items you’re required to keep, depending on your situation. This is especially true of paperwork, but might also be true of window blinds, doorknobs, etc,, if you’re renting your property and don’t want to use the ones supplied by your landlord. If you don’t put the ones your landlord supplied back when you leave, you’ll be charged to replace the item. Having a box in your closet for such items might not be a bad idea, if you’re prone to doing this.

What is its function?

Is it an art or craft supply? A personal care item? An entertainment item? To what activity, requirement, or item is this item associated? If you can definitively answer this question, that’s a big help. That means that wherever its space is, it’s most likely near or in the same room as other items associated to that activity, requirement, or item. If it’s associated to an activity, it should go in the room in which you most commonly perform that activity.

Does it have special needs?

If the item is particularly large, heavy, small, or fragile, that may limit where you want to or can put it. An item that needs access to running water (e.g. a coffee machine) should be placed in a room that has running water available (e.g. the kitchen, although I’d forgive anyone who needed coffee so badly that their coffee machine lives in the bathroom).

A small item that is easily lost should be placed in a bin or container with other items that serve a similar function or are also related to the same activity – for example, if you draw or paint, all your paints should be in a bin, your brushes/erasers/pencils/sharpeners in another bin, and so forth. Bins and containers come in every shape and size and don’t have to come from the Container Store. Mason jars make wonderful containers for many kinds of small items. Be sure to decide whether the container in question needs to close before purchasing, and let that inform your choice of container.

Large and/or heavy items may need to be placed on the floor, but you may need to pick and maybe clear a specific space for that item.

Fragile items may need to be placed somewhere specific that is out of reach of pets and children and does not pose a falling risk.

If the item(s) in question need to remain out of public view, be sure to account for that. Choose a container or cover that is opaque and maybe lockable.

Do I have room in the appropriate area for it?

Can I put it with its buddies in the same area? Am I out of space? If so, you might need to designate a new area, possibly nearby. Before you do, though, ask yourself the first question again: do I really need all that I have, and is it all still useful to me? For example, going through your paints and identifying any that have dried up might help you clear enough space to put your new things.

It’s also worth asking yourself this question before you buy a new thing. Doing so might save you both money and clutter headaches.

Finding the Perfect Spot

Once you’ve answered these questions, your own unique situation might guide you in finding a place for an item. For example, if you’re 5’1″, the items you use every day should be on lower shelves, since you’ll need assistance or a stepladder to get to the upper shelves.

Small items should not be loose on counters or surfaces. Find a container that suits the item and the number of items you have.

Think in three dimensions. Think in terms of more than just “on shelves” and “on counters” and “in drawers”. Look at your walls. Do you have wall space that could harbor shelves? (Shameless unsolicited plug: IKEA Kallax shelves are $DEITY’s gift to organizers. The smaller ones can be mounted on walls with appropriate hardware and are sturdy enough to move with you time and again.)

Also consider wall hooks to hang items that are bulky but light such as easels, embroidery hoops, and portable looms.

Don’t forget your closet walls! Items that are large and flat might do well hanging on a closet wall, or a long mounted hook might hang tomorrow’s outfit.

Organizing Paperwork

Paperwork can be a problem all its own, because it’s hard to tell what you need to keep and what you don’t.

What You Need To Keep

There are some items that you should absolutely always keep. Some items need to be kept for a period of time, some should be kept forever, and some should not be kept at all.

  • Keep Forever: Current identification documents (e.g. your current passport and birth certificate), proof of ownership documents for things you own, love letters, medical records
  • Keep For A Period of Time: Expired identification documents, tax-related documents, bank statements, paid bills, old lease documents
  • Don’t Keep: Notifications, ad mail of any kind

You do not need to keep correspondence from any organization with which you do not do business.

Know the statute of limitations on all official correspondence, and keep it for that period of time. For example, if you file taxes in the United States, you should retain a paper copy of your taxes, and all documents associated to your taxes, for ten years, because an IRS audit is allowed to go back through your tax filings for ten years.

What You Need to Dispose of Securely

Identity fraud – the representation of oneself as another person in order to steal money from them or take out credit in their name – is rampant in this day and age. It can ruin your credit, your reputation, and cost you thousands of dollars. It’s a very, very serious problem.

Shred any paper that has any of the following information on it.

  • Your full legal name
  • Your name and address together
  • Your social security number
  • Your driver’s license number
  • Account numbers of any kind
  • Any correspondence from your bank or credit card provider
  • Any correspondence from a government entity
  • Any monetary balances for any account

If it’s a magazine with your name and address on it, just tear the page out and shred it, then trash or recycle the rest.

The Value of Going Paperless

Treeware is a pain in the you-know-what to keep organized. Data storage is cheap. Every bill that you can receive electronically and every receipt you can get by email is one bill that isn’t cluttering up your desk. File your bills on your computer and back them up, and search functions will save you a lot of time and space.

(Just be sure to encrypt your stuff.)

Filing Cabinets

Your filing cabinet does not have to be a bulky thing on wheels, and for most people, it shouldn’t be. Size your filing by how much paper you process (if you go paperless, you’ll have a lot less) and how much space you have. Anything that can accommodate hanging folders will do the job — I had a bright pink milk crate with grooves on the side for hanging folders, and that was my filing from the time I first went to college until I bought my own home.

If you have to keep it and it’s paper, it goes in a filing system, and that filing system should live in a room that is not routinely open to visitors. If you have a lot of visitors, whatever you use for filing should lock with either a combination or a key.

Consider a fire safe for the key documents. These are heavy, but don’t have to be expensive, and will protect the documents you’ll need to restore your life should everything you own burn to the ground or be lost in a flood.

A Final Word

Still can’t figure it out? Some people simply have an eye for organizing a space, and some simply don’t. If you don’t, see if you can bribe a friend who does to help you out. I do this for my friends circle; I barter it for other work that I personally hate doing. Many friends circles have this type of arrangement, so make friends in your new spot.

How to Tackle a Serious Mess

You’re staring at a mountain of empty takeout containers, dirty socks, papers, soda cans, books with spills on them, and a tangled length of cloth from that sewing project you promised your friend you’d do. Under all that, it’s rumored, is bedroom furniture. Your mattress has a bare spot on it where you sleep, approximately a third the size of the actual mattress. It hasn’t seen sheets in months. You’re not sure what color the floor is. And you’re staring at the lot of it in horror, wondering, “Where do I even start?”

Tackling a serious mess can be overwhelming, and some people don’t even tackle a moderate mess because it’s too much. I know someone who’s broken down in tears staring at a serious mess. Now you’re looking at tackling the mess and making the place livable — or getting evicted for poor housekeeping.

An old saw about tackling major projects asks, “How do you eat an elephant?”

The answer to that question is: “One bite at a time.”

The same applies to tackling a serious mess. You handle one thing, or one area, at a time, and don’t worry about the rest of it yet. Let’s break this down and make a plan.

NOTE: The following method is written with a full-blown hoarding situation in mind, and I’ve used it to tackle hoarding situations. Your situation probably isn’t that bad, and you may be able to skip some steps depending on what is and is not actually part of the mess. You may also have other elements that I don’t include here. Add them as single elements to your plan.

Step 1: Remove Garbage

Grab a trash bag or two, or three, or however many you think you’ll need. Scour the messy area for anything that you’re sure is garbage — the soda cans and empty takeout containers, for example. Any food that you didn’t put down less than an hour ago is garbage. Make sure to get not just everything on the floor, but also things on the furniture. Take any garbage bags that are full to the dumpster or garbage area for pickup.

πŸ’‘πŸ‘‹: Need help identifying what is and isn’t garbage? Enlist a friend who can help you decide.

Step 2: Remove Food and Dirty Dishes

Scour the messy area (including the furniture) for any food or dirty dishes that aren’t currently in use. All food goes in the garbage. Take the dirty dishes to the kitchen (or if there are too many, to the bathtub) and fill each of them with warm water. Leave those to soak and proceed to Step 3.

Step 3: Remove Laundry

Grab either a laundry bag or another trash bag. Scour the messy area, including furniture, for anything that can be considered laundry. Clothing, sheets, towels, blankets, anything of that nature counts in this category. If it’s scattered on the floor or not neatly put away, you probably should wash it again, so if you aren’t sure, it should go in the laundry.

Step 4: Determine What Should Be Donated

Grab a box or bin. Scour the room, including floor and furniture, for items that you no longer want or need but that are in good working order or wearable, and toss these items into the box. When the box is full or you’re done with this step, mark it for donation to your local Goodwill or other charity of your choice, seal it with tape, and set it aside.

πŸ’‘ πŸ‘‹ Some people have a tough time letting go of belongings that they no longer need or can use. If this is you, enlist a friend to talk you through it.

Now, take a good look around the area. Chances are, taking care of those three low-hanging fruits has made the area look a good bit different. Your next step is to figure out what to do with the stuff that didn’t fit into the other categories. This leads us to Step 5.

Step 5: Prepare A Sorting Area

Choose a fairly large piece of furniture in the area you’re cleaning to serve as a sorting area. If you’re cleaning a living room, the couch is a good choice for this. If a bedroom, the bed is ideal. If a public space, maybe a dining room table. The floor isn’t a good choice, because you’ll want to clear that space first in future steps.

Once you have your choice, identify everything on it that isn’t where it belongs. Sort these items into four piles:

  1. Items that don’t have a home (you don’t know where they go);
  2. Items that have a home, but that home is in another room;
  3. Items that have a home somewhere else in this room.
  4. A jar or a bowl for small items such as coins, screws, push pins, etc. that end up in the corners of every room.

πŸ’‘ It is often helpful to put pile #2 in a laundry basket or other container next to the furniture in question. This lets you remove them from the room in Step 7 or Step 8 if that makes those steps easier.

Step 6: Sort The Out-of-Place Items

Scour the entire area for items that aren’t where they belong, and sort them according to the system you created in Step 5. This means everything that isn’t actually in its home, even if it belongs in the same room. Just sort it for now; you’ll put it where it belongs later.

πŸ’‘ Normally I advocate handling each item once and only once, but in this case, sorting it all first lets you see how much space you really have in that spot, and whether maybe you need to move something to a different spot.

Step 7: Go Under and In the Furniture

Move all the furniture in the room. Open every drawer in the room. Dig into the couch cushions. Execute Steps 1-4 and Step 6 on everything you find.

Step 8: Clean the Rest Of the Room

By now, the rest of the room aside from your sorting area should look pretty manageable. Deal with any pests you find. Dust, vacuum, polish, and remove stains and spills from every surface except your sorting area.

Step 9: Put The Sorted Things Away

Now it’s time to turn your attention to your sorting surface. Using your newfound space in this room, first put everything away in pile #3 away where it belongs.

Pile #1 will take the longest to address. For each item, you need to decide where it belongs, whether it is this room or another. If it belongs in another room, add it to pile #2. If it belongs in this room, find it a spot that makes sense to you and put it there.

πŸ’‘ πŸ‘‹ If you’re not good at figuring out where it makes sense to put an item, enlist the help of a friend who is a good organizer.

πŸ’‘ This may be a good time to split pile #2 into smaller piles by what room the item belongs in, especially if you have many rooms to tackle. You can then take each pile into the appropriate room and address it when you tackle that room.

Pile #4 should be accorded a home of its own, whether in this room or another. Separate out the screws and other small items. Having a change jar somewhere in the house helps you save, and more than a few times I’ve taken a full change jar to the coin sorter in the grocery store and gotten enough cash to pay for my groceries that week!

Step 10: Clean Your Sorting Area

Execute Step 8 on your sorting area. Dust, polish, vacuum around it, remove any stains and spills.

Ta-da! You should be left with a cleaned room.

Step 11: Wash The Dishes

Remember all those dishes you left in the kitchen or bathtub in Step 2? Go wash them and put them away where they belong.

A Final Word

Whew! That’s a lot of work, and it probably took you several hours to do. To avoid having to go to that much effort again, it’s best to pick up after yourself as you go. Every time you finish with an item, put it back where it belongs. Dirty laundry belongs in a hamper or laundry bag, and should not stop for a cup of tea on the floor. Garbage should go straight to the trash can instead of happy hour on your desk. Dirty dishes should go straight to the kitchen before you go to bed on the day you used them, or as soon as you’re done with them. You’ll spend far fewer spoons cleaning in this way than you probably spent on the steps above.

Don’t forget to take the box of donations you put together in Step 4 and take all that stuff to the charity you choose.

πŸ’‘βœοΈ Do you itemize on your taxes? If you’re just starting out, probably not. If you own your home, you probably do. If you do, be sure to take note of what you donated to charity, because the fair market value of all that stuff is deductible on your taxes! Charitable donations up to $500 can be claimed as tax deductions without documentation, but many thrift shops and charities can provide this documentation to you. Check out ItsDeductible from Intuit to help you determine fair market value for your stuff.

The Secrets To A Clean and Tidy Home

Note: Because I have so many friends with chronic illness and disability, including more than one on the autism spectrum, I refer often to “spoon theory” to describe energy expenditure for everyday tasks. You’ll see this reference throughout this blog.

Handle Each Item Once (And Only Once)

When I was growing up, my mother used to cook dinner, strewing empty boxes and cans and piles of potato peelings all over the kitchen counters, and only when dinner was done and it was time to clean up did she address the mess she had created. To be fair, she addressed her own mess, but it usually was a mess.

After she passed away untimely, my father’s approach took over the house. Was I done with that can or box? Into the recycling bin with it as soon as it was emptied. Potato peelings? While the food was cooking, stuff them down the garbage disposal. Didn’t use that dish? Put it away. Raw meat plate? Put it in the sink, or straight into the dishwasher if space and time allowed.

After I finished college and moved out on my own, I started with my mother’s approach, and gradually shifted to my father’s approach as I realized something. As you finish with each item, putting it where it belongs as you go simplifies final cleanup a lot, for little or no extra energy expenditure. Cleaning up the mess afterwards cost me a couple of spoons, because I was often looking at a fairly extensive mess. Doing it my dad’s way, I might spend one spoon for all the work together. I had more energy and time for my evening if I cleaned as I went.

The takeaway: Handling each item once and putting items away when finished with them is the most efficient way to maintain a tidy home or office.

Clear the Clutter

A cluttered home eats the mind. It really does. It’s irritating and visually distracting, and navigating through a home that has too much stuff in it chews through spoons like you wouldn’t believe.

The reality is that most Americans have way, way, way too much stuff. Our consumeristic society tells us we need X number of movies and DVD’s and piles of books and clothes and the latest gadgets from Amazon to be happy. I’m happy to report that in general, that isn’t true. Remember that the only things you can take to your grave with you are your memories and your conscience. You’re unlikely to lie on your deathbed wishing you’d had just one more video game.

There are a thousand resources on the Internet for how to clear the clutter from your home and workspaces. Half of them disagree with each other, and a good quarter of them think you should trash 90% of what you own. That’s taking it a bit far (humans are so good at taking things too far!), but paring down your belongings to what will fit inside your living space is a reasonable and advisable thing to do.

One concept that has taken hold recently is the concept of dΓΆstΓ€dning, or Swedish death cleaning. It sounds morbid, but it’s actually practical. Meant especially for older people, it’s about who will care for your belongings should something happen to you, and is it really fair to make them sort through that much stuff?

The rule that I use is: if it doesn’t serve a specific function, and it doesn’t make me smile, out it goes, or if I’m looking at what to buy, I don’t buy it.

The takeaway: Having too much stuff wastes your time and energy to no purpose. Consider paring down your belongings to what will fit neatly into your living space.

Break It Down Into Smaller Bites

If you’re faced with a chore list that is five miles long, you can expend a significant amount of energy on being overwhelmed and figuring out what to do first. Instead, break that big to-do list into days, so that you do two tasks on Monday, two on Tuesday, two on Wednesday, and so forth, so that instead of having ten or fifteen tasks on Saturday, you have only five or six, and you get a lot of your weekend back without losing all of your weekday evenings. For example:

  • Monday: Upstairs litterboxes (2), dinner dishes, clean kitchen, vacuum stairs. Total work time: 45m.
  • Tuesday: Main floor litter box, basement litter box, dinner dishes, clean kitchen, vacuum main floor. (I live in a townhouse, so any given floor isn’t very big.) Total work time: 1h.
  • Wednesday: Upstairs litterboxes (2), dinner dishes, clean kitchen, vacuum office and upstairs hall. Total work time: 45m.
  • Thursday: Main floor litter box, basement litter box, dinner dishes, clean kitchen, vacuum and straighten bedroom. Total work time: 1h.
  • Friday: Upstairs litterboxes (2), dinner dishes, clean kitchen. I tend to go out on Friday nights, so that’s it. Total work time: 30m.
  • Saturday: Clean downstairs powder room and sweep/mop kitchen and bathroom. These are usually my social run-around days, so that’s it unless I’m prepping to have people over. Total work time: 20m.
  • Sunday: These are my real work days. Towels get grabbed and tossed in the laundry pile. Laundry, all four litterboxes, clean the master bathroom, restock towels, clean the kitchen, straighten and vacuum living room, fold laundry and put away. Take the garbage to the curb. Total work time: 5h, though not all at once. I still have time to goof off some on Sundays usually.

The garbage and recycling goes to the back door as needed.

The takeaway is this: To keep a tidy house without losing your mind or your social life, do a little at a time every day.

And that, my friends, is how an unmarried woman with a full-time job takes care of a 1600 sqft townhome on her own and still has a social life. Am I Martha Stewart? No. πŸ™‚ I keep my home at what I call a friends-clean level – I have better things to do with my life than keep my home company-clean all the time, and so do you, I bet.