Easing into a Routine | Home Comforts



Easing into a Routine

The organization of housework explained for beginners … Setting up schedules, standards, and goals … Saving time … Suggestions for shortening housekeeping … Learning the whys of housekeeping … Keeping lists … What systems and schedules do for you … Schedules for daily, weekly, monthly, semiannual, and annual housekeeping … List of weekly housecleaning chores … List of weekly laundering chores … Spring and fall cleaning … Order in which housecleaning is done, from room to room and within each room … Making things homey

Because most human needs are cyclic and recurrent, so is housework. Over and over, you need to sleep, eat, shower, change, laugh, relax, learn, and entertain. Over and over, your home must provide the means for you to do so in comfort and safety. The most important thing for any beginner to learn about housework, therefore, is that it goes by overlapping rhythms, schedules, and routines. These can be annual, seasonal, monthly, weekly, or daily. Each separate area of housework proceeds according to its own habitual order.

This chapter supplies an outline of these schedules and routines, with explanations of what they do for you and how you carry them out. But keep in mind three important points. First, they are only summary suggestions intended to help beginners get the big picture. Every family and every household develops its own methods and systems. The ones suggested here, quite typical and traditional, are easily modified to accommodate lighter or heavier housekeeping regimes and all varieties of personal taste. Second, here, as in many other parts of this book, I have deliberately offered more detail than you may really need. My spring cleaning list, for example, is so inclusive that my mother (a most thorough spring cleaner) objected to it. But let me assure you, as I tried to assure her, that I am not recommending that you do every task on the list or else move into a hotel. The list is intended to be inspirational and suggestive, so as to help beginners survey what would be useful in their own homes and avoid overlooking anything potentially important to them. Third, beginners in housekeeping are not beginners for long. What seems like a lot to digest when you read about it all at once begins to seem quite manageable in a short time, if you take it one step at a time.


Setting Up Schedules, Standards, and Goals. People used to be fond of the old saying that a housewife’s work is never done, but you do not hear it much anymore, perhaps because today, so often, the housewife’s work is never started. In any event, this maxim, like most, is only half true. Yes, you can always think of something else that could be done, and yes, you will do more tomorrow, but in fact there really is an end to what your routine calls for this day or week or year. You, however, are the one who sets limits. Beginners should recognize the importance of setting plausible and explicit goals in housekeeping so that they know when they are done. In my experience, the most common cause of dislike of housework is the feeling that the work is never done, that it never gives a sense of satisfaction, completion, and repose.

To avoid this, you have to decide what ordinary, daily level of functioning you want in your home. There ought to be a word for this level, but there isn’t. When I was a girl, my mother used to say, when everything was on schedule and as she wanted it, “The house is done.” Whatever words you use, you need to create end points that will let you, too, say to yourself, “Finished!” Otherwise you will feel trapped and resentful, in danger of becoming one of the many unfortunates who hate taking care of their own homes.

Another trap to avoid is that of inflexible standards and unrealistic expectations. You need different goals for ordinary times and times of illness, stress, company, new babies, long working hours, or other interruptions of your home routine. People with large houses, many children or guests, active households, or invalid parents will have to spread themselves more thinly and should not expect to be able to keep house like the Joneses. Also, the fewer your resources of all kinds—money, help, appliances, skills, time—the more modest will be the level of housekeeping you can realistically hope for.

When you cannot have everything, establish priorities. Health, safety, and comfort matter more than appearances, clutter, organization, and entertainment. A jumbled closet may distract you, but it is much less urgent than clean sheets, laundry, or meals. Excessive dustiness can be unhealthy as well as uncomfortable; smeary mirrors (usually) aren’t. Clean the rooms you spend the most time in and those where cleanliness is urgent (bedroom, kitchen, bathroom); let everything else go. Polishing gems and organizing your photographs can be put off indefinitely.

When you fall below your ordinary standards of housekeeping, a backup plan can help prevent the fall from turning into a free fall. Planning how you will engage in a housekeeping retraction at such times and return to ordinary standards when the crisis is past keeps you in control. The goal during these hard times is to adhere, more or less, to some workable minimal routine. If you can still cook simple meals and food preparation areas are safe and sanitary, if everyone has clean clothes, if the bedrooms are dusted, vacuumed, and aired and the bedding is fresh, you are doing well.

Saving Time. The stores are full of “timesaving” widgets and machines and the newspapers full of “timesaving” hints and tips. The widgets rarely live up to the promises, you probably have all the important machines already, and trying to keep house using hints and tips will drive you crazy. You will develop your own individual shortcuts as you develop skills and knowledge. It is often difficult to make good use of anyone else’s shortcuts, for they tend to rely on habits and materials that may not be part of your housekeeping. I never use meat tenderizer or hairspray, for example, which are frequently relied on in housekeeping tips columns. Beginners need to work first on learning the basics. When they have their sea legs, they will be able to pick out tips that will work for them.

Aside from the basic modern conveniences such as vacuum cleaners, automatic washers, dryers, dishwashers, and microwave ovens, the most important source of significant savings in housekeeping time is knowing what you are doing. When you are practiced and knowledgeable, you can fly through chores in half the time. Skill and knowledge also let you use hired help and volunteered help much more effectively.

Learning Why. Whenever you can, learn why you do things one way rather than another. This is what enables you to be flexible, take shortcuts, use substitutes, and make changes that are improvements.

Keeping Lists. Good housekeepers are list-makers. Keep weekly lists of things to buy and jobs to do, such as calling service people or the piano tuner, performing special cleaning tasks, returning library books, or sewing on buttons. When you notice that any supplies are running low or you think of something it would be useful to get, write it down on that week’s list. Before you go marketing, survey your pantry and refrigerator to see what’s running low. Sit down and rough out menus for the week to come. Check cookbooks, if need be, to be sure you have all the ingredients on hand that you will need. Survey your laundry and cleaning supplies to be sure you have what you need to do the week’s laundry and cleaning. Check the bathrooms and bedrooms for toilet paper, tissues, soap, and toiletries. Check your desk for paper, pencils, pens, and other items you use. Then remember to bring your shopping list when you go marketing.


When time is short:

Pare your routines. Do only the essentials. Keep the kitchen clean, the dishes washed, food and other essentials stocked. Dust and vacuum only the bedroom or other areas where anyone sleeps or spends large amounts of time. Keep the beds in fresh linens. Take a few minutes to wipe down the bathroom and its fixtures with a good disinfectant cleaner.

Stay as neat as possible! Put things away as you go so that a sense of chaos does not develop.

Rely on foods that take little or no cooking. Use dishes you have frozen.

If you can afford to, hire help. If you do not usually hire cleaning help, have a bonded maid service come in for a day or half a day to do your weekly cleaning. If you can manage to keep up with the weekly chores but not with the less frequent ones, periodically hire help for them. Hiring someone to help with the heavy work of spring or fall cleaning is a particularly good idea and generally affordable. Find a neighborhood teenager whom you can pay to go to the grocery store or shopping center for you.

Send out the laundry or hire someone to come in and do it. Try to create less laundry.

If the situation is serious (illness, a new baby, a death), call on relatives and close friends for help.


What Systems and Schedules Do for You. Living in your home constantly uses up its good things—food, clean clothes, linens, shiny floors. Housekeeping routines provide for their continual renewal. The best way to begin keeping house is by setting up your routines and schedules. This can be done piece by piece and little by little; housekeeping is never all or nothing. At first, concentrate on a minimal daily and weekly routine. It may help to get a notebook or datebook devoted entirely to housekeeping matters. There are those who continue to keep a little housekeeping book their whole lives. I know an elderly man who writes down in his the contents of each closet and cabinet. This is how large, complicated households with many servants used to do things, with records of the number of sheets and jars of jam. Such detailed recordkeeping is not really necessary in the average house or apartment today, but some people will find it helps keep them on a system.

An increasing number of households do housework without any system, schedule, or routine, more or less reacting to each situation as it arises. This makes things harder, not easier. With systematic housekeeping, most of the time you live comfortably: supplies are not exhausted; dirt and laundry do not overaccumulate; plans and resources for at-home occupations and entertainments are in place. In nonsystematic housekeeping, chores are tended to only when the resources of one of the household’s systems are exhausted: when there are no clean clothes or linens and there is school in the morning and stale beds tonight; when it is the dinner hour and the cabinet is bare; when dirt and disorder are beyond tolerating. When you keep house like this, domestic frustrations and discomfort begin to be felt long before you reach the point where you decide to do something about them. But when this point is reached, often the troubles cannot immediately be remedied because, without rational schedules, nothing ensures that time or resources will then be available to tend to the house. Moreover, the amount of work is more than it would have been had there been daily tending to chores; everything has become worse than it would have been. And worst of all, the only time you get to experience anything like a well-kept house is immediately after the emergency response measures are taken. The rest of the time—most of the time—you live badly.

A housekeeping routine not only prevents your home from growing seedy and sour between cleanings but also helps assure that you are willing to do the work, for, as experienced people all know, housework motivation can be a psychologically delicate matter. Cleaning, laundry, and other chores are far harder after you have let them go for two weeks; the energy you must summon to tackle them becomes greater the longer you have procrastinated. Not doing some housework leads to not doing even more housework.

If you have no system, you have to reinvent your housekeeping or debate what to do first every time you do it, and the required mental effort is a major obstacle, especially when you are tired. But a tired working person is often able to do things that are routine and habitual. No thinking is required; minimal inertia must be overcome. A chore that fits into a reassuring overall plan of housekeeping feels effective and worthwhile. But if you feel you are just tackling the worst problem in a home that is starting to go to pieces, it may hardly seem worth the effort.

To develop a set of routines for yourself, consider all the household work you have and divide it into portions that must be done daily, weekly, monthly or seasonally, and yearly or less often. The lists below summarize typical daily, weekly, monthly, and less frequently scheduled kinds of work.


Put soiled clothes in hamper and hang up other clothes

Clean sinks and tubs after use (including drains and traps)

Check soap, toilet paper, other supplies in bathroom; change towels if necessary

Prepare meals and clean up afterward

Put out fresh kitchen towels and cleaning utensils

Clean floors in high-use areas (kitchen, entryway) by sweeping, damp-mopping, or vacuuming

Make beds

Refill vaporizers and humidifiers (and clean if necessary)

Neaten; put away newspapers, magazines, and similar items

Do interim marketing, when necessary

Empty trash and garbage containers (evening)


Housecleaning (see “A List of Weekly Housecleaning Chores,” page 24)


Minicleaning and minilaundering (see discussion below)

Marketing for food and non-food items

Odd jobs

Monthly, Seasonally, or Intermittently

Launder underbedding (mattress covers, pillow covers) and washable spreads and covers (monthly)

Turn mattresses (quarterly)

Wash or air pillows (quarterly)

Clean lampshades, light shades, or globes; dust lightbulbs (quarterly)

Wash mirrors

Clean the oven (as needed)

Wax floors (as needed)

Wash or wax woodwork (as needed)

Organize frequently used drawers, cabinets, closets (as needed)

Dust miniblinds and other blinds and shades (monthly), door tops, and other hard-to-reach areas where dust may collect

Wash windows, storm windows, and screens (as seasonally appropriate)

Clean blades of ceiling fans

Semiannually or Annually

Wash (or if necessary dry-clean) blankets, comforters, quilts

Remove out-of-season clothing from closet, clean and store it, replace with seasonal clothing (spring and fall)

Give away or throw away unused or worn-out articles

Clean and polish gems, jewelry, silver, brass, copper

Clean chandeliers and light fixtures

Have the piano tuned (twice a year)

Clean all walls, ceilings, and floors

Clean the basement and garage

Clean the attic (every two years generally suffices)

Wax the furniture

Vacuum books

Move and clean underneath heavy appliances and furniture such as stove, refrigerator, piano

Shampoo rugs and upholstery

Clean lampshades

Empty and clean all closets, drawers, and cabinets. Dust or wash china, crystal, knickknacks

Wash blinds, miniblinds, and shades

Dry-clean or wash curtains and draperies

Organize and/or store photographs, videos, CDs

Pay taxes and make official filings

Organize household business records, throw away superseded ones

Review insurance

Update household inventory

About the Daily Routine. A daily routine restores the household to a level of basic order twice each day: once before work or after breakfast, and once before bed. In the morning, you clean up the breakfast preparations, straighten up or neaten, air and make the beds, and hang clothes. In the evening, you clean up after dinner, neaten once more, take out the garbage, lock up, and before you go to sleep put dirty clothes in the hamper and hang other clothes. If you work away from home at a job, you want to come home to a neat, clean, fresh-smelling home. When you go to turn in, you do not want to be demoralized by an unmade, stale bed. If you stick to your daily routine, your average experience of your home will be of a comfortable degree of order and cleanliness. You’ll wake to a fresh home, return to a fresh home after work, and never have to endure a stale bed, crumbs underfoot, sticky tables and counters, sour smells, fetid air, or grubby sinks, tubs, or showers.

Crumbs, stickiness, and any kind of dirt that contains food or is found in food areas should get high priority in your daily routine; clean it or sweep it up promptly. Take trash out at least once a day to discourage odor and vermin. To keep disorder from spreading, straighten—put things back in their proper places. (“Neatening.”) But some of the chores listed above as “daily” need not be done every day. Perhaps only once, twice, or three times a week, depending upon your habits and the level of traffic in your home, will you need to do the partial vacuuming in the living room or family room that my Anglo-American grandmother called “doing the middle of the floor.” (But she did this, and more, each day.) You aim only at visible soil and ignore areas under cushions and furniture that you will attend to when you do your weekly housecleaning. Eat-in kitchens and dining areas, however, often need sweeping several times per day.

About the Weekly Routine. For at least a hundred years and probably much longer, the heart of housework was a weekly routine that assigned each of the major housekeeping chores to one day of the week. You see variants of the routine, but in my childhood people did washing (laundering) on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, sewing on Wednesday, marketing on Thursday, cleaning on Friday, and baking on Saturday. Sunday was the day of rest. For those of us who can remember the universality with which this system was followed through the mid-1960s, or even later in some areas, the speed and totality of its disappearance are breathtaking.

And in many respects, the old routine no longer makes much sense. Sewing and baking are anachronisms. Those of us who still bake and sew do it for fun and count it as leisure activity. Many people do little or no ironing. The number of major household chores has been reduced to three, perhaps three and a half, and some of these, especially laundering, do not take anywhere near the time or effort they used to.

But there is still room in the home for a weekly housekeeping routine, and I strongly recommend you devise one for yourself. This is the main thing you can do to make your home work well. Your list of weekly chores will still include marketing, housecleaning, laundering, and, sometimes, ironing. However, in place of a sewing day, you might have a day for doing odd jobs, such as mending, sewing on buttons or hemming, cooking ahead food for freezing, paying bills, or balancing your checkbook. You may also want a “minicleaning day,” or a day on which you do an abbreviated version of your regular housecleaning. This is a particularly good idea for households that are very active or in which there are children, pets, allergies, or other situations that might make extra cleaning desirable.

Your weekly routine can assign the chores to different days of the week, as it did traditionally, or assign two or more weekly chores to the same day. For example, a possible weekly routine for a pair of working adults with no children, one cat, and a small house might be this:

Washing and ironing, if any, on Monday

Marketing on Tuesday

Minicleaning on Wednesday

Odd jobs on Thursday

Housecleaning on Saturday morning

When I was single, living in a studio apartment, and working, I usually did something like this:

Odd jobs on Tuesday

Marketing on Thursday

Housecleaning and washing and ironing on Saturday morning

You can do odd jobs or a minicleaning one week and not the next, depending on your needs.

Give some thought to how you assign your chores to the days of the week. Consider your housecleaning, for example. Although cleaning is now physically light work compared to what it used to be, it has replaced laundering, which is now almost entirely automatic, as the heaviest physical chore. If you do the housecleaning yourself, you want a regular day for it when you are likely to have plenty of time and energy. Working people with fair-sized homes who do their own housework usually prefer Saturday as cleaning day because they are too tired to do the biggest and most physically demanding part of housework after a day on the job. Saturday was the traditional cleaning day in many households in earlier times too. But in a studio apartment, or a small, lightly-lived-in home, not only can all the cleaning be accomplished after work, but all the laundry can often be done at the same time. Monday evening, at the start of the workweek when you are not tired and when housework is least likely to interfere with your social life, is a good evening to designate as combined cleaning and laundry day in households of this kind. A minicleaning day is most useful three or four days after your major housecleaning day.

In the old days, laundering was done on Monday, after the Sabbath rest, because it involved such backbreaking labor that you needed to be fresh and rested to get through it. If you are a stay-at-home housekeeper or have one working for you, you have little reason to hold to the traditional Monday washday. But the traditional rationale for a Monday wash often applies in the many households where all adults work and do their laundry in the evening after work (even if they hire someone to do their weekly cleaning). They may well find that Monday still works best because they are less tired at the beginning of the workweek. Even if you have no outside job, it pays to set aside a special day for laundering. Households in which there is a lot of laundry may prefer to have two laundry days, a major one and a minor one. But the common system of doing a load or two every day is inefficient in all but highly organized households and is easily vulnerable to disruption. 

If you are going to have two laundering days, you can help yourself stay organized by doing a different kind of laundry on each day—for example, towels and linens on one and clothing on the other. Cleaning day, when you are stripping the beds and putting out fresh towels, is also a good day to wash towels, sheets, tea towels, tablecloths, and other household linens. Clothes are better done on a separate laundering day because they are usually more complicated to sort and tend to, and they can best be washed on an evening after work when you are doing nothing else. You can begin ironing while other clothes are washing or iron the next day. 


Change the bed linens (once or twice weekly) and bathroom towels (twice weekly or as necessary)

Vacuum rugs, floors, upholstered furniture, and lampshades

Wash all washable floors

Dust all dustable surfaces and objects, including pictures, mirrors, light fixtures, and light bulbs

Wipe all fingerprints or smears from doorknobs, woodwork, telephones, computer keyboards

Wash down entire bathroom: toilet, sink, tub, wall tiles, toothbrush holders and all fixtures, cabinets (exterior), mirror, floor

Wash all combs and brushes

Clean entire kitchen: clean refrigerator; wipe down stove and other appliances inside and out; clean sinks, counters, and tabletops; extra-thoroughly wash backsplashes; scrub floors

Clean air-conditioner filters and humidifiers according to manufacturers’ recommendations

Wash out and sanitize garbage cans

Thursday, the traditional day for marketing, still makes sense as a marketing day for many of us. This leaves Friday evening free for socializing, entertainments, relaxing, or collapsing, while ensuring that your home is stocked for the weekend. However, if you want to cook for freezing on Wednesday, Tuesday might be a better marketing day. Although many households market on Saturday afternoon, there are better ways to spend prime leisure time. Moreover, marketing can all too often conflict with other Saturday activities, creating a temptation to postpone it or leave it undone. Sunday afternoon is another possibility, but supermarkets on Sundays tend to be less well stocked and to offer goods that are less fresh. (Besides, you need one of your weekend days to be a day of rest.) Those who do their major marketing after work must be sure to prepare a thorough list to make the task go faster and leave a good part of the evening free.

Whatever day you choose, a weekly major marketing day is worth establishing. While most of us visit a local market several times a week for quick purchases of fresh produce, milk, or fish, it still makes sense to set aside one marketing trip each week to restock nonperishables and storable items such as cleaning or laundering materials, paper goods, canned goods, frozen goods, and other packaged goods. The satisfaction you get from having your shelves filled and ready for the unexpected is immense, and so is the frustration and annoyance that you suffer when basic stocks have not been replenished. A once-weekly major marketing also saves you from having constantly to run to the market during the week, which is a major source of wasted time in many households. You’ll save money as well as time if you can cut back on these trips, because you’ll find you have fewer opportunities for impulsive and wasteful buying. If you keep careful shopping lists and remember to check them, you can avoid extra trips for lightbulbs or milk.

Some people find that cooking dishes ahead and freezing them helps appreciably, even if it is done only once or twice a month. Try doing it either on the day you put aside for odd jobs or on Saturday afternoon, the traditional baking time, whenever it does not interfere with family and social activities. Children love to cook and like having their parents at home cooking, and homework and playdates can be supervised while you cook.

Designating one day in the week when you spend an hour (or two or three) doing accumulated miscellaneous chores helps every household keep itself together and organized. This is when you can clean a low-tech oven, go over the insurance policies to see if they are adequate, update your household inventory, make photograph albums, plan for your next month’s housekeeping, and much more. You can use an odd-jobs day for monthly, seasonal, or intermittent chores—such as washing windows or walls—that cannot be fitted into your regular weekly housecleaning or laundering. You can also use an odd-jobs day for doing your annual and semiannual chores one by one, on an ongoing basis, and thus avoid the need for a massive spring or fall cleaning. Working people often prefer this arrangement because otherwise they are forced to use vacation and personal days for spring cleaning. But if your schedule can accommodate it, there is much to be said for the custom of special cleanings once or twice a year.

About Semiannual and Annual Routines: Spring and Fall Cleaning. “Spring cleaning” or “fall cleaning” is the name given to a massive, whole-house deep cleaning. The custom of a seasonal “housecleaning” in the spring arose because after two seasons of heating and lighting with wood, oil, gas, kerosene, and candles, the condition of the house made it essential. By winter’s end, everything in the house was coated with a malodorous layer of black grease and grime, the ugliness of which would become ever more apparent as the days became longer and sunnier. So people cleaned everything—literally everything—as soon as the heating season was over and as soon as it was warm enough to do chores that cold weather made too inconvenient, such as beating rugs, taking mattresses and pillows outside for airing, or going into frigid areas of the home (the cellar or attic). They emptied every drawer, shelf, cabinet, closet, and room; cleaned them; and cleaned, washed, polished, or shined all their contents (drapes, mattresses, pillows, rugs, carpets, upholstery, crystal and china, silver, brass and copper, and so on); and then put everything back. Walls were washed or painted and cellars whitewashed. Because people often used separate furnishings for the warm and cold seasons, during spring cleaning they would also remove the winter furnishings and put out the warm-weather rugs, draperies, and bedclothes. During fall cleaning, preparations were made for another onslaught of cold and dirt, and the winter things were put back, bed curtains hung, wool carpets laid, and so on.

Most of the rationale for doing spring cleaning has now gone by the wayside. Modern heating and cooling systems prevent a clearly seasonal buildup of grime and enable us to do housework in all kinds of weather. I know no one who still uses different furnishings seasonally, with the exception that in most parts of the country people change the bedding and switch their seasonal clothing twice a year. And many people despise as heartily as our ancestors did the disruption of home life that spring cleaning causes. These are all reasons why some of us give up spring or fall cleaning and assign its various chores to odd-jobs days, getting them done one at a time.

But spring cleaning still has a place for anyone who can find the time for it or who rather likes the feeling of renewal that follows the major upheaval of turning your home inside out. Try it once before you rule it out. It is delightful to begin the new season with a home that has been scoured top to bottom, every drawer emptied, every piece of china washed, every bit of metal polished, every fabric washed, every square inch of all surfaces washed, polished, scoured, waxed, or otherwise brought to its finest state. This helps you feel motivated to keep things as pleasant as they are after the spring cleaning. It also means that you do not have a dozen big jobs constantly hanging over your head, getting in the way of your free time. Keeping up with the chores can feel onerous when you go at it piecemeal.

Fall cleaning is an excellent way to usher in the holiday season with its extra entertaining. You can do a fall cleaning instead of or in addition to a spring cleaning. Or you can do an additional fall cleaning in some years and not in others.

True spring cleaning should occur around the time when you stop using heat, typically sometime between the first day of spring and mid-April. Fall cleaning should be done six months later, typically in September and, at least in the cooler climates, no later than mid-October. Many people with children choose to do a fall cleaning that coincides with the beginning of the school year in late August, so as to clear closets, drawers, trunks, and other places where they store children’s outgrown and worn-out clothes and toys. Then they can start the school year fresh with room for new school clothes and playthings. Spring and fall cleaning both involve closet clearing, so they are natural times for tag sales.

If you choose to have an annual or semiannual cleaning, you can make it as simple or elaborate as you wish. Remember that the chores listed on pages 21-22 are suggestions. Any chores you choose to omit can be done instead as miscellaneous odd jobs any time in the year or, if appropriate, put off until the next year. A full spring cleaning for an average suburban house and family might take up two or three days, rarely more. During this period you should plan on having no guests and doing only light cooking.

The Order of Work in Housecleaning: What Comes First?

Many beginners, struggling to define a rational sequence in which to do the household’s cleaning, wonder if it even makes any difference. To some extent it does. A carefully planned sequence will let you avoid turning the entire house topsy-turvy at once and will keep you from disturbing clean areas while doing uncleaned ones. The order followed in traditional housekeeping is still efficient and is what I believe most people will like best. However, individuals will find that they wish to do things in a different order for reasons as objective as that their tub is in their kitchen, as in a London flat where my husband once lived, or as subjective as that the kitchen’s disorder so offends them that they can think of nothing else until it is cleaned. The important thing is to have some sequence that you like and to follow it regularly.

The guidelines I learned at my mother’s knee are these:

Proceed from higher to lower. Start upstairs and work your way downstairs; in general, clean higher places in each room before the lower (except, perhaps, when washing painted walls— “Walls, Ceilings, Woodwork, and Windows.”)

Proceed from dry to wet. Begin with dry rooms and areas without sinks, tubs, or toilets, then go on to wet rooms and areas.

Proceed from inside the house to outside.

Begin with the chores that require waiting periods. Start time-consuming automatic processes first—bed airing, laundry soaking, soup simmering—so that they can proceed while you do other things.

In practice, these guidelines will lead you to follow an order of work something like this:

Order of work from room to room. Begin with chores that include waiting periods. If you are going to do laundry while you clean, you should first gather and sort the clothes. When the first load is washing, begin on the bedrooms; keep the loads moving through the washer and dryer while you proceed with cleaning. This requires pausing to remove clothes from the dryer promptly and smooth them so that wrinkles do not set. 

Begin cleaning upstairs. Do bedrooms, offices, or sewing rooms, then hallways; do bathrooms last. If you have more than two floors, begin at the top of the house. As you descend, do the stairs between the floor you have just finished and the next floor down.

Do the ground floor last: first the living room; next the family room, den, or library; next the dining room; next the powder room or bathroom; the kitchen last.

After you have finished the inside cleaning, it is usual for those who have houses rather than apartments to do porches, patios, decks, and walks.

Order of work within each room. When you are cleaning a room, the basic idea is to avoid disturbing or soiling clean areas as you proceed to new areas. Usually you can do this by proceeding from insides (of closets, cabinets, refrigerators) to outsides, higher to lower areas, and dry to wet. Clean air conditioners and filters when you do the dusting in each room. Wash the floors last, and be sure to finish at the doorway so that you are not forced to walk over the wet floor.

Bedrooms: Strip the beds first and let them air. Next, tidy the room (if necessary, tidy closets or drawers first). Then dust. Wash picture glass and mirrors; wipe lightswitch plates, doorknobs, and doors as necessary. Then vacuum. Make the beds last. Remove and clean any vaporizers and humidifiers that require cleaning. Replace and refill them when you are ready to turn them on again.

Bathrooms: Tidy. If you use a soaking solution in the toilet, put it in immediately. Then clean the tiles or walls around the sink, shower, and tub, including shower curtains and doors. Next, clean the tub or shower stall, followed by the mirror, cabinet doors, doors, lightswitch plates, doorknobs. Then do the countertops, then the sinks. Finish cleaning the toilet (or clean it with a cleaner that does not require soaking). Sweep the floor. Wash the floor last. (You can wash lower walls and baseboards as you do the floor.)

Office, den, library, sewing room, family room, living room, dining room: Tidy, then dust. Wash picture glass and mirrors, lightswitch plates, and doors and doorknobs as necessary. Vacuum.

Kitchen: First tidy up. Then clean the stove and refrigerator. Empty any cabinets or drawers that have become dirty or disordered, wipe them out, and neatly replace the objects in them. Do backsplashes and cabinets, doors and doorknobs, lightswitch plates. Next, clean table- and countertops, then the sink. Then sweep or vacuum the floor. Wash the floor last. 

Utility rooms, attics, garages, basements: If you have a utility room or laundry room, it is usually best done after the kitchen, but that will partly depend upon where it is and whether you treat it more as part of your indoors or as part of your outdoors. Tidy. Clean appliances. Wipe cabinets, doors, doorknobs. Do countertops, then sinks. Sweep or vacuum the floor, then wash it.


There is a small but fierce debate about whether you should dust before vacuuming or vacuum before dusting. The answer is that you should dust first. The “floors first” rule is simply outmoded. Before there were vacuum cleaners, floors and carpets and rugs were often swept with brooms or carpet sweepers that raised a terrific dust. Housewives therefore did their floors first (laying cloths over everything else in the meantime), for if they had dusted first, they would have had to do it again after the dust from sweeping settled. Today you do not raise dust when you vacuum. (If you do, perhaps you should look into a new vacuum.) And if you spill dust on upholstery and floors while dusting, you can remove it when you vacuum.

Garages that do nothing more than hold the car overnight and little-used basements generally are cleaned only once or twice a year, although they may be swept out every week. When they are in daily use, they will require more frequent cleaning and perhaps weekly tidying, depending upon what activities they are used for. Attics that are used solely for storage generally need attention only every couple of years.

Outside: Sweep porches, patios, decks. Wash or hose them down as appropriate. Sweep walks.

But Is It Homey?

Those new to housekeeping may find themselves wondering if doing all this will really make their homes homey. The answer is that it will take you, in my personal estimation, about three-quarters of the way there. Housework in the seven basic areas outlined in this book is the source of most of the good things that make a place homelike—fresh sheets, good meals, airy, clean, orderly rooms, and so forth. But other things also affect the tone of the home.

Decor usually gets too much attention at the expense of other influences, but it certainly matters. If you are furnishing a home for the first time, be assured that you can suit your taste and still make a homelike home. I know people who have an avant-garde city apartment and a country home with rustic furnishings who seem to feel that only a countrified look is homey. This is surely wrong as a matter of principle, but it may be true that the signals they need to relax get sent only by Stickley furniture and wicker baskets.

It is best to know and follow your own real taste confidently instead of worrying about impressions and image. Artificiality and stiffness of decor are the most common enemies of a homey feeling. Sometimes when decor seems to subvert homeyness by its excessive grandeur or drop-dead coolness, this is really because it seems put on. As a general rule, anything you really like works—old, new, traditional, avant-garde.

That said, homeyness is easier to create in small, intimate rooms than in larger and grander ones, and many people think that if you really want your home to be heimlich, you should be sure to have a small one. I tend to agree, but I have seen people with enormous homes or open loft apartments create islands of intimacy in them by arranging furniture, partitions, or draperies so as to enclose small spaces.

There are ways of living in your home that make it homey as well, and you can get artful about it if you wish, consciously introducing habits and touches that make your place seem cozy and inviting when the occasion warrants. Usually what works best is an individual matter, which depends on your particular home, history, and tastes. There are some things that most people respond to as comfortable—sheets turned down and warmed, a newspaper left where someone will want to read it, a habitual cup of tea. You can always add to homeyness by remembering people’s favorite dishes and how they like things prepared, particularly on their rough days or when there is a celebration to mark. It is also created by knowing the habits of the members of the household—a hook where this person wants to hang his cap, a basket where that one tends to leave keys and odds and ends from her pockets, a special drawer for a child’s rock collection.

Fresh flowers, a bowl of good fruit, and homemade baked goods are, as always, easy, pleasant touches in your home. You want to provide pretty and good things like these and do something with them, no matter how simple, beyond merely buying. If you like arranging flowers, you can spend hours on it. If you don’t, fortunately they look pretty if you just drop them in a glass with water. Three or four pieces of a fruit in season that you set out to ripen on your table are often more appealing (and sensible) than an elaborate selection of exotic fruits. The admixture of your own work, the element of foresight (you did this ahead of time so that this sight, smell, or taste would be available now), the respect granted to small pleasures and the home as their source—this gets right to the heart of the matter.

Many of us feel at home in places where there are good books, not only on shelves but on tabletops or other places where we might want to pause to read in moments of leisure. Guests appreciate a thoughtful assortment of books left at their bedside stand.

It is a cliché, but true, that a room that looks lived in looks more homey. This implies not that you should be less neat but that you should actually live in your rooms. When you talk, read and write, play music or games, or sew, you leave traces of this in the room. These traces then invite people not simply to look but also to be engaged. It makes them feel as though the room exists for people, to live in and do things in. Faked signs of life make the room feel desolate and lonely. Signs of real life make the room feel comforting and warm.



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