My wife and I have started a new cleaning policy for our apartment, and I think it’s got a lot of potential.

Taking a page from what others have been saying about sustainable, continuous cleaning practices, we knew we wanted to have nightly, five minute cleaning sessions. There should be no night where we skip the cleaning, no matter how tired we are or how late it is. With everything in place, doing one cleaning task should be quick, painless, and brainless.

What's a task?

The question is, what constitutes a task?

Breaking it down, I noticed that for any given room, there are 5 common tasks. They are:

  • Dusting
  • Sweeping
  • Cleaning (with some cleanser)
  • Tidying (returning things to their correct place)
  • Purging (removing things that you no longer need)

On Paper

Dusting, sweeping and cleaning are pretty straightforward. To dust, you need a duster, some wood spray and a cloth. Sweeping: broom and dustpan. For cleaning I use an all purpose cleanser and a rag.

In our apartment, there are about 10 parts of the apartment that benefit from a dusting. For example, I count the TV and its mess of cables as one unit of work, whereas the bedroom itself is a single task, by virtue of its modest size. With two of us, this means everything will be dusted once a month, which sounds about right to us.

Similarly, there are 5 or so sweepworthy places in our apartment. Getting to each of them twice a month might be overkill in some rooms, but the main entryway could certainly benefit.

To tidy, I’d pick a single surface or location and straighten things up. Anything that doesn’t belong where it is gets brought to its correct place. You might bring a dish back to the kitchen or trash to the wastebasket.

Purging is about throwing things away. Pick a location in your home and throw out the things that don’t belong in your life at all. Finish by bringing it outdoors to the trash. This is a good task to do the night before trash day. Often, unneeded items such as clothes or electronics should be donated or recycled. Unfortunately, the best we can do is collect them in one place and make an errand of delivering them.

In Reality

After starting this practice, I found that it has some nice properties.

Let’s say I start dusting and find a book that’s out of place. Since Tidying is Thursday’s task, I can leave that book where it is and keep dusting. As tempting as it might be to walk away from the dusty endtable, you should dust that book and put it back where you found it!

I think this is the key to the sustainability of this practice. Each task is truly the size we expect it to be. We are focused on the task at hand and have everything we need to complete it. This scheme is very helpful as you start since it makes dealing with that dusty, messy pile of unwanted things very reasonable.