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Cleaning in a Hurry

Updated November 24, 2007

It never fails. You have your whole day planned out, and your goal today is to be a lazy slob. Then you get the dreaded call. It could be from a friend, a relative, or even a coworker. The voice on the other line says cheerfully, "We're coming over to your house. We'll be there in thirty minutes." You look around your home at the mess you've let accumulate and scream. You can't let them see your place like this. They'll think that you live like this all the time. They'll tell everyone you know. What to do?

This is the time when you start saying, "Why didn't I just do the little bit that needs to be done every day, so my house would already look nice?" Well, you can't go back in time, so you need to learn to clean in a hurry.

The basic order to cleaning in a hurry is to focus on 1) you, 2) areas your guest will most likely be spending time in, such as the entry and living room, 3) the kitchen because nobody likes eating from a seemingly unsanitary kitchen, 4) the bathroom because nobody likes spending time in dirty bathrooms but at least it's not as bad as eating from a dirty kitchen 5) the details.

The following items are listed from most important to least important, so do them in order.

  • Delegate tasks.
    The more people who have in your home during the cleaning spree, the better.

  • Light some incense or scented candles or use an aromatherapy diffuser to cover up any odors (especially in bathrooms).
    The sooner you do this, the more time the scents will have to fill your home. Avoid air fresheners, they're too obvious, and we all know that real flowers don't smell like that artificial stuff in a can. Incense, natural aromatherapy sources, or scented candles are quick and it makes you seem like a person who is in touch with his/her own spirituality and has this sort of thing going on all the time. You should also open up your windows and doors while you use these aromatic items to help spread out the scent and reduce the amount of allergens that build up (such as smoke from the incense or candle or even microscopic oil droplets in the air). Don't worry about "letting out the smell" because fresh air smells better than stinky air covered up with a nice scent and even with the windows open you'll still have enough scent to make your home smell pleasant (besides, too much of a good thing, even nice smells, is overwhelming, and that's a bad thing). One of my favorite ways of filling my house with wonderful smells all day is with my slow cooker, a perfect aromatherapy diffuser. If I'm cooking with my slow cooker, the smell of the food fills the house all day, and that is typically a pleasant smell. If I'm not cooking, I fill my crock pot with water, herbs, spices and fruit peels (orange peels work great) that reflect the season.

  • Clean yourself up.
    If you're not looking presentable, go brush your hair, wash your face, brush your teeth, throw on some decent clothes, and if you have time put on some quick makeup. Try to do all of this within 5 minutes, no longer. Even if your house is clean, if you are a mess you won't be present your best self. After all, your guests will be looking at you more than your house.

  • Throw misplaced items that your guests will probably see into a room no one will see, and close the door.
    This is where it pays to have a storage area, basement, or spare room, but you can always use any bedroom or office in your house. If something belongs in the trash, by all means throw it in the trash rather than in your pile. You may want to bring a trash can into the room your are working on if there is a lot of trash that needs to be thrown away, so you don't have to make a hundred trips to the trash can. It's also best to have a huge basket or box that you can throw all of those misplaced items into and carry to your hiding place all at once rather than making many trips. If you have time after you finish the rest of this list, go ahead and try to put some of those things back where they belong.

  • Hide those dirty dishes in the dishwasher.
    No dishwasher? Put them in the sink and fill it up with soapy water. The more bubbles the better. It will give the illusion that you were in the process of cleaning before your guests called (and it's perfectly fine to tell them this if they give your bubbly sink full of dishes any strange looks). Don't throw your dirty dishes into the refrigerator or oven. If you end up having to cook while your guests are in the room with you (because everybody ends up in the kitchen), you'll have to explain why you have an oven or refrigerator full of dirty dishes.

  • Wipe down the counters in the kitchen.
    Dirty counters can be rather disgusting to your guests if you end up serving food. Would you want to eat food from a restaurant that had a dirty kitchen?

  • Wipe down any tables that your visitor might use.
    Typically living room tables are pretty clean (unless you have kids), so only clean them if they are obviously dirty. Any eating surfaces should definitely be wiped down because nobody wants to eat on a dirty table.

  • Wipe down the counters, sink, and toilet (or even clean the toilet) in the bathroom that your visitor may use.
    I must admit, I get a little grossed-out when I go to someone's house, visit their bathroom, and find hair or toothpaste that they spit out on the counter or in the sink. I also get disgusted by a toilet that has any remnants of "business" that may have occurred there. I rarely feel like I know somebody well enough to want to be exposed to any remains of their bodily functions, and chances are your guests don't want to be exposed to yours. If your bathtub or shower is dirty, just close your shower doors or shower curtain (if you don't have one you may have to rinse out and wipe down the bathtub and shower surfaces).

  • Vacuum any place that your visitors can see (if it's needed).
    This includes hard floor surfaces (such as in the kitchen) because it's quicker than sweeping (just make sure you use the proper attachment or setting to keep from scratching up the surface). Start with the most obvious places, like the living room and entry, and work your way to less obvious places.

  • Straighten up your decorative items.
    If you have any decorative items, especially in the rooms where you expect your guests to be in, make sure they are all neatly arranged. For example, instead of a pile of magazines in the corner, stack them neatly or decoratively on the table. Straighten up books in your bookshelf. Fluff pillows, and fold blankets (or drape them artistically for that lived in look).

  • Get out the window cleaner and start shining things up.
    Start with anything that is obvious, like the television screen, glass cabinet doors, glass tables, mirrors (especially in the bathroom), and such. Then work on things like picture frames since guests often end up looking at such items.

If you don't have time to get through the whole list, just do as much as you can. If your guests are over during the evening, you can always dim the lights to make the mess seem less noticeable, and as a bonus it makes your gathering more intimate.

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