I’ve got a confession to make. I HATE cleaning. Like, I hate it with a passion. It’s one of my least favorite things to do. Always has been. That being said, I really like living in a clean, tidy home. Cleaning falls squarely into the category of “things I want done, but don’t actually want to do.”

Given these opposing desires, you might think I’m at a bit of an impasse. But there’s always a way forward.

Because I have a strong desire to live in a clean place, and an equally strong desire to do literally anything but cleaning, I wanted to share some of my best low-effort ways to keep things clean and tidy.

True story about me: I hate cleaning so much that I hired a once-a-month cleaner as soon as I got my first real job, post-college. I had very, very little money. But I was 100% willing to scrimp and save in pretty much every other area of my life so that I could pay someone else to do this dreaded thing that I really, really didn’t want to. It honestly felt like my first act of true autonomy as an adult. (And I also recognize that to have done so still imbues me with incredible privilege.)

What about you? I’m going to assume you’ve got a job, you’ve got a family and/or pets and you’ve got a place to live. And I bet that you want to keep it clean too.

So, let’s talk tactics:

“Don’t put it down, put it away”

I’m a little bit embarrassed to say that I was reintroduced to this idea on TikTok, of all places, but it originates from Marie Kondo, the decluttering queen. In any case, it’s a mantra that help you keep your home tidy in the first place, vs. having to clean up later. I’ve actually been surprised about how much this little mantra has changed my own behavior.

I think about it all the time.

Returning from a run, instead of leaving my sweaty clothes on the floor (my natural instinct), I hear a voice in my head saying “don’t put them down, put them away”, and I drop them in the laundry bin rather than the floor. I grab some mustard to put on my sandwich, and instead of putting it on the counter, I put it back in the fridge when I’m done. This takes no time at all in the moment. In fact, it takes exactly the same amount of time to put my dirty clothes in the laundry basket vs. dropping them right in front of it. And it feels like a miracle because instead of cleaning, you’re preventing your home from getting messy in the first place.

“Leaving the Room” scan

Whenever you’re heading out of a room in your home, do a quick scan for anything that belongs in the room you’re headed to and bring it with you. So much of our clutter is just displacement. This technique also takes just a few seconds, but helps to combat the entropy of life.

Move things 1 step closer to where they need to go

Taking the above technique a bit further, when you’re leaving a room, bring something that doesn’t belong where you are closer to where it needs to go. I might not be headed to the kitchen right now, but I can bring the empty La Croix can on my bedside table with me to the office, which is closer to the kitchen. And then I can bring it to the kitchen the next time I’m headed there. Does this sometimes mean there is a plate at the bottom of my stairs, waiting to be returned to its home? Yes. But not for long.

Do you live in a home with stairs? Try keeping a basket at the base of the stairs and one at the top. Drop things that belong on the other floor in the appropriate basket, and when the basket is full, bring it up/down the stairs and put away.

Declutter incrementally

Now, let’s take that basket idea a little further. Put a “Goodwill” basket or bin somewhere out of the way in your home (garage, patio, off to the side in the entry way, in a hall closet). Anytime you run across something in your home that you no longer need/want, add it to the bin. When the bin is full take it to Goodwill (or where ever you take your giveaways).

Pair it with something you do enjoy

One of my favorite habit-building techniques is “pairing”. This is where you pair something you don’t like, with something you do like. I always do disagreeable chores while listening to a podcast or an audiobook. It’s amazing how much faster the dishes go when you can let your mind focus on something more pleasant or interesting. Got a “guilty pleasure” TV show you’re (secretly) loving? Fold the laundry while watching it and it’s no longer guilty; it’s just pleasure.

Schedule it!

Unless tidying is something you really like to do (in which case, you’ve probably stopped reading anyway), you’re never gonna wake up one day and just feel like cleaning. And, as you know, being an adult contains a fair bit of “doing things you don’t want to do, but still have to get done”. In fact, perhaps that’s the defining feature of adulthood.

In any case, I’ve found that if you schedule it, it’s likelier to get done. As Gretchen Rubin like’s to say: “what can happen at anytime, often happens at no time”. So, if you want it done, and don’t want to have to worry about it never happening, just schedule it.

Outsource it!

There are varying degrees of outsourcing your cleaning and I want to share a few of them:

  • Outsource to a robot
    • Hands-down the best purchase I made during the pandemic was a Roomba. (Well, it was a Eufy Robovac, specifically, and I really can’t take that much credit because it was my husband who had the idea and then actually made the purchase.) But, I’ve been the beneficiary. With 2 kids and 1/2 our family with long hair, this robovac keeps our floors crumb and hair free at the literal touch of a button. We may not have flying cars yet (or ever), but I don’t ever have to manually vaccum again.
  • Outsource to your kids
    • Ok, admittedly, this one is a long-game. But, if you don’t like cleaning as much as I don’t like cleaning, there’s no time like the present to start this long-game. My goal, since my kids were in diapers, was that every year they would take on more chores and housework and I would do less. For the most part, this has panned out. I would be giving you false hope if I said this one were “without effort”, because it does require a fair amount of nagging repetitive encouragement. But, my kids are 11 and 13 now, and they are responsible for: their laundry, cleaning the kitchen (1x per day on weekdays and 2x per day on weekends), the garbage, recycle and compost, cooking dinner once a week (including the planning and shopping for this meal) and a number of other small chores that keep our household running. (And I don’t feel bad about this at all, as studies show that the more chores as kids, the more successful they are as adults.)
  • Outsource it all
    • If you can afford it, this might be the best solution of all. Hire it out to someone else. (Personally, I’m way too frugal to hire out all my cleaning, but I do have a cleaner who comes twice a month to do the deep cleaning and then we use all the strategies above to keep things tidy in the interim. It’s the best money I spend all month.)

Got a tidying or cleaning hack? Share it in the comments!


You might be wondering, “what does tidying have to do with productivity?”. Well, first there’s the time it actually takes, but also, studies show that we tend to be more stressed and more easily distractible in cluttered environments.