Illustration Credit: Michael Robertson
The phone rings and guests are dropping by in 10 minutes. Now what? Lynn Fraser, an Edmonton life and executive coach and owner of Balance Your World, reassures us that the goal is not a perfectly clean house — just a warm welcome for your friends.
After all, “your guests are coming to see you and the kids, and it doesn’t matter if your home isn’t perfect. A place that’s homey and comfortable is much more welcoming than a show home.”
Still, with a plan and some expert know-how, you can make a house presentable in almost no time (and keep your heart rate within normal range).
Linda Chu, the owner of Out of Chaos Professional Organizing Solutions in Vancouver, recommends focusing on the living or family room, kitchen and washroom. Don’t worry about bedrooms—your guests aren’t coming for a sleepover.
Pop the little kids’ favourite DVD into the player, suggests Chu, and give them a small no-mess snack so they’re occupied—this way, they won’t undo your work as you go (much). Meanwhile, you, your partner and big kids can zip around the house.
Give yourself three minutes for a sweep through the rooms. Grab a bin or basket or two and pick up everything that doesn’t belong: dirty laundry, excess shoes, toys, models of the Eiffel Tower. In the family room, stash books and mags into an ottoman or a drawer in your coffee table, if you have one. In the kitchen, the big kids can clear the counter and load the dishwasher. Don’t worry about sorting things nicely—that’s for another time.
Finish picking up in the bathroom and, while you’re there, take three minutes: Flush the toilet, close lid, close the shower curtain, wipe counters and replace towels. The key to a quick bathroom turnaround is a little prep, stresses Chu: Pack a set of clean coordinated towels and washcloths in a zippered bag (the kind comforters come in). Include kitchen and dining room linens, if you like. When company drops by, you won’t have to scrounge in the linen closet. After they leave, do the laundry and pack the set back up, ready for the next visitors.
On to the kitchen! You and your helpers have three minutes to wipe the table and counters, put out the garbage, clean under the table with something like a Swiffer WetJet (especially if your children are small and floors are sticky).
A minute left! Enough time, suggests Chu, to comb your hair. And take a big breath.
What if you don’t have 10 minutes? What if friends just pop in? Try these quick tips:
• Grab a garbage bag and do a fast runaround, picking up what you can. Stash and sort later.
• Consider an alternative use of appliances, suggests Margaret Weeks, a home economist at the University of Prince Edward Island. Pop clothes and towels from the floor into the washer or dryer; your dishwasher will hide (er, hold) lots of dishes and pots.
• Put a fresh bar of soap in the bathroom — the room will smell nice even if you don’t have time to scrub.
• Focus on a welcoming atmosphere, says Fraser: Put on some music, turn on the kettle for coffee, clean off the table, put out a snack, clear a path to wherever you’re going to entertain your guests, and remove the clutter from the front entryway.
• Remind yourself that if people are dropping by on the spur of the moment, they must be very good friends who’ve seen you through thick and thin, says Weeks. Smile, open the door and welcome them in for a cup of coffee.
Streamline your tidying technique:
• Contain it: To control clutter, you need storage — baskets, pretty boxes, plastic bins. Weeks also likes big tote bags and hampers for quick storage of toys, shoes and laundry. When not in use, stack and tuck them away.
• Give it a home: If everything has a place, you can tidy in a hurry because you know where it goes.
• Hang it: Install hooks or pegs at your entryway, suggests Chu. Guests can hang their coats on the hooks (rather than in closets you don’t want them to see).
• Multi-task with cleaning supplies: Fraser mixes one-third vinegar to two-thirds water in a spray bottle for mirrors, counters, glass and fixtures.
• Teach your kids: Keep clutter under control by picking up 10 things every day, says Weeks. Encourage your kids to learn the same habit (if you start right now, this will take approximately 24 years).
Looking for ways to get your kids to help you with chores? Check out this video:
Originally published in 2010.