This article, Daily Quick Cleaning Checklist in Real Simple led to a brilliant article mocking it, here: Clean the Whole House in 30 Minutes? We Tried It | The Stir. I agree with the Stir article: the times listed in Real Simple are unrealistic, to put it mildly.
Having tried and failed with the list in Real Simple, I came up with some other approaches that I thought might work better, room by room.
The kitchen: the trick in the kitchen is to keep it clean while you are making meals. This is tiring, but it also saves you time. So if you have the energy, first put away clean dishes. (Actually, before that, if you need to boil water for pasta or vegetables, start that now. The water will be boiling and ready by the time you need to do other things). This gives you more room to move. If you find yourself spending too much time moving things around, get rid of some of your dishes. It’s easy to accumulate dishes, but if you find yourself taking time every night moving dishes around to put other ones away, then either give away some things you have or store them some place else. Have your daily dishes in a spot that makes them easy to put away.
Second, get rid of dirty dishes. Put them in the dishwasher or in the sink of soapy water.
Now you have room to start cooking. If you brought home groceries, put away food that will spoil. Then start cooking. As things as cooking, clean out your fridge and cupboard of things you no longer need or want. Give the fridge a wipe, then store the non-perishable groceries that you have.
Speaking of giving the fridge a wipe, have the day to day cleaners in the kitchen, along with rags or sponges. You don’t want to have to retrieve them: that takes time and energy. At a minimum a spray bottle of all purpose cleaner and a good sponge will help with the basic cleanup.
Have a sink of soapy water ready for anything that can’t go in the dishwasher. As you finish with something, you can either wash it right away or at least place it in there to make it easy to clean later.
Is there any way you can cook for more than one day while you are cooking? If so, that will save you on the amount of time you are cooking and cleaning pots and dishes tomorrow or the next day. Try that.
The dining room: if you have kids, make sure they pick up their own toys before they eat or watch TV or do anything with friends or anything fun. Also have them set the table or tidy up the table, chairs, etc. Consider rewards, since let’s face it: cleaning sucks for kids, too. If they don’t clean up, you can get their stuff in the Sweep. (see below).
When you serve food, use a tray and bring a big bowl and food containers. Why? At the end of the meal, store leftovers from the meal right in the containers at the table. Then scrape any compostable material right in the bowl and dump in the compost (or garbage if you don’t have it). Finally, use the tray to bring it all in with one trip, versus three or four. No place to put the tray? Leave it on the floor during the meal: it’s your family, not the Royal Family.
If you can, have cleaning products in the dining room too. Or have it in the kitchen and bring it in with the tray. You can give everything a wipe after the meal is done.
The bathroom: like the other rooms, have cleaning products standing by. If you have no room for them, then bring them with you at night when you go brush your teeth. Brush your teeth, floss, etc., then give everything a wipe down.
The bedrooms: if you can, get a nice duvet or comforter to make bedmaking a breeze. Clothes lying around? Put away the clean ones right away, of course. Think about what you want to wear before you do in the morning will mean you have less clothes lying around. Also, make your bed before you get dressed, to encourage you to keep the room tidy, and also have a surface to lay clothes out. Dirty clothes? We’ll get to those in a minute.
The living room and things in general (or, The Sweep): one way to keep the living room and other rooms neat and tidy is The Sweep. Grab a basket (e.g. laundry basket) and some rags/sponges and cleaning products. Go through the living room and other rooms and sweep up books, papers, clothes, toys, etc. Spot clean as you go. At the end, dump off the dirty clothes in the laundry area, reshelve books, stack (or toss) papers, and have a common area for kids toys and put them there.
Other general tips:
Have space to store stuff: tidying takes time because it takes too much time to put things away. Create spaces to put things away, and have those spaces easy to access.
Have space to store cleaning stuff: the less energy it takes to get cleaning supplies, the easier it is to clean. If you have very little space, organize a bucket or bin with a handle full of cleaning stuff and rags. It will make it easier to clean.
Don’t let things build up: that just makes jobs harder. The flip side to this is waste. Running the dishwasher every day even if it is 3/4 full or less will likely save you time, but waste energy. Likewise, you may find yourself with cleaning products all over the place. But the thing you are trying to save is time. You need to balance the waste of one thing vs another.
Make it enjoyable: cleaning and tidying is likely not fun for you (it isn’t for me). But try to make it so. Put on good music. Have a drink you like to drink. Make it a workout. Talk to someone while you are doing it. Sing a song. Whatever it takes. Also, think about how much easier it will be to find things or do other things if it is clean and tidy.
Get others to help you: this is obvious, but still.
Have less stuff: if all the stuff you have means you spend alot of time taking care of it, is it really worth it. At the very least, move it out of the way of your daily path in order to streamline your life. Also, use up stuff. Do you really need all that food in your pantry? If you bought paper napkins, why aren’t you using them? Etc.
Prioritize it, but don’t make it your first priority: you want to keep the place clean. But you don’t want to spend all your time doing it. Also, you have other more important responsibilities. Therefore, look for shortcuts. Simplify your meals. Timebox your cleaning effort: if you are pressed for time or tired, give yourself a period of time and clean as much as you can in that time, then acknowledge you need to move on and do it.
Make it worthwhile: when things are the way you like it, take time to appreciate it. Hey, if you don’t, then you are missing out a big reason to spend all that time and energy.