Monday, 23 July 2012

Secrets of a Tidy House

Since we have had the house on the market – one whole week – we have had photos taken, a horde of real estate agents visit, and buyers inspecting every day but Sunday. I have another one this afternoon, with two hours notice, so I like to keep the house tidy just in case!

What is the secret to a tidy house? Don’t have a man, kids or pets in the house. Simple. Boring. Joking!

What’s not to love 
With four children at home, a dog, a puppy and a cat, keeping the house tidy enough for constant visitors takes a little work. But it is do-able. And notice I said tidy, not clean. I have tried to de-clutter, and each few days I pack another small box of unessential stuff away. I am going through cupboards room by room, and gradually sorting them out. I also went through each room and de-cobwebbed, filled holes in walls and touched up paint where needed, including all the doors. I have cleaned most of the windows and blinds, and do another couple each weekend. The bathrooms get a good clean each weekend too, as do the timber floors.

Unfortunately I am not really living in the 40s, when I may have had a daily maid or housekeeper, and I am not living in a Disney movie with helpful cockroaches to clean the tub either. During the week my eldest daughters (10 and 16) do their bit with their own rooms and occasional tidying of the kitchen and lounge room, and hubby takes out the rubbish and does any jobs I ask – they just don’t see mess like I do. My husband will actually walk over strewn toys or shoes without noticing them. It has taken years, but I have learnt not to get cross with them, and him in particular – I just let them all help (even the twins, age 7) if they offer, but I try not to nag. If they don’t it the way I want it done, I redo after they have gone if I NEED to. If it’s good enough I leave it. I have learnt to love imperfection, and I figure a buyer will see past a bed that is made a little crooked. Unless they do the white glove test the house will look clean enough if it’s tidy and smells nice (or at least doesn’t smell bad).

At present my husband usually takes the kids to school, and then I have about half hour or so to tidy in peace before I leave for work. Sounds fun right?!
So what do I do in that half hour?


The Half hour tidy
1. Put the breakfast dishes into soak (I could rinse and stack the dishwasher);
2. Wipe the table and shake out or replace the cloth and put a bowl of fruit on it;
3. Wipe all the counters and the coffee table in the lounge;
4. Open curtains, blinds and windows;
5. Use a cushion to dust off (whack it forcefully) the sofa then adjust the cushions;
6. Check the kids beds are made and open their blinds and windows;
7. Throw any clean clothes in their cupboards, dirty in the hamper and toys in a basket for them to sort out later;
8. Toilet duck the toilet, flush and shut the lid;
9. Wipe the bathroom sink and hang up towels neatly;
10. Wash the dishes and leave to drain;
11. Sweep or lightly mop all the floors except the kitchen;
12. Put away the dishes and wipe the sink and stove top;
13. Wipe the fridge and oven doors and hang up a clean tea towel;
14. Mop the kitchen floor;
15. Take out the trash out on the way downstairs; and lastly
16. Brush teeth, put on lipstick, perfume, jewelry and shoes.

Remember this is upstairs only, which is a small three-bedroom house (downstairs is built in under and has our room and bathroom, which I make sure is neat before I shower, dress, basic makeup and hair and go upstairs for breakfast). This makes my home tidy, and clean enough for visitors, and for me (as long as no-one looks in the fridge cause that’s next weekends job). Sometimes I open blinds and windows first thing if I have to wake the kids up (not usually with the little two but often with the big two) and do the lounge while waiting for the kettle to boil etc. It’s winter here now – in Summer I tend to clean and then shower, and it gets so hot and humid here.

How can I be bothered every day? I want to sell my house! And although I have told the agent I like a days’ notice, I really don’t want to say no to a prospective buyer. But it’s really just a bit more of what I do each day anyway. I like a tidy house – it makes ME feel better and more relaxed. I love to sit on the couch with the kids and do their readers after work and not think “I really need to get those cobwebs”, but really focus on them instead. Today I also stripped the kids beds and put the sheets into wash. I will stick them in the dryer when I get home. I also didn’t put away the dishes – but they are quite neat and decorative on the rack.
Next kitchen is having one of these! source

Since I stopped complaining about housework and stopped nagging everyone to do their bit, they are all more happy to help. The little two compete with each other to make their beds first in the morning and the big two will do a job, like unstack the dishwasher, on the first ask. I try not to live in a fantasy world where everything is magazine perfect and my pegs are matching on each item of clothing I hang out to air dry (yes, I did used to do this). I know that the mess will be back tomorrow morning, and I will have to do it all again, but I think of it like brushing my teeth – it’s so routine I don’t even think about it and I feel (and smell) better when I do it.

Tools for success:

Get a good broom and mop – preferably the same one like the Enjo one I mentioned earlier – you can swap heads easily and you don’t need buckets of water. (Yes I did used to sell them, but I have had mine over 10 years and it’s still going strong. My husband used to snap a mop every time he used it, but this one is strong and height adjustable – shorten it for the kids or lengthen it to dust cornices. You can also put a window washing squeegee on it). Also a good brush and shovel (with long handle so you don’t have to bend down, or make it your little ones ‘special job’ to do it for you).
Get a good vacuum cleaner – even if you have polished boards like me, you will probably have rugs. Vacuuming is heaps easier than beating them out. It can also do your car, blinds, sofas, the little gap under sliding doors and window, air vents, pump up a air bed etc....

1948 Hoover ad
1948 Hoover ad source
 Use minimal cleaning chemicals – I use enjo cleaning cloths, which need no chemicals, but I do have a simple nice smelling cleaner that I sometimes use when I want a little extra (or the kids are helping, they love to spray stuff) – ½ white vinegar and ½ water with a little essential oil – I like lavender or eucalyptus. I also use cotton dishcloths which I wash every day, although I often I wipe down the bathroom sink with a dirty t-shirt from the hamper. Bi-carb soda is great for stainless steel sinks (baths, dirty pots, bottom of glass vases), and is a bit like the old powdered cleaners (Bon ami) , but better for your hands.

Toilets are the one place I use real cleaner – I toilet duck everyday just about, but I try and get the enviro-friendly one. My kids used tho play with the leave in thingy’s so I don’t use them (although I hope their past that now!) And if you have little a boy, like I do, check the toilet walls regularly too!

Bon ami ad 1935
Bon ami ad 1935 

Use hampers/ baskets for dirty linen– the big girls have a basket in their rooms for their stuff (and they do their own washing) and there is one in the bathroom for the twins. We have our own. I do a dark load every day, bath towels twice a week, and sheets/shower curtains and whites on Saturdays. Curtains and blankets I do about once every two months.
Bins – have lots of them, kitchen, bathroom, laundry and each bedroom. Line them with used grocery bags, or get scented bin liners. Get the kids to take out their own rubbish when the bin is full, or at least every rubbish collection day.
Baskets – have a nice one (vintage with a lid or handle, or even one of those stools with a hinged lid) in each room for bits that are laying around that you don’t want to throw away or put away – toys, odd shoes, hairbrushes. Then when someone (right Olivia) says, “I can’ find a hairbrush” you can point to the basket. Empty it at the end of the week, or better yet get the kids to do it.

cute vintage basket
cute vintage basket

Get a clothes dryer – I am assuming here that you already have a washing machine (if not, get one, they are the world’s best labour saving device ever invented). Yes, I know air drying is better for the environment blah blah – I do do it - When it’s not raining, or on the weekends. You could even call them vintage, as the first electric dryer with a glass window was developed in the 1940s. I used to wash at night and hang on the line, but now we have fruit bats at night and second hand mango stains real bad, let me tell you! Even if I hang clothes under the house to dry, I still put them in the dryer for five minutes to soften them up and make sure they are REALLY dry – in this climate everything goes mouldy really easy (except shirts, which I like to iron while damp). Also, fold clothes straight from the line or dryer to save creases and time.
I would rather have a clothes dryer than a dishwasher – If I am going to rinse I might as well wash, although I don’t dry I let things air dry. If you hate washing, though, by all means get one.

Bendix dryer ad 1948
Bendix dryer ad 1948 source

Flowers – treat yourself (or train your partner) to a bunch of fresh flowers (or a flowering plant) every other week. My husband started doing this for me – he gets a bunch of lilies at the supermarket when he does the groceries on the weekend (he loves it, takes one child for ‘special one on one time’ and is leaning to stick to the list). The flowers sit near the front door and smell wonderful – and people always notice them and comment, which means they have less time to notice any mess I may have missed. As they die off I stick in a few fern or palm fronds - greenery is cheap and cheerful. Flowers are great to hide defects too, like that drawing someone did in lipstick and you haven’t had time to scrub off. Pot plants are also great, if you remember to water them each week and have kids who no longer eat dirt.

My entry and dining area
Just remember, as my mother in law told me recently, the day your house will stay clean is actually when you don’t have the kids at home anymore, or a husband, or pets.  Enjoy a little mess – it means you have love, or at least company, in your life.

deb xx


  1. Hello, thank you for your post on my blog, I am very thankful that you took the time to read my post! I love the picture of the 1950's housewife at the beginning, she seems to be thoroughly enjoying her work!
    Isabella xxx

    1. Pleasure Isabella - and the photo is me doing the dishes. Not really, but that's how I like to think I look!

  2. I hope you will sell soon!

    I have followed Flylady for a couple of years, as I find her advice useful (mostly). It do does wonders to do a little everyday. And I'm so with you when it comes to cleaning for your own sake. I like to have a tidy home, so I tidy and I don't fret over what others do and don't do. :)

  3. Great advice - I have a couple of lovely friends who always seem in a mess, but I would rather go overs to theirs and have coffee than to another friend who is a real neat freak, as their homes are always so welcoming and comfy.

  4. You may be interested in this, if you haven't see in before: A plan of work for a small servantless house from A Good Housekeeping guide published in 1950:


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