Stress-Free Holiday Cleaning Routines

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Keep your home clean and calm this holiday season with a few simple cleaning routines.
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A major part of organizing is creating spaces for the stuff we use daily.
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Keep an ongoing donation box somewhere in your home to help quell clutter.
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Keep your sinks empty by loading the dishwasher in the evening and running it while you're at work or out shopping.

This holiday season can be different:Amid the parties, gift-making, dessert-baking and guest-preparing, you can be amazingly, serenely stress-free. How? By establishing routines to keep our homes running smoothly every day, we can reduce stress and devote our time and energy toward special seasonal activities with our loved ones, rather than chores. Try these tips to enjoy a holiday season that feels joyful instead of chaotic.

Streamline Your Home

Getting there requires some work, but not of the rushing, busy-bee variety we typically associate with a hectic holiday season. Instead, we need to strategize for long-term, day-in and day-out success.

If clutter is overwhelming your house to the extent that inviting guests over requires hours of cleaning, it’s time to simplify. “Too much stuff” is a problem in many households. A 2012 study by the UCLA Center on Everyday Lives of Families found that managing too much stuff can feel so overwhelming that it can actually raise stress hormones. Is clutter really worth added stress?

Keeping in mind that reducing your holdings can actually improve your health, take stock of your environment: Which items take up space but have little function? Let the holiday season’s spirit of charity inspire you to box up everything you don’t use regularly and donate it for another family to enjoy. Encourage the kids to get involved by going through their old books and toys and donating everything they’ve outgrown.

As you choose items to let go of, keep in mind that opening up free spaces in our homes can bring peace of mind. The idea that not every nook and cranny needs to be filled—or that every item needs to stay forever—can take some getting used to. It will likely take practice to lower your “stuff” threshold. Gretchen Rubin, author of Happier at Home and The Happiness Project, advises readers to keep an empty shelf somewhere in the house—one they don’t feel a need to fill with anything at all.

After you’ve pared back and given yourself some breathing space, consider implementing one or more of the following routines, all of which are designed to help keep your home in order easily.

You Want: Breathing Space

The problem: We cleared our homes of clutter on declutter day, but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we’re done. Clutter doesn’t build up in a day—it accumulates slowly over time. It takes vigilance to permanently keep clutter at bay.

The routine: Start by making a “donation” bin somewhere in your home—maybe it’s in a closet or by the back door. Any time you notice something you don’t use or like, add it to the donate bin. Once it’s full, drop it off at a charity or women’s shelter.

Then schedule 20 minutes once a month to analyze your spaces and manage excess stuff. When you see something that isn’t needed, get rid of it. Right then and there; it really can be that simple. As you analyze items, you only need to ask yourself two questions: Do I use this item? Do I love this item? Functional items should be used at least once a month to make them worth space in your home. If it’s something you love—say, a piece of art your son brought home from school—display it. Frame the art and hang it on the wall. If you have items that are neither used monthly nor displayed, limit your “collection” of them by getting a reasonable-sized weatherproof tub that fits easily in a closet, and store your nostalgic items there. As long as it fits in the tub, you can keep it. Once the tub is full, it’s time to make decisions about what to keep and what to toss.

You Want: Under-Control Mail

The problem: As it continues to come in day after day, mail can put a kink in your house zen. Piles of bills, fliers, coupons and more can seem to take on a life of their own.

The routine: Don’t let mail take over. Instead, sort the mail as it comes into the house, immediately recycling junk mail, shredding unneeded financial statements, and filing important paperwork. Create a mail station in an office or near the front door. Stock it with a small recycle bin, a paper shredder, and a tray or box for actionable items such as invitations that need an RSVP or bills that need to be paid.

You Want: A Spic & Span Mudroom

The problem: Shoes, shoes, everywhere. And jackets. And backpacks. And more.

The routine: The much-needed items that protect us against the cold are definitely not clutter. Yet it’s easy to find ourselves fighting the battle of the bulging hall closet.Get ahead of the game by dedicating space just inside the door for outerwear. Customize this space to accommodate the items most often piled in your entry: Keep a basket for shoes by the door; tuck gloves into another bin; and hang lots of hooks for jackets, backpacks and bags.

You Want: A Clutter-Free Kitchen

The problem: A cluttered dining table or countertop is an all-too-familiar housekeeping pitfall. All that stuff has to go somewhere—and the nice open expanse of the dining table can be an attractive place to plunk down that stack of papers. And the unemptied laundry basket. And your knapsack.

The routine:  Counteract this ten- dency by making clearing kitchen surfaces a part of after-dinner clean-up. While the dishes are directed to the sink, gather items that don’t belong on the table or counter. Pile them up and, once the kitchen is clean, return all the runaway items to where they belong.

You Want: An Empty Kitchen Sink

The problem: For many of us, the first step in making dinner is clearing the dirty breakfast dishes from the sink. Or worse, maneuvering around empty cups and adding to the mess to be dealt with later.

The routine: How much easier would life be if the kitchen counters were clear and the sink empty when you got home from work? This is attainable—and simple. Load the dishwasher in the evening after dinner, but don’t run it yet—in the morning, add the few items used before you leave the house and let the dishwasher run while you’re out. When you return, it will be to a clean kitchen with an empty sink.

Find more ways to take control of the hectic holiday schedules in Simple Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress.

Customize It!

Your cleaning routines should reflect your life. Use these tips to customize your cleaning schedule to your household.

1-Person Household

• It can be easy to let chores slip when you’re the only one you answer to. Set a schedule for yourself for daily maintenance tasks, and hold yourself to it.
• Make mundane maintenance fun by teaming up a chore with a fun, mindless activity. For example, sort the mail or fold laundry while sipping tea and catching up on your favorite television series.
• Keep your space looking good, and you are likely to feel better in it. This means making your bed in the morning, tidying the throw blanket on the sofa and nixing dirty dishes in the sink.

2-Person Household

• Enjoy the spoils of having two people under one roof: Divide and conquer! Decide who is accountable for which tasks, and check your chores off your list.
• Team up to tackle bigger jobs. Designate an hour or two each weekend for deeper cleaning, and have one person sweep, while the other follows with the mop. Create a monthly rotating schedule of deep-cleaning tasks.
• Two people can mean twice the mess. Tidy the day’s mess in the evening before bed, toting shoes back to their slots, putting papers in their place and so on.

3- to 5-Person Household

• Hand out assignments to the kids. Let your kids aid in keeping their home pleasant by assigning tasks that are appropriate to their ages. For example, they may begin with being responsible for helping tidy their toys when they are through playing, and progress to being expected to return toys to shelves on their own at the end of playtime.
• Be realistic. More people means more stuff, so you may need to be ruthless in de-cluttering. Do all your items function for your life today, or do you have some lingering supplies for a long-forgotten hobby that can be donated?
• Keep tasks brief. Chop up the household to-do list into bite-sized chores. Instead of trying to clean for an entire afternoon on a Sunday, ask everyone to do a chore, and give a time limit. You will be amazed what four people can do in 20 minutes! And then go out and do something fun. Add another 20 minute chore break before dinner, and so on.

Household with Pets

• Vacuuming and sweeping needs become more frequent with pets in the house. Try to hit one room each day to keep things manageable.
• Add vacuuming the furniture to your task list.
• Are your pets messy eaters? Consider putting a rubber tray of some kind under the food and water bowls to corral the drips and drops.