Last week, as the family was cleaning up after dinner, I posed this question to Ben Blair and the kids: If guests are arriving in 30 minutes, and the house is a complete mess, what would you clean first? It’s a simple question, and a scenario that we’ve all lived through multiple times, but it was funny to hear everyone’s answers because we all had a different list!
Obviously, answers can depend on context — are these guests staying overnight? coming for dinner? stopping by for a playdate? So for our imaginary scenario, we decided the guests were first time visitors, who are only staying for a couple of hours. The visit isn’t during a meal time, and they might want a house tour. You’ve got 30 mins to clean up. What do you do?
Here’s my list:
First, I’d spend 7 minutes or so putting dishes in the sink and wiping down the kitchen counters and kitchen table. I figure no one wants to see the remains of lunch on display. Note: I wouldn’t actually do the dishes — as long as they’re in the sink and the counters are wiped, I would move on to other tasks.
Next, I’d spend another 7 minutes clearing clutter on the flat surfaces in the living room and entry — sofas, coffee table, benches, etc., The kind of clutter I’m thinking of is paper stuff like homework, mail or catalogs, and also things like tools from the shed that are waiting to be put away, or a stray pair of shoes. I would focus on the paper first, because putting loose paper away makes a huge impact.
Then, I’d spend about 5 minutes focusing on the coffee table. I’d start with dusting the coffee table itself, plus anything on the coffee table, because picking up an interesting book or conversational object and realizing it has left a layer of dust on your hand is gross. Then I’d choose books to display that I think our guests would like.
After dusting, I’d spend 2 minutes on the sofas. I’d plump the pillows and tidy the throw blankets. If anything needs a cleaning, I’d send it to the laundry room.
Then I’d stop by the bathroom most likely to be used by visitors, and do a two-minute tidy. Hang any wet towels, wipe counters, make sure there’s a clean hand towel accessible, and that the toilet paper is stocked.
Next, I’d spend two minutes on the porch and front walkway. Is everything welcoming? Is there a clear path?
Then the remaining time would go to sweeping the floors. And if I have 2 minutes left, I’d also spot clean the floor with a wet rag.
If I have kids to help, I’d send them to work on bedroom essentials: makes beds, and put dirty clothes in the hamper. Then take out any garbage, recycling and compost in the house, or start on actually doing the dishes.
The play room and family office would be ignored, because I can use the excuse they’re sort of supposed to be messy — it means good things are happening. : )
So that’s it. In 30 minutes, I feel like I can get the house fairly decent.
I first asked the question just making conversation with my family, but it ended up being a good reminder to me, that it doesn’t have to take all day to get the house tidy. Even 30 minutes can make a big difference!
Now it’s your turn. I’m curious about what would make your last-minute tidy list? Is yours similar to mine? Would you switch the order? Or maybe prioritize tasks like window cleaning or vacuuming? Do you know exactly what you’d tackle first? Or perhaps your house is generally clean 24/7 so you can’t really relate to this scenario? Or, maybe your house is happily messy and you’re fine to bring guests no matter what? I’d love to hear!