Chores: A little a day or a lot at once?

photo-336Some aspects of housekeeping are fun. If I’m by myself, grocery shopping is prime me time. I also like trying new recipes (again, when there’s no one pulling on my leg). This beet, tomato, and radish salad was an experiment riffing on a recent recipe in Runner’s World.

However, as my household is currently operating without a cleaning service, I’ve been reminded that many aspects aren’t so fun for me: laundry, folding clothes, cleaning up the kitchen, cleaning bathrooms, etc. And so I’m revisiting that old question: is it better to do a little bit daily or a lot at once?

These are really two distinct schools of thought, sometimes passed down between generations as The Way to keep house. In a recent issue of Real Simple, a reader wrote in that one of the best things she’d learned from her mom was to do a load of laundry daily. Clean a room daily and it never gets out of control. Spend 10 minutes tidying each night and things don’t stack up. Plus doing a bit every day means you don’t face a mountain of stuff on the weekend.

At least in theory. My experience is that in reality it doesn’t always work that way. From the Mosaic logs, I saw that people who did chores daily also did quite a bit of chores on the weekends too. I think what’s going on is that people who have daily housekeeping habits like having clean houses, and people are in the house more on weekends, and making messes, and organized people don’t like messes, so they wind up doing more cleaning then, whether things are stacked up or not.

But a lot of this is preference and psychology, too. Some people, seeing a giant pile of laundry on Saturday, feel defeated. Others feel like they’ll tackle it all at once and get it done. If one doesn’t mind cleaning, doing it daily feels fine. If one dislikes cleaning, then doing it daily can feel like you’re always cleaning. Some people are fine with stuff on the floor. Other people can’t do anything else if there are dishes in the sink.

Then there’s my big question: which takes less time? I realized, going over my previous writings on this topic, that I’ve seemed to be advocating opposite approaches for different chores. I advise people not to meal plan and cook for the week on weekends; just keep staples on hand and whip up something quick. On the other hand, I’m saying don’t do a little laundry and cleaning daily, do it all at once. Have I talked myself into incompatible recommendations?

Maybe. But as I examine these two seemingly contradictory ideas, I think both can still fit with this rubric for chores:

  • Do them when they need to be done
  • Set a time limit

You do need to eat, multiple times a day. Meal prep can be done when it needs to be done, but there’s also a natural time limit. You won’t spend 3 hours preparing a Monday night dinner. Laundry, on the other hand, does not need to be done daily. It doesn’t really need to be done until people are running low on some vital item of clothing. Picking up can be done when one reaches the threshold of tolerance for mess. If one’s threshold for mess is low but one’s time is limited, then this is a very good category for outsourcing.

As for setting time limits, this is one reason to consider doing tidying up (non-laundry) chores on a day other than Saturday and Sunday. You’ll naturally have less time and have more competing priorities. So you might block out 90 minutes on Wednesday night and whatever doesn’t get done doesn’t get done.

Are you a bit by bit or all at once sort of person? Do you have set times for cleaning or do it when it seems necessary?

If you like my blog, you might also like my next book, I Know How She Does It. If you pre-order by June 2, you can join my book club with perks including an autographed book plate, advance excerpts, and access to two webinars around launch. Pre-orders show booksellers that there is excitement about the book. Thanks for reading!

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