Cleaning, cooking, errands, life administration

Thank you to everyone who participated in my time-tracking challenge last week (which included many of the 1000 people who signed up to receive emails during the week of January 4-10 but due to a MailChimp issue…did not). I heard from a few folks that tracking the second week of January made more sense than the first, since life had resumed its usual rhythms. That was certainly true for us, though it’s also true that there are no typical weeks.

In my time log analysis last week I posted about how I spent the 86.5 hours that I wasn’t working or sleeping. A reasonable number were spent on childcare; for instance I spent 6 hours up with the baby between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. Fun! (But I am typing this at 6 a.m. after both of us slept through the night. I went down before 11 a.m. and hence popped up on my own, feeling completely rested, around 5:30 a.m.) Some people asked about those categories — cleaning, cooking, errands, life administration — that can seem to eat up hours.

So today’s post covers that. I do spend some time on these things. I made one grocery shopping trip on Friday afternoon, which took a little over an hour. We get a Sunbasket meal kit each week, plus a produce box from Hungry Harvest. We tend to shop once a week, but if we have a lot of stuff on hand, which we did from past Costco trips, the grocery trip might wind up being a smaller one to the nearby Acme, rather than to the farther away (but nicer) Wegmans. That’s what happened this week. My husband and I tend to split the shopping; escaping the house to shop solo is not exactly the short end of the stick.

I cooked dinner three nights: Wednesday, Friday, Sunday. G (nanny) cooked Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday (the evenings she works a little later), and then for the kids on Saturday when she came for our once-in-a-blue-moon date night (my husband and I grabbed a dinner out). This week was somewhat unusual, as my husband tends to do more of the weekend cooking. He did cook a lot of breakfasts — often eggs and bacon. He made bread in the bread maker and cinnamon rolls at some point in there (pictured; this recipe claims to be a “clone of Cinnabon” and…indeed it is!). Lunch tends to be a fend-for-yourself kind of thing, with me eating leftovers, and the big kids pulling their own stuff together (the elementary kids are home for lunch; my middle schooler is home at lunch time three days per week. The 6-year-old goes to full-time in person school; G packs his lunch). The 11-year-old will often make Annie’s shells-and-white-cheddar mac and cheese for his siblings since he’s figured out that he can have it every day as long as he makes it himself, and if he makes it for his siblings I’ll be happy about it.

On the cleaning front, we have a cleaning service come every two weeks. They clean the bathrooms, floors, kitchen surfaces, etc. We all go sit in one room in the back of the basement while they are there to minimize contact. They come Friday mornings, so I rallied the kids to pick up their rooms and the basement on Thursday evening, so the floors could be vacuumed. I participated in this group pick-up. G, my husband and I all do dishes and general kitchen tidying at various points and I do wind up sweeping the kitchen daily (the baby makes his messes). G does the kids’ laundry (and they are supposed to put their own clothes away); my husband generally does ours. Since the baby sleeps in the master bedroom closet I will admit that the clean laundry often stays out in the room. This does save on time putting it away!

While my house is not necessarily neat, I do think it’s pretty well organized. These turn out to be different things. Most things we use frequently have a home. I hate wasting time hunting for lost objects. So I can see that I put a note on my time log when I spent half an hour hunting for the 6-year-old’s Kindle. It is still missing. Since I cleaned out the entire mudroom this past weekend — which took 2.5 hours — I can tell you it isn’t in there! (Though I did find an overdue school library book. As in, from March.)

Life admin is hard to calculate. I have one main inbox, so things related to the kids can wind up in that work flow. That said, I’ll note on my log if I’m spending more than a few minutes on such things (vs. working). Some weeks these things take more time than others. I spent 30 minutes signing kids up for spring sports this past week, but that’s not an every-week activity. The house renovation is a more significant time commitment…though not during the first week of January. I spent 30 minutes on the phone chatting with our contractor, and some time reviewing other documents. But then this past week I visited three show rooms and spent additional hours choosing paint and wall paper so that was more like a part-time job. During the first week of January, I spent time on the phone and then getting the 9-year-old to an overdue educational evaluation. This took about 1.75 hours; it could have been longer but during the waiting I went for a walk and played the piano at the new house (which was nearby) so I’m putting that time in a different category.

I spent 20 minutes on my phone during a karate class shopping for kid birthday presents. We shop online for most non-grocery things.

In general I aim to batch the little things, since the problem with them is not so much that they consume huge amounts of time, it’s that they need to get done, and they’re always options. So it can feel like we spend our lives filling out forms, and cleaning up the toys. When they’re batched, the time cost is more transparent, but also contained. I can’t say I have a perfect system, but I also just don’t mind basement mess or kid bedroom mess that much. There are toys all over the living room floor and I’m OK with it. Picking those up constantly would be a choice, and I don’t want to spend my time that way. If the kitchen counter stays relatively clean, then I’m fine.

Have you calculated how much time you spend on cooking, cleaning, errands, and life administration?

36 thoughts on “Cleaning, cooking, errands, life administration

  1. That thing you always say about how it costs nothing to lower your standards has been life changing for me. Truly!

  2. Laura this is great. I don’t think I have heard you or Sarah talk much about the outsourcing of housekeeping on the podcast (I could be wrong) but I would love to hear a bit about that. How did you find a house cleaner? Is he/she paid via the household payroll system used for the nanny? Were there interviews, criteria etc like you would do for a nanny? Coincidentally I listened to “Childcare Revisited” today and took copious notes and I hope to use a nanny shortly after baby #3 arrives in August. That episode was very helpful with logistics/details surrounding hiring a nanny… I would love to hear similar notes about hiring a housecleaner. (I may be the only one?)

    That cinnamon roll looks amazing. I have a bread machine so I will now be searching for a recipe – unless you care to share the one you used!

    I’ve become inspired to track my time this week now that morning sickness seems to have temporarily subsided. I can’t wait to see how much time I spend on tidying up, cooking, and other life administration tasks. They feel burdensome but I bet they really don’t take much time.

    1. @Lori C- glad the morning sickness is better. We currently have one of the major franchises sending a team here every other week. I think they’ve been coming for about 3 years now? I just pay a flat fee (based on house size) via credit card. In the past I have had a housekeeper come for 4 hours two times a week. That person was paid through the same payroll service as nanny – also hired through Care.com. Not quite the same hiring process – I found someone with good reviews, checked references, hired her to clean a few times and then put her on payroll.

  3. Ever since I’ve read your book 168 Hours, I periodically track my time (generally when I’m overwhelmed and feeling fractured). I was glad that you did the time tracking challenge this month because I have a bunch of goals I want to accomplish this year, and one of my 21 for 2021 items is to manage my time. There are certain areas (home, health, happiness: related to career, and hobbies) I am focusing on this year, and I need to create some realistic schedules. So, I time-tracked last week, and discovered that after work, sleep, car time (traveling), household responsibilities/daily routines, commitments, and watching tv/movies/Twitch, I have 19 hours to play with because basically I was playing on my phone/internet or puttering around during those 19 hours.

    Now that I know how I spent my time last week and what I have to work with, I’m ready to create those schedules. Even before I finished the week, I was having a couple of aha moments as to when would be a better time to accomplish tasks and goals. So, thank you Laura for the challenge and all of your terrific insight about time management.

    1. @Katherine – so glad the exercise was helpful! And here’s to figuring out fun ways to spend those 19 hours!

  4. Laura, this was an amazing post–thank you!!

    I spend about 6-8 hours out of every weekend on chores and errands. And this is with rotating chores spread out over the month (BIG laundry day one weekend–as opposed to a single weekly load–, then floors, then bathrooms, etc.). Life Admin can take anywhere from a couple of hours, to several, depending (for example, during tax season, that number goes up).

    I’d love not to spend so much of my weekend cleaning, as that’s where so much of my time goes. That’s why I thought if I get out of work early on Fridays (at 1p), maybe I can clean from 2p to about 8 or 10p, then have all Saturday & Sunday free.
    I mentioned on the other post, that we used to have a cleaning service, but they are expensive ($180 for the most reliable service I could find, after trying a few different ones), so I only had them come every couple months, and I would basically clean every weekend anyway. If I could pay for them to come once every 2 weeks, I’d never have to do the cleaning again (except daily kitchen tidying, and other little things, as you mentioned in your post above). But wow: $180 x 26 weeks = $4,680! That’s almost 5 grand every year!! Even if I had them come every 3 weeks instead of 2: $180 x 17 weeks – $3,060! Still a lot.

    Maybe where you live it’s less expensive? I second Lori C’s post above: I’d love to hear more details on how you outsource your housekeeping!

      1. (PPS: I think there’s a part of me that wants you to help me justify the expense! LOL!)

        Thanks again for all you do, Laura! I love your blog and your podcasts.

        1. Sam – I agree that 6-8 hours every week seems like too much. Possibly if all food prep falls into this category I could justify it, but if it is just cleaning I would feel like I was spending too much time on this. I’m guessing you have high standards, which a lot of women do. If you really do need the house to be this clean, you might have to accept it and realize that what’s left over is what you have to work with (like people who truly need 10 hours of sleep every night are going to have less free time). But you should recognize that by giving cleaning this much of your time, you are prioritizing it over other things that might be important to you. I would consider *trying* to lower standards. Is there a guest bathroom that maybe doesn’t need to be cleaned every week? If you can’t lower the standards, take the permission to hire a cleaning service! Personally I have a similar sized home to yours and pay $200 every 2 weeks to have it cleaned by a service. I consider this money well spent. I don’t pay for cable, have always driven at least a 5-6 year old car, don’t pay to get my nails done, and don’t really like shopping so I don’t feel like I’m an UN-frugal person. In some ways I consider it a good thing to be providing someone else a job. If you just can’t stomach this expense, maybe look into a laundry service. When I looked into this I found that I could get our laundry done for $30-60/week. Not super cheap, but also not bad IMHO. I decided to keep doing the laundry myself for now, but I like having the option out there. Interested to see Laura’s answer as well but I feel that I have had a lot of success in lowering my standards and hiring things out – big improvements to quality of life – so I wanted to share.

          1. @Amanda- with stuff like housekeeping it is so hard to know what is “normal.” I do know that things can go a long time without falling apart. When the pandemic started, we didn’t have our every-other-week cleaning service come for 4 sessions, so that was 2 months (before we figured out that we could make it work for them and us). My husband took a little caddy around to clean our bathrooms twice in that time. We cleaned the kitchen as we normally did — post meal stuff, but no deep cleaning. Yes, certain places needed some TLC at the end of two months but it wasn’t THAT bad.

          2. I keep telling myself that my standards are not high: as I type this I literally see a layer of dust on my desk, because I’ll do a “quick” weekly dust, but don’t get around to *really* dusting for a few weeks in between. BUT, something about your comment lighted a bulb: I DO have high standards, so when I pick up the floors, sweep, and mop, it takes me 4 hours. I think I fooled myself into thinking I had low standards because I kept doing each individual job one weekend at a time and they would end up several weeks apart (floors don’t stay clean for very long, so I end up with dirty floors more often than I have them clean), but then when I do these jobs, I *really* go above and beyond.
            Like you, I don’t pay to get my nails done, I drive a 13-year-old truck, and I don’t really like shopping. So this can be one area that I give myself permission to spoil myself a bit. As I read your story, I nodded when you said it was money well spent…for you. For ANYone else, I would sincerely nod my head. I think it’s time I consider it money well spent for myself, too.

          3. @Laura – “with stuff like housekeeping it is so hard to know what is ‘normal.'”

            No kidding. I actually googled “how often should you clean,” and ran across this gem in Good Housekeeping: “The Ultimate Cleaning Schedule for Your Day, Week, Month, and Year” (https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/cleaning/a37462/how-often-you-should-clean-everything/)
            According to their infographic, I am WOEFULLY FAILING at keeping a clean home. I do not mop every week, and I confess I never dust my blinds. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever cleaned my chimney….

    1. Wow, I have to admit, 2-8/10pm sounds shocking to me. Of course I don’t know how big your house is, and/or how many kids, but I would rebel. Unless you’re also cooking for the whole week at the same time AND have some physical health issues that absolutely require a pristine house, it feels hard to justify spending so much time.

      It is expensive to get a service in, so if you cannot afford it, are there intermediate steps? Robot vacuum, drop-off wash and fold laundry, dropping standards by a lot, getting your family to do small pieces at a time, getting rid of a lot of items etc?

      1. I have 2000 square feet (4 bedrooms, 3 full bathrooms), so things take a while. I’ve also tried streamlining things: for example, I only really do laundry once every 3 weeks (I bought enough undershirts, socks, and underwear to last, and get away with a tiny weekly load to hold us over before the “big” batched laundry day every 3 weeks where I’ll do 5 or 6 loads all in one day).

        But I still spend ~6-8 hours (for both cleaning & a store run) each week.

        This is roughly what I do for each major task (week1: floors; week2: bathrooms; week 3: laundry & kitchen; week 4: pulling weeds; week5: floors; week 6: kitchen & laundry again, because it’s been 3 weeks!; week7: bathrooms…..etc.), so it’s not like I’m striving to have a spotless house every week, seeing as how I go weeks in between doing each one.

        Along with each major task I have minor task list I do *every* week so we don’t live in unsanitary conditions (for example, I do a weekly quick wipe down of bathroom sinks & toilets, because as you can see from my list, bathrooms are week 2 and I don’t get to do a full major scrub of them again until week 7, but obviously that would be gross if I didn’t do ANY bathroom cleaning in between).

        I can afford maid service, but I’m having trouble justifying it….I do well financially, but grew up with working class immigrant parents, and my mom did EVERYTHING, and “rich” people were the ones who had maids, not normal people like us, and…well, you can see the psychological barrier I’m dealing with. :/

        1. We have a similarly sized house- about 2,500 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, finished basement and a sunroom. Never have had a housekeeping service. I can definitely see that if I were trying to clean my whole house top to bottom each week, it would DEFINTIELY easily take me ~8 hours, to do myself. I can spend a full hour or more deep cleaning just the kitchen, appliances, surfaces, cabinets, sweep, mop, windex stuff….If I had to dust/ vacuum/ straighten every other room, plus clean 3 showers, toilets, floors, etc plus the basement it would probably be a full day.

          This is what we do: every other week, my boys each clean a bathroom (one main, one the basement). My husband cleans the master bath. Then, usually also every other week, we kind of split up the rest of the house- I do the kitchen, the boys and/or husband dust/vacuum the living room and sunroom. They clean their bedrooms every weekend (straighten, dust, vacuum) and I do the same for our master bedroom. We wash sheets as needed, and the basement rec room/my office get cleaned….when visibly dirty. 🙂 Maybe once a month?? Straighten/quick sweep everyday as needed the rest. I rarely personally spend more than ~2 hours cleaning at any given stretch. The house is not always spotless, but it’s decent enough. Any bigger projects, like windows or cleaning ceiling fans, etc. also just get added on the schedule at some point when they are noticeably needing it. 🙂 I spot clean bathroom counters, kitchen counters, quick sweep, etc. all the time. My husband does all laundry, usually always on a weeknight.

      2. P.S.: I take a couple hours and cook a large batch of food once a week.
        P.P.S.: my husband does all the handyman work and car maintenance, very capably, so I thankfully don’t also have to worry about those things

    2. @Sam – I think it’s just a question of how you want to spend your time. If it’s worth $5000 a year to get your free time back…then it’s worth it! There might also be some intermediate solutions. For instance, just don’t clean one weekend and see what happens. Or if that’s untenable, then set a timer for 90 minutes. Anything that doesn’t happen in there just wasn’t that important. I realize that multiple loads of laundry can take longer than that, but I’m counting active time. Sometimes compressing the available window helps us quickly figure out what’s important and what isn’t. Because I agree that 8 hours every week just sounds like a lot.

      1. @Laura, between you and the other commenters, I’m starting to think that 6-8 hours a week is not normal. I’ve always wanted to write a novel. Every weekend as I spend hours cleaning, I’m always resentfully and sarcastically thinking, “When I die, I won’t have written that novel, but I can say I always kept a clean house!”

        For now, I will try the timer method. Then once we’re out of this pandemic’s deadliest wave, I will spend the money for cleaning service, and finally write that (most likely shitty, LOL) novel. You only live once…

        Thank you.

        1. @Sam – you should definitely write that novel instead of cleaning your house! Seriously, I think if you transfer 2.5 hours a week from the cleaning category to the writing category, you will make some serious progress. I feel like we may have made a real breakthrough here 🙂

  5. (PPS: I think there’s a part of me that wants you to help me justify the expense! LOL!)

    Thanks again for all you do, Laura! I love your blog and your podcasts.

    1. Sam, we pay about 2000 euros (Europe here) per year for a weekly cleaning service and we live in a tiny apartment. Yes, it’s a substantial amount of money but every single week when I come home and it’s clean, I rejoice. This is money well spent. I’d rather never go out to eat than not have the cleaning done.
      But if you decide you want to do it yourself – I’ve always tried to see it as exercise, too. Maybe this sounds strange, but cleaning is physical activity which I, in a sedentary job, don’t get enough of, so I saw this as a kind of benefit since I had to do the cleaning anyway.

    2. Sam, a friend of mine once said, “I like a clean house and I’m not going to apologise for it” which was a lightbulb for me. Since then, I have owned the fact that I really like a clean house too and am happy to both pay for some of the cleaning and do other bits myself.

      I would definitely set a timer for half the time you currently use and see how quickly you can clean, and then get writing the rest of the time 🙂

  6. I go to the grocery store about once every two days. I have always hated the idea of spending my whole weekend cooking to save time during the week- sounds miserable- so I just do it as I go.
    We are constantly running out of food as now I have two teenagers and they eat so much and so unpredictably. My boy will eat half a loaf of bread in one afternoon. We have a really nice service offered where I live (in Norway) where if you order before 9 or 10 pm the day before, they will deliver breakfast foods to your door. It’s anything from croissants and juice to loaves of bread with jam, butter, etc. I love being able to do this instead of going to the grocery store late in the evening. It does cost roughly twice as much as it would to buy the stuff in the store though, as you would expect.

  7. Very interesting post, I also appreciated it! These categories tend to make up large amounts of time in my time tracking. On one hand, I don’t like that, on the other, it is a priority for me to e.g. cook myself and I also love the house to be very tidy.
    I was wondering how you went from a cleaning services twice a week to once every twice week? Isn’t that difficult, especially with one more person, the baby, to make more messes?
    Also, how to do you categorize time you use to correspond with friends? I feel texting isn’t real friend interacting but it also consumes hours of my time it seems.
    Love that your husband is the laundy-responsible adult. It’s the same for us. Sometimes I wonder though if the work load/time is equally divided when I or often women in general do all the organisational and kid stuff. What’s your take on this and do you two keep track of whether it’s “fair”?

    1. Oh and also, do you get sidetracked during work hours and if so, do you track that, as in “went down a rabbit hole on the internet”?

      1. @Maggie – I have written things like “work, not efficiently” on my time log before 🙂 If it seems to be a huge chunk of my work time, I’ll start analyzing it specifically. What often happens is I have no energy, so I either need to take a break (or a nap) or just acknowledge that nothing is getting done and re work the to-do list for the week.

    2. @Maggie – it’s possible the house was cleaner then…but it’s been OK. The cleaning team is here with 4-5 people for two hours, so that’s 10 man hours every two weeks, and since they aren’t doing the tidying up or laundry (which our housekeeper did) there probably aren’t that many fewer hours devoted to the project. We have three adults who help tidy stuff up (me, husband, nanny) so it’s rarely entirely out of control. The kitchen is the highest trafficked spot and that gets cleaned pretty frequently just in the course of making meals and then cleaning up afterwards.

  8. Laura – you did it! You organized the mudroom! I just finished a BoBW podcast where you said you had abandoned this goal since it would take you longer to clean the mudroom than to hunt for a few missing things. I guess Alex’s Kindle was worth the organizational input!

    1. @Jen – I still didn’t find the Kindle though!! It is missing. No idea where he might have stashed it. I am almost thinking about buying a new one because having fewer devices than kids is creating a lot of tension. I”m going to put a little more time into the pursuit but…

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