Spring has sprung! That means it’s time for spring cleaning but if you’re like me, well, the thought of all the deep cleaning is terrifying. There are many pointers out there for cleaning your house. Through trial and error, I’ve come up with some great cleaning-and-clutter-clearing time-savers:

1. Plan of Attack.

Sit down, evaluate your goals, space, time, and energy. Make a list. Put things on the list you’ve already done so you can cross them off. Maybe even write “Make a list” on the list so you can cross it off. It builds self-esteem and motivation. Evaluate your energy. Take a nap. Re-evaluate energy. Be sure to have “Take a nap” on your list so you can cross it off.

2. Don’t Bring It In.

Just don’t. Leave it outside. All of it. If it isn’t in your house, it doesn’t clutter the house. Your car and yard are another story and your neighbors may complain but your house will be clutter free! *Note: This does NOT work for dirt. It attaches itself to kids, animals, even some foods needs rinsed before we eating. Dirt, it’s everywhere.

3. Give Yourself Permission to Let it Go.

Follow Elsa’s advice and let it go. Purge. Isn’t it ironic that we stress over wanting stuff to show our status in life (“I can afford all this”) but stuff clutters our lives and stresses us out. So get rid of it. Clothes, kitchen gadgets (because we all NEED 10 spatulas), furniture, etc. Besides, if you get rid of stuff, you can go shopping and get new stuff. New stuff is shinier, less faded. Unless you like antiques. Then get rid of new stuff and bring in the rusty, worn out stuff.

This is also a great area to work on time for yourself. Make plans to send kids to friends’ houses, to the grandparents, to summer camps. If you’re really good, you can time it so they are all gone at once. Then enjoy the quiet. Yep, just let them go.

4. Go Paperless.

This works well for organizing those files. The less paperwork you have, the cleaner your files look. So don’t bother filing taxes. Or going to the doctor. Or paying those bills. Just shred everything that comes in the mail. Delete email receipts or allow them to clutter your email file because you can always create a new one when the e-storage space is filled, and unlike renting storage units, there are lots of free email servers out there.

5. Recycle.

This is important. If you live in a larger community, recycling is often included in your trash fee. In fact, I know of places where they pick up recycling for free but charge you for the trash they have to collect. So, bury your trash in the back yard and recycle plastics, paper (that you’ve shredded in your going-paperless plight), tin, aluminum, etc. Just don’t let any dogs into your yard or it will end up looking like a crime scene.

6. Use Labels.

Label everything. Difficult as it may be, don’t use sticky notes because, remember, we’re going paperless. For example: “{insert name}’s bed. Property of {insert name}. Do not use except for {insert name}.”

This is also a good time to label kids with their names. I don’t know about you, but despite giving birth to them, and living with them every day since, I can’t get their names correct. I usually start with the one who gets into the most trouble. Sometimes it’s alphabetical order. Sometimes it’s by birthday/age. Sometimes it includes my husband, the dog, or my sibling, or…

7. Get the Family Involved in the Cleaning.

I don’t want my children to grow up not knowing how to do laundry, dishes, sweep, dust, etc. so I get them involved. Sometimes (rarely) I just have to ask. Other times (most often), it involves yelling, arguing, crying, threats to throw out toys, and whatever other creative ways I can involve them. How is it kids show their pick-up prowess in the spring at those outdoor football-field-sized egg hunts but can’t find the Legos that are scattered on the 10×10 foot living room floor?

Admittedly, I usually end up getting frustrated, moving them and saying “Just let me do it.” You may also find this an appropriate time to use the “let it go” method. Let the kids go to friends’ houses. Your house may stay clean longer than 5 minutes this way.

8. Keep, Donate, Trash.

Go through your house and sort into three piles – keep, donate, trash (I’m really not sure why you have to pile the stuff you’re going to keep. Wouldn’t it just be easier to leave the “keep” stuff where it is?). Once you have the piles, put the keepers back in their spots. Then take some gasoline and matches and light the “donate” and “trash” piles on fire. Face it, we all have those boxes of “donate” items that sit in our house or our cars for months. This is much faster. If you don’t take them outside before lighting them on fire, be sure to remove the smoke detectors’ batteries. If you do take them outside, be sure to get a burn permit and heed burn restrictions.

9. Smoke Detectors.

Speaking of smoke detectors, this is a good time to change the batteries. Otherwise, the detector will sound it’s alarm at 2am. Never fails. I don’t know how they always die at 2 am. If you’re like me, you have the added complications of children screaming from being awakened by the loud noise, the spouse is gone that night, and all the detectors are connected wirelessly, making it impossible to find the ONE with dead batteries.

10. Limitless Laundry.

They say you should fold your laundry and then put it away. Right. What percentage of people can wash, fold, and put away laundry in one day? I believe in picking your battles. I was once a fold-and-put-away person. I even did it for my husband, after taking time to fold everything uniformly. Enter other time commitments, kids, etc. Now clothes get folded how I receive them. Inside-out. Fine. One leg in, one out – that’s more difficult. Wadded up in a ball? Forget it. And underwear. Oh, underwear. How I used to fold you into a nice little squares. No one is going to see the wrinkles in my underwear except the husband, and we all know husbands use any reason to get our underwear off.

11. Clean Appliances.

Oh, yes, because removing moldy food from the fridge, wiping out the microwave, cleaning the oven, and washing the washing machine are favorite pastimes. You should even vacuum the lint out of the dryer and vent. While you’re at it, just vacuum the fridge, microwave, and oven.

12. Floors Exist and Need Cleaned.

There is actually a solid surface beneath all those clothes and toys? According to my research, high-traffic carpeted areas need cleaned by a professional 3-4 times per year. Right. If you can afford it. As for me and my house, I get out the carpet cleaner and spot clean every time someone doesn’t make it to the bathroom – urine, feces, or vomit. I’m not going to wait 1/4 of the year to clean that up. Gross. Although, having someone else clean it up for me is enticing.

13. Remove Art from Walls and Windows.

Those cute little handprints will get wiped off once they’re dark enough for the in-laws to say something. Then there’s also the smudges above the fireplace from my husband when he empties ash and uses the wall to stand up. Maybe I’ll just repaint – that will give my walls the bright, freshly-painted look.

As for the windows, well, I live in Nebraska. The wind blows. It blows dirt. I understand cleaning the inside of my windows. Sort of. Those little handprints, dog noses, butt prints (yes, thanks to my husband for teaching that one to the kids) will just return. The dirt outside will also return. Ok, screw it. Unless the window art is opaque or the Pope is visiting my home, I’m not cleaning them. I already have enough problems with birds and kids running into the glass.

14. Kill the Dust Bunnies.

First, they killed off my cleaning fairies. Now I’m supposed to take them out. Will this cycle of violence ever stop? Also on the hit list: ceiling fan butterflies. You can wipe them off and let them all flutter to the floor/bed/table beneath the fan or you can simply turn on the fan and work on your eye-hand coordination as you try to suck them up with a vacuum. Either way, the area under the fan will need cleaned, too.

15. Order Books

Yes! I love books and so do my kids! I will order lots. Wait, they mean PUT them in order? By author, subject, or size? Alternating vertical and horizontal for visual appeal? On a shelf? The tower in the hallway is an eye-appealing architectural wonder – as in, I wonder how it doesn’t fall over every time the kids add a book to the it.

16. Pamper the Pantry.

Wipe down shelves, put things in order, and throw out expired foods. Wait, what? Throw out food? I paid for that, or spent hours canning it. Just because it expired before my kids were born doesn’t mean it’s bad, does it?

17. Make Your Outside Areas a Haven.

This may not work well if you subscribe to the “don’t bring it in, leave it outside” method mentioned above. It’s also counterproductive if, like me, you use cobwebs to decorate for Halloween year-round. Don’t get me started on the year-round Christmas lights. We’re a very holiday decor-oriented family. I might sweep the courtyard and put away the snow sleds and shovels. Then again, this is Nebraska, and it’s not unheard of to have snow in June.

18. Use Hidden Space in the House.

Pack things into plastic totes and stack them nicely in closets or the garage. For everything else, shove it under the bed, into crawl spaces, behind the nicely-stacked totes, etc. In a real pinch, the oven, fridge, and kitchen cabinets can also be used.

19. Spend 15 Minutes per Day Organizing

What? People can do this in 15 minutes? I spend more time arguing with my kids to help than 15 minutes allows.

20. Forget What Others Think

Here’s the real deal. Our homes are OURS. We don’t like the feeling of being judged but we’re usually the most difficult judges of ourselves. We’re also TERRIBLE mind-readers. Just because we think “They are going to turn me in for this mess” doesn’t mean that’s what they are thinking. In fact, the other person(s) may be thinking “Oh, thank goodness I’m not the only person who has a couch made of folded laundry and a not-so-pristine toilet bowl.” So if it isn’t a safety hazard, stop stressing.

In the end, if you want to declutter quickly, hire someone to rob you. Or move and forget to take anything with you.

Jessica McCaslin

Jessica is a mom who is working outside the home part-time and who is learning to cope with the ever-changing daily challenges of full-time parenthood. She graduated with her Master's degree in community counseling from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2005, and works with a diverse mental health population. Jessica resides in Central Nebraska with her husband and four children on the family ranch.