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People often say that their homes are never cleaner than when guests are about to come over. There's something about the imminent arrival of friends and family that sends most of us into a cleaning frenzy, trying to get everything perfect for our loved ones' visit.
But sometimes guests don't give a ton of notice! Even with limited time to devote to cleaning, you can still make a dent in an hour, half-hour, fifteen minutes, or even five. There are two rules of thumb to follow when time's a-wasting: 1) Always clean the bathroom, and 2) Focus on the areas where your guests will spend most of their visit. If you do your hosting in the kitchen, that's where most of your tidying should take place; if your primary entertaining space is the living room, make sure it's in good shape.
And now, a comprehensive what-do-I-do guide!
If You've Got an Hour
An hour is a lot of time, but be careful about getting too far into the weeds—this isn't the time to organize your gift wrapping supplies. You're probably laughing at that, but I'm being sort of serious! It's incredibly easy to get distracted by a very specific (and not super important) task and totally lose track of time.
One good way to avoid this is to take a minute—truly, no longer than a minute—to make a quick list of what you want to clean. Below is a template for you to work off of:
Clean bathroom and kitchen surfaces
Declutter and tidy living room
Vacuum or sweep floors
Take out trash
This should, naturally, be tailored to your home and messes. For instance, if the entryway of your home is a jumble of shoes and umbrellas and mittens and mail piles, you might tidy that up instead of spending time on the living room.
Anyway, making a list will serve a few purposes! The first is to keep you focused. The second is to allow you to determine the order in which you clean, which is important when you're trying to get things done in a particular timeframe. If, let's say, you sweep the kitchen floor before you wipe the counters, you may end up having to sweep again since crumbs are likely to wind up on the floor post-wipe.
Other order of operation tips are to start by spraying the bathtub, sink, and shower with a foaming bathroom cleaner like Scrubbing Bubbles, then turning your attention to wiping the kitchen surfaces (counters, stovetop and small appliances) while the foaming cleaner does its work.
Taking out the trash should always be the last thing you do, since you'll presumably create some garbage in the course of your cleanup!
If You've Got 30 Minutes
Half an hour is still quite a lot of time to do some cleaning. Here, the focus should be more on tidying than cleaning, which will create the illusion of a truly clean home.
You need to make sure that the bathroom gets cleaned. Your guests will most likely be in there at some point! In addition to cleaning the toilet, sink, and tub, give any mirrors a wipe-down with a glass cleaner like Windex, put out fresh hand towels, and sweep or vacuum the floor so that there aren't stray hairs lurking around.
In the kitchen, focus on getting two fairly quick jobs done. First, get any dirty dishes out of the sink, either by loading the dishwasher or by scrubbing them by hand. Then, wipe the countertops using an all-purpose spray.
Thirty minutes probably won't be enough time to do any meaningful decluttering, but you can still make a messy living room look a lot better by fluffing up couch cushions, straightening throw blankets and decorative pillows, and squaring up stacks of books and magazines on a coffee table. Use the last five to ten minutes to run the vacuum, since a freshly vacuumed carpet makes a world of difference, visually.
If You've Got 15 Minutes
Here's where the fun really begins! (It's okay if this isn't your idea of fun, my feelings won't be hurt.)
You probably already know what's gonna come first: The bathroom. When you have less time to work with, go ahead and forget about cleaning the tub—pull the shower curtain closed and leave it at that. If you have glass shower doors and your grooming products are all a-jumble, take a minute to line them up so the shower appears more orderly. Then, using an all-purpose spray and some paper towels, wipe the sink and toilet. Hit the mirror with some glass cleaner, straighten the towels, and call it clean.
Over in the kitchen, do the bare minimum to make it look good. Stack dirty dishes neatly in the sink—or, if you want to be sneaky, in the oven or refrigerator (just don't forget they're in there!)—and wipe the counters.
With the remaining time you have, tidy the living room and, if you can manage it, run the vacuum.
If You've Got 5 Minutes
Five minutes is longer than it sounds like, and you'll be surprised what you can get done in that time, but you have to be strategic. If you remember nothing else from this piece, let it be this: If you've only got a few minutes to tidy up before guests arrive, grab the Windex and a roll of paper towels and haul ass. (I have a feeling that you'll remember it, since I put it that way.)
The glass cleaner-and-paper towel combo can be used to wipe the toilet seat, sink, and mirror, and will save you time because you won't be reaching for more than one product. Another trick for creating the appearance of a clean bathroom when you've only got a few minutes is to flip the hand towels so that the side that's been used faces the wall, leaving the clean, unused side facing guests. Sure, cheat your way into clean hand towels, why not?!
That bathroom cleanup should take you between one and three minutes; devote the remaining time to straightening up whichever room you'll take your guests into. If there's a huge pile of mail on the kitchen table, stash it in a cabinet. If there are dirty glasses and empty soda cans in the living room, get those to the kitchen and deal with them later. That sort of stuff.
Mostly, though, try not to drive yourself too crazy about having a home that looks just so when guests arrive—after all, they're there to enjoy your company, not to give your baseboards the white glove test!