What Should I Clean First?

Ever wonder what to clean first? Or where to start cleaning in your home? These quick and simple housekeeping strategies will help!

Reader question: What I struggle with the most is trying to find where to start in my day.  More than anything, what do I clean first? What do I do first so that by the end of the day or when my hubby gets home, the house can look at least somewhat clean or I can feel I’ve accomplished something?

As I walk through the house I ALWAYS find something else I need to do and even the smallest thing can throw me totally off because I’ll forget to go back to what I was supposed to be doing. LOL!!! It’s a mess. (No pun intended!)

Helpless. That’s exactly how I felt when I looked around and saw messes in every room of my house. 

What had been picked up just a few hours before now had turned into piles of papers here, a smattering of toys there.

It wasn’t my fault, though – my children had been home and forgetting to pick up after themselves all day long. All of the little messes started to grate on my nerves, and I knew they’d stress my husband out the minute he got home.

Undoubtedly, It was time to clean up. But the big question was what should I clean first? Where should I start?

Woman stands looking down at her big cleaning project

Where to start cleaning

Trying to figure out where to start in your homemaking and cleaning can be SO difficult.

And even if you know where you should start, following through is a challenge. (As a very distracted homemaker, following through is my personal weakness.)

To help figure out what I need to clean first and when I should do the work, I like to flip the decision around in my mind. That way, I’m thinking more about what I want my end product to be each day.

I simply ask myself “What do I want my home to be like by the time my husband gets home every night?”

Once I get a picture in my mind, then I work backward throughout my day.

Because I homeschool my children, I know our home is going to get messy because three of us (and our dog) have free rein of the house all day long.

If I clean in the morning, my attempts are absolutely useless, because it’s completely unrealistic to keep our home neat all day long.

It’s also completely unrealistic for me to spend all day cleaning.

But, if we stop all of our school work about an hour before my husband gets home, we can pick up our messes and do our daily cleaning chores.

It takes about 15 to 30 minutes, and just so happens to coincide with when he gets home from work. Our cluttered home surprisingly transforms into a haven.

Woman stands with a broom, ready to clean

What should I clean first?

Even if I know our cleaning needs to begin in the afternoon, it can be tricky to decide where to start cleaning. 

Especially when a messy house seems overwhelming.

But I have a helpful starting place and strategy. It works in every room in my home, and it can work in yours, too. If you have absolutely no idea where to begin, try this trick:

Clockwise cleaning

When I begin to clean a room, I pick one corner – sometimes it’s the messiest, sometimes it’s the neatest. It doesn’t really matter, it just depends on my mood.

Once I’ve picked a corner, then I start cleaning in that corner. I stay put until everything is decluttered and put away.

Once I’ve finished with the corner, then I continue cleaning the room in a clockwise direction.

As tempting – and a little ADD – as it may seem to jump around to a different part of the room, I make myself stay with my clockwise cleaning.

If I can finish cleaning the room all at one time, that’s fantastic!

But if the room’s too messy and I need to leave it and come back at another time, it’s OK.

With my clockwise cleaning method, it’s really obvious to see what I’ve cleaned and where I’ve stopped.

When I do have a chance to come back and clean some more, I can pick up right where I left off.

"If you can’t get to the dust bunnies, or you don’t have time to vacuum – and they’re not creating obvious eyesores – it’s OK to let them slip until you have more time. You don’t have to expect a perfectly cleaned home." - Hilary Bernstein, HilaryBernstein.com

Top to Bottom

While I’m cleaning in my clockwise direction, I also remember to clean top to bottom.

My dad taught me to correctly wash a car from top to bottom (all the dirty, sudsy water runs down the car – if you don’t do it this way, your dirty suds will drip over what you’ve already cleaned), and I know the same is true in your home.

When dusting, always start at the top of your room and work your way to the bottom.

Similarly, when decluttering or doing any other sort of cleaning, always start at the top and work your way down.

Just like clockwise cleaning, you’ll also be able to see where you’ve stopped cleaning if you need to take a break.

By simply remembering to start in one corner and at the top, you’ll be able to methodically clean your way around a room.

You can clean your home — and keep it clean! You just need to know what to do and then follow through with a cleaning strategy that works for YOU and your home.  From Mess to Success can help!

Woman wipes off a countertop

Just these two tricks alone can save you a lot of time and frustration! If you’d like more help, though, here are 3 more tricks that help me maintain my home every day:

1. Know your Non-Negotiable Daily Chores. And do them.

When it comes to caring for my home, certain things need to get done every single day. No exceptions.

I know I absolutely need to wash and dry a load of laundry, wash all of our dirty dishes, make my bed each morning, and pick up our clutter every day.

As long as I do those four things each day, I count my day as a homemaker as a success.

Sure, I always have dozens of other projects around my home that could or should be done, but I don’t sweat them. On days when I’m home all day long, I’ll try to start one of these projects, as long as I know I have enough time to finish it. I fit them in when I can, and when I do, I feel like I’ve accomplished something pretty big.

2. Stick to one room at a time.

I can be easily distracted by messes in different rooms. But once it’s time to start cleaning, I force myself to stick to one room. Typically, I start with my living room (because the front door is there, just in case we have unexpected visitors). Then I move on to my dining room. When I’m finished picking up those two rooms, I move on to the kitchen.

Most days, those rooms are all I can get to before I need to do something else. But when I make a little more time for cleaning, I do a quick clean in our bathroom.

I also focus on doing one chore at a time. So, I’ll declutter first in a clockwise motion. If I do deeper cleaning, then I’ll dust in the same direction. Then I’ll vacuum.

3. Surface cleaning is fine … for most of the time.

If you’re busy or feeling overwhelmed, just try cleaning the surfaces. Get rid of the clutter. Make things look basically clean.

If you can’t get to the dust bunnies, or you don’t have time to vacuum – and they’re not creating obvious eyesores – it’s OK to let them slip until you have more time. You don’t have to expect a perfectly cleaned home.

I do try to plan for a spring deep clean and a fall deep clean each year, just so I know I’m getting rid of all the dust and cobwebs. But aside from those two deep cleans, I don’t worry about serious cleaning very often.

By sticking to those five principles, I know what to clean first in my home … and where to start cleaning.

Woman stands in empty room with broom in her hands

What do YOU clean first in your home? How do you decide where to start cleaning?

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All images courtesy of Pixabay and Adobe Stock.

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