It’s down to the wire. You’ve been cooking for hours, the kitchen is a mess, and your guests call to say they’ll be early. How do you make your home presentable in only 10 minutes and still find time to change your clothes? Follow these tips.
Get rid of the dishes.
That’s right, toss ‘em. A plastic storage container is the perfect spot if you have one. If the oven’s cool, shove them in there. Another option is to stack them in a trash bag, then put the bag in the garage or a cabinet or the pantry or even on the side of the house. (If you have a dishwasher that’s empty, you can toss them in there too obviously.) Regardless of where you put them though, don’t rinse them. Don’t wipe them out. Just put them somewhere. (Dump out the water from the bowls first of course though.) This is the number one thing that will make your house look messy. The kitchen sink is the staple of any home, and getting rid of the dishes ensures that it is an inviting place for guests to get a glass of water or put in their own dirty dish. This is also the most difficult thing to discretely clean after guests have arrived, so definitely put this at the top of the speed cleaning to-do list. Time total: 1.5 minutes
Use a spray cleaner.
An all-purpose cleaner in a bottle can be very quickly sprayed over countertops and even the floor and then wiped off with a couple swipes of a hand towel. Don’t think perfect, think quick; power workout quick. You can always re-spray the counters to really sanitize them after the guests have arrived if needed. This is just to remove any cooking splatters on the counter and greasy footprints on the floor that really stand out, plus make the kitchen smell clean. You want to do this towards the start of cleaning so that the spray residue not mopped up with the cloth has as much time to dry as possible.
Time total: 1.5 minutes
Warm some baked goods.
If you didn’t already hide the dirty dishes in the oven, turn it on to 350 degrees and toss in a loaf of bread or a plate of cookies. This will make your house smell amazing in just minutes, and there will be a warm treat ready for your guests when they arrive. (If warming bread, set the butter out on the counter to warm up too so it’s easier to spread.) Set the timer for 5 minutes so you can be sure not to burn the treats as well as have an alarm for when you’re running out of cleaning time.
Time total: 30 seconds
Dustbuster instead of vacuum.
It won’t be perfect, but it will be better. Only use it to get up the big crumbs and the clumps of pet hair that gather along the baseboards in hallways. People won’t know that you just dustbustered, so at worst they’ll think that this slightly cleaner version of your floor is the dirtiest it gets: win! If you allot a maximum of 30 seconds to each of the main rooms – front hall, kitchen, living room, and bathroom, then you just cleaned the floor in two minutes flat. Remember, only focus on the big visible crumbs that you see when you walk into the room, not the tiny ones that you see when you get a closer look. If there’s any extra time when you’ve finished the rest of the speed cleaning, you can always go back and dustbuster more then. (Don’t forget to smooth over any noticeable lines you make in the carpet with the dustbuster; those are a dead giveaway that you just speed cleaned.)
Time total 2.5 minutes (including an extra 30 seconds to get/put away the dustbuster)
Dirty bathroom sink or counter?
Don’t go get all the cleaning supplies. Speed clean it with a wad of toilet paper or tissue and some water to remove any dust, toothpaste residue or stray hairs. If your TP/tissue is very linty, you can use the hand towel that you currently have out to wipe down the sink, then toss that one in the laundry and put a fresh one out for guests. If you accidentally use the last clean hand towel to wipe down the sink, put out a bath towel, not a washcloth; more guests can use the bath towel. (You may want to put a post-it note on the bath towel that says something like “I’m clean” so people don’t think you just showered with it.) Other options are to set a roll of paper towels on the towel bar (horizontally looks nicest) or put out a bunch of washcloths and a mini basket with another washcloth in it so people know where to toss them after using one.
Time total: 45 seconds
Toss everything random.
Grab a box (or drawer, or shopping bag, or even the laundry basket) and dash through each room looking for clutter. The newspaper on the table, the stack of papers on your desk, the vitamins on the counter that you forgot put away that morning, even the well-chewed dog toys. Don’t put things away; toss them! Sorting things into a trash pile and a sort-later pile is a waste of time. You can throw the newspaper away any time; right now, everything is a sort pile. By doing this you can de-clutter an entire house in about the time it takes you to walk (dash) through each room.
Time total: 1.5 minutes
Put a blanket over big messes.
If you have a mess that’s too big to tackle, just blatantly cover it up. A chair piled-high with books or papers will take you several minutes or more to empty. Instead, toss a blanket over the entire chair. If you end up having a couple extra minutes, you can always start boxing up the mess, but everyone probably has had a cluttered chair of their own at some point and will appreciate the effort of a blanket covering. This can even work on a cluttered desk or coffee table. No blanket? Use a sheet, tablecloth, or even a coat. A coat (or two) works especially well since it can do the double duty of designating that chair as the coat holder.
Time total: 30 seconds
Give your guests a very quick way to get settled in – cookies on a table that they can gather around, a TV turned to a ball game or parade, an open door to the backyard, or even an open window by the couch. You can start by saying “help yourself to a beverage from the fridge,” but also have a visible destination available for them to gravitate to on their own after getting the beverage. The few seconds this takes will buy you many minutes after guests are settled to finish whatever else you need to get done. Without doing this in advance, you will probably feel the need to hover and chit-chat for longer to get guests settled, even if it’s to do exactly the same thing like turn on the ball game.
Time total: 30 seconds
Light some candles.
This takes only a second to do, but provides a room with an ambiance of cleanliness. It is a very clear sign to your guests that you are pleased to welcome them into your home. Even if there is a pile of dishes in the sink or a stack of papers on the table, a lit candle just makes the whole room feel less messy and more welcoming. (Don’t set the candle near the stack of papers though of course). Save this for last since it’s something you can easily do while guests are present if needed and so you can have as much time as possible for the above tasks. Time total: 15 seconds
Change your shirt.
You can sneak off later to do your hair or makeup, but if you have to sneak off to change your shirt after your guests arrive, they will feel like they were imposing. As long as you have a fresh shirt on, you are ready to welcome your guests. Yes, that includes even if you have sweatpants with holes in them on your bottom half. Obviously if you have another minute to change your pants too then do so, but if you’d rather use that minute to go do one of the other steps above, a fresh shirt is just enough to get you through the greeting. Everyone understands not quite being ready, but if you don’t have a nice shirt on yet, the perception is that you’re nowhere near ready (even though it really just takes a few seconds to pull on a shirt). Do this towards the end of your cleaning time though in case you get sweaty or dirty while running around cleaning – it’s nothing a quick swipe with a wet washcloth can’t fix, but putting a clean shirt on last helps you to feel fresher as well.
Time total: 30 seconds
- If you have an extra 10 seconds, fold the end of the toilet paper. It’s details like this that take a mad-dash last-minute cleaning to the next level. Just fold under each corner to make it form a point in the middle and you’re officially in the running for host/hostess of the year. It’s only good for the first person to get there of course, but then there will be one guest at the party telling everyone else how thoughtful and put together you are.
- Remember the ‘ounce of prevention’ adage. Hopefully you’re reading this article at your leisure, which means you have the option of planning ahead. When you know you’re going to be crunched for time in advance, there are a few things you can do to prepare (besides having an empty plastic container ready to catch the dirty dishes and an empty box ready to catch the household clutter). Cover the kitchen countertops with plastic tablecloths or cut-open plastic trash bags before you start cooking. That way you can make as much of a mess as you want, and in one quick motion remove the mess before your guests arrive. You can even do the same thing with your floors. Give the floors a thorough cleaning a week in advance, then put down a painter’s drop cloth (less than $2 at Walmart for a small room size one), and just before your guests arrive, pick up the drop cloth, along with a week’s worth of footprints, pet hair, cookie crumbs, and whatever other dust and debris. Shake out the tablecloth or drop cloth in the yard later, hose them down with some soap, let them dry in the sun, and they can be folded and stored away until the next time you have guests.
- Decorate in advance. There’s a lot of things that need to wait until the last minute, but decorating can be done several days or more in advance. This even includes getting fresh flowers for a guest bedroom; just be sure to buy ones that haven’t bloomed yet and keep them somewhere cool like the refrigerator or garage.
- If you usually let your fridge go down to the bare bones before restocking, buy a few things you don’t particularly like so you always have something to offer a spontaneous guest. Kids juice boxes of lemonade or tropical punch are good choices for beverages; they can always be poured in a glass for an adult, they’re perfect for kids, they’re flavors most people love, and by having them in juice box form, it’s ok if you take one now and then because you’ll still have a bunch left. You can leave them in the pantry and just toss them in the freezer for a few minutes when needed, though juice boxes are something that can even be appreciated when warm. A hardworking repairman or carpet cleaner will often be grateful for a warm juice box on a hot summer day.