What To Clean If You Only Have 15 Minutes

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What To Clean If You Only Have 15 Minutes

What To Clean If You Only Have 15 Minutes

by Tracy Roberts

OK – Panic time. The fill-in-the-blank called and they will be knocking on your front door in 15 minutes. You fix your hair, get the kids to wipe the chocolate off their faces and send them to straighten their rooms.

Then, you turn around to survey the damage in the rest of the house. Yikes! Like your momma always says, it looks like a tornado tore a path through your home.

You’ve got approximately 14 minutes left. What do you attack first to get the most bang for your cleaning buck?

  1. Pick stuff off the floor. It always makes such a difference to actually “see” the carpet. If you are lucky enough to have a dedicated playroom for the kids’ toys, close the door. Easy. If not, keep an extra laundry basket handy and just fill it up. Don’t bother sorting, just scoop up all the toys and “stuff” and move on. If your vacuum is easy to use, run it quickly. If it is a pain to find it and deal with the cord, forget about it.
  2. Head into the kitchen. If you have piles of dirty dishes everywhere, you have two choices. You could try to load the dishwasher. It might, however, be easier to rinse everything quickly, fill the sink with soapy water and pile it all in. Don’t worry about actually washing them. Let your company think they interrupted you. Give the counters a once over with the sponge or a wipe so nothing sticky is left for your guests to discover. Done.
  1. Time’s ticking down. Run over to the bathroom. Nothing is more embarrassing than having someone ask to use your bathroom when you just know it is gross. Toss all the toys in the tub and close the curtain. Get everything off the counter and into a drawer. Grab a bleach wipe and wipe down the counter, the faucet, the sink and the toilet. Grab a wipe made just for mirrors and get that toothpaste spray that you have been purposely ignoring off the mirror. If you can, clean the toilet bowl as well. Be sure there is toilet paper.
  2. Just a minute or two left. Straighten the cushions on the sofa. Toss the throws the way the magazine stylists do instead of having them piled up like a pillow. Corral all the stuff in the shoe pile and hang up the coats.

That’s it.

That’s all you’ve got time for but this little list should make everything more presentable. Whether you are a neat freak or on the messy side, we all have days where we get caught off-guard. It happens. The point to remember is that you only need to give the “illusion” of clean. No one is going to open your closets or drawers. No one is going to peek behind closed doors. At least, I hope not.

Get more tips like these in Tracy’s 30 Days to an Organized Home e-book. When you order today, Tracy also includes some great bonus checklists to help you stay organized. Learn more here!



  1. Elaine says

    And I say, If they DO peek into closed drawers, or behind closet doors, or wherever, it’s their own FAULT…so, don’t worry about it. :-) (smiling)

  2. Grandma says

    Put a small sauce pan with water on the stove turn on to med. add a stick of cinnamon or an inch of fresh ginger root. let it simmer then turn it way down or off.
    that way if your sink is full of dishes they will think they interrupted you baking cookies.
    nice smells slways make a visit go better.

  3. Cathy Booth says

    I love your newsletter! I’ve been receiving it for at least two years, and I love the books I’ve purchased. I just bought the 30 Days to an Organized home, just because you recommended it. Well, and because she had a pretty impressive money back guarantee on her website. I can’t wait to read it and get started.

    (By the way, when my mother had a brand new baby, her mother-in-law called just before popping in. My mom opened the top drawer of the dresser, took her arm and swooped everything off the top into the drawer. Viola, her house looked neat and tidy in no time. I’m sure she went through it all later!)

    Thanks for all the love and support you show us all the time with your newsletter. Keep ’em coming!!!

    Cathy Booth

  4. says

    My favorite story was when one of the kids looked out the window and said “Mom the preacher is walking up the sidewalk”. The frantic mom ran to the closet, pulled out the vacuum cleaner and set in the middle of the floor by the door. Pulling a few strands of hair from her bun she opened the door and said “Hello preacher come on in. Don’t mind the mess I’m in the middle of spring house cleaning.”

  5. Bea says

    Well it is a little rude for people to show up unannounced so they get what they get. It is nice to pick up like you suggested, but I would say to them that you didn’t expect them and maybe they will get the hint and call ahead the next time. MAYBE.

  6. says

    I love this great room-by-room plan. It can seem overwhelming when you feel like the tornado has struck and you’re wondering what to do in hurry. Great tips!

  7. Lorrie H says

    Go see http://www.FlyLady.net and you will never have to do a stash and dash again! Your home will always be 15 minutes from company ready. More importantly, your home will always welcome you and you’ll feel like it’s hugging you every time you walk thru the front door. No more hiding from the unexpected doorbell.

    • says

      Yes, some people really like Flylady although when I tried it I about went crazy! When I say I’ve tried everything to get organized I’ve tried it all! My major problem is I’m just sick and can’t do it all!

  8. Donna says

    Tawra, in one hundred years it won’t matter how organized any of us are:

    One Hundred Years From Now…

    One hundred years from now
    It will not matter
    What kind of car I drove,
    What kind of house I lived in,
    How much I had in my bank,
    Nor what my clothes looked like.
    One hundred years from now
    It will not matter
    What kind of school I attended,
    What kind of typewriter I used,
    How large or small my church,
    But the world may be …

    a little better because…
    I was important in the life of a child.

    ~~ Author Unknown ~~

  9. Lorrie H says

    Tawra, I’ve been doing the FL system for 10 yrs. The key to it is to give yourself permission to take it slow. The clutter has to go. If you do too much too fast you “about go crazy”…lol I do know exactly what you mean because I did what you did. Everything had to be perfect and done right now the right way. I learned after several crash and burns that it wasn’t possible. The hard part is letting go of the clutter (really difficult if you are frugal…OMG). My home is not “Better Homes and Gardens” but it is usually 15 minutes from company ready without the crazy stash and dash if someone drops by. Years ago, I hid from unexpected company and kept my dirty secret. No longer! Hugs

    • says

      Lorrie I preach this all the time. Take it slow and one little step at a time or you will fall. This goes with anything besides getting your house organized. If you are trying to get out of debt, changing you grocery shopping or dealing with kids do it slowly but surely. Don’t go on to the next step until you have conquered the first one.

  10. says

    The only time anyone ever comes to my house is when I have dishes in the sink or I have all of our unfolded laundry on the sofa ready for folding. No one EVER swings by when my house is tidy and neat. It really is unfair. lol!

  11. getforfree says

    I think this will only work if your house is clean in general, like the bathrooms are clean and the furniture is dusted. Then you can pick up everything in 15 min. But if you didn’t have a chance to clean anything for 3 days and you are in the middle of cooking something, there is no way I can get it all ready in 15 minutes. Plus shawing all the mess into a drower or closet will create even more cleaning later on.

  12. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    Please consider saying “Oh dear. I was just on my way to an appointment (to the masterbedroom, basement, garage, with the hubby or baby) and it would not be convenient for you to stop in.” You don’t have to let univited guest in. It is YOUR house.

    I appreicate the cleaning tips though.

  13. Lorrie H says

    Jill, that is one of Marla’s, too…Slow and steady wins the race! I enjoy my home now. It hugs me after a long day at work. It occassionally starts to slide back into chaos. That’s when I dust off my timer and start decluttering. It’s amazing how much easier it gets. If I don’t love it…If it doesn’t make me smile….or if I have more than one of the same something…out it goes!

  14. says

    A trick I learned from some relatives is to shut the blinds/curtains. Nothing shows dust & dirt like sunshine!! Keep a lamp with a low watt bulb to turn on if you need a little light. I have even put the dirty dishes in a laundry basket and put it in the car!!! lol Now that I’m older it doesn’t bother me so.

  15. Donna says

    I can’t think what could possibly be wrong with telling someone that it is not a good time for them to drop by, and setting up a later time or date.

    • says

      Some people just don’t take no for an answer and don’t understand that. I was staying at my parents while my husband was overseas and one morning woke up and there were in laws sleeping in the spare bedroom and on the floor. Had no idea they were coming. It happened all the time and when I would say something I was considered a horrible person.

      We have had very extended family members who I hadn’t even meant show up at 11 at night wanting to spend the night and we were totally tore up with remodeling and they didn’t think that would be a problem at all. I would never do that myself unless it was an emergency but there are lots of people who think that that is normal.

  16. R says

    We had similar rude things happen, but at some point, you just have to tell them “no.” And if that makes you a “horrible person,” so be it! Even if they are extended family. When it’s your house, it’s your rules. You have to be vigilant to protect your time with your immediate family. (I am speaking about repeat offenders… if it happens once, hopefully they’ll clue in next time!)

    One thing we do in my house when people just “show up” and the house is a mess, one of us steps outside to talk to the person. That’s not being inhospitable, sometimes it just isn’t a good time to come over.

  17. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    I remember that my husband and I used to sleep in the family room when everyone came home for Christmas. Dad kept us awake until midnight watching tv. At 6 Am we woke up when two sisters’ kids ran up and down the stairs the sleeper sofa backed up to. Torture! of course my sisters slept in. We also had assembly lines of plates mom put the meat on, I cut it up, sister put potatoes on, etc. One time I cut up by 42 year old brother’s pork. Put your uninvited guests in the living room where your children can make them wish for the comforts of their own home. It never made sense to me to have hosts give up their own beds for guests. Why should two parties be uncomfortable?

  18. Donna says

    Family is a different thing altogether. “Home is the place where when you have to go, they have to take you in.” (Robert Frost) But family doesn’t judge us in regards to puddles of toys or wet towels in the bathroom.

    For that matter, family is expected to pull up their sleeves and help clean when they come over to visit. At least in my family. If I visit family, it goes without saying, that I help cook and clean. The same goes for family that visits me.

    If I didn’t help my family when I visited them, I know that I would get talked about by the rest of them, the minute my back was turned.

  19. Rachel says

    Donna, wish my family felt that ways and all pitched in. If we have a holiday at my house, my mother, daughter and sister eat and visit, then leave. My husband and i are doing dishes half the night. I have fibromyalgia like Tawra, and it has pretty much reached the point that I am refusing to have anything at my home. As far as cleaning goes, I keep the dishes up, put things away and I do like a made up bed. Everything else just has to wait till I feel like doing it.

  20. Pati says

    Tawra, do you have a recipe to make harbinaro jelly? I’ve been looking for on as I have a multitude of them in my garden this year. I know I’ve made jalapeno jelly before which was great on roast pork, pork chops…actually we ate it on a lot of different meats. Thank you! Pati

  21. Judy in Maine says

    I just saw this post and liked it. My son and daughter-in-law and granddaughter were in Sendai, Japan during the earthquake and Tsunami. They came back to stay with us for about three weeks to regroup and rest. Housecleaning took a back seat to the blessing of their being alive and with us. Until the local newsteams and newspapers started showing up to interview them for their story. I found out we could clean and straighten up our rather large cabin in less than the 45 minute notice we had. And the background (of the house) looked quite respectable as they told their very scary story.

  22. Doodles says

    I like this post and your site. Like you, bad experience with the flylady. It just wasn’t for me; all those lace up shoes and five million product advertisements. I’ve done better with Sandra Felton, and her Messies Manual, but that’s just me. Still need something like this 15 minute clean up from time to time! Very practical and quick, although I don’t have kids. Good job! There’s an “emergency clean” on mymessyhouse.com that’s good, too, but it takes longer than your list. It’s good if you have, say, an hour to get ready.

    Your site is very practical without being preachy. I’m going to recommend it to my FB friends. :)

    • says

      Thanks Doodles. I remember being exhausted and in tears as a young bride when I would read or hear someone say all you need to do is to get up x hours earlier and work harder and you would have a perfectly clean house. I just couldn’t do it. I was already getting up sometimes at 4:30 after having been up 2-3 times in the night, was living in a house that was being remodeled and had a manufacturing business in it and the list goes on. I felt so guilty because my house wasn’t as spotless as “they” said it should be. I just couldn’t get their ideas to fit into my life. Anyway so glad you like the web site and hope you can pick up more ideas which you can adapt to your situation.

  23. Mary Jane says

    An older, wiser lady from my church, told me years ago, that if you had company coming and no time to really clean, make a point of sweeping or vacuuming around the walls and baseboards of your main rooms, even if you don’t have time to do the whole floor. Apparently, your eyes naturally settle there when you walk into a room, or get yourself seated.

    • says

      It reminds me of what someone told me when I was a young bride. If you see unexpected company walking up the front sidewalk, run and place that vacuum in the middle of the floor. When you open the door say “Welcome, come in. I was just in the middle of cleaning.” : ) I loved this because we had the house tore up from remodeling for years plus I had a factory in the upstairs and basement of my house so I has sawdust, metal shavings and sheet rock dust among other things in my house all the time. What was even more hair raising was we would have customers and relatives from all over the country pop in for an unexpected visit or to stay the night. How did I survive?

  24. Tommie says

    Anybody remember Minnie Pearl? She said, “I always wear my Sunday hat when
    I am at home during the day. If someone comes that I want to see, I tell them I just got home and
    haven’t had time to take off my hat. If someone comes unexpectedly whom I do not care to see, I
    tell them I am just on my way out.” What a gal!!!!!!!!!

  25. Bea says

    That’s so funny Tommie. Good idea too. People that just show up are rude in my opinion anyway. Unless there’s a VERY GOOD reason.

  26. bj says

    then there’s the tip where you put “get well” cards all around on the mantle, tables; maybe they will think someone has been sick and too busy or ill to clean. A friend’s sister-in-law was famous for peeking in showers, cabinets, even closets! so when she visited there were notes all in the private places saying,”Aha! caught you looking!”

  27. Patricia Noble says

    Try moving into a new house, w/ boxes EVERYWHERE, and a new neighbor comes to the door. What did I do…. Moved boxes off sofa, we talked for a min. Then asked her if she wanted to help! Really our new neighbors have been great!!!

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