Let me set the scene – it’s Friday night, you just got home from an exhausting day of work, you’re about to collapse on the couch and binge-watch Stranger Things when you realize that you have friends coming over for dinner. In half an hour. And your house? It’s a disaster.
We’ve all been there. At least, I hope we have. Please tell me I’m not the only one. I feel like every few weeks it hits me that someone is coming to my house soon and my house is nowhere near ready for anyone who doesn’t live there to step foot it in!
I’ve been working over the years on really lowering my expectations when it comes to how clean my house has to be for guests. I used to spend hours scrubbing every surface to make it all “presentable,” but I’ve realized that people genuinely don’t care what my house looks like when they come over. They’re coming over to spend time together, relax, and have a good time – not to inspect my fireplace for excess dust. Of course, that doesn’t mean I want to invite my friends over to a home that looks like a tornado recently blew through. I don’t enjoy spending time in messy spaces, and I’m sure my guests appreciate a house that’s at least marginally clean.
So, here’s my strategy for when I have people coming over and I need to get the house straightened up in a hurry. Take note that you only want to focus on the main living spaces here. Living room, dining room, kitchen, bathrooms. If the guests aren’t gonna see it, who cares if it’s messy?
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You ready? Start your timers…
Minute 0-10: Do a quick clutter sweep in every room. The key here is only put away things that belong in the room you’re in. If it doesn’t belong in that room, toss it into the correct room and move on. For example, if you find some stray dishes in the living room, don’t take them directly to the dishwasher. Dump ’em on the kitchen counter and head back to finish decluttering in the living room – deal with the dishes once you make your way to the kitchen. When we get distracted by putting things away in a room different than the one we’re working on, it can lead to a domino effect where you start cleaning up in the new room before you’ve finished with the first one. It’s a fine strategy, but it’s inefficient when you’re in a hurry. One room at a time, stay focused! If you’re moving quickly, this shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes (and if you don’t have systems in place so that your clutter is really easy to put up, head on over here to get yourself organized first!).
Minute 11-15: Vacuum or sweep high traffic areas only. This isn’t the time to be sweeping under the dining room table, y’all – no one is going to notice. When I’m in a hurry I prefer to bust out the vacuum because it tends to be a little more efficient, but the broom will work just fine here too. Focus on the areas where people will be hanging out a lot, ignore the places where they may just pass through or not spend time (for example, I always get the side of my dining room that’s next to the kitchen, but the area by the back of the room is only accessed by people who sit in those back chairs and doesn’t get terribly dirty, so I don’t bother with it during a quick clean).
Minute 16-20: Choose your battle: mopping or dusting. Time to make a quick decision – which would make a bigger impact? A quick mop (perfect if you have a lot of hardwoods + dogs…this is almost always what I choose!) or dusting some of your most visibly dirty spots? You’ve only got five minutes here, so don’t think too hard about it – pick the one that’s bothering you the most at the moment and go to town. If you’re mopping, the high-traffic rules still apply – you don’t have time to mess around with hard-to-reach spots. If you’re dusting, try to focus only on the things that guests might see or hang out near – your coffee table, that bookcase right next to the kitchen, your dining room centerpiece. If it’s higher up, in a not-often-used corner, or not frequently accessed it can be skipped!
Minute 20-28: Do a walkthrough. This is the part where you take a quick stroll through your home and put on the lens of an outsider. Does anything stand out to you as being particularly dirty or in need of straightening? Make sure there’s toilet paper available in the bathroom, make sure you don’t have crumbs on the counter, that sort of thing. I always try to put myself in the shoes of someone visiting a friend’s house, and it’s always a really effective way to catch some things I might not have noticed otherwise. Remember, the things you notice about your home aren’t the things other people are going to notice! You might be bothered by the dirty baseboards or the fingerprints on the fridge, but your guests are more likely to notice an odd smell or an empty soap dispenser in the bathroom. Think like a guest, not like a host!
Minute 29-30: Time for the finishing touches – turn on some music and light some candles! This is one of the most important steps because if your guests walk into a home that smells great and has a cozy, calming atmosphere they’re not even going to notice the giant dog footprints by the backdoor. Promise. Often, having a “clean” home is more about how it feels than how it looks. When I have guests coming over, I always love the Nickel Creek Pandora station – it’s quiet and calming, but not at all boring.
Bonus points if you have a few seconds leftover to pour yourself a glass of wine!
The bottom line is, having guests over should be fun – not stressful. Your friends are coming because they enjoy your company and they want to be with you, not because they want to pick your house apart. When I start to feel stressed about the state of my house before people come over, I always force myself to stop and think about my motivations when I’m heading over to a friend’s house, and it’s a great reminder that no one will care if the floors or a little dirty or there are smudges on the bathroom mirror.
Oh, and if you need some tips on what candles, cleaners, and tools you can use to make the biggest impact without a lot of effort (a fantastic scent makes all the difference in the world, my friends), I’ve done the hard work for you and found a few options below.
What are your tricks for getting your home guest-ready in a hurry?