I’m admittedly a bit of a neat freak. The jumble of shoes at my front door, unsorted bins of LEGO blocks, a sink full of dishes…all have the same effect of stopping me in my tracks. I sometimes have to say out loud, “Nope, Katie, [insert chore here] has to wait.”

This is a challenge when you have children, and I learned long ago that attempting to keep up with daily kid destruction is akin to eating Oreos while brushing your teeth. There’s no point. Instead, I’ve taught my girls to tidy up the living room before bed (usually while I clean the kitchen so we’re all cleaning at the same time) so at least I wake up to less chaos. It’s not so much a hack as it is an investment in my inner calm.

There are days, though, that I just can’t stand the little messes anymore and I give myself an uninterrupted afternoon or evening to get everything in tip-top shape. That’s all the time I have, usually, so I have to be as efficient as possible. This is where my favourite cleaning tricks come in handy.

So, without further ado and just in time for spring cleaning season, I offer my top six cleaning hacks for getting a (relatively) clean house despite kids and pets and work and life. The aim of the game is to shortcut a task without sacrificing the end result, so even if some of these sound weird, just trust me.

Let the dishwasher do double duty. This appears first in the list because it’s one of my best cleaning hacks. I put so many things in the dishwasher. Dishes, yes, but also certain things from other rooms of the house, too. Here’s a quick list:
– silicone oven mitts
– the turntable from your microwave
– fridge shelves
– plastic toys (nothing with batteries, of course)
– bathroom accessories, like your toothbrush older, soap holder, etc.

All of these can go in your dishwasher on a regular setting (unless your specific model says not to, or gives specific instructions for what can or can’t handle the heat of a certain wash mode). I usually pull things out before the dry setting to let them air dry.

Lemon rescues the microwave. Microwaves get gross. They just do. Stuff overflows or spills or even explodes. And once the gross gets baked on, cleaning this appliance is a serious chore. So, try this: Fill a large microwavable bowl with two cups of water. Add the juice from two lemons and microwave the bowl on high for ten minutes. Once it’s finished, allow it to sit with the door closed for another ten minutes (you’re letting the lemon-y steam do its thing!). Then, remove the bowl and wipe down the interior of the microwave with a damp cloth. It’s like magic. You won’t believe how easily everything comes off.

Vacuum everything. I literally vacuum all the things. Curtains? Yep. Inside the couch? Yep. The interior of cupboards and drawers? Yep.

Deal with odours naturally. If you can’t track down that vaguely unpleasant smell, it’s probably your furniture. Upholstery holds on to smells, and in a house with kids or animals, who knows what’s lingering. Spray your items with a mixture of one part white vinegar to two parts water with a few drops of essential oil (I have this spray bottle and always have a batch of this solution mixed up). Let dry. Hot tip (literally): If you can, dry your items out in the sun—sunshine is proven to kill bacteria and lessen smells!

Note: I grew up in a house that used vinegar and water for everything. It’s actually a great all-purpose solution that I use on everything from mirrors to floors.

Dust with a sock missing its match. If there’s one cleaning task I don’t love, it’s dusting. It just never feels finished, so it isn’t satisfying. But I learned this hack many years ago and I swear by it. When a sock match goes missing or gets a hole and gets tossed, I use the remaining sock for dusting. I put it on my hand like a mitten and walk around my house with the Pledge in my other hand, spraying and wiping as I go. It’s so much quicker than fiddling with a dust rag.

Find smart ways to wrangle clutter. Clutter is the bane of my existence. I have a small Toronto apartment and storage is basically non-existent, so I have to get creative when it comes to managing stuff. Paper clutter is my least favourite, seemingly multiplying on its own, so I started to use a small dish rack (like this one from Canadian Tire) to sort paper items as they come into my house. Bills and other items that require my attention soon go at the front, while the kids’ artwork goes at the back. In the middle there are slots for school notices, receipts for my business and more. I use the utensil cup for pens so I always have one handy when someone needs something signed for school.

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