House cleaning triage: where do you start?

Do you ever look around at your messy home and wonder where to start cleaning up?

A messy house makes me cranky lol! Take your home from mess to best in just 30-60 minutes. A step-by-step plan to company clean to help you tackle the most important areas of your home first.

As much as we try to keep things tidy, it’s just not practical in a busy home. And that doesn’t bother me (too much). But still, we’ve got to clean up and a messy home makes me crabby.

So when the mess is out of control, I’ve got a system. 

A triage system actually. 

Because triage is all about evaluating the problem and tackling the worst issues first. It works in the emergency room and it works at home, too.

With a house cleaning triage system, you can clean up the most important areas so you can make a big impact in the least amount of time.

You can use this strategy if you’re expecting company or if it’s just been one of those days and you have to dig out from under the mess.

If you’ve got kids who can help out, this job can be done in half the time. Even smaller kids can be given some of these jobs so make sure to put everyone to work!

1. Load and run the dishwasher (3 minutes).

Collect any stray dishes and start the dishwasher ASAP whether or not it’s full.  Use the short cycle if possible.

If you have a lot of pots and pans that need washing, see if you can fit some of them in the dishwasher as well. I don’t usually put pots and pans in the dishwasher because they take up so much space, but if you have room and are pinched for time, go for it. It helps if they have soaked for a bit to loosen any cooked on food.

Put any remaining dishes, pots and pans that must be handwashed in the sink to soak in hot, soapy water.

2. Clutter pickup (5 minutes).

This is a basic dash and grab!

Grab a laundry basket and walk through the main living areas. Collect stray clothing, books, shoes, toys, etc.

Bring the basket to the laundry room and start a load of laundry (unless clothing is from your wardrobe and requires special handling).

Bring toys to the playroom or kids’ rooms, re-shelve books, and hang up coats, etc. If you collected a lot of little things and you’re short on time, just leave the basket for later and stow it out of sight.

Bring any clean loads of laundry to a bedroom and leave on the bed.

Putting laundry away is not part of house-cleaning triage.

3. Clear off kitchen surfaces (5 minutes).

Take a look at the kitchen counters and table.

Put away any leftover food, clean dishes, homework, etc.

If you’ve got piles of paper, straighten them out. This isn’t the time for paperwork sorting! (But save these paperwork tips for later)

Clean counters and table with all-purpose cleaner.

Cluttered counters always look messy so do your best to put away as much as possible.

4. Vacuum or sweep the kitchen (5 minutes).

Pull out chairs, shake throw rugs, and vacuum. Now things are really starting to look better, aren’t they? Love, love, love my Shark vacuum.

A messy house makes me cranky lol! Take your home from mess to best in just 30-60 minutes. A step-by-step plan to company clean to help you tackle the most important areas of your home first.

5. Wash the rest of the dishes in the sink, dry them and put them away. (10 minutes)

Related: A whole-house cleaning checklist with all the jobs that sometimes get forgotten

If you’ve only got 30 minutes, here’s where you stop!

I’ll bet you’ve made a huge difference in the appearance of your home. But, if you’ve got some time left, keep going.

6. Inspect the bathrooms (5 minutes per bathroom).

Do a super quick clean of the bathrooms (here’s a bathroom cleaning checklist). Empty the trash, clean the toilet and wipe down the sink and counter. Straighten towels.

7. Vacuum other living areas (10 minutes).

Hopefully the floor was picked up in step 2 so you can zoom right through.

8. Straighten throw pillows, coffee table books, etc. (1 minute) 

This small step makes a huge difference in the appearance of your home.

9. Put out fresh kitchen towels and washcloths and take out the trash (1 minute)

A messy house makes me cranky lol! Take your home from mess to best in just 30-60 minutes. A step-by-step plan to company clean to help you tackle the most important areas of your home first.

10. Empty the dishwasher (5 minutes)

Hopefully the dishwasher is now finished and you can empty it out. Because surely there will be more dirty dishes again soon!

11. Tidy up any loose ends (10 minutes)

Wipe up any spots on the floor and put away anything that got missed in the first go-round.

Total time: 61 minutes!

You did it! You made your house company clean in just one hour!

To make a job like this easier, do regular pick-ups and teach everyone in the house the one simple trick to keeping the house cleaner.

Do you have a house cleaning triage system?


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12 thoughts on “House cleaning triage: where do you start?”

  1. I love this post. With three little boys my house always seems messy and overwhelming. I like that you call it triage. The kitchen is the first thing I tackle. I feel I can breathe easier when the kitchen is clean. Like you, I keep my counters bare. Thanks for the post.

  2. When my husband was a child (one of five), his mother had a great system. In a large cupboard were five boxes, each one labelled with a day of the week and full of all sorts of fun games and challenging activities, painting or colouring in projects, sewing for the girls or building stuff for the boys (or vice versa!). The kids were allowed to get out the ‘box of the day’ once their chores were done. This kept them all well entertained for most of the day. If attention fell (this seldom happened), they were allowed to get another days box out but only after they had cleaned up everything from the first box. What a great way to keep children active AND responsible.

  3. Love these tips! As someone that works full time in the house cleaning industry, these tips are great for everyone and especially busy mommies! I myself am a mom of 2 boys (ages 6 and 3) and my husband also works full time. Our home can become a disaster if we let the clutter take over. I’ve learned that just by picking up clutter on a daily basis and as simple as fixing your throw pillows and putting dishes away right after the dishwasher is finished (or first thing in the morning if ran at night) can make a huge difference! One thing I am working on with my little ones is instilling in them the good habit of putting these away once they are done using them. If I can get them to put their shoes away when they get home and clean up their toys properly, then half the battle is won for us! It is a work in progress, but I agree with you that the little ones can help and enjoy doing it if they feel like they are being “mommy’s good helper”. Anyhow, I love your tips for being short on time and the ideas to get your home looking tidy for company. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Great tips! I hate that feeling of panic when you realize you only have an hour or so to tidy the house before visitors arrive. Will certainly use your ‘triage’ plan. Thanks.


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Welcome. I’m Sarah!


I’m the creator of Decluttering School (formerly known as Early Bird Mom), lover of organized spaces, encourager to women and mom to four boys. Click here to read more!

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