Procrastinators Guide to Housecleaning

For the times you can't be bothered with housekeeping (like, always), here's a handy guide on how to squeak by without having to be squeaky clean.

Inevitably, the day dawns when you can no longer see the top of your dining room table. Or you're afraid to walk through the living room in the dark. Or your kid tells you how squishy and fun it is to play with the slime in the corner of the tub. Well, there's only one thing to do: Invite people over.

Assuming you're not a member of the Collyer family and you've never appeared on an episode of Clean House, this technique actually works. After all, there's nothing like a little fear of public humiliation to get the hostess most motivated.

Now, we're not talking major overhaul here—just enough to get your house looking presentable and maybe even smelling fresher. Keep it simple: Lose the clutter and clean the visible surfaces. Ready?

Pretend you're visiting. The problem with clutter is that the longer it's there, the less you notice it. So walk through your house as if you're a guest and take stock with a fresh eye, so you know what you're up against.

Dress the part. Put on an apron or cargo pants-anything with roomy pockets to stash your supplies, as well as the Lego pieces and other tchotchkes that you'll pick up. Tie a bandana around your head to keep your hair out of your face. Optional: iPod. Try this playlist to get you in a dust-busting mood.

Enlist the troops. Draft your kids into service—after all, their crap is what helped make this mess, right? Arm them with bags or baskets to pick up books and toys to return to their proper place. Set a timer for 10 minutes—no tyke can resist a race. And, kids? Any toys that aren't put away meet a ghastly end (oh, all right—they go into Mom's closet and are banished for a week). Conversely, reward them for a job well done.

Divide and conquer. Grab a large trash bag and a laundry basket (or other roomy, clean container). Then do a death march through the public areas, dividing things in two categories: Toss and Put Away. Torn throw pillow? Broken toy? (Neither of which you will ever fix?) Small red plastic thingie? Toss. Toss. Toss. Everything else that's discernable and salvageable but shouldn't be there, plop it in the basket to deal with later.

Wipe down. Go over furniture with some all-purpose wipes. Weapons of choice? Fantastik Multi-Surface Wipes, $3 for 30, and Scotch-Brite Dusting Microfiber Cloth, about $3.

File away. Recycle supermarket fliers, catalogs and any magazine older than two months. Don't pile the remaining bills and paperwork together and shove it under the sofa. Get a sturdy accordion folder, like the Container Store's 13-Pocket Portofino Accordion File or a plastic file box, and sort paperwork into it by category. Then shove it under the sofa.

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