In my head, my first response was "gosh, I dunno. I feel like I waste a lot of time doing nothing, to be honest."
As I've thought about it more, and sort of analyzed my day-to-day methods, I've come to realize that, in fact, I've picked up a lot of small habits that help.
I preface this list with a disclaimer that I don't always follow my own advice. In fact, I follow it just often enough to know that when I don't do these things, my house is a mess and I feel like I don't have time to maintain it, and when I do, my house is clean and I have plenty of free time.
- Get up earlier than you think you need to. I love to sleep in. But I also love having time to putter around and take things slow in the morning, so I try to be ready to walk out the door about 30-40 minutes before I actually have to leave. Then, if I simply can't wake up, I have built-in time to sleep later. If I'm running late, I don't need to panic. And if I'm on time, I have 40 minutes to write in the blog, check my email, tidy a room, or read a book.
- Work in small increments. This morning, there were some dishes in the kitchen sink, so I washed as many of them as I could wash while the water was boiling for a morning cup of tea, when I otherwise would have been twiddling my thumbs. That turned out to be a lot of dishes--more than I would have guessed. Now my kitchen looks three times cleaner because my sink isn't full of dirty dishes.
- Plan ahead. I write up my meal plans, shopping lists, and blog topic ideas during lunch. I can eat and write at the same time, and it helps me shape the rest of my day/week in my head.
- Combine tasks. Getting dressed in the morning is a great time to pick up clothes off the floor. Brushing your teeth still leaves one hand free to tidy any clutter in the bathroom.
- Clean as you go. I can't name the number of times my mother and grandmother have cried "clean as you go!" as I embarked on a cooking or crafting project. It's good advice. Probably half the time I spend cooking is time that I actually spend cleaning, so that by the time a meal is on the table, my kitchen is cleaner than when I started, the table is cleared off, the garbage is taken out, and the only evidence of a meal at all is some dirty dishes.
- Listen to music. Load up iTunes or GrooveShark. Pick two or three of your favorite songs, turn up the volume, and work like the dickens until you get to the end of the songs. You'll work faster and have a better time doing it.
- Assign certain tasks to certain days. Cooking and dishes have to be done every day. But what about laundry, vacuuming, dusting, or other chores? If it's a once-a-week kind of task, don't just wait until there's a desperate need for all of them to be done at once. Do one or two tasks per day, the same day every week, and you'll find you're probably going to give up less than an hour of your at-home time to get them done.
- Use a slow cooker or a timed oven. If I can throw something in our slow-cooker right when I get home and then run around and do my cleaning and hobbies while something simmers or stews, I am a happy Mrs. Scrimp. Then all I have to do is pull the food out, season it (or toss it into an already-made broth or roux for soup), and serve. We've also just started experimenting with putting food into the oven and setting a timer so that the oven turns on automatically and cooks the food so it's ready to eat just as we get home. This is a lot easier when meals are planned out ahead of time.
- Don't procrastinate! This is my biggest struggle. I am a huge procrastinator, especially on weeknights. But when it comes to around-the-house things, procrastination is never my friend. Dishes are easier to wash when the food is fresh on them, a house is easier to clean when things haven't been piling up for days, and I get a lot more pleasure out of my hobbies when I actually do them.
- Maintain visual order. This is another mantra I got from my mom. Sometimes you just don't have time to really deep-clean things, but if the counters are wiped down, the couch cushions are straight, and all your unsorted mail is in a neat stack instead of strewn on your dining room table where you were trying to deal with it, you'll feel a lot better in your space. This is all about using your eyes to trick your brain. Figure out the key elements that make you feel like your house is a mess, and tidy those first. There may still be a lot of work to do, and you can't put it off forever, but at least you won't be overcome with despair every time you walk in the door and see the things you haven't done.
I'll be totally frank--half the time, my house is a mess, no matter how clean I want it to be, but that's mostly down to laziness on my part and Mr. Scrimp's, and a lack of forethought about maintaining the cleanliness of our house once we've gone through and done our weekly weekend deep-clean of everything. When I remember to follow my own rules, things stay clean and I absolutely have time left over--usually so much that I feel a little guilty about it, because what I don't often have left over is energy to use it well.
My challenge to you today is to start doing one extra thing per day. You can even do something else at the same time, depending on the task. Block out 15-20 minutes for dishes, vacuuming, wiping down counters, etc. Find some visual order. Your bathroom still may not sparkle, but it will feel a lot cleaner if the toothpaste is put away and there's no hair in the sink.