Ask Unclutterer: Exhausted after work

Reader Juliana submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

How do you stay on top of your chores if both members of the household work demanding jobs all day? There’s no way we can afford a housekeeper and we are both exhausted at the end of the day. By the weekend, things have piled up to an overwhelming level and I feel like it’s too much to handle. Help!

Oh, Juliana, I know exactly how you’re feeling, and I’m sure a number of our readers do, too. After a long day of work the last thing you want to do are chores, and when the weekend arrives you want to do something more remarkable than clean. There have been many times when I have wished for a housekeeper.

  • My first piece of advice is to set aside one weekend to simply catch up with all of the stuff around your house. In the days leading up to this weekend, tell everyone that you’re going out of town, stock up on groceries, and clear your entire schedule. Then, wake up early on Saturday morning and get down to business. Clean your place from top-to-bottom, inside-and-out, and do all of the big stuff that just has to get done. On Sunday evening, celebrate your efforts by going out to a dinner where someone else is responsible for doing the dishes.
  • Once you have this clean slate, then you can get started on a daily maintenance routine that takes little effort and leaves your weekends free for your remarkable life.
  • Your routine first needs to include a landing strip. You need an area where you can come in after a long day at work and immediately process items. Put a trash can and recycle bin/paper shredder in this space so that mail and paperwork are immediately handled (especially since you don’t want to sacrifice weekend time doing this). Have hooks for coats and hats, and designated spaces for your keys, bags, etc. Put all of your charging equipment for your cell phone in this space, and plug in your phone the minute you walk in the door. The landing strip provides a space for your things, and also makes it a breeze to leave your house in the morning for work.
  • Next up, commit to doing exactly 30 minutes of cleanup a night. You may do best if you do this 30 minutes right when you get home, or it may work for you right after dinner. Yes, you’re exhausted, but if you remind yourself that 30 minutes now will save you two whole weekend days, it’s pretty easy to keep moving. I have a “cleaning” mix on my iPod that is 30 minutes of fast tempo songs. I play it while I clean to motivate me.
  • Designate specific rooms for specific days, such as Mondays = Kitchen, Tuesdays = Bathrooms, Wednesdays = Bedroom, Thursdays = Living Room, and Fridays = Living/Family Room. Do a general 10 minute pick up around the house, but then spend 20 minutes really focusing on just one room. With both of you working together, you’ll be surprised by how much you accomplish. You’ll also reap the benefit of having your weekends free of chores.
  • If you watch television as a way to relax, invest in a DVR. You can do the cleaning while a favorite show is recording, and then start it half-way into the program and watch the show without commercials.
  • Finally, here are more time-saving tips and suggestions for establishing routines. And, remember to get ready for bed half-an-hour or an hour before you plan to go to sleep. Your clothes are more likely to hit the hamper, and shoes/belts/jackets are more likely to get put away properly.

Thank you, Juliana, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope we helped a little to solve your problem.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

52 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Exhausted after work”

  1. posted by Amanda on

    Thanks Erin, and thank you Juliana for asking! I needed this. As one of many people who comes home tired and lacking any motivation to clean up, this could provide the structure I need to ensure that *all* parts of my home remain clean and clutter free. (And save my weekends in the process!)

  2. posted by Kris on

    I have also started doing 1 load of laundry in the evenings. I know, nobody wants to do laundry in the evenings. However, I was getting tired of spending 1 day of my weekend doing laundry and stuck in the house because of this. So in the morning, I’ll put one load in the laundry basket and take it to the laundry room. When I come home, I put the clothes in the washer before I even change out of my work clothes. This way it gets started right away. By the time I go to bed, I have one load done.

  3. posted by Alicia C. on

    All sound advice. The biggest problem for us is the hansel and gretel effect. A trickle of things going from the door through the living room and down the hall to the bedroom. My husband has an aversion to cleaning and i am exhausted when i get home. We try and combat this by making it a little less daunting. we have just a 15 minute clean up session every day but ours is a blitz. we set a timer and go to it as fast as we can. It helps knowing that it is just 15 min and we are both competative so we try and get as much done as possible. Whatever doesnt get done, then will be tackled the next night. we are still working on not putting stuff down in the wrong place in the first place. but until then, the 15 min blitz works for us.

  4. posted by Krys Slovacek on

    I have had this same problem, and for me, 30 minutes was too overwhelming after a long day. I only did 20 minutes a day. I broke it up into two 10-minute segments. One that I have to do right when I get home, and one that I do just before going to bed. My husband has his own 20 minutes each night (he does his all at once), and this way, we’re able to accomplish most chores without having to give up our precious weekends.

  5. posted by Stuart on

    We have a Cleanup Calendar. Monday – living room, Tuesday – kitchen, etc. We also have a day that we do no cleaning. Some days are easier than others. If both my wife and I blitz the room, then it takes 20 minutes.

  6. posted by angdis on

    I had the same problem. In my case the problem was exacerbated by a long 100 mile round trip daily commute.

    When I finally found work very close to home, I was able to gain back ~2 hours per day of my life. This instantly made life more manageable.

  7. posted by Leanne Larson on

    Hi, I’ve run into the same problem….The biggest problem for me was how to get started. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. I’ve been able to manage the major task of cleaning and getting a ahead by using a system from It was most helpful in getting my “brain” wrapped around the “elephant”. They have terrific online support and even have “cleaning events” at certain times and you can blog with others in the same situation. Good Luck!

  8. posted by Miss Mouthy on

    This is something I struggle with, too. I really like the idea of starting with a clean slate…everything clean, then work on maintenance. I think it’s too much to clean and maintain in little chunks each day. Another life saver for me is with laundry. Here’s my mantra: A Load a Day Until it’s Put Away. If I follow through each day, I can take the weekends off!

  9. posted by Tabitha (From Single to Married) on

    Juliana – I feel your pain!! My husband I struggle with this exact issue. We’ve tried something new since the beginning of the year, however, and so far it’s been working great. We spent a good day cleaning everything we could, organizing, throwing away, etc. So we started with a clean slate. After that, we put a calendar on the wall that is just for doing chores. On the weekends is when we divide the big chores (vaccuming, scrubbing, etc.) and make a time to get them done. Througout the rest of the week, it’s just a matter of picking up here and there and lightly cleaning the bathroom and kitchen.

    I think the key for us is the hard work we put into the overhaul cleaning session we did. The house looks so great that we don’t want to mess it up. We also plan time on the weekends just for cleaning which helps make it a priority – plus the cleaning isn’t as bad since we’ve been straightening throughout the week.

    Hope this makes sense – good luck to you!

  10. posted by maxie on

    Most people cringe thinking about how we solved this problem. We started getting up a half hour earlier every morning and each of us devoted 15-30 minutes to chores before doing anything else (except coffee). It’s amazing how much better we felt when we walked in the door at night when there wasn’t any mess to contend with. Surprisingly, we were actually less tired and had more time on weekends for fun.

  11. posted by Sapphire on

    I’ve been using the “room of the day” routine for several years, and I can’t emphasize enough how well it works. My routine is organized so that I start at the back of the house (our bedroom and bath) on Monday and work forward through progressively more public spaces during the week, ending up with the living room and main bath on Friday. That way if we have a 5-minute warning of people coming over, the portions of the house they’re going to see are the most freshly cleaned and I don’t have to panic!

  12. posted by Red on

    We instituted a “chore hour” each evening. Between the time we get home and 6:30 p.m. we leave the tv and computer off, turn on the radio, and pick up around the house while listening to the day’s news. Granted, some nights my bigger half doesn’t get home until 6:00 and some evenings I am training until after 7:00, so it turns out that we are not necessarily doing an hour every night. But dinner is cooked, the bathrooms are clean, and the floors swept almost all the time now. Plus it allows us to play after 6:30 each night – to enjoy a sit down dinner together, watch evening television if we choose, etc – without the pressure of having to do the chores.

  13. posted by Jessiejack on

    What works for me is doing my “chores” immediately on getting home for about 30 minutes. This daily maintenance includes making lunch for the next day, cleaning cat box, setting up coffee, emptying Dishwasher etc. Just by doing these chores, the house is maintained and my morning schedule for leaving is very smooth. It has taken me a long time to realize that daily maintenance really does take less time than a lare weekend blitz – and the house is so much pleasanter!

  14. posted by Dream Mom on

    Good suggestions. I agree 100%

    The way I keep my home clean is with routines-a morning routine (make beds, put in a load of laundry, empty dishwasher, etc), an afternoon routine (call it what you like it’s when you get home from work)where the mail is processed and an evening routine where things are put away and things are packed and ready on the landing strip. I find doing 30-45 minutes of a morning routine and cleaning does the trick. Included in that, is the one room per day.

    Two things also make the process a lot easier. One, you must simplify everything. The more minimal you are the easier it is to maintain. Two, making certain you put away everything after you use it.

  15. posted by timgray on

    “commit to doing exactly 30 minutes of cleanup a night.”

    This is the key to EVERYTHING. I dont care if you are dying, you do your 30 minutes of clean up, do it the second you get home. This makes the whole thing possible. In fact if you get everything going well and do not have kids or animals the daily clean up goes from 30 minutes to 10 minutes because I cant find 30 minutes of cleaning to do.

    It makes the biggest difference in the world, Look at it as one of those things you cant live civilized without. like brushing your teeth or showering.

  16. posted by Lily on

    I know you mentioned you cannot afford a house cleaner, but there are a few options to think about if you haven’t already.

    Think about paying someone to come in less frequently than once a week to give everything the once over. I have people come once every two weeks and friends who have someone come in every 3 weeks or every month, while keeping things picked up for the most part in between. I have found it is an indispensable expense for me and would cut back on a dozen other things before my house cleaners. They charge $50 every two weeks. I figure that’s the cost of me buying lunch at work every day, and I can bring my lunch.

    Or what about treating yourself to a house cleaner every few months as a reward for all the hard work you do?

  17. posted by JDW on

    I have a two-step approach:

    1. Clean in the mornings! I set the coffeemaker, and then tidy up the kitchen while it brews. This is maintenance-only activities since I only have about 5-10 minutes: sorting mail, putting away clean dishes, putting any clutter away. But the daily habit keeps things in order. This way I always have at least a clean kitchen when I get home from work–much more inviting to make dinner in.

    2. Have something to look forward to doing in the evening, whether its a project, or just reading/watching TV. Make yourself do one not-fun task before you are allowed the fun thing.

    Also–clean up from dinner immediately after. I’ve found that any task that is left until “right before bed” doesn’t get done, because by then I’m too tired.

    Small daily routines for keeping on top of the mess is the key. I reserve bigger jobs like mopping for the weekend.

  18. posted by Kristine on

    This is definitely some great advice. I spent an entire weekend a few weeks ago just cleaning my apartment from top to bottom. Now I only have to do maintenance cleaning which is VERY important–otherwise you’ll find yourself doing deep cleaning every other weekend!

    And like another commenter said–a place for everything, everything in its place is a great thought to keep in mind. When I deep cleaned, I learned that most of the gruntwork I had to do was putting stuff away as opposed to cleaning.

  19. posted by Bonnie on

    I love all the suggestions here, but does anyone have any ideas on how to accomplish these 30 minute cleaning bursts when you also have to add two tired, hungry kids into the mix?

  20. posted by Taylor at Household Management 101 on

    Starting with a clean slate, as suggested, is an excellent way to not be overwhelmed when you start out cleaning when you haven’t done it routinely in the past. But, if you do not create habits to clean daily the dirt will creep back in.

    Creating a habit is the tricky part, but once it is made their is less inertia. Right now, you are so exhausted when you get home, you don’t want to move. Once you get in the habit of doing a chore each evening then it mentally won’t be so hard.

    The best way to start a new habit is to focus on one at a time. If you try to establish all the new habits at once you are more likely to fail than just doing one at a time. I would choose one that would make the most impact, and that really depends on what is causing you the most problems currently. The ones I think of off the top of my head which caused me to really focus on this area of my life were laundry and dishes.

    I have posted a list of my weekly laundry schedule on my website (click the link above). Since implementing this schedule, even though I work outside the home full time, and have three kids, I do just a little bit each night with the laundry and do not feel overwhelmed. I also don’t have to do marathon laundry sessions on the weekend, when I would rather relax and have fun with my family.

  21. posted by cv on

    I was getting into a bad habit of just sitting down in front of my computer and surfing the web right when I got home, which led to lots of wasted time. I made a rule that I have to wait at least 10 minutes before turning on my computer, not for cleaning reasons but just to break out of my rut. That moment of “what needs doing in my life?” when I walk in the door often triggers a 10 to 30-minute cleaning spree, and the house stays cleaner as a result. In my small apartment, a few minutes of processing the mail, hanging up my coat and putting away the dishes goes a really long way.

  22. posted by Another Deb on

    I found that if I sit down for anything when I get home, I am highly unlikely to get up to do anything. I try to get a load of laundry started, toss the junk mail, and tidy up the kitchen as dinner is started.

    My brain is mush after work so I end up spinning my wheels at most of the work after supper. I have to puch hard to get a set of clothes laid out but in the morning I am refershed. I get up at 4 AM and work on lessons, continue the housework and get ready for the day.

    Weekends are my salvation. Everyone have a wonderful 3 days if you have them all off!

  23. posted by Dorothy on

    Bonnie, mix those youngsters right in with their own shares of the chores. If a child is old enough to take out a toy to play with it, she’s old enough to put it away. Even little ones can help unload the dishwasher, set the table, take out the trash, help with the pets, pick up and so forth.

    Not only does this teach the child skills she needs for life, it teaches her that mom and dad are not servants. And it teaches that we’re all a family, each of us has important jobs, and our family functions best if we all do our jobs.

    Is it easier to do the chores yourself? Sure. But kiddos need to learn, and you don’t want to send your son off to college unable to do laundry, wash a dish or clean a bathroom!


  24. posted by Jennifer on

    Great post and great comments. Even if you can’t do 30-minutes, try smaller segments instead. I set a timer for 15 minutes, pick a room, and let ‘er rip. I tell myself I can’t stop cleaning, organizing, decluttering, whatever…until I hear the timer go off.

    It’s easier for me to stay focused when I’m dealing with short bursts of time like that. And you would be amazed at what you are capable of doing in that focused 15-minute segment.

  25. posted by Karen on

    Wow, you must have REALLY clean houses. (Or really dirty to start with.)

    My boyfriend and I have six rooms, and each week each of us cleans a room. So everything gets cleaned every three weeks. We can do it whenever during the week- it doesn’t have to be a weekday or a weekend- according to whatever else we’re doing. Of course, we still pick up on a regular basis, but I can’t imagine cleaning every room in the house every week- yikes!

  26. posted by Kate on

    >Next up, commit to doing exactly 30 minutes of cleanup a night<

    Whoa – my wife and I can clean our whole house top to bottom in thirty minutes! If you are having to spend thirty minutes a day, you have too much house and too much stuff!

  27. posted by saro on

    Can your kids help? I don’t have kids and I admit, I was a lazy and spoiled child growing up, but my good friend did her own laundry starting at 10 years old. She and her sister were responsible for doing the dishes and cleaning up the dog poop (on a slight tangent, she was way more ready to deal with ‘real life’ than I was…)

  28. posted by Alex on

    One thing that really, really helps is to clean up after yourselves as go. By this I mean, when you finish eating, immediately rinse and clean your own plate, immediately put clothes you take off either in the hamper or back in the closet, if you’ve been on the couch and get up to go to another room, immediately fold the blanket, straighten the covers, etc., when you finish with the newspaper, immediately put it in the recycle box, immediately clean the sink after you brush your teeth. You get the idea.

    If you can keep things picked up, then cleaning becomes easy. Owning less stuff is helpful too.

  29. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Kate — I think you’re talking pick up, and I’m talking pick up and cleaning. This includes scrubbing toilets and bathtubs, mopping floors, dusting shelves and baseboards, doing laundry, changing sheets, moving furniture to vacuum, disinfecting counter tops, etc. In addition to just picking up stuff …

  30. posted by gypsy packer on

    Thinking back to my three-job days…If you cook, make two or more days worth and freeze some for later microwaving. Kids can sort wash–white and colored–and you toss it in at your convenience. Two bags really help here. A 6-7 yr old can run a stick vac and can dust (especially baseboards–easier for them to reach–if you don’t have fragiles.
    Use a detergent shower wash or hand soap and you don’t get soap scum on the shower. Throw cleanser in the toilet and walk away for a while and do something else, then return and scour it. Someone makes a great toilet brush with a second attachment which gets the hard-water stains under the rim.
    Countertops can be sprayed with bleach and wiped down fast. Move furniture monthly instead of weekly–who looks under it??

  31. posted by Little Card Kid on

    Check out their approch to cleaning is fifteen minutes at a time.

  32. posted by Diane on

    Bonnie –
    You don’t mention the ages of your kids. I agree with the suggestion to have them help with chores.

    But if the problem is that they’re really young, and hungry when you get home I’d suggest planning some healthy snacks to pack for in the car on the way home or when you walk in the door – to hold them over until dinner.

    Depending on the age, a small granola bar/breakfast bar, an apple, baby carrots, fruit cups, a banana, pretzels – something easy & quick or prepackaged in snack ziplocs that you can give them to stay busy & hold out until dinner is ready.

    Otherwise, your 30 clean up minutes may have to wait til after dinner or bedtime (for them).

  33. posted by Kate on

    No, I wasn’t talking pick up, I was talking about all those things you mentioned (except laundry, which we turn over during the week on the days when it’s fine). We just set the timer for 30min and go furrit. Sometimes it will take a couple of minutes longer if we do something extra. We also do two cupboards a week. I dunno, it just doesn’t seem that tricky. We do a five minute pick up every evening to ensure the house is tidy. I guess we just don’t make much mess!

  34. posted by Jess on

    Is it blasphemy to suggest outsourcing? My husband and I have a cleaning service every two weeks (a worker owned co-operative that uses all natural cleaning products). They do the bathroom, kitchen, vacuum everywhere, dust, etc. (all surfaces have to be bare before they come– they don’t do dishes or tidy up.) Of course, there’s some in between maintenance vacuuming, sweeping, counter cleaning, etc., but they do the bulk of the hard core cleaning. We do not have a washer and dryer in our apartment and sending the laundry out costs about $5 more than doing it at the laundromat would, so we just send it out. (Believe me, I’d love to have my own washer/dryer, but given the choice between hours spent feeding in quarters at the laundromat and drop-off service, I’ll go for drop off.)

    That leaves tidying up, doing dishes, etc., which we are fairly religious about doing. My husband is a major neatnik. I wasn’t always, but years of living with him truly changed me. I think of in terms of creating my sacred space, my home, my nest– and then tidying up doesn’t seem like such a chore.

    So yes, outsourcing definitely isn’t the cheapest option– but for our two-working-parents-and-a-toddler household it’s a price we’re willing to pay in order to not spend every weekend cleaning.

  35. posted by Tracy on

    Ditto the outsourcing. We have cleaning service come in twice a month. They blitz the house in 1 hour. And Everything is clean at once! That’s what I hated about doing a room a day, the whole house was never clean. If we skip eating out a couple times a month, we cover the cost of the cleaning. Worth it to me! A cheaper option would be to look for a college student, a stay at home mom looking for extra money, etc.

  36. posted by Steve on

    I agree with Little Card Kid, is great – they build up a system gradually starting with simply cleaning and shining the sink. As your routine builds up you tackle your house one section per week with 15 minute ‘hot-spot’ clean-ups. The trouble with tackling everything all in one go is that from the start you are overwhelmed. Flylady’s method breaks it down into smaller easily manageable stages that get you started and keep you going!

  37. posted by Becky on

    No outsourcing is not wrong!! I have a great cleaning lady that comes every Sat mornings and I love her. My husband and I both work at get home a 5 sometimes 6. We have a 2 1/2 year old and a 3 month old baby….is there time for anything else….NO! I think to myself, I rather spend those few hours with my children than putting them aside to clean the house. Of course we do what we can when my son plays alone in his room and when my daughter takes what we like to call cat naps. Thank goodness for dishwashers. Other than that I look foward seeing my awesome housekeeper every Sat. Mornings!!!!

  38. posted by josie on

    Yea outsourcing! We have a cleaner come once every two weeks. She cleans *way* faster than I ever could, and is not that expensive.

    Our daily cleanup is about 10 min of dinner cleanup. We leave everything on the table until after the kids go to bed. We would rather spend time with them than clean the kitchen right away.

    The kids put their toys away before going to bed.

    It sounds like you all have *way* too much laundry. How many loads must you have if you are doing one per day? I do three loads per week (for our family of 4).

  39. posted by Mo on

    After reading Elizabeth Warren’s “All Your Worth,” which is about personal finance, not cleaning, I realized that the basic message of that book, which is that you will always mess up on the small things if you don’t have the big things under control.

    In finance terms, that is you need to have your mandatory expenses below half your income.

    In housecleaning terms, that means if you are spending more than an hour a week cleaning, you need to either up your cleaning skills or rethink the basic organization and systems of your household. (Note: the hour a week excludes a quarterly “spring” cleaning, nightly kitchen duty and pick up, and doesn’t count laundry.)

    I’ve gotten pretty brutal about no storage on horizontal spaces, unless there is a container for that purpose. Getting “stuff” to the level of only having as much as your space will hold opens up a lot of time.

  40. posted by catmom on

    Wow, great minds think alike! I do a lot of the same things all of you do, but I’m open to new ideas. It makes sense to do some chores and straightening up during the week, then it frees up the weekend for either some fun activity or the major cleaning.

    If you only have time to wash a load of towels at least you’ve done one thing. Sometimes it’s the small things that bring happiness.

  41. posted by Juliana on

    Thanks Erin, and thanks to everyone for your great comments! I’m hoping to get our “System” set up this month. 🙂

  42. posted by Eva on

    I can’t imagine coming exhausted from work and scrubbing the toilets…I have a cleaning service twice a month and can’t be more happy. Money well spent, I’d rather cut down on shopping or eating out.

  43. posted by Eternal*Voyageur @ Venusia*Glow on

    I started using this system, and I love it. I have written about how I have adapted it, and how it works for me:

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  47. posted by Karla on

    A load of laundry a night for a family of four is not unreasonable…think two teenagers doing sports. But they also help. Our electricy won’t support running the washer, dryer, dishwasher and oven at the same time, so something always needs to be running when we’re home.

    This post motivated me to get up and clean the upstairs bathroom, and I kept right on going. I find this usually happens. I tell myself I’ll just do 15 minutes (or get up during commercials) and then I keep on going. Thanks for the motivation!

  48. posted by Blast Through Daily Chores Using a Playlist Timer [Cleaning] on

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  50. posted by Kim on

    I recently discovered the site – it is a free service where you can add details of all the chores that need to be done and how often, and the people in the house that can do them (and you can say that certain people can’t do a particular job, like kids sharpening knives etc) and they do a schedule for you, which can be emailed to you weekly or daily. It is awesome! You can also download a Yahoo Widget so the list is on your desktop each day. It is working really well for me!

  51. posted by Dave Sadler on

    I love the idea of the cleaning playlist. So much so that I started immediately to scrape together dusting songs, purging songs, yardwork songs, etc. That’s when I discovered I’m really bad at playlists 🙂 Being the type of person who reads this blog daily, I figured there was a software solution somewhere. Bing pointed me here:

    From their website:
    With Tangerine! you no longer have to spend precious time creating workout playlists that you could be spending actually working out. You can custom tailor a playlist to fit your workout session perfectly by choosing the generation patterns.

    It’s pretty sweet. I opened it, it ran through my ridiculously cluttered iTunes library, then I told it I wanted an exercising playlist that gradually peaked. Bam. Done. There’s a trial available.

    I have no affiliation whatsoever with Potion Factory, I just like saving time and brain cycles.

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