The kitchen is perpetually full of dishes, the living room is overwhelmed by abandoned pillow forts, and the laundry baskets are bafflingly full every day of the week.
“Homes are absolutely on overdrive,” said Dan DiClerico, a smart home strategist for HomeAdvisor. “It’s like having a newborn in the house.”
We’re using our homes differently now and it shows. The kitchen counter may double as a home office. The living room may now serve as a preschool playroom. Reset your thinking about how your home functions, and it is possible to find a rhythm that reduces the amount of grunt work you’re doing to keep the household running.
Bring order to this new configuration by designating spots for specific tasks. If the breakfast nook is now a tele-school classroom, dedicate the space to that task. If space is tight, and the area still needs to play double duty, clear the table of all schoolwork items before anyone eats, storing the materials in a bin or basket on a shelf until they need to be used again. (Of course, no one is coming over, so make do with what you have in the house.)
“Keep things grouped and corralled and contained — it helps,” said Clea Shearer, a co-owner of The Home a Nashville, Tenn., home organizing company. “With no system, it’s a free-for-all.”
If the children need a craft area, choose a table for the activity so glue sticks and glitter do not end up on the coffee table or sofa. Set specific times of day and locations for those messier activities, like finger paints or Play-Doh, and clean up immediately after playtime. If sticky hands do meet the wall, cleaning products like a Magic Eraser can help.The same goes for the living or dining rooms. Designate certain areas for play and others for lounging. Create a reading nook, and stock it with a cozy blanket and plenty of books. Everyone in the household should know that this is a space for quiet reading, and only such items belong there.
Get Control of the Kitchen
With everyone home all day, the kitchen may now feel like a 24-hour restaurant. Put a stop to that. Set times for meals and snacks, so everyone in the household eats together as much as possible. Make a rule that anyone who eats at off hours needs to clean their dishes and the counter before they leave the room.
To keep control of the dishes, limit how many the family uses each day.
Give each family member a set in the morning — a plate, a bowl, a mug and a glass — and they are responsible for rinsing it after each meal and reusing it throughout the day. With fewer dishes, you’ll run the dishwasher less often, extending the machine’s life and your patience.
You are likely using your kitchen differently, with on-the-go breakfasts replaced with morning pancakes, and takeout night swapped for slow cooker creations. All this extra cooking means more dishes to wash and more counters to wipe. Take a step back and reconsider the space and how you use it now.
Start with the pantry. Items like flour or rolled oats that once lived in the back may now be daily staples. Move those items to a more accessible spot and rotate the stuff you’re not using much anymore.
“If you’re making pancakes every morning, maybe your skillet is kept right on the burner,” said Faith Roberson, a Manhattan home organizer.
Plan meals ahead of time, taking advantage of multipurpose ingredients. This will also help you use what you have, and limit your trips to the supermarket. If you’re chopping carrots for a recipe, chop up a few more and store them in a tightly sealed container for tomorrow, or grate a few to use in a carrot salad another day. Aim for dishes that freeze well, too, like chili or stews: Double the recipe and freeze the leftovers for another dinner the following week. By thinking ahead, you reduce the work you’ll do later, and make the most of the time you do need to spend on the task at hand.
Give the Appliances a Break
Your dishwasher, washing machine, dryer and water heater may all be getting more use than they bargained for. Now is not the time for anything to break down. You need them to be workhorses.
“It’s not like everything is going to start breaking down at once,” said Mr. DiClerico of HomeAdvisor, “but it is important to stay on top of preventive maintenance to avoid having to bring a repair man into the house.”
Your dryer is probably the riskiest appliance because the vent needs to be periodically cleaned of lint once or twice a year. Clogged dryer vents can cause house fires.
Normally, this is a task best left to professionals, but Mr. DiClerico recommends using a Lint Lizard, a flexible vacuum cleaner attachment designed to suck up lint, as a temporary alternative. Your washing machine should be able to handle the extra loads. However, to sanitize it every few weeks, run an empty cycle on hot with a cup of bleach.
If your dishwasher is getting extra use, sanitize it every few weeks by running an empty cycle with a bowl of white vinegar on the bottom rack. Clean the filter monthly — or every two weeks, if it’s running double time. If you have a hood over your range, change the filter if you’ve been doing a lot of cooking. (Check your manufacturers websites on how to change filters.)
Your water heater may also be working extra hard. Read the instruction manual for maintenance recommendations, as many heaters should be drained periodically. This can usually be done with a hose attachment at the bottom of the cylinder.
Less stuff means less to clean up. In a home with small children, limit the available toys at any given time, setting the rest away in a closet to cycle through later. With fewer toys available, you may find that the children are more likely to focus on one for a longer period of time.
“Be deliberate about what is accessible and what is not,” said Karri Bowen-Poole, the chief executive of Smart Playrooms, a Westchester design company. Store the toys in easily accessible bins so the children can play (and tidy up) independently. Label the bins with words or pictures to make cleanup easier for small children.
Resist the lure of online impulse buys. More stuff means more clutter. Instead, hunt for activities among the items that already exist in your home. “Recognizing that less is more can be beneficial,” Ms. Bowen-Poole said. “Put a stapler out for a 6-year-old. Show them how to make books.”
Set Schedules and Dole Out JobsWith no one ever leaving the house, days can bleed from one to the next, making it difficult to keep on top of chores, activities and tasks. But people crave order, especially at a time when nearly every routine has been upended. To stay on top of all that needs to be done, add some structure to the day, and to how the home will be used.
Figure out the chores and divide them among the members of the household — anyone who’s old enough to walk is old enough to do something. “Systems and schedules are going to save all of us,” said Regina Leeds, a Los Angeles organizer and the author of “One Year to an Organized Life.” You can either rotate through responsibilities with a chart, or everyone can choose ones they like and be responsible for getting those tasks done. But agree as a household about how you will go about collectively getting the work done.
Monday could be laundry day and Saturday bathroom cleaning day. Daily household rules help, too. If you finish an activity, put it away. If you take cereal out from the cabinet, put the box back and wash the bowl immediately. Before bedtime, everyone in the family helps tidy up the living spaces so they’re ready for the next day.
“Do a pass at the end of each night,” Ms. Shearer said. “It takes five minutes to tidy up your living space at the end of each day.”
Liken the task to making the bed in the morning — end the day with a clean slate and the next one will start more smoothly. Perhaps, with a little order, the work will feel more manageable.