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A Busy Mom's Guide to Back to School Cleaning (+ Free Checklist!)

A Busy Mom's Guide to Back to School Cleaning | Writing Between Pauses

Back to School season is officially here! While I know many schools in the United States have already started, here in Oregon, school never starts before Labor Day. (And I am still thrown by those mid-August start dates from my friends!)

For many moms, back to school season is time to get everything back in order. The kids have a schedule again (that you don’t have to set yourself!), you have a little more free time or wiggle room in your schedule, and you’ll spend about 50% less on groceries now that you aren’t having to feed them 400 snacks a day. (I always thought that joke about kids snacking constantly in summer was a myth. Then I had a kid of my own and they really do snack more in summer.)

Even if you’re not a mom, there is just something about September, isn’t there? The weather is changing; summer is over; it feels like time to get serious again.

Every September or October, I do a massive deep clean on my house. I mean massive. Moving furniture. Shampooing carpets. Washing all my rugs. Organizing the closets that I’ve been throwing things into and closing the door on with my eyes closed. It makes a huge difference to how my home feels once the holidays roll around.

I wanted to share my tips for taking on a big, back-to-school (or just September!) deep clean. I know cleaning isn’t everyone’s forte. Some people hate it; some people just don’t think about it. But there is nothing like a clean, organized home for your mental health. Some people just are naturally messy or disorganized, but getting your house cleaned up can be great for feeling more productive or overcoming a mental health speed bump.

For me, cleaning is a stress release. It makes me feel better. An overly cluttered home makes me feel incredibly stressed. However, I’m also not perfect; sometimes I find it easier to take advice from people who are doing their best (and have a few messy rooms they let go because, why bother?! I’m busy!) and finding ways to be happy without it being 100% clean 100% of the time.

If this is the same for you, let me provide my guide for a big, massive deep clean to start your Fall and Winter right.

1. Start with a Game Plan

I’m a planner. I like to start everything with a list and a plan to make sure I have all my ducks in a row and everything in order. When it comes to my big back to school (or pre-holiday, if you will) deep clean, I like to have a specific plan in order to make sure I don’t have anything that could distract me from my purpose. Basically, here’s a rundown:

  • Schedule a week to spend deep cleaning. For me, this is either the second full week in September or the first week in December. Historically, that’s what it’s worked out to, because it’s when I have childcare & Danny is back at work. (Funny how Danny is a bigger distraction than Forrest!) Making sure I have a week off where I am not working has always been the most important part of my deep clean. Yes, I could probably cram it into a weekend… but it’s much more fun to have time off. Plus, scheduling it in advance means I’m more likely to do it.

  • Make arrangements to have a babysitter. If you have a child, then get that babysitter or childcare lined up! Paying for a babysitter for a week, if you’re a SAHM, or keeping your pre-existing childcare, if you work, is important for making sure you have no distractions. Plus, it’s so nice to have time for yourself to tidy your home. Maybe you can sneak in some self-care or trashy TV too.

  • Make a priority list. Usually, my deep clean has a focus. I want to get everything looking amazing for the holidays; I want to reorganize the living room; or I want to make sure our closets and garage are ready for a big clean out. Whatever it is, I make a list of my priority rooms and areas.

  • Download a few podcasts, audio books, tv shows, or movies. I like to have something playing while I clean. While I fold laundry and clean out my appliances, I often listen to podcasts or new music that I’ve been intending to. While I’m vacuuming or really getting into scrubbing, I like a movie or TV show that I don’t need to follow 100%. No matter what you like, get some media ready and lined up so you can listen and enjoy while you work.

2. Work in Order of Room

Everyone has a priority list (as discussed); now, make your list in order of those priorities. For me, I feel like my house is most clean when my kitchen and living room are in order, because those are our most used rooms. After that, it’s pretty much workspaces, bathrooms, and bedrooms. So, here’s the order I usually deep clean in:

  • Kitchen

  • Living room

  • Kitchen pantry & entryway closet

  • Office

  • Bedrooms & bathrooms

  • Garage

  • Other closets

This helps me, again, have a game plan. I might split it up into days. Say I have 3 days off from work to get it done. I’ll focus on the kitchen, living room, and pantry the first day. The second day, I’ll hit the office and bedrooms, as well as the bathrooms. Then on the third day, it’s time for the garage and closets, which often are the most tedious (because it’s just cleaning out). If I have an extra day, I’ll do all the laundry I cleaned out, bag up Goodwill stuff, and do Goodwill runs all day. Otherwise, that’s stuff I can do at home with Forrest.

To me, knowing the order I want to go in keeps me from getting distracted. Say I’m empty the dishwasher and putting stuff away, then remember we have some water glasses upstairs; I’ll run up and grab those, then remember I need to grab the dirty towels for the laundry; I’ll throw them in the washing machine, then notice a basket of clothes that need folded; I’ll carry those downstairs and start cleaning up the living room because I hate sitting in the living room when it’s messy; then I’ll notice how dusty the TV is and start dusting… and on and on until an hour later, I realize the dishwasher is still half emptied.

3. My Favorite Products

When it comes to cleaning products, I like to keep it simple. Yes, you can find some really good specialized products out there, but when it comes down to it, having a set of the basics is just so much easier than buying tons and tons of stuff and having to organize that as well. Here is everything I keep on hand for my day-to-day cleaning and my big deep cleans.

  • Mrs. Meyer’s Everyday Cleaner - I use this for everything. Instead of bleach or similar cleaners, I like this for my counters and appliances. We have stainless steel appliances, so once every few months, I might use a specialized stainless steel cleaner. But I have found that this works just as well for my cooktop, sink, and more.

  • Mrs. Meyer’s Lemon Verbena Window Cleaner - I love a good window cleaner and this one is my favorite, plus it smells amazing.

  • Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner - I have tried every all-natural cleaner (like Mrs. Meyers & Method) and none of them work quite as good as Lysol. I try not to clean my toilets more than once a week, as I try not to put too much chemical cleaner into the water table, but I also want stuff clean, you know? Plus, I found that sometimes the scented Mrs. Meyers toilet cleaners made me gag. I don’t know what that was about, but… better safe than sorry.

  • Method Foaming Bathroom Cleaner - For showers & tubs, this really can’t be beat. The Eucalyptus and Mint scent is so good. I also use it on my kitchen sink every once and a while.

  • Method Squirt & Mop in Eucalyptus Mint - This is one of my favorite cleaning products of all time. I hate mopping, but our entire downstairs is hardwood now, so I have to mop at least once and while. This makes it easy! No bucket, no heavy mop. I usually just wrap a towel around my usual Swiffer and spray this, then mop over. Easy as pie.

  • Swiffer Dusters - the best dusting device out there. I use the heavy duty ones, but the regular ones work great as well.

  • Swiffer Heavy Duty - since we have a large inside dog, we need to use a Swiffer a lot. I have found that a Swiffer is much more effective than vacuuming hardwood floors. The heavy duty ones pick up a ton of dog hair and make it so, so easy.

  • Mr. Clean Magic Eraser - We have hard water, so our sinks and showers often need extra scrubbing. Magic erasers are really the only thing that works without me having to break my back.

  • Scrub Daddy Sponge Daddy - These are the best spongers ever made. I don’t like the classic smiley Scrub Daddies. These ones are sponges with a scrub on the other side. I seriously love them.

That’s it! That’s my tried-and-true, every day arsenal, not including basics like laundry detergent, a vacuum, rags… you know, basic stuff.

4. Keeping It Clean

Once you’re done with your deep clean, here’s the thing: it is possible to keep it mostly clean. Here are a few of my tips

Establish a schedule throughout the week.

Every day, I try to do little things to keep my house clean. Daily, I wipe down my kitchen counters, wash dishes, and empty the dish strainer (put the dishes away, basically), as well as clean my living room and wipe down the bathroom sinks. Every weekend, I vacuum upstairs, Swiffer downstairs, vacuum the rugs, and run the dishwasher and do laundry.

Little cleaning, often, is more effective than waiting weeks to deep clean.

That bit about the schedule? Doing little cleaning tasks every week will keep deep cleans from being stressful, awful affairs. Cleaning toilets once a week, wiping down the shower when you get out, wiping down your appliances, and cleaning your fridge once a month means you won’t have a monster growing somewhere waiting for your next deep clean.

Find storage solutions that work for you.

I hate prescriptive storage blog posts; what works for me and my closets won’t necessarily work for you and your closets. My recommendation is to assess what you need to store in each closet, then find a solution for you. I typically buy all my organization stuff at the Dollar Store; no, it won’t be as cute as something from elsewhere, but ultimately, it’s not about how cute it is… it’s about it working in your space. Plus, it’s a closet; no one is even looking in there!

Decorate your space.

Having your space look exactly how you want it goes a long way towards you feeling proud about it. So, decorate! Really focus on making the space yours, even if it’s not trendy or what you see on Pinterest. As long as you love it, that’s what matters.

5. Download my cleaning checklist.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need a place to start with cleaning, I’ve made a handy-dandy checklist for a few major rooms in your house. Click below to download!

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