Can you get housework done in 34 minutes a day? I couldn't ... and then I could ...
Two months ago, I read Tim Ferriss’ still-groundbreaking book The Four Hour Workweek (2007). Seeing that he has some spin-offs of the four-hour concept, my thoughts drifted to my own spin-off: a four-hour housework week.
This highly-condensed housework week was appealing but seemed completely out of reach. My dishwashing time alone ate up at least 70 minutes of that 4-hour total, and I only wash dishes once a day. And what about laundry folding? That’s easily another two hours. Fitting everything else into the 50 minutes that was left? No … no. Impossible.
But the challenge started to chip away my resistance. And so, for the month of July, I went for it. Since the housework was primarily dailies, I divided the four-hour week into 34 minutes a day. I would limit myself to no more than four hours of housework a week … and still strive to have a highly-functional household.
By way of background, my household includes me, my husband and two post-high-school kids. I don’t hire any cleaning help. I have completed konmari tidying three times and have drifted into the domestic brand of minimalism. Still, I have stuff, my family has stuff and there’s always something that needs cleaning in the war on dust, dirt and dried-on food. Housework never goes away, right?
Onward. To the 34-minutes-a day housework challenge. Here’s what I learned:
Lesson 1: Delegating disguised ineffective processes.
Because I wanted to learn all that this challenge had to teach me, I retracted all the delegated chores from my kids for the month. (They LOVED that part.) Delegating would have distanced me from what housework processes could be improved to save time.
I kept a productivity journal of my experiment. Based on what I recorded there, I could see that I no longer continually reminded people around me to do what they already knew to do (and already intended to get done). I only made two requests per kid in 31 days. Just imagine how that improved relations around here! As a side benefit, did you know that when you only ask your kids twice a month to do some chore, it gets done immediately? Ya. This lesson was awesome.
Once I tried to do all the chores myself, I found plenty of my ways were ineffective.. Yes, I fixed those ways. Yes, I was the problem. :)
Lesson 2: I found my time-sucking culprits within a week.
Taking back all the housework and then trying to cram it all into 34 minutes was … illuminating. Immediately illuminating. I found out within a week what my time-sucking processes were.
Folding clothes meticulously into little rectangles was taking massive amounts of my time. Don’t get me wrong … the rectangle folding is a great skill for when space is at a premium. (When I was just starting my konmari, my home was definitely cramped.) I know this folding skill will come in handy for suitcase packing. But now that I had the space for my family’s clothes to spread out, I was still insisting on that meticulous folding. Plus I was folding on the floor and this was straining my knees. Is it any wonder I put off folding after the initial thrill of konmari tidiness wore off?
This would never do! My 34-minute clock was ticking and I couldn’t afford to spend so many minutes on a fraction of my chores. I revamped my clothing storage. I got rid of all dressers in favor of open bins on closet floors. I stopped pairing socks and started just grouping the same style of socks together. Pajamas and undergarments were put away using a new throw-it-in-the-bin method. Pants, shorts and t-shirts were hung on hangers. My family’s clothes were put away in far, far less time.
Lesson 3: Impatience is a virtue.
“This is taking too much time” was my constant thought. I became impatient with tasks that lacked efficiency. This led to shortcuts that worked. Instead of using the four-hour self-cleaning setting on my oven, I just wiped off the bottom of oven with a hot, damp cloth. I’ve developed a 20-second wrist-flicking of bedcovers to make the bed instead of stopping to find the comforter’s tag, then lining that up at the bottom, then circling the bed a few times to pull up and smooth covers. A dry polish of the master bath sink taps with terry washcloth makes the bathroom look finished. The jersey cotton bed sheets slow down my dryer and all my decor looks like dust-catchers to me now … both are on their way out of my house.
Lesson 4: Realize the power of the swaps.
As the challenge went on, my minutes spent on housework went below 34 minutes. This was partly due to new processes and partly due to the power of swaps. If I tackled a “minute hog” chore like folding fitted sheet or rolling kitchen towels to fit in a tiny drawer, I would skip making the bed that day. If a minute or two was spent on stocking toilet paper and rearranging a bathroom cabinet, the bathtub just got a squirt of cleaning gel in the corners before a shower. I rationed out a few minutes for tasks like weeding the landscape more regularly throughout the week to keep those jobs small.
Lesson 5: “Refining” jobs can wait. Almost indefinitely.
As you can guess, the most essential jobs got the regular attention and streamlining. My productivity journals showed I used the dishwasher 31 times in 31 days (makes sense) and made the bed 16 times in 31 days. I found that unmade beds, unvacuumed carpets, and an unswept porch were worth not wasting my 34 minutes on most days. Squandering minutes on dusting decor made ornamentation unattractive to me.
Lesson 6: Some tasks can’t count towards the 34 minutes.
I would have never reached the goal of 34 minutes or less a day if I had included tasks like meal prep, errands, grocery trips, and car care. Those demand variety, require thought and deserve attention, even though they are repetitive.
Lesson 7: Count the minutes.
I liked the precise number of minutes chosen for the daily count. If you challenge yourself like this, pick an unusual number. If I had selected a number that was rounded off to a 5-minute or 10-minute interval, I don’t think I would have been as aware of the value of each 60 seconds.
Challenge yourself and let me know how it goes!