*crossposted from Seven Deadly Divas*

Neatifying* is a valuable skill, especially for a homeowner or apartment dweller with the occasional unexpected guest.

Neatifying is NOT cleaning. Cleaning is what you do on a regular basis (hopefully) with some kind of systematic process. When you’re cleaning the bathroom, you’ll scrub the sinks, commode, and tub, wipe down the mirrors, and sweep the floor. It might take you half an hour (or longer, if you have a ginormous shower/tub), and it’s something most people do once every week or so. Same with cleaning your kitchen or whatnot.

Neatifying is what you do when your mom/friend/mother in law/business associate calls unexpectedly, letting you know they’re in the area and might they stop by in half an hour or so?

At that point? Cleaning is out the window. It is time to NEATIFY.

As an aside, nobody really ever talks about neatification. They talk about how important it is to keep your house clean, that clutter in your workspace increases your stress levels and that your home should “rise up to meet you” and be all nice inside. While I think that’s all well and good, it’s not always realistic, especially if you’re living totally by yourself (who will see the mess?) or in a dual income household (who has time for all that?) or have kids (have you SEEN the mess?). Besides, even if you DO keep your house generally clean, if you do that cleaning on Saturdays and your unexpected guest phones you on Friday afternoon? You’ll have to do some picking up.

So don’t let anyone tell you that this kind of neatification doesn’t count. It’s a valuable skill!


The first step of neatification is to stop for about one minute and think – you might make a list, but don’t let it become Listfinity. Think about the areas in your dwelling that said visitor can be expected to see. In my house, that’s the entryway, kitchen/bar, living room, and guest bathroom. If you only have one bathroom and it passes through a bedroom, that bedroom might be on the list as well. Notice that “master bedroom closet” is not on the list – anyone snooping in your closet needs to get a life.

Think priorities here – if making a list is too likely to get you distracted, just move through your home and look around.

Step two is to break down those areas into chunks, grab a trash bag for any loose garbage you find, and, if you’re me, set a timer for five minutes in each area. (Setting a timer makes it a game of beat the clock.)

Five minutes in the entryway might look something like this:

  • Put mail in the office (don’t sort, just move)
  • Shake out the rug
  • Move any stray shoes/backpacks into a neat arrangement (or into their proper rooms)
  • Sweep the exterior and interior
  • Turn on the porch and entry lights

You can easily do all of those things in five minutes, and now – presto! the entryway looks presentable.

Remember always that the goal here is a version of the ten foot rule. If it looks fine from ten feet, leave it alone.

Moving on to the (guest) bathroom, grab a rag and a bottle of spray cleaner (I like vinegar and water):

  • Move major clutter into drawers or under the cabinet.
  • Start at the top and move down: spot clean the mirror of any obvious toothpaste goo, wipe the counters, wipe out the sink
  • Spray the inside of the toilet bowl and give it a quick brush, flush.
  • Using the same rag, wipe down the toilet seat and close it.
  • Close the shower curtain.

Presentable bathroom in five minutes flat. Nobody cares what’s behind your shower curtain. If they do, that’s THEIR problem.

In the kitchen, neatification means dishes go into the dishwasher if there’s room, neatly stacked into one side of the sink if not. You don’t have TIME to do the dishes all properly, you just want things to look presentable. Wiping down the counters is more important than not having any coffee mugs in the sink. Large pots can get shoved into the dishwasher too, so long as you remember to remove them before you run it later on! Stack things in neat piles if you have to – the goal is the ten foot rule: clear off the counters and the stovetop, but don’t worry too much about cleaning all the pots RIGHT NOW.

You might also take a paper towel and the spray cleaner and spot clean any large sticky spots on the floor or pick up stray bits of dry catfood.

Another trick – light a good smelling candle on your stove or counter. It looks pretty, smells good, and adds ambiance that will distract from any other issues around. It says “I lit a pretty candle so the room would be nice for my guest” – which is always pleasant, even if there’s a pot in the sink.

In my living room, my five minutes is devoted as follows:

  • Tidy the coffee table – magazines in a stack, trash in the trash, TV remotes dug out of couch cushions.
  • Plump the couch up nicely, fold the throw blanket, straighten chair cushions
  • Run a clean rag over the TV to remove dust

If you’re cleaning a bedroom as well, make the bed and put the laundry in the hamper, but don’t change the sheets. Consider tidying the nightstands, or at least moving any empty glasses to the kitchen, but again – ten foot rule applies.

At this point I’ve spent 20 minutes (or less) and the house probably looks vaguely presentable. The clutter is still there (if you have no clutter, you can bite me.) but it’s straightened up and the general atmosphere is … well … neatified. The last 10 minutes are for me to make a cup of tea (or a pitcher of iced tea) and relax. This way not only has the house been neatified, but I don’t look like I’ve just spent 20 whirlwind minutes cleaning either.

I’m sneaky like that.

Obviously, the more warning you get the more you can get done, but even 10 minutes is a long time if you prioritize what will actually be seen versus what “needs” to be done. This isn’t for long term cleaning. It’s not how to keep your house neat and tidy, though there are many systems for doing such a thing. It’s OH GOD THEY’LL BE HERE IN FIVE MINUTES AND THIS PLACE IS A MESS.

It’s neatification.

*Neatification is a word made up by my third grade teacher, Mrs. Fisher. It is, of course, the noun form of the verb “to neatify”. While we’d have monthly desk clean out sessions, she would give us about 5 minutes every Monday morning to neatify our desks for the week.

The Art of Neatification
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