3 Small Cleaning Projects You Can Do Now for *Big* Payoffs Later

You'll feel like you have your life together.

January 17, 2020
Photo by Julia Gartland

Big resolutions are overrated. This year, we’re all about highly doable improvements we can pull off any day. In Small Change, Big Impact, we're making tiny tweaks and sharing the results. Follow along, join in, and let us know what other small changes you’re making this year.

Everybody has that one tiny thing that, irrationally, makes them feel like a mess. For me, it’s having jagged nails. I could be doing pretty okay, actually—getting things done, checking things off the list. I could even be wearing really nice clothes. But with crooked, unkempt nails I feel like a heathen who hasn’t showered in days. Then I spend two minutes with a nail file—nothing fancy, just a rapid-fire file—and I feel instantly neater, put together, like I could slay an important presentation or put on a backless dress or something.

The same rule applies to the home. I’m pretty good about keeping the house in order: doing the dishes, wiping down the counters, straightening the sofa, vacuuming the kitchen floor. But I tended to put off anything that seemed tedious, and I definitely drew the line at tasks that required me to move furniture. But no matter how neat the apartment looked, it always felt just a little short of clean. So this January, turning my attention towards home and making my space a nicer place to spend time, I’m aiming to add three little chores to my regular cleaning go-tos.

I like these little cleaning jobs because they seem particularly annoying, but they’re surprisingly easy (they literally take two to six minutes each). But most importantly, once they’re done, the whole place feels sparkling, every nook immaculate. It feels like you’ve deep-cleaned the whole house even when you haven’t—very achievable New Year’s resolutions.

1. Scrubbing out the kitchen sink

It makes me crazy to go to bed with dirty dishes, so I do those every night. But now I take it one step further: I take our dish dryer out of the sink, scoop out any food detritus with a paper towel, squeeze a few drops of dish soap into the basin, and give the whole interior—bottom, sides, and back—a good scrubbing with a rough sponge. (You can also add a sprinkling of baking soda instead of dish soap, scrub, and rinse with vinegar.) Then I rinse with super-hot water, using our sink’s spray nozzle to get at every corner. (If you don’t have a spray nozzle, you can also use a cup to help splash water around forcefully.) Our stainless sink literally shines—so much nicer to wake up to.

2. Vacuuming the baseboards

When I was a kid, my parents instilled in me the importance of doing chores thoroughly. (When I try to cut corners, alone in my apartment, a voice in my head still says, “A job worth doing is worth doing well.” And then I have to go back and do it over again.) In addition to actually moving things to dust, not just dusting around things, my greatest lesson was the importance of vacuuming baseboards. Yes, you should vacuum your floors and under furniture—but baseboards, slightly detailed and raised, are perfect spots for dust to collect. Now, when I vacuum, I run the small fuzzy brush attachment all around the tops of the baseboards, all around the room. You wouldn’t believe what collects there.

The slightly annoying part of this one is that you probably will have to move your furniture around a bit to get at all of the baseboards. But you can do it. I know you can.

3. Washing the trash can

Okay, I admit I’ve only done this one once. But I should do it again! Because while cleaning the trash can always seems like a big, sort of bulky, job to me (and gross: who knows what’s accumulated in the bottom or dripped down the sides?), it’s actually pretty easy. Besides, like any cleaning task, it only gets grosser the longer I put it off.

The trick here is giving your garbage pails and recycling bins a good scrubbing in the shower or bathtub. After you’ve hauled your trash bags off to the curb, haul your empty trash bin to the bathroom and put on some rubber gloves. Give the inside of your trash can a wipe with paper towels if there’s anything (sorry) chunky in there. I like to squirt in a little dish soap again (to help cut through any caked-on food grease), fill the trash can with hot water, and let it sit for a half hour or so to loosen any stubborn drips. (You can also use good old Dr. Bronner’s—the peppermint would smell nice.) Then—and this is where doing this in the bath comes in handy—dump it out, scrub with a sturdy brush, and rinse well. To finish, spray the inside and outside with a disinfectant spray, wipe clean, and dry completely before putting a trash bag back inside.

I suggest doing this every month or six weeks to keep your trash cans and recycling bins clean and clear, and prevent smells—or, worse, roaches. (If you have a compost bin, that’s another story—that’ll require more frequent scrubbing.) And, because I should start listening to my own advice, I’m off to clean my trash can in my (surprisingly handy) kitchen shower.

What's the one cleaning project that makes your home feel pulled-together? Tell us in the comments below!
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Annie Quigley

Written by: Annie Quigley



Bugoy N. November 27, 2020
Found this home cleaning article ! I am going to bookmark this site ! Thanks and best regards from Cleaning Services Round Rock!
JoJo January 20, 2020
The trash bin in my house is staring me down right now. Glad I found this tip using the shower. One thing I know is vinegar & baking soda have multiple cleaning uses in my home. Can't live w/o 'em.
DJ C. January 19, 2020
Great tips. I'm not sure what type of garbage pails and recycling bins are being referred to but I wouldn't put my garbage cans in my shower, nor even bring them in the house. Rotten food detritus, insects, rodents and all that yukky stuff may have been in there - rinse it and pour it out in my shower? OK maybe that's for apartment living and they haven't been outside. I don't know
Eileen S. January 19, 2020
I think the author is referring to cleaning the inside bins not the garbage can you take to the curb.
Susan W. January 19, 2020
In response to #1 and #2. When I was five, my mother brought me into the living room and taught me to dust the case pieces, vacuum the upholstered pieces then to vacuum the rug. After that, I was supposed to do those tasks by myself. When I was 10, a music teacher offered to form a girls' choir. I told my mother about it, then said I would not join but would stay home to clean the living room. She gave me permission to join the choir.

I do not feel happy to dust today.

As for doing the dishes, I like to dine late in the evening. I find that if you do the dishes after the sun is set, you will take dirty dishes out of the dishwasher in the morning. So, it is better to load during the day and ignore the dinner dishes. They just have to be cleaned again. But, staying up late to clean the sink?
Diane K. January 17, 2020
Getting rid of the clutter - putting stuff where it belongs instead of letting it pile up on the counter, chairs, floor, etc. throwing out magazines, junk mail, hanging up clothes...
Merry January 17, 2020
For me it’s my refrigerator that gets forgotten. If I declutter and wipe out every month with vinegar and water my glass shelves shine. A box of baking soda keeps it smelling fresh. A clean fridge makes me happy😇
Arati M. January 18, 2020
SO true! Nothing worse than opening your fridge and being assaulted with clutter and drips. You remind me: the outside of my fridge could use a vinegar+water wipe.
Arati M. January 18, 2020
(vinegar + oil)
Aja A. January 19, 2020
I love this and couldn't agree more! A clean fridge makes me happy too. Something so peaceful knowing that the food I'm eating is sitting in a serene, refrigerated oasis. I'm going to try the box of baking soda.
Mellissa January 17, 2020
It’s funny because my resolutions were to do laundry at least 3 times a week vice on weekend with huge loads which then eat up my weekend days, spend 10 mins when I get home from work to tidy or clean something (bathrooms etc) and to leave an empty sink before going to bed.
Merry January 17, 2020
Your resolutions make a lot of sense!
Arati M. January 18, 2020
Waking up to an empty, clean sink is always a good resolution!
Susan W. January 20, 2020
When my kids were of school age, I would take just one basketful of clothes and put them in the washer before I started my coffee. In the town where we lived then, I often heard from other mothers, whether working or not, say they did the same thing. As someone wisely said, "If the whole day falls apart, at least someone will have something clean to wear the next day."

This isn't doing the laundry, which implies making sure all of the clothes and linens are clean. It is just a load. Working as well as stay at home mothers did this. And those loads were often just clothes. It kept the laundry from being overwhelming.
Janice January 21, 2020
My solution to laundry when I was working was “serial laundry.” I’d fold one load while dressing, make-up, etc; take the dirty laundry to the laundry room, sort by color, put the clothes in the dryer on hangers or in the basket, the clothes in the washer in the dryer, and another load in the washer; then take the clean clothes to the bathroom, ready to start all over tomorrow. I changed sheets and towels one afternoon ready for the next day’s run-through.
kathleen January 17, 2020
For my baseboards and shutters, I save my orphaned socks and use them to clean/dust. Works great!
Merry January 17, 2020
Kathleen I actually have an old glove made out of soft wool that works great as well.

Arati M. January 18, 2020
That is such a great idea! I have a bag full of those. My grandmom used to cut up old, worn out bed sheets and pillows and wash + sterilize them and use them as kitchen/cleaning cloths. Why buy when you can re-use!
@withgrace January 17, 2020
We live in a tiny house with one bathroom, and a messy bathroom sink makes me cringe. Toothpaste, hair, makeup, and dust reappear daily without fail. Lately, I've taken to laying a rag in the sink before I apply my makeup. It keeps my brushes dry, catches powder, etc., and is handy to wipe down the sink itself when I finish.
Merry January 17, 2020
Great idea. I hate cleaning up after facial hair declutter🤪especially when it’s not mine.
Arati M. January 18, 2020
Great tip! I've started keeping a rag handy near the sink, good to wipe down after each use (when I remember, that is).
maryg January 19, 2020
Very good idea
Beverly J. January 17, 2020
Every few weeks I put about a cup of Pine-sol in my kitchen trash can then take it outside and fill it with water and leave it outside for a few hours. I think the combination of the pinesol and sun really makes a big difference and I NEVER have a smelly kitchen trash can.
Arati M. January 18, 2020
Same, Beverly, same. I totally believe in the curative powers of sunlight (even sun my pillows outside in the summer; makes such a difference!). I'm moving to an apartment with zero outdoor space soon, and am pretty sad about not having this option anymore.