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Quickest Way to Make Your Home Presentable for Guests

Updated on March 6, 2015

A Surprise Visit

I'm sure most of us have been there: you receive a text message from your Aunt/friend that she's in the area and wants to pop in. Or your spouse calls and says s/he's bringing her/his boss/friend home with her/him. It's also possible that you've prioritized incorrectly while preparing for a party and you have everything ready except the house. You have under an hour to make your potentially embarrassing house look decent.

Unfortunately, I've been in that position many times and have developed a pretty efficient way of preparing for an impromptu visit.

I am very specific in the following description of how I quickly prepare for a visitor. I have ordered the steps to be as efficient and fast as possible.

Before you begin the clean up

So, this is not a deep clean by any means. This is a method of making your house look clean. On a somewhat regular basis, real cleaning is required (sorry).

This method will not work if you are a border-line hoarder or you don't scrub clean your bathroom at least once every couple of weeks.

I will include tips for preparing for days like these, making this process an even easier thing to do!

Surprise Visits

How often do you experience a surprise visit from someone?

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Prioritize Your Cleaning Needs

Before you begin, the first things you have to consider is:

  1. what will they most likely see while visiting?
  2. what is the least presentable?
  3. what will they least likely see while visiting?

For me, I answer those questions as follows (and I think it would apply for most):

  1. entry (obviously), living room/dining room/kitchen (my house is open-concept--a trend I disapprove of for the reason this article is written), bathroom
  2. kitchen and bathroom
  3. bedrooms, basement

*Firstly, I like to close the doors to the basement and bedrooms (if they're messy). These are the places your visitors do not need to see. If the door is closed, it's not something you need to worry about cleaning!

*Also, opening up the windows, emptying garbage pails and lighting scented candles before you start can help remove any unwanted smells you might not know are present.

Close Doors to Hide Messes

Close bedroom doors if there is no time to tidy them. Nothing to see here!
Close bedroom doors if there is no time to tidy them. Nothing to see here!

Quick Cleaning To Do List

(click column header to sort results)
Entry/Common Area  
Time remaining?  
pick up items from floor
clear off surfaces
clear off counter
wash dishes
clear off all surfaces
wipe down counter, sink, toilet seat
fill dishwasher/put dishes under sink
scrub inside of toilet
wipe main tables
clothes, dirty towels and garbage out of sight
wipe counters
sweep/vacuum main floor, then upstairs
cover/vacuum furniture
straighten towels
spot clean: cupboard/appliance doors
make beds
close shower curtain
hide mess in bedrooms
This table is a summary of the items I've detailed in the order I usually do them.

Begin Cleaning What is First Seen

So, if you're expecting a visitor soon or you're not sure how long they'll be, I like to begin with what they will see first and what I would like them to see the least (ie. dirty dishes out of the kitchen, dirty bathroom). With these things in mind, I begin with the following:

  1. Pick up any items on the floor of the entry way and living/dining/kitchen area. Clearing the floor of clutter immediately makes a huge difference in the appearance of your home. At this point, I only have a few toys (pre-crawling baby) and maybe shoes in front of the door to put away. *It's very useful to have a discreet place to throw things (ie. a decorative basket under the coffee table for chargers/remotes/pens/papers, a bin for toys behind a piece of furniture).
  2. Remove items that do not belong from all surfaces: clear off couch, tables and put them all out of sight (dishes in the kitchen, garbage in the garbage, miscellaneous out of sight). When I say "out of sight," this means thrown in a cupboard, closet (not where the guest's coat will go), closed bin/basket. Reminder: this is meant to be as fast and simple as possible. You can collect the items you tossed in the cupboard once your guest has left. *Speaking of front hall closet and garbage, make sure these places are kept as tidy as possible on a regular basis. They are the most likely closed-off places to be seen (guests may go to hang their coat or throw something out).
  3. Wipe surfaces. A quick wipe of the tables you see/use most (ie. coffee/dining) makes the place feel clean. Other surfaces like end tables and shelves are not as necessary. Crumbs and stray pet hairs are very unappealing, especially if you're putting out food/drinks. Also, have a look at the furniture your guest will be sitting on. If you have pets, you may want to give your fabric couch a quick vacuum. No one wants to leave your house covered in fur. If you're really in a time crunch, try to cover areas that receive the most pet-traffic with a throw. *Owning a hand-held vacuum is super handy for a quick vacuum of the furniture. I keep mine behind the couch for quick access.

Common Area

Keep a decorative basket under the coffee table to throw remotes, chargers, pens and miscellaneous junk into.
Keep a decorative basket under the coffee table to throw remotes, chargers, pens and miscellaneous junk into.
An example of a table that is not visitor-friendly. Clear surfaces of dishes, garbage and other items that don't belong. And light that candle!
An example of a table that is not visitor-friendly. Clear surfaces of dishes, garbage and other items that don't belong. And light that candle!
Keep toy bins and a hand-held vacuum in an easy-access, inconspicuous spot like behind the couch. Please ignore my kitty's bum and the damage he's caused to the couch :(
Keep toy bins and a hand-held vacuum in an easy-access, inconspicuous spot like behind the couch. Please ignore my kitty's bum and the damage he's caused to the couch :(

Next: Quick Clean of the Bathroom

The bathroom is so important. It is very likely that your guest will need to use it at some point, even if they're just quickly popping in (they may have been out a while before coming over). To me, there is nothing more uncomfortable than using a dirty bathroom. If you haven't cleaned your bathroom in weeks, I'm not judging. But this method is for someone who really cleans it somewhat regularly (once every week to two weeks) and needs a quick refreshment. I don't have a main-floor powder room, so guests use our four-piece bathroom. This method is definitely faster if it's just a powder room you're cleaning (but a bath/shower can be handy with this method: see #2). *If your guest has already arrived at this point, you can pretend to be using the bathroom when, really, you're cleaning it. This is a good reason to stash disinfectant wipes under the sink instead of with the rest of your cleaning products!

  1. Remove any items from floor. Put clothing/dirty towels in the tub if your guest might see you taking it from the bathroom, put garbage in the garbage pail (obviously).
  2. Clear off counter(s). Put items that don't need to stay on the counter in the cupboard or garbage pail.
  3. Use disinfectant wipes to clean the counter and sink. Don't forget the faucet and behind the faucet. *Disinfectant wipes are great for this because they disinfect (obviously) and they dry quickly so if you're guest needs the bathroom immediately, they won't get a wet bum or know that you cleaned it just a moment before.
  4. Use disinfectant wipes on the toilet. Begin with the seat (top and bottom, then under the seat and the space between the seat and the back of the toilet.
  5. Use a disinfectant wipe to spot clean the floor (check in front of the toilet and for any places that products may have spilled).
  6. If the garbage looks gross, is full or there are things in it that you'd rather people didn't see (like all the disinfectant wipes you just used), take out the bag and put it in the cupboard if there's room. If there isn't, put it in the tub also. *Use a bag in the bathroom garbage pail. Then you can just pull out the bag and tie it up, rather than dumping the pail into a bag. Also, keep extra bags in the pail underneath the one being used. Then you have some on hand for the next one you're going to fill.
  7. Close the shower curtain. This hides all your cluttery-looking cleaning products and bath toys (and any clothing or garbage from #1 and #6 above).
  8. Straighten towels. I like to take them off the racks and fold them in half before placing them back. This makes a huge difference in the appearance of a bathroom. *I like to have towels that are all the same colour (and that match the bathroom) so I don't have to change them out to make the bathroom look prettier for guests.
  9. Make sure there is extra toilet paper in plain view. Not only does this prevent embarrassing situations, but if it's in plain view and easy to reach from the toilet, your guest will have no reason to go into your potentially chaotic cupboards looking for some.

Cleaning the Bathroom

Keep disinfectant wipes under the sink!
Keep disinfectant wipes under the sink!
Fold towels to look neater and more presentable.
Fold towels to look neater and more presentable.
Close the shower curtain (having an opaque, decorative one is a plus!) and keep extra toilet paper in plain view and within reach.
Close the shower curtain (having an opaque, decorative one is a plus!) and keep extra toilet paper in plain view and within reach.

Quick Clean of the Kitchen

Return to the main floor and get cracking on that kitchen! At my old apartment, my kitchen was separate and I even had little doors to close it off if I wanted to hide a mess (sigh). Now, with the open concept layout of our house, everything is in plain view. I try to keep it regularly maintained but... it's a kitchen. It's almost impossible to have a clean kitchen. So, in a hurry, I tackle it as follows:

  1. Clear away all garbage and throw it out.
  2. Close up any food and put it back where it belongs.
  3. Fill dishwasher or put dishes to be cleaned in the sink or in a basin/bin under the sink to be washed later. Cover the dirty dishes that are in/under the sink with a dish towel.
  4. Put away any little appliances/tools you don't always use.
  5. Take a cloth and slowly wipe any crumbs from the counter into your hands. Don't scrub the counter or worry about sticky spots at this point. Just get off all the loose dry stuff and dump it into the garbage. Do the same to the stove.When I say "slowly" it's to avoid getting any on the floor (you may not have time to sweep).
  6. Rinse the cloth and go back to clean the surfaces of wetness and stickiness. Give the faucet a quick wipe as well.

Finally, Cleaning the Kitchen

Put dirty dishes in the sink and cover with a dish towel until you can get to them.
Put dirty dishes in the sink and cover with a dish towel until you can get to them.
Put away small appliances that you don't always use.
Put away small appliances that you don't always use.

Extra Time to Clean?

If, after you've completed all of the above, your guest still hasn't arrived, this is a list of things (in what I think is a prioritized list) to complete.

  1. Wash dishes.
  2. Sweep/vacuum.
  3. Scrub inside of toilet. (I left that part out of the bathroom section because it isn't touched by anyone and usually doesn't appear to be dirty).
  4. Make beds. Start with the master bedroom. Then you can leave the doors open so it doesn't look like you're hiding anything!
  5. Toss/kick anything on bedroom floors out of sight. Visitors aren't going into the bedrooms (I don't think) so as long as the mess is hidden from their view (like behind/under the bed) while they're in the hallway, you're good!
  6. Hide anything else that isn't tidy (ie. pile of clothes on a chair, papers on dressers) so that it isn't in view. Again, if you hide it in a ridiculous place, like behind the bed, you can pick it up after your guests have left.

Lazy or Smart Way to Clean?

When I'm on my deathbed, I will never regret having kept a cleaner house. Some people may consider me lazy for not always keeping a tidy house. I feel that life is too short to spend it cleaning. As long as my home is safe, clean (in the hygienic sense) and comfortable, I am OK with it.

This method allows me to be a little "lazy" by not always keeping my house immaculate, but ensuring that my guests are comfortable and led to believe that I do. Maybe this method will be useful to others.


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