1. Always wash/rinse your dishes (and/or place all dishes from the meal in the dishwasher) after every meal. And wipe down the counters after dinner every night. And wipe off the kitchen table after dinner every night (It will literally take you no longer than 5 minutes).
2. Sort mail immediately: trash what's junk, read and trash "quick reads" (ex: church fliers, coupons, invitations - make sure to RSVP!), save and file important mail (i.e., bills, bank statements, etc.)
3. Put your shoes up immediately after taking them off. Yes, seriously. I don't care if you plan on wearing them again in 15 minutes. Chances are you won't, and if you truly do, then you know exactly where they are!
4. File important papers immediately. None of this "Oh I'll get to it in a minute." Do it. Now.
5. Plan 1 day per week to perform deep cleaning activities (i.e., dust, mop, clorox, etc.).
6. Purge at least twice per year. Clothes, toys, pantry items, kitchen supplies. We all have those clothes we never wear, toys the kids haven't looked at in months, spices that are expired, hot cocoa that's been sitting in the pantry for 3 years (untouched), coffee mugs we never use any more, lunch boxes that were bought with good intentions. You get it - be brutally honest with yourself and purge it!
7. Always make your bed every morning. Always - it will instantly make the room seem cleaner and more organized! Plus, things don't get lost in the sheets when you climb into bed.
8. Put away your clean laundry as soon as it is folded/dried/ready. No one (including you) wants to look at it on the couch or in the laundry basket for a week.
Inspired by FlyLady, I have divided my home into zones. Each zone gets my attention for 15-20 minutes one day per week. Sundays are my "Deep Clean Day," so I have 6 zones. To me, the lower floor is more important because that's what guests see. That's why those areas are towards the top of my list. That way, these zones/areas are cleaned earlier in the week, and I don't have to stress if I have dinner guests Friday night! Below is my list of zones and the simple tasks I perform in each zone for 15-20 minutes.
Zone 1 - Front Entrance/Living Room: Clean off coffee table and end table. Sweep floor. Purge magazines (anything older than 6 months is recycled - hubby knows this and clips any articles/recipes he wants to keep). Put any shoes away (hubby loves to leave his shoes laying around). Fluff sofa cushions, fold throw blankets, straighten throw pillows, roll up computer/extension cords so that no one trips.
Zone 2 - Kitchen/Dining Room/Half Bathroom: Sweep floor, wipe down counters, clean stove top, wipe kitchen table down (use a little elbow grease!), clean mirror in bathroom, wipe down sink(s), purge fridge.
Zone 3 - Stairs/Upstairs Hallway: Hang up any coats laying on the stairs. Take stack on stairs to appropriate rooms (we have a knack for placing items that need to go upstairs on the stairs and just walking around said items for 1 week), vacuum hallway, straighten pictures in stairwell, clean up toys/miscellaneous items in the upstairs hallway.
Zone 4 - Upstairs Bathroom: Wipe down counter, dust off shelves, clorox spray in toilet, sweep floor, clean up hair off shower wall/floor, unclog drain (if needed), clorox soak for shower curtain (if needed), wipe down mirror, put random toiletry items/medication bottles into designated areas.
Zone 5 - Little T's Room: Put away toys, change sheets, put up books, throw away Happy Meal toys, vacuum floor.
Zone 6 - Master Bedroom: put away clothes on the floor, clean off/organize bedside tables, clean off dresser, put jewelry away, change sheets, vacuum floor.
Sunday: Deep Cleaning Day
Downstairs: Dust & wipe down all tables/shelves off. Mop floor. Clean windows, sliding glass doors. Dust picture frames on wall and tables. Sort through miscellaneous items that have collected on various pieces of furniture and keep what's important. Toss what's junk.
Upstairs: Mop bathroom floor, wipe down windows in all rooms, dust bedroom furniture, dust blinds in all rooms, clean shower/bathtub and toilet.
Making Any System Work For You:
Ultimately, it boils down to what works best for you, your family, and your schedule. Get your kids involved, too (particularly if they are younger - they want to be a "big help."). If they understand from the beginning that this is something they need to contribute to, then they will be less disgruntled later when you ask for help! Rules apply to everyone (making beds, putting up shoes), and there will be less griping 3 hours later when you ask kids (or hubby) to pick up their shoes.
Let things go. There are some things you aren't going to be able to change in your family. My dad is constantly leaving his tie on my mom's desk in the kitchen. She's truly given up (after 30+ years of marriage, I would, too!) on this issue and happily carries his tie up to the closet every night. Some things are negotiable, so be a little more flexible on those issues!