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Not to brag (though I do encourage bragging in my clients!), but my strength training is pretty dialed in. Especially since I stopped thinking of my alternating routines as either hard or long. Instead, the hard sequence is now known as “short day” and the long is now “easy day.” It makes all the difference in my willingness to begin—the hardest part.

In fact, this reframe has been so magical I feel ready to add some high-intensity interval training, aka HIIT. This is when you work really hard, but only for, say, 15 seconds. Then you rest for 45 seconds before working hard again. I’m scouring Craigslist for an exercise bike right now (and let me tell you, there is not as much gently used equipment on there as I had been led to believe). 

Until then I’m enjoying the fantasy of being some one who HIITs. If that’s how the term is used. Unsure. 

Not here to talk about exercise though

This is about HIIT for the home, or high-intensity interval tidying. And I don’t mean tidying as a euphemism for decluttering, a la KonMari. Many of us are several years post-Kondo, and in that time even Marie herself has gone a little post-Kondo. (Just ask her! Or read her new book, Kurashi at Home. It is a soothing balm of low-ambition gracious living.) 

I mean ordinary housekeeping. Dishes and dusting and putting things away.

It’s a safe bet that most people can fold clothes all-out for longer than they can run at top speed. The barriers are more mental than physical. Still: the limits are real. 

So I’m experimenting with five-minute intervals, scattered throughout the day. This used to seem pitiful to me, like who can’t do their vacuuming all in one go? I guess the answer is me, for one. I bow to reality.

And the thing about tidying five minutes at a time is, you don’t have to resist! You also don’t have to rest. You can do your five minutes (or whatever your threshold is) and then live life! You can go about your more interesting business. 

Eventually, I find I am ready for another five minutes. The impulse seems to occur naturally. And at the end of the day, the house seems better for it. More has gotten done.

What about you? Fast-twitch impulse cleaner, or do you like an organized approach? Tell us what works in the comments below.

Image credit: Twee dienstmeisjes, die een mat uitkloppen voor een stadshuis, Johan Antonie de Jonge, 1874 – 1927, Rijksmuseum. Used with permission.

About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!

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  • My mother worked with a woman who kept lists of household tasks organized by the amount of time it would take to complete them. If she had a spare ten minutes she would look at her ten minute list and do one of those jobs.

  • Waiting for the kettle to boil when making tea/instant coffee is the perfect amount of time for tidying. Empty the dishwasher, hang up some laundry, clear a kitchen surface or two, take out some recycling (to one of our seven bins … not). All possible!

    • Yes, this! I’m not alone.

    • What’s for dinner? I make reservations. Cleaning house? I Call a service.
      Not really but that’s always an alternative if things get desperate.

  • I game-ify tasks that need extra motivation — color in a little shape when the thing gets done so I can applaud myself when I look at it later!

    For cleaning, I set a timer for 15 minutes and it’s usually enough to get me in motion for longer than that. And if not, my house is 15 minutes cleaner!

  • Your article is so timely! I broke a bone in my foot last week. The clutter has been building and it was making me frustrated. Your suggestions were just what I needed to get in a different state of mind. I can manage five minutes of hobbling in my boot cast. Already, I feel better! Thanks, Max.

    • Maggie, I also broke a bone in my foot, about a month ago! Are we all klutzes? Lol. I think of it as more time for knitting, since I’m supposed to be sitting and keeping it elevated. Like I’ve always said, “housework is for those who don’t know how to knit.”. I like this 5-minute increment idea!

      • Ok. You win at comments today.
        “ housework is for those who don’t know how to knit.”. I’m sharing that with all my knitting friends.

    • Maggie, I have broken feet as well right now and thought the same things as I was reading this article. I found five minutes was about the max I’m able to get around for small things like doing dishes or tidying up a table. This is a perfect approach! I’m on the mend and hope you are as well!

  • I generally clean throughout the day. I use cleaning, straightening, folding, etc. as breaks from being chained to my desk for work. I find that these brief 10-minute breaks keep our household moving smoothly and my brain gets the reset it needs also. These breaks definitely improve my creativity, because my brain gets “itchy” if I have to sit for too long!

  • I do everything in intervals – including the things I enjoy – and I find I get a lot more done. I try to define a short task that is finished such as emptying the dishwasher, making the bed, putting away the laundry. In that way things are not always pulled apart. I also have cleaners ( once a month) so I don’t worry so much about the larger tasks. I am a retired widow so my house doesn’t get that dirty.

  • I started doing a form of this a bit ago. I leave knitting on the kitchen table. Then, I clean or tidy for about 5 to 10 minutes, then knit for 30; repeat. Who says it all has to be done at once? Excellent article.

    • Love it!

      • What a great idea! I like the idea someone posted with multiple tasks that took 5- 10 minutes, and picked one that fit into the present time frame. If you look at the whole multitude of tasks it is overwhelming, but 1 task at a time is doable. Thanks alot!

  • I have used this method my entire adult life. I always hated the “cleaning day” method employed by my mother. And yes, I set a timer.

  • I sometimes set a timer, especially if my husband is needed, for 15 to 30 minutes. When the timer dings, that’s it. The pressing work is usually done.

  • I tend to be a binge cleaner because I despise cleaning my house, and I happen to be starting day 4 of a deep clean. First day I cleaned the living room and cleaned the kitchen floor (continuous wood flooring). Second day I cleaned our bedroom and the two bathrooms (but not the shower or the bathroom floors). Yesterday I did the kitchen and the shower (but not the countertops or the walk-in pantry). I try to start with what’s most important, what will make me feel the most like I accomplished something, because I know at any point I may run out of steam/lose interest/get distracted…

  • I hadn’t thought about this before, and I’m tickled to realize I may well be a fast-twitch tidier after all. All else interferes with my knitting!

    • Because housework is for people who don’t know how to knit
      Timers were invented for those of us who have hobbies like knitting, or needing to work at a desk. Bad things can happen to our bodies if we don’t get up and move around every half an hour or so.
      Sequential multi-tasking — what a concept. Thanks, everybody!

    • Oh I love a FTT! Fast twitch tidier it is! Thanks!

  • It took me years to accept that a lick and a promise is good enough. Before that I would be paralyzed at the thought of how thorough I had to be, and not be able to start. I too like doing a small bit at a time.

  • I’m not so much about “clean” as I am about ” in place”. Before retiring for the night I like to make sure all surfaces are cleared – cups next to the coffee pot for the morning, dishes in washer, books stacked ready to read the next day, and when I leave my house I want it in order in case “I don’t come back and someone needs to go in”. I want it organized. Have our home cleaned once a month professionally as I am too old to wash floors, move furniture, etc.

  • As always a good article. Staying ahead of the game each day makes a weekly big clean either non existent or not needed! Thank you.

  • Hey, I am inspired to unload the dishwasher and fold that last batch of clothes wrinkling themselves in the dryer! Thanks!

  • At work I refer to it as a Two Song Tidy or Three if my desk is really a mess. Turn the music up and put on something peppy and clear my desk for the length of just a couple of songs.

    • This is an especially fun idea!

  • I find the short burst work well for me too. They are spaced during television commercials. I knit during most programs and when the commercials come on I do the laundry, fold clothes, dust, whatever needs to be done. It is surprising how long those commercials last! I can fold a whole load of towels during them. Everything is a win win.

  • I give myself 10 minutes (or sometimes 15) (if things are big messy) and do as much as I can in the allotted time. Then I have to go on–sometimes to tidy a different room, sometimes to a nap, sometimes to what I want to do. It’s surprising how much I get done and what a difference it can make. Mostly I bypass the stress about it all.

  • OK! This is the kind of self-help that I need! I am happy to read this and will employ this method of keeping up with things around here. AND I am going to get others who live here to try this. I kinda think this will work.

  • I’ve cleaned like this my whole life, didn’t know it had a name, I thought I was just lazy

  • How do you cope with the dishes I asked an elder. She said Oh I tidy up as I go. It was good advice. I love the painting. It translates to English as Two Maids, Who Knock Out a Mat for a Town Hall 😉

    • Years ago, i read to make a sink of hot soapy water before you start a big cooking project. Toss bowls, pans, spoons, etc. In as you go. When you’re waiting for something to simmer or saute, wash a couple of things. Works great. Don’t do it for everyday meals but it makes the cleanup much less intimidating for dinner parties or Christmas baking or big production dishes.

  • Lately I’ve found that I can get a LOT done in about half an hour – and it usually happens not long before my man friend is coming over for the evening.

  • This is totally my method of doing just about everything around the house now. It’s very convenient to combine it with working from home and that 10 minute break one is supposed to stand up and take after every hour or so of sitting. I break chores into “bits”. First break: put laundry in. Next break: take laundry out and hang it up. Break between part time job and side hustle: dust living and dining room or 20 minutes of yard work.

    The vacuuming, however, I leave to my beloved robo-vac, Sbinalino (long story about the name…).

  • I’m a total believer in short concentrated ferocious focus. It’s how I make art, including award winners, women don’t brag enough about achievements, and a lot of things. I just brought in an eight foot ficus tree off the patio into the living room. So now I’m sitting and smugly reading Max! I’m 85, do it’s pretty good going. As are you, Max, going with your own reality.

  • Great article snd so enjoying the comments! Thank you MDK!

  • Oh I love the 5 minute HITT….a dear cousin, our family’s sage, convinced me of “you can do anything for 15 minutes”, so I’ve been doing house chores like that for quite sometime. Wait until I tell her we can switch to 5 minutes…she is going to cackle out loud and fully embrace the HITT! Thanks for the wonderful advice!

  • HIT may work for many folks; probably not for me, simply because 5-minute intervals aren’t enough for some tasks, and the only thing worse than an un-vacuumed rug is a half-vacuumed rug with a vacuum cleaner sitting in the middle of the room.

    I have, however, used IC (Interval Cleaning) since the days of dial-up. You could make a bed, or scrub a toilet, or pick up dirty clothes in the time it took to get on line, and a graphics-heavy page took so long to load (not even THINKING about videos here!) that you could easily sort, load, and start a batch of clothes in the washer!

    So I think we’re leaning in the same direction. It’s just a matter of scale.

    • The image of the abandoned vacuum was a “no beverages” moment for me! Thanks for the hilarity as I head into another round of tidying…

  • As much as I enjoyed this article I equally enjoyed reading all the comments laden with other helpful tips. Assuming most of us reading this article and commenting are women I also wholeheartedly embrace the idea that as women we are NOT slaves to the cleanliness of our homes as our mothers may have been. I know my home may not be as spanking clean as my mothers was but I have enjoyed my other “hobbies” immensely over the years, ie: sewing, knitting, drawing, decorating, reading, etc.

  • I have a toddler and my game with her is to put on her favourite song and tidy madly for the duration. She’s not great at tidying – I have to give her items and say where they go – but she loves the game and the house always looks so much better! It’s “Going Wild” by Andy and the Odd Socks

    • Ooh, thanks for Andy and the Odd Socks. My 3 year old granddaughter will love that next time we are together.

    • I love that!!! It’s a fantastic way of getting the point across that everybody is responsible for picking up their own clutter, i.e.I am Not the house slave. We’re probably all eager to know,
      What’s your husband’s song?

  • I love this idea! I also watch YouTube videos while I fold the laundry and listen to podcasts while I dust.

  • The nice thing about the five minute approach (or whatever time you set) is that you can choose to delay or ignore bigger tasks to a time that works for you or divide them up into smaller 5 min blocks. I think I do this but never actually thought about “naming” it as an approach. Thanks Max for doing that part!

  • I have…and now my daughters do the same…a 10 min “run tidy”. Pick up something that needs taking elsewhere in the house…return it and pick up something there that needs putting somewhere else. Especially helpful when you have small children and “stuff” gets everywhere…

  • I have 5 rooms/zones in my (very large) apartment so I’ve assigned one to each weekday. I set à timer in my phone for 30 minutes and listen to a podcast and work on that room for 30 minutes. Whatever’s not finished I leave for next week, if it takes less than 30 minutes I wash some dishes or have some free time. When a space gets cluttered I know its day will come within the week and I take weekends off. I can maintain my energy/enthusiasm for 30 minutes but that’s it- and I save podcasts I like for those times.

  • When I get stuck, I use my timer. I divide my to dos into categories, and each category gets 20 minutes. 20 minutes of piano, 20 minutes on email, 20 minutes of house tasks. Amazing how much gets done as the cycle keeps repeating.

  • I’ve begun to break up laundry day. It is less of a chore to do linens one day and clothes the next.
    That way I’m done in what seams like no time at all. I like to keep the dishes done all during the day. Use a glass, wash it. After about 50 years of having a dish washer and many homes this one didn’t come with one, and after spending a couple of months getting unpacked and organizing closets, drawers, and stuff in general, painting walls and furniture, changing out sinks and faucets, etc. the two of us were so used to keeping the kitchen picked up that we realized we would rather have the cabinet that had replaced a former dishwasher, than to have a new one put in. I had always washed the dishes before loading them into the dishwasher, anyway, so it seemed easier this way.
    We also got into the habit of spending a few minutes a day picking up our individual clutter so it doesn’t ever get overwhelming. (lots of house showings over the years). That makes it seem like no chore at all to just dust without clearing off surfaces first.

  • Some days I do the dishes as they get used, other days I wash them in pieces as dinner is cooking and finish cleaning the kitchen after we eat. It just depends on what else I’m doing that day!

  • I like to take a break from sitting and shuffling papers or files and, gasp, iron or put away clothes.

  • This is my modus operandi. Since receiving chronic fatigue as a result of long cancer treatment. I’m aware of the windows of energy that I have. It never ceases to amaze me how the small bits all add up. At the end of the day, I feel uber satisfied. Chores done and my creative projects are moved along without suffering burnout. I wish I’d done life this way years ago. Thank you for a great article.

  • Ooh I am so much like that! The HIIT just might work for me!

  • Wow! Thank you! I continuously wanted to write on my blog something like that. Can I take a portion of your post to my blog?

    • Thanks for asking, Roger! A short quote with attribution is always appreciated, but please do link back to MDK in your post. Many thanks!

  • Thanks Max, and all the commentors… I needed this. I’m actually doing it in reverse right now… I’ve been doing chores in the yard (cleaning up after having a large tree felled right close to the house) and worked at raking and bagging sawdust and etc until I needed a rest & water break. My reward: 15 minutes to read Max and comments. Inspiring! Now I need to haul the sawdust and wood chips down to the tired garden bed, where it will rest for the fall and winter. Household chores will get their HIIT time later, after I recover from my day in the yard.

  • There’s a whole book along these lines called Decluttering at the Speed of Life. By Dana K. White. She also has one about housework. Both are EXTREMELY helpful for FTTs (although I have not yet been able to use her method for my yarn stash!)

  • Can Ӏ jսst say what a comfort to discover someone that actually knows what they are discussing
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  • A little bit every day.
    Works for me!

  • This information is invaluaƄle. When can I find oᥙt more?

  • Here’s a sweet trick….Grab your laundry basket(empty)
    Start in some untidy room and put any item that is not supposed to be in that room into the basket. Now go into another room/ space and do the same but at the same time unload anything that belongs there.
    Continue around the house and end up in room 1 to unload!
    It’s a lot of fun to get things back to where they belong!!!

    • LOVE this!

  • I clean in 5-minute intervals also, except the kitchen has to be clean when I leave it after a meal. I never spring-clean either—I just get rid of things as I go, when I see something we’re not using anymore.

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