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Women spent 15 hours a week on housework in 1995, according to the Americans' Use of Time Project data. That includes cooking, cleaning, plant and animal care, laundry, yard work, repairs and general home management. Despite the two hours a day spent straightening, the house never seems clean. Seven steps to make it easier:
Lower your standards. Does the house have to be spotless? "Think of it this way," says time-management expert Jeff Davidson. "If you clean three times a week, that's once every 2.3 days. What if you cleaned only twice a week, or once every 3.5 days? At the end of the week, your home will still be clean."
Hide what you can. To avoid constant cleaning and vacuuming, choose dark or busy patterns for furniture and carpeting that are less likely to show dirt. When buying new appliances, select darker colors that mask fingerprints.
Small loads are lighter. Instead of spending your entire Saturday on laundry, do small loads a few times a week. And "fold less," says Davidson. "So many things, like underwear, should just be thrown into a drawer.
Multi-task. You can't sweep and mop at the same time, but you can shower while sponging off the tile walls. You can fold laundry while waiting for pasta water to boil, dust the office while checking e-mail.
Stay one step ahead. Never let a task wait if it's in front of you. "Make your bed as soon as you get out of it," says Lee Silber. "It's one less thing to do later."
Centralize dirt. Take a moment to think about the origin of dirt. It's usually from shoes, food and things we do in the name of personal hygiene. "Keep the mess as close to the source as possible to curtail it," says Davidson. Ergo, shoes come off when people enter the house, food stays in the kitchen (no snacking in the living room), all ablutions (hair brushing, nail clipping) take place in the bathroom.
Carry a catchall. "I use a laundry basket," says Linda Cobb, author of the Talking Dirty with the Queen of Clean. "I go from room to room and fill it with everything that doesn't belong there. The soda can that shouldn't be on the table; the sock shouldn't be on the living-room floor. Then I go room to room and put stuff where it should go. Using the basket saves you from making multiple trips."