NEW YORK — A thorough housecleaning can take all day — maybe all weekend. And as satisfying as that can be, sometimes you just don't have the time or the motivation.
But with the holidays just around the corner, we all want our homes to look good for parties, drop-in visitors and relatives. We want our guests to have that "Wow, this place looks nice!" feeling that comes with entering a house where the beds are made, sofa pillows are plumped, clutter is gone, and sinks and stovetop are shiny.
Fortunately, most visitors don't check the broiler for grime or under the radiators for dust. But what should the game plan be when you want to make your home look presentable without going for a deep clean?
Here's some advice on cleaning high-profile spaces in a hurry for maximum visual and psychological impact.
PRIORITIZE: "Concentrate on the public areas: the living/family room, dining room and bathrooms. Prioritize what has to be done — replenishing toilet paper in the bathroom — versus what would be nice to do — dusting the picture frames," said Deanne Marie, creator of "Smart Solutions for Busy People" books and blog. Marie suggests taking a timer with you from room to room (use the one on your cell phone if you don't have a kitchen timer) and setting it for 15 minutes in each room as a way of forcing yourself to "focus on the necessities."
Even if you've only got one hour, you'll be amazed at how much you can get done in four rooms using that technique.
HIDE CLUTTER: Marie calls it the "Hail Mary" pass of housecleaning: Cover up the mess when you can't get rid of it!
The Maids, a national cleaning franchise, advises simply piling your miscellaneous countertop clutter in a laundry basket and sticking it in the closet. No time to do the dishes before company arrives? The Maids' solution is to stack them on a cookie sheet for temporary storage in the oven (cold, of course).
Another tip: Shut the doors to rooms and closets your guests need not see.
LOOK AROUND: Cheryl Najafi of CherylStyle.com, a home entertaining expert, recommends trying to see your house the way your guests will, to make sure you haven't overlooked anything.
Take the "sit test," Najafi says: "If you're hosting a party in the formal living room, make sure you sit down and survey the room. You'll see things from a different vantage point. Like those dust bunnies in the corner!"
She also advises taking a look as you walk in the door. What will your guests see as they stand there waiting for the door to open? Broken umbrella? Garden clogs? Spider webs? Junk mail? Deal with it.
Think about the big picture. What large pieces of furniture will people notice as they enter a room? Plumping sofa pillows and making beds will have a bigger impact on your home's appearance than wiping down the refrigerator shelves.
BATHROOM: If there's one room where bad housekeeping can really gross your guests out, it's the bathroom. Fortunately, the must-dos are relatively easy to accomplish, and may even be best left to last-minute so nobody in your family can make a mess before guests arrive.
Giving the toilet bowl a scrub with a brush, as unpleasant as it is, must be tops on your list. You're also going to have to wipe down the seat and rim. (Disposable Clorox wipes are great for this purpose.)
And while you can always shut the shower door or curtains to hide tub scum, there really is something nice about a gleaming sink and countertop. Fortunately toothpaste and soap residue are easily sponged away.
As with other rooms, clearing bathroom clutter goes a long way to making the place look like something out of a hotel room instead of something out of a bus station. Other quick fixes with a big payoff: Wipe mirrors with a spray glass cleaner, break out a new bottle of liquid soap, stockpile the extra toilet paper in an obvious place and empty the trash. Clear away icky towels (maybe even put away the throw rug) and put out clean hand towels. Or if you're a germaphobe who won't feel guilty about adding to the landfill, invest in a stack of disposable paper guest towels and put the garbage can nearby so it's obvious where to throw them.
OUTERWEAR: Give a thought to where your guests will unload coats, boots, umbrellas and bags. Is your hallway closet big enough? Can you set up a foldable coat rack or do you have a set of hooks on the wall? Most people don't mind leaving jackets on a bed; just make sure the bed is made and the room is easy to find for folks who may not be familiar with your home.
FLOORS: Is there anything worse than having a dust bunny accompany your guest down the hall? Vacuuming is such a drag but it makes such a difference. Remember, though, you don't have to do every room and corner — just the areas your guests will see.
But what about that pesky kitchen floor? Personally, I don't feel like my house is ready for company unless I've at least tried to get the kitchen floor clean, even though I've yet to get it to pass the Swiffer test. The Swiffer, in my experience, never lies, and no matter how much floor-scrubbing I do, whether with rags on hands and knees, or with a brand-new mop, a final wipe with the Swiffer always seems to come up dirty.
There is another way to think about your floors, however, when preparing for the arrival of guests.
"No matter how bad your floors look before a party, they will look worse afterward, so don't sweat it," advised Marie. "You'll have to vacuum or spot clean and mop after the guests leave, so why stress yourself out?"