1 of 7
William Archie, Mct
Kaycee DeRoo, 20, right, and her mother Theresa DeRoo, 45, clean the living room in their Eastpointe, Michigan home, in preparation for the holidays.

DETROIT — You can't deck the halls without cleaning them first.

With the holiday season under way, families are focusing on three tasks: cooking, shopping and, the most dreaded for many, cleaning house.

The holidays are a great motivator for cleaning, says Carolyn Forte, director of home appliances and cleaning products for the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. "Your home is a reflection of you. You want your guests to feel comfortable. You want your house to be welcoming and inviting. You know how you feel when you go into a house that's not clean."

But Forte says that the era when people spent days and days cleaning are gone. "Nobody has the time anymore to do top-to-bottom cleaning. We're doing what we can when we can.

"Clutter control goes a long way toward making a house feel clean," says Forte, adding that the kitchen, bathroom, and wherever people will eat should get the most attention.

Families take different approaches to cleaning — from doing a little every day to tackling it all at once.

Larry and Jana Ecker of Royal Oak, Mich., expected about 20 guests for Thanksgiving and often have out-of-town relatives who stay over.

To make sure their house is ready for guests, the Eckers dedicate Saturdays to cleaning. But throughout the week, they try to clean as they mess up so straightening up doesn't become an overwhelming chore.

His specialty is the floors.

"I have a ground thing," says small businessman Larry Ecker, 40. "I tend to take the floors, vacuuming the rugs, mopping the floors, cutting the grass. Anything above the feet is Jana's territory."

Jana Ecker, 38, director of planning for the City of Birmingham, Mich., doesn't mind because her husband's idea of cleaning above ground often means throwing out whatever's in the way. "I'll organize the toys and put them in a box; he'll haul them out of here."

Both tackle the bathrooms of their three-bedroom, three-bathroom house. The couple, married for 11 years, says keeping a clean house was never an issue until they had two sons, Charlie, 8, and Teddy, 4. There's a lot more picking up to do, she says.

A couple of things help them: There's a designated playroom that keeps most toys out of sight. And Larry Ecker built cabinets and shelves in the basement to pack items away.

During Saturday cleaning, he usually wears headphones and listens to sports. "It helps to focus on something else," he says.

House cleaning isn't just about beautifying the home, says Mary Gerstenberger, a teacher with the Michigan State University Extension. A clean house makes for a happy, healthier home, she says.

"Dirt aggravates allergies and other health issues," Gerstenberger says. "People feel less stressed in a clean house. When there's dirt and clutter around, people are more irritated and stressed out. The atmosphere we live in affects our attitudes."

Miranda Walker, a hairdresser-turned-professional housecleaner, has an old-school approach to keeping her house tidy.

"I stay ready so I don't have to get ready," says Walker, who began Miranda's — the Miracle Workers cleaning company in 2000 after friends continually complimented her on her spotless home.

"I've just always enjoyed cleaning house," Walker says. "I remember when I was a little girl, all my mother's girlfriends wished they had me for a daughter because my mother would come home from work and I'd have the whole house clean.

"Cleaning for me is therapeutic," says Walker, 50. "It's relaxing. When you're doing your joy, it's not a job."

Walker works a full-time job cleaning a GM office building, and has two part-time jobs — cleaning private homes and doing hair.

Every day she cleans some part of her house before leaving for her 6 a.m. GM job. "I put a load of clothes in the machine before I brush my teeth," Walker says.

Theresa DeRoo of Eastpointe, Mich., is leaving most of the holiday cleaning to her three daughters Kaycee, 20, Julia, 15, and Rosie, 13.

The 45 -year-old says that her work as an exhibits painter at the Detroit Science Center has left her no time to do the usual pre-holiday spiffing up. Fortunately, DeRoo taught all four of her daughters, including a daughter now married and living on her own, to clean well. Her husband, Timothy, 51, tends to the outdoors.

The family's typical Saturday morning routine involves getting up by 8 a.m. to start working through the list of tasks that Teresa DeRoo has left.

"My mom is very particular," says Julia. "She wants everything in a certain order. She doesn't like it half-clean. She likes it all the way clean."

DeRoo says the layout of their ranch home almost demands a thorough weekly cleaning. "We don't have a basement and we don't have a lot of storage space so I try to instill that we really need to keep what precious space we have clean."

Music keeps them moving.

"It keeps us from remembering how awful it is to be cleaning, and it makes it a lot more fun," says Kaycee, a Macomb Community College student.

"I don't really mind cleaning; it's getting up that I don't like," Rosie says.

Rosie says that knowing company's coming is a motivator, too.

"You may act like you don't care, but once people are there you don't want to be embarrassed," Rosie says.

Kaycee adds, "I don't really like cleaning, but once it's clean, it feels good."

10 Tips for making the most of your cleaning

1. Plan ahead and prioritize. Decide must-do, can-do and can-wait. The bathrooms, kitchens and wherever people will eat, for example, make the must-do list, while an upstairs bedroom that no one should see can wait.

2. Divide and conquer. Do something each day so that each task doesn't seem so overwhelming.

3. Freshen up the front. First impressions are lasting impressions, so clean around the entranceways, and sweep porches and walkways. Put a festive wreath on the door. Vacuum or wash that welcome mat.

4. Clean from top to bottom. Because dust settles, it's best to dust furniture or wash walls before cleaning the floors.

5. Make house cleaning a family affair. Assign tasks to everyone who's old enough to do something.

"Doing it together gets the whole family involved in an activity that ultimately contributes to the holiday being healthy for all the family members and friends who attend," says Constance Costner, housing educator for Michigan State University Extension.

6. Group similar chores together. For example, vacuum all the rooms that need vacuuming so you're not taking the vacuum cleaner out for one room, putting it back, then taking it out again for another room.

7. Make it as enjoyable as possible by playing whatever music that gets you and your family pumped up and moving.

8. Remove or organize clutter to make each room easier to clean.

9. Clean first thing in the morning, if possible. Dust and cobwebs are more visible in daylight. You can sometimes open windows to release the smell of cleaning products and let fresh air in. Also, a morning start — with time left over to do something you want to do — won't leave you feeling like you've spent the entire day cleaning.

10. On the morning before they arrive, do a last-minute walk-through of the rooms most likely to be visited by guests. Look up and around for cobwebs, dusty furniture that may have been missed, a floor that can use one more mopping, and cleaning supplies mistakenly left out. Clear the closet that guests' coats and jackets will go into. Put your family's coats into an off-limits bedroom. Put fresh towels in the bathroom that guests will use.

Sources: Michigan State University Extension Service, Miranda Walker of Miranda's — the Miracle Workers, Good Housekeeping magazine and Merry Maids

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.