Dealing with the Necessities of Life : Setting Aside Time for the Basics (part 3) - Maintaining Your Home

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Caring for the Pets in Your Family

People aren't the only ones whose needs you must consider. Family pets come along with their own list of care requirements. If you are still at the stage of deciding whether to get a pet or what kind of pet to get, then you should choose responsibly by considering where you have time in your family's schedule.

Of course, the place to begin your decision process is in figuring out why you want a pet:

  • For protection

  • As a companion

  • To teach your children responsibility

  • To motivate you to go for a walk every day

But you also should consider how much time your family will have to devote to a pet and whether the pet's schedule will match yours. A large dog that needs to be walked three times a day will take a minimum of 312 hours of care a year. And someone will have to be available mid-day to take the dog for a walk. Plus, don't forget the need for extra housecleaning that a dog will generate. And if your family plans to travel without the dog, then kenneling becomes an issue as well.

On the other end of the spectrum are goldfish. They're not warm and cuddly, but they're still enjoyable (and calming). If you put them in a tank with a good filter, your annual time commitment to feeding and maintenance will come out to only about 14 hours a year.


Estimated first year costs for pets run between $75 and $1,500, so be sure to research both the time and money aspects of a new pet carefully.

In terms of scheduling, you'll need to make a list for each of your pets similar to the lists you made for each family member. Figure 2 shows an example.

Figure 2. You'll also need a list of each pet's needs, along with frequencies and time estimates.

Maintaining Your Home

Now it's time to make a list of everything that needs to be done concerning the care of your home. This list will be very long, but we'll show you how to break it down into manageable pieces and how to slot those pieces into your family's schedule. By making a thorough list now, you'll ensure that little details don't “fall through the cracks” and leave you frantically running around dealing with routine items that have suddenly become urgent.

Listing Tasks Room by Room

The easiest way to make your list is for you to spend a few minutes in each room of your home. Look around and write down anything you can think of that needs to be done with anything in the room. For example, if you're in the living room and you have a fireplace, you might come up with a list that includes the items in Figure 3. The idea right now is to make a completely comprehensive list. You don't need to think about categorizing it or sorting it out; that will come later. Don't be discouraged if your list takes up several pages; some households will easily have more than 500 entries on their lists.

Figure 3. You'll need a list of all of your home maintenance items before you begin assigning them time slots on your family's schedule.

Assigning Task Frequency

When you think your list is complete—you can always go back and add items you forgot—it is time to assign each item a frequency, as shown in Figure 4. Don't get too detail-oriented here. Whenever sensible, try to limit your selection to the following choices:

  • Daily (examples: open mail, put away toys)

  • Weekly (examples: take out trash, pay bills)

  • Monthly (examples: file papers, wash car)

  • Quarterly (examples: turn mattresses, get oil changed)

  • Yearly (examples: clean chandelier, file tax returns)

  • One time only (examples: get new bathroom sink faucet, plant tree in front yard)

Figure 4. The second step in creating your master list is to assign each item a frequency.


If you have more than one home—a summer home, RV, and so on—you should make similar lists for each one as well.

If you need to do something more than once a day, then list each instance as a separate item. For example, if you need to run your dishwasher both in the morning after breakfast and in the evening after dinner, then list the task like this:

  • Run dishwasher—morning (daily)

  • Run dishwasher—evening (daily)

Deciding how often to do something can be tricky. We all tend to want to assign an ideal frequency to each task. For example, maybe you were taught that bed sheets should be changed every week. On the other hand, if your family's schedule currently is out of control, you may not be changing the sheets more often than once a month. At least in the beginning of your new organizing endeavors, consider whether you can feel comfortable—and still better off than now—by compromising and assigning this task a frequency of every two weeks.

Scheduling Daily, Weekly, and Monthly Tasks

The next step is to decide the best time to accomplish each task. The easiest way to do this is to start with the items that you've decided to do on a weekly basis. Assign each of these items a specific day of the week. Some assignments will be obvious; for example, you take out the trash on the day your neighborhood has trash collection. When it comes to other items, you'll want to have an outline in place to help make your decisions easier. To do that, designate a focus for each day of the week.  As a starting point, you can focus one day each week as follows:

  1. Errands

  2. Paperwork

  3. Heavy housework

  4. Light housework

  5. Projects

  6. Free day

  7. Family day

Next, deal with the items your family will do every month. Once again, you'll use your daily focus plan to decide which day of the week will work best. For example, if you're going to have your car washed once a month, you'll assign it to your errand day. On the other hand, if someone in the family is going to wash the car, that chore might get assigned to the light housework day. If your family makes an activity out of it—complete with water fight—family day is a valid option.


If you work in an office, you can try the same daily focus technique at work, having one day of each week focused on the following:

  1. Planning/projects

  2. Meetings

  3. Correspondence

  4. Phone calls

  5. Flexible day

Because you'll be doing monthly things only once every four or five weeks, you should also distribute your monthly tasks throughout the month by assigning them a week, such as “first Monday of the month” or “third Tuesday of the month.” Avoid listing anything for the fifth week of the month because no months contain a complete fifth week. Figure 5 gives you an idea of how your list will start to look.

Figure 5. Each day of the week has a focus, and you schedule the items on your to do list according to that plan.

Scheduling Annual Tasks

After you've set up your plan for daily, weekly, and monthly home maintenance requirements, you should complete the plan by dealing with the items that your family needs to do on a yearly basis. Much the same way that you established a focus for each day of the week, you should now establish a focus for each month of the year. Your plan might look something like this:

  • January— attic

  • February— paperwork, taxes

  • March— bathrooms

  • April— basement

  • May— yard

  • June— garage, car

  • July— bedrooms

  • August— vacation

  • September— kitchen

  • October— family room

  • November— living and dining rooms

  • December— holidays

Be sure to consider the rhythm of your family and your local weather conditions when putting together your monthly focus plan. For example, it's far better to work on cleaning out the closets in your children's bedrooms in July when they are home for the summer. On the other hand, cleaning out a hot attic in July really is not a very appealing—or healthy—idea.

With your monthly plan, you can spread the rest of the items on your list throughout the year. To do that, go back through your list and write the appropriate month next to each of the remaining items. You can use the examples in Figure 6 as a guide.

Figure 6. Using a monthly focus plan enables you to distribute tasks throughout the year in an organized way.

Estimating Time for Tasks


Keep in mind that Table 3 does not represent a complete list of common chores because some tasks have no standard times. Evening meal preparation and cleanup are good examples. Some people cook ahead for the whole week, others make simple meals in the microwave, others cook more elaborate meals that require more cleanup. Your own habits will help you fill in the gaps in the list of chores in this table.

Table 3. Common Chores with Frequencies and Time Estimates
ChoreFrequencyTime to Complete (in Minutes)
Make beddaily2
Load dishwasherdaily20
Empty dishwasherdaily5
Go through maildaily20
Clear up clutter (per room)daily2
Wash laundry (per load)weekly10
Dry laundry (per load)weekly5
Fold laundry (per load)weekly15
Put away laundry (per load)weekly5
Dust lightly (per room)weekly5
Vacuum (per room)weekly5
Clean a bathroomweekly25
Take out trashweekly10
Water houseplantsweekly5
Pay bills/deskworkweekly30
Plan menus/make grocery listweekly15
Shop for groceriesweekly90
Put gas in carweekly10
Dust thoroughly (per room)monthly20
File papersmonthly15
Turn mattressquarterly10
Change car oilquarterly30
Clean/replace furnace filteryearly15
Wash windows (per room)yearly30
Clean behind kitchen appliancesyearly60
Clean chandelieryearly60
Clean out a closetyearly90
Clean out medicine cabinetyearly15

So, continue with your master list and go through and place a time estimate beside each entry, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7. You'll be able to put together a more realistic schedule after you estimate how much time is needed to complete each item on your list.


When making your time estimates, remember to include time for the setup and wrap-up phases, too. If you think it's unlikely that all three phases will be completed without interruption by the same family member, then consider splitting the task and listing it as two or three separate tasks. For example, you may have a weekly item on your list called “grocery shopping.” The setup phase involves creating a grocery shopping list. The actual task is going to the grocery store, buying the items on the list, and bringing them home. The wrap-up phase requires the groceries to be put away. You must decide whether you are more comfortable listing this as one item:

Shop for groceriesweeklyTuesday2 hrs.

or as three items:

Make grocery listweeklyMonday25 min.
Shop for groceriesweeklyTuesday1 hr. 15 min.
Put away groceriesweeklyTuesday20 min.

Dividing Your Master List into Time-Specific Lists

Your master list is now complete! Don't make the mistake, though, of thinking that a master list is the same as a schedule. You still have a few more steps to go before you will have created a master schedule. The next step to success will be for you to take your master list and split it into 20 separate lists. Don't worry; you've already done the groundwork, so this phase will be quick and easy.

Turn to a new page in your spiral notebook and copy from your master list all of the items you've indicated your family will do every day. Then create seven lists—one for each day of the week—and transfer your weekly and monthly items to them. Next, make 12 more lists—one for each month—and transfer your yearly household maintenance tasks. You'll end up with the three different types of lists that are represented in Figure 8.

Figure 8. You'll start to get a better picture of your schedule when you divide your master list into more time-specific lists.

Making Sure It All Adds Up

You may have noticed that you have a huge amount of stuff to do. Before you get totally overwhelmed, it's time for a reality check. Each person gets 24 hours in a day. You must subtract from that a minimum of 8 hours for sleep, leaving 16 hours. If you're talking about someone who is working a 40-hour/week job, then five days a week his daily discretionary time is reduced to 8 hours, before you even take into account commuting time and personal care time. If you're talking about a toddler, then you don't even need to begin calculating her discretionary time because the truth is, she's not going to contribute in any significant way to accomplishing any of the tasks you've put on your master list; even if she's helping, you'll have to be next to her every step of the way.

So, what do you do if it's obvious that the things you have on your to do list are going to take more time than you have? First, look to see whether the situation can be resolved simply by rearranging the list. For example, maybe you have a lot more to do on a yearly basis in your bedrooms than you do in your kitchen. If that's the case, you could divide the bedroom work between two months and double-up the kitchen with another light month. If, on the other hand, your time estimates simply add up to way more hours than there are in a year, you'll have to consider some other alternatives. In fact, you should consider those alternatives in any event because they are all designed to let you accomplish more in less time.

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