How to make your place look presentable for guests in 30 minutes or less


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If you’re as into Hallmark Channel holiday movies as I am, you probably have an idealized mental picture of what a festive gathering should look like: an apartment dripping in pine tree boughs and fairy lights, a Pinterest-worthy cheese plate and kombucha punch bowl on the kitchen counter, and you clad in some cozy-glam combination of statement earrings, cashmere, and impressively contoured eyeshadow.

The reality? If you’re not a fictional character played by Lacey Chabert, having friends over usually goes a bit differently. In my case, it involves frantically stuffing my living-room clutter into a closet, lint-rolling cat hair off the sofa while ordering pizza on Postmates—and barely having time to swipe on some red lipstick before the doorbell rings. As someone with a more-than-full-time job and lots of extracurriculars on my iCal, I simply don’t have hours to spend getting my home party-ready. (Or, like, even one hour.)

If this plight sounds familiar, however, there’s no need to stress. As I recently learned from a few pro organizers, all you really need is 30 minutes and some tricks of the home styling trade to clean up before guests arrive. Take their advice, and you’ll free up precious pregaming time for what really matters—like perfecting your chocolate hummus recipe and crafting the perfect “thank u, next”-centric playlist.

Here’s how to clean house fast when you’re short on time.

how to clean house fast
Photo: Getty Images/Cavan Images

1. Be strategic about which rooms you clean

While you might feel like you need to tidy your entire space before friends come to hang, it’s not totally necessary. All you really need to focus on are the “line of sight” areas, says Design Organized founder Lisa Shields, a professional organizer and interior stylist. “This means any space your guests will see or walk through during their visit,” she says. So if they won’t be going into your bedroom, feel free to just keep the door closed and save that clean-up for another time.

Need to narrow it down even further? Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin, authors of The Home Edit and founders of a home organizing biz with the same name, say to home in on the guest bathroom and the entryway, specifically. “The bathroom is pretty self-explanatory—no one likes a dirty bathroom,” says Teplin. “Always make sure there are enough clean towels and hand soap. A vase of flowers or a candle is always a go-to finishing touch.” As for the foyer, since this is the first thing your guests see, you’ll want to make sure it makes a tidy first impression.

Oh, and if you can’t avoid having friends in the kitchen, Shields definitely advises giving that a quick clean, too. “There are a few dirty bathrooms and kitchens that have been burned into my memory forever,” she says.

2. Have a designated receptacle for clutter

Okay, so sometimes you just don’t have time to put everything in its rightful place when you’re having a last-minute get-together. With this in mind, Shearer and Teplin recommend investing in a few large floor baskets, which make cleaning up a cinch. Just round up your clutter, dump it in, and deal with it later. (Bonus points if your basket comes with a lid, like this adorable cactus-shaped option.) “They can store toys, blankets, laundry, whatever you’d like to conceal without forgetting about it altogether,” Shearer says. “Baskets can also double as home décor, which is a plus!” 

You may want to consider getting one for every room—Shields says that will make the process of eventually putting everything away easier. “Walk around, collect, and at least put items in what will be their eventual designated areas,” she says. “This is basic organization broken down into steps.”

3. Focus on these three key cleaning tasks

Once you’ve determined which “line of sight” areas you’re going to clean, Shearer and Teplin say you only need to focus on three things: cleaning the windows, wiping down or dusting surfaces, and vacuuming. Shields adds that you should prioritize the “largest, most easily viewable surface areas,” like countertops and floors and that it’s more important to clean lighter-colored surfaces, as they’re more likely to show dirt.

Oh, and this whole process will be a lot easier if you’ve organized your cleaning products in advance, say Shearer and Teplin. “Strategize by creating a ‘Guest Prep Kit’ with glass cleaner, feather dusters, wood polish, whatever you think you’ll need—including a vacuum,” Teplin suggests.

how to clean home fast
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4. Set the mood

If you’ve created the right ambiance, it won’t be as obvious to your friends if your place isn’t totally pristine. With a little advance planning, this doesn’t have to be hard, says Shields. “Lighting is everything!” she stresses, adding that you’d ideally have three sources of light in a room to create dimension. “Each light should be warm, incandescent, and ideally dimmable. LEDs are my enemy.”

She also recommends picking up fresh flowers on your way home, playing chill music, and adopting “the old school realtor’s trick of having something delicious baking in the oven, like fresh cookies.” (Don’t have time for that? Cheat with a cookie-scented candle.)

Oh, and be sure there’s a place for everyone to sit. “Don’t think you have to run out and buy another couch,” Teplin says. “Create your own seating area with plush pillows and comfy blankets, which automatically will make guests feel right at home.” They’ll be so relaxed, they won’t even notice if there are fingerprints on your coffee table.

5. Don’t let your space get out-of-control messy in the first place

Yeah, this one’s easier said than done. But honestly, it’ll make the biggest difference when you’re learning how to clean house fast. “Try not to let things pile up and get too out of control to the point where it’s overwhelming and you dread tackling it,” says Shields, who recommends the clean-as-you-go approach. Making avocado toast in the a.m.? Wash your dishes and wipe down your countertops before you head out the door.

Getting organized AF is key to taking the stress out of day-to-day tidying, say Shearer and Teplin. “Instead of keeping cleaning supplies in a crowded closet, separate them by room or item so you can quickly grab and go,” Shearer says. “Labeling [your storage bins] always helps, too.” At the end of the day, they add, it’s not just about impressing your friends with an art-directed space—basic housekeeping is an exercise in mental health. “If you’re able to find where items are and put them back where they belong, you’ll save time, money, and ultimately, your sanity.” Fa la la to that.

Check out Nigella Lawson’s no-fuss dinner party tips—and, if you’re an introvert, prepare yourself with these strategies to recharge mid-gathering.

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