Applying Pareto To Housecleaning

pareto housecleaning

I’ve talked about the 80/20 principle before. Formally known as the Pareto principle, it says that 80% of the results will come from 20% of your effort. Today I want to apply this rule to housecleaning.

Pareto and Housecleaning

It’s a fact of life that our living spaces get dirty. There are many ways to figure out how to measure the effort of housecleaning, from 0% (as seen in some of my college friends) to obsessively clean (my grandmother, who mopped the garage floor weekly).

If we look at the Pareto principle, this means that 20% of our efforts will take care of 80% of the dirt.

So the question becomes how much is 20% effort? And is 80% clean “enough”?

Not Everything All The Time

One of the things that really frustrated me about Flylady is that you had a list for each Zone and you were supposed to do that Zone every month. So that would leave me washing the windows 12 times a year, as well as pulling out heavy furniture to vacuum behind it.

I don’t believe things need to be done that way. I think a system can be a little bit more flexible.

Finding the Balance

Using Pareto doesn’t mean that you consistently skip over the details. For if enough dust builds up in the corners, no amount of clean elsewhere will make up for it.

What it means is that you have to find the balance between your ongoing cleaning and the deeper cleaning that you do less frequently. For my mother, this was spring cleaning. For me, it is quarterly cleaning, since I don’t like the difficulty of doing the heavy stuff once a year.

This does not mean waiting until something looks dirty to clean it. It’s definitely been my experience that if I wait until something looks really dirty, I’m going to spend a lot more time cleaning it. Example: if the shower floor looks dirty, I’m going to spend 30 minutes scrubbing. If I do it every week, it takes five minutes.

Applying Pareto Around the House

Mirrors and Windows

For some reason, the mirrors and windows in my house attract fingerprints. I swear elves come out in the middle of the night and jab at them, because no one in the family will ‘fess up. Rather than cleaning the windows and mirrors completely every week, I wipe away the obvious smudges. That is enough to keep them looking presentable, and I thoroughly clean them four times a year.


My kitchen floor needs to be swept almost daily in warm weather, and mopped at least once a week. The main entrance hall (which is not our main entrance) needs to be swept once a week to keep the furballs at bay, but doesn’t need to be mopped every week. My formal dining room (rarely used) and the music room don’t need to be vacuumed every week, but my bedroom, where the fur babies hang out, needs vacuuming twice weekly to make it livable.

Applying Pareto to your house is going to be an individual thing. It depends on your tolerance for dirt and who (and what) shares the space.

Want a better way to get a list of tasks that need to be done around the house on your terms and frequencies? Check out my Chore Grid.