After my sister once referred to the quick, frantic house cleaning before company arrives as "the Shakedown," it's been a proper noun in our family ever since — an all-too-frequent practice with a house full of kids. While it may not provide the most thorough form of cleaning, the Shakedown has some secret tips that are helpful for at least temporarily faking that pulled-together look.

I've always welcomed the thought of company in my home. Recalling moments of our house brimming with friends and family are among my favorite home memories ever. However, when my house isn't in a state to welcome guests (which is frequently, considering I have three kids), there are five words in the English language that initiate a state of panic for me: "I'm on my way over."

It's not that I have to have things Martha Stewart perfect in order to have company. The state of my fan blades and blinds can certainly attest to that. But, come on. It's a lot more pleasant to open your doors to unexpected guests when there's at least a place for them to sit rather than, say, when your dog just fished out wet toilet paper and dragged it all over your entryway (of course they time this appropriately).

stack of blocks

I'm not a hoarder and my house isn't dirty, but sometimes things just get out of hand. It usually starts with a bag of blocks getting dumped, and 10 minutes later it looks like the aftermath of a frat party. When someone says "I'm on my way over" while you're looking out into the messy abyss some call a living room, it can cause paralysis: I don't know where to begin, so I guess I'll just sit down and read a catalog until they get here. And listen, not that I know this from experience or anything, but "We're moving" and "We just got robbed" only work so many times to explain the mess.

Shakedown — a 30-minute strategic house-cleaning effort that combines cleaning, creative concealing and some pleasant distractions to yield a welcoming environment.

Here's the thing. A few years ago, my older sister passed down a little nugget of advice from when she was a stay-at-home mom, and it's saved me ever since. It's called the Shakedown — capital S, proper noun — a 30-minute strategic house-cleaning effort that combines cleaning, creative concealing and some pleasant distractions to yield a welcoming environment. While the result may mean the lack of horror-stricken guests, the real reward is your own peace of mind — how much more you enjoy your company when you're not mentally scanning the mess they see. And if you don't perform a Shakedown for guests, it's still a great 5:00 activity to feel extra productive at the end of a seemingly fruitless day (don't be fooled: Taking care of kids is never fruitless!).

To execute a proper Shakedown, you'll always need the following on hand: one large empty laundry basket, one small bin or basket, a vacuum, your cleaning product of choice, smell-good oils (I like lemon, clove, cinnamon or lavender, depending on my mood), candles and some good cleaning music. The rest follows like a well-oiled machine.

  1. timerCrank up clean-up tunes to get motivated. Might I suggest a little Daft Punk.
  2. Set the timer for 30 minutes (it will help pace you).
  3. Place a few drops of smell-good oil into a scent burner. If you don't have a scent burner, place a few drops into a small saucepan of water and simmer. Within 30 minutes, the house will at least smell clean which can trick the brain into thinking it is clean.
  4. Close doors to messy bedrooms and focus primarily on the open areas of the home.
  5. Fill sink with hot soapy water and drop in any dishes left out (if you have leftover time, you can follow through on this later).
  6. Spray and wipe down counters, placing any small kitchen clutter (mail, keys, phone cords, etc.) into the small basket to be sorted and put away later.
  7. Using the large laundry basket to — ahem — hide things for now, walk through your home and place all visible mess into the basket, unless the mess can be easily and quickly put away where it really goes. Sometimes, even when I have time to do a full house cleaning, I'll still start out this way just because it makes a world of difference in such little time, thus removing that overwhelming feeling. Shoes, toys, clothes on the floor, books, towels — whatever it is, throw it into the basket and deal with it after company leaves. Just don't forget to deal with it, or it leads to other problems. Place full laundry basket out of sight.
  8. Once the bulk of the mess is gone, everything gets easier. Now you can vacuum — another cleaning action that leads to notable change and satisfaction.candles
  9. Straighten and toss pillows. Arrange a quilt/blanket over couch — little touches that pull things together.
  10. Light candles. Candles, scents and music. This is the holy trinity of entertaining.
  11. Get one thing humming — the washer, dryer or dishwasher. If one of them is humming in the background, even if I'm only subconsciously hearing it, I'm somehow aware that something's getting clean.
  12. Change your music from clean-up tunes to something relaxing — Diana Krall, Norah Jones, Nina Simone — whoever does it for you.
  13. Put some lipstick on. I feel prepared and put together when I'm wearing lipstick. And when things are falling apart as they naturally sometimes do, lipstick makes me feel like I'm prepared. It's a little bit of Superman on a Clark Kent day.
  14. The doorbell just rang. Answer the door. You've got this.

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