Is your self esteem so high that it needs to be taken down a peg or two? If so, head over to the Good Housekeeping Institute's cleaning checklist. Broken down into daily, monthly, quarterly and yearly chores, reading it likely will make you feel thoroughly insufficient and send you crying into your crumpled, unwashed bedsheets.

That was my take on it, anyway. Apparently in between juggling a full-time job, two young kids, after-school activities, meal planning and Easter and birthday preparations, I'm supposed to make time for cleaning the shower daily and the cupboards monthly. You can go ahead and file these under "not gonna happen."

I'm not alone in that sense. Writer Lucy Mangan at The Guardian scoffs at the eight daily tasks: Making the beds; cleaning the toilet; wiping the shower, kitchen surfaces and hob (what the heck is a hob?); sweeping the kitchen floor; and clearing away all clutter every evening and putting dirty washing in the laundry bin.

It’s a nice idea. I really, really want to be this person. Unfortunately, this person and I have never met. The abyss between us widens as I contemplate the weekly items. Dusting all surfaces. Cleaning mirrors and tooth mugs. (Oh, for a life that had tooth mugs …) Cleaning the inside of the microwave. Cleaning. The inside. Of the microwave. Imagine.

I've come to terms with the fact that I'm more of a "bare minimum" housekeeper. So as I approach spring cleaning, I went looking for time-saving tricks to speed up the process.

First, an attack plan

Bucket of cleaning supplies A bucket of cleaning supplies packed with everything you need to clean the room should be stored under bathroom and kitchen sinks. (Photo: Sergey Mironov/Shutterstock)

"The best way to tackle the dreaded spring cleaning task is to take it room by room. Trying to tackle the whole house in one shot is straight up torture and unreasonable especially in a house with two full-time working parents and kids," says Sheila Gagne, founder and CEO of MaidOrganic LLC.

She suggests tackling only one room a week from top to bottom, including "washing walls with a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water, windows, switching over seasonal clothes, dusting behind furniture and under area rugs."

As you go room by room, Gagne offers three must-dos for each. If this looks overwhelming, keep in mind it's just one room a week:

  • Kitchen: Wash exterior of cabinets, appliances and floors.
  • Bathroom: Vacuum exhaust fan, disinfect switch plates and door handles, wash the floors.
  • Dining room: Dust, wash tables and chairs, and throw your drapes in dryer for 20 minutes to kill dust mites and get rid of musty odors.
  • Living rooms: Dust behind furniture, vacuum under sofa cushions, and, again, throw those drapes the in dryer.
  • Bedrooms: Same as the living room, but throw your comforter in the dryer along with the drapes.

Tricks of the trade

Donna Dougherty, owner of Go Green Cleaning Experts in Philadelphia, says cutting down on cleaning time boils down to three things: organization, tools and strategy.

Organization is key. "Have everything organized in one place so you can clean like a professional cleaner. If you’re not organized with what you have to clean, you’re not going to clean," says Dougherty.

For example, "In a bathroom, there should be a small caddy underneath the sink that has paper towels, a trash bag, cleaning solution, a sponge — everything in there that you need," Dougherty says. The kitchen, too, should have a similar caddy. Dougherty says the caddy can even be a mop bucket, meaning there will be one less thing to dig out of a closet or cupboard somewhere.

Gathering these supplies and getting organized takes time, but it will save you even more time in the long run, she points out.

Stock up on multi-use tools. Dougherty likes the Dobie sponge for kitchen cabinets. She says they shouldn't scratch, but you should test them on a small spot first to check. For families with kids who may have bits of food or crayon on walls or cabinets, "the Adobe saves so much time getting the gunk off," she says. Those white cleaning erasers are also good to use across multiple rooms, she says.

But you don't necessarily have to spend money. A microfiber rag works on those jobs and on mirrors (use one wet one to wash, another one to dry), and you may have an old towel you don't mind cutting up into pieces. A simple plastic cup filled with hot water and a little soap will save you trips to and from the sink as you work your way down a kitchen counter or across fixtures in the bathroom, Dougherty says.

Adopt two time-management strategies. The first strategy is how often to clean. Instead of squeezing housekeeping into the weekend, spread the duties out during the week, she suggests. If you do a little each day, you'll have less to do all at one time.

Then, once a month, bite the bullet and do a more in-depth clean. "Everyone always wants to clean up a little bit, just surface clean," she says. "But once-a-month deeper cleaning minimizes the headache of having inconveniences like when the toaster oven is all gross."

The second strategy is about how you clean. "You don’t want to backtrack your footsteps," Dougherty says. Whether you're cleaning a bathroom vanity, scrubbing a kitchen counter or vacuuming a bedroom, "start in one corner and go in the same direction. Don’t go all over the place." As you're wiping down the counters, she says, do the cabinets on your way and it'll cut down on time, she says.

Ditto for dusting: If you're going to dust a room, dust up high, then dust down low, and work your way around the room in a circle. If the room is cluttered or full of toys, she recommends organizing each section as you dust so you’re not making two separate rotations through the room (once for dusting and again for organization).

Frankly, to me, all of this still sounds exhausting, though I know it's necessary judging by the dust-bunnies in my dining room and the crud collecting under my sofa. So I'll start with this easy (and cheap) suggestion from Gagne: Just throw open the windows. "You can’t beat good ol’ fresh air to move out the stagnant air from inside your house, especially after a long winter."

Angela Nelson ( @bostonangela ) is an exhausted mom of two young daughters and two old cats, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning digital editor with more than 15 years of experience delivering news and information to audiences worldwide.

A realist's guide to spring cleaning
Wipe lightbulbs? Wash doormats? My spring cleaning routine strays far from The Good Housekeeping Institute's unachievable checklist.