A few tasks a day keep the cleaning at bay.
The best way to keep a house clean, I've realized, is to fend off encroaching messes every single day. I do this by following a few basic rules that make the job much easier and prevent the house from reaching disastrous levels of chaos. Family members are aware of these rules and are expected to help out whenever possible. Of course, it doesn't always go according to plan, but it does help a lot.
1. Take your shoes off.Simple and effective: Shoes stay in the mudroom so that dirt, sand, and bacteria (and formerly chicken poop) don't get tracked into the house. We all have slippers or other indoor footwear to wear inside, or we just go in socks, which isn't nearly as icky as it would be if shoes were also allowed in the house. Read more: 6 reasons to remove your shoes inside
2. Be ready for laundry.
Don't start a load of laundry unless you're able to see it through to the end. That means hanging out to dry or putting in the dryer, folding, and putting away.
3. Swap out dishcloths and tea towels regularly.
You know that awful smell from a dishcloth that's been used far too long? It stinks up the sink and makes your hand reek, and who knows what it's doing the dishes and counters that it's supposed to be cleaning. Because of this, I have a 2-day max rule. After that, all dishcloths go in the laundry, along with tea towels. It's a small switch that makes a big mental difference for me.
4. Store leftovers in see-through containers.
It is much harder to lose food in the back of the fridge if you see it whenever you open the door. Not only will you save time and money by eating leftovers, but you'll avoid those icky, mega fridge clean-outs driven by a need to find the source of a horrible smell. Read: 7 ways to eat more leftovers
5. Empty the dishwasher immediately.
The dishwasher is for cleaning dirty dishes, not storing clean ones. This is a good chore for kids; the first thing mine have to do each morning is empty the dishwasher so it's ready for the breakfast load, and it makes all the difference in the world.
6. Tackle paper clutter as it enters.
It is astonishing how much paper kids bring home from school. I've had to develop a system for coping with it immediately, or else we'd drown in it. I immediately sort and recycle anything that's not necessary, fill out forms and return them to kids' backpacks, and put temporarily-important notifications in the fridge. (This gets cleaned off weekly.)
7. Everything has its place.
Designate a proper spot for every item in your home or else you'll be waging endless battles against them. This also makes it easier to find things when you need them.
8. Make your bed.
It's such a small task that gives a real and immediate sense of accomplishment. It sets the tone for the rest of the day and gives you something to look forward to at bedtime because, seriously, nothing beats climbing into a neatly made bed.
9. Never leave dishes overnight.
It's stinky, ugly, unhygienic, and dare I say lazy? You won't feel any more eager to do dishes in the morning when you're trying to get out the door to work and competing for kitchen space with other family members, so make a promise to yourself to get it done right after dinner. Every. Single. Night.
10. Do a biannual purge of each room.
Do it more often if you can, but I think a spring/fall purge is the most realistic schedule for busy people. This is when you take a half-day, sit down and go through everything, packing it into the usual three categories of keep, donate, and toss. You will feel so much lighter when it's done, and cleaning will be easier too.