How to fake a clean house – 5 drive-by decluttering tricks my mom taught me

Guests dropping by any minute? This is what to do

A white kitchen views through a black archway from a white living room
(Image credit: Johanna Lehmuskallio)

Picture the scene: my house is in disarray – not quite 'after-party' disarray, but lived-in messy. Every day untidiness is a normal, after all. 

But when you get a call or text from friends saying they'd love to pop by any minute, how do you fake a clean house? My mom isn't a neat freak by any means, but when this happens to her, she always does five specific things. 

And, of course, when I lived at home, I was expected to pitch in. So now I use these last-minute tidying and decluttering tips to help fake a 'clean' home of my own. 

From hiding clutter in cupboards to wiping down the whole house with multi-purpose spray, these tips aren't rocket science but they work like a dream.

1. Nominate a clutter hiding place in each room

Living room with coffee table and armchair

(Image credit: Athena Calderone for Crate&Barrel)

Every home has clutter, but not every home has clutter hiding places. My mom, and now I, purposefully bought a coffee table with drawers for our living room, which is where we stash the clutter that habitually builds up there. My mom calls it the 'drive-by declutter'.

This includes everything from half-read magazines and the TV remote to cell phone chargers (guilty). Nothing stays in the drawer once the guests have left, so it never gets too full for emergency use next time. 

I, like mom, have repeated this idea in the entryway, with baskets for shoes, and a closet with a basket in the bottom for everything else to be (temporarily) slung into, in the guest bath, with a vanity with drawer space, and in the kitchen, everything either goes into the dishwasher, where it was headed anyway, or is swept into a kitchen sink full of soapy water. 

Of course, guests never made it upstairs, so we let those rooms be.

2. Open windows, boost those reed diffusers

Refined seasonal decor, winter. Detail of amber glass bottles and wooden dishes in bathroom with lit candles

(Image credit: Dan Duchars)

My mom said she picked this up from a home stager, who told her that opening windows for just 10 minutes can make a stale room instantly fresher. My mom is always on the lookout for ways to make a home smell nice, and we always have a full stock of scented candles, and we'll light one in each room.

However, my mom's cleverest trick is to give our reed diffusers a shake, especially in the powder room. I find that a house that smells nice seems cleaner than one that isn't.  

3. Wipe down surfaces with a scented spray

Olive and Barr Shaker kitchen with a mix of dark and light countertops

(Image credit: Olive & Barr)

Our guests tend to spend most of their time in the kitchen. It's just where we gather, so wiping down the surfaces, even if the sink is full, is a must-do. We both tend to use a scented, natural homemade cleaning spray for this job. It does the task well, but, more importantly, doesn't leave a chemical smell behind that will clash with our candles. It's mild enough to use in the living room, too, just in case we gather there.

4. Put a pot of coffee on

best coffee maker De'Longhi All in One Combination Coffee Maker

(Image credit: De'Longhi)

We spend a lot of time testing out the best coffee makers at H&G, but this tip pre-dates my tenure here and is another tip my mom picked up from that homestager: put a pot of coffee on and anyone who comes into the home will instantly feel welcomed.

It's a good way to disguise any stale smells a lived-in home has, and I find roasted coffee aromas combine beautifully with my orange-scented diffusers. 

5. Flip and fluff those pillows

Blue room, blue velvet sofa, wooden round table

(Image credit: Natalia Miyar / The Twenty Two)

If guests are going to sit on them, you want your couches and armchairs to look welcoming rather than like the dog has slept on them for a week. My mom calls it the 'flip and fluff', meaning quickly turning all the cushions and pillows around, giving each a quick bash as you go. It's quick but effective.

Chiana Dickson
Junior Writer

Chiana is a junior writer for Homes & Gardens having joined Future plc as a new graduate in 2022 after achieving a 1st class degree in Literature at university. She first became interested in design as a child after spending her summers helping her parents redecorate her childhood home. As a long-time reader of Future’s homes titles, Chiana is constantly finding new inspiration at work as she focuses on emerging trends, how-to’s, and news pieces.