I have a confession. I loathe clutter and am a little bit obsessive about it. My house may not get frequent deep cleanings; my baseboards get dusty and my children ensure my floors will always have a nice coating of crumbs. But I keep our physical belongings mostly organized and picked up.
I’m afraid some of our house guests may feel bad about their own homes when they see my house, but I don’t do it to impress company. I do it for my mental well being and because our home operates more smoothly when everything
is in its place.Take a glance at some of the Facebook memes floating around and it’s obvious that many women today have an embrace-the-mess philosophy. I’m mildly dismayed when I see memes proclaiming, “I’m not messy. I’m domestically challenged.” It’s great that we don’t have to obsess over housekeeping, but who really wants to live in
a house that qualifies for Hoarders?
Clutter happens for many reasons. Maybe both parents work and have no energy to keep the house tidy. Maybe families are busy shuttling kids to ballet and soccer games and don’t have time to focus on the house. Maybe it’s Americans’ love affair with shopping and acquiring material goods, and as a result we collect more stuff than we should. Or maybe we just haven’t been taught how to keep our homes tidy.
It doesn’t have to be like this, though. A little effort here and there, over time, will make a big difference. Here are a few reasons why I try to keep a tidy(er) house. Notice I didn’t say a tidy house. I’m not perfect!
1. Less physical clutter makes for less mental and emotional clutter. When my house is messy, it’s hard for me to think. I feel better prepared to face my day when my house is in order … or mostly in order.
2. Fewer material possessions mean less stuff to clean. This might be the best perk!
3. We’re almost always ready for unexpected company, or we can be ready in about 15 minutes. If I keep on top of dirty dishes, spend less than five minutes making the beds every morning, and do regular wipe-downs of the bathrooms, I don’t have to scramble to make the house look presentable if a neighbor suddenly drops by with an armful of Good Housekeeping magazines she’s read and wants to pass on.
4. I find things I need faster. This also means I spend less money buying more stuff because I can’t find the stuff I already own.
And, here are a few tips for keeping a tidy(er) house. My house is not spotless, and I don’t spend every waking moment picking things up. Nor should you. Most of these suggestions are small things that make a difference as you implement them over time:
1. Declutter continuously. I cannot emphasize how important this is. Messy houses often happen for one reason: their occupants have too much stuff. A good rule is that if you haven’t used an item in the past year, you should get rid of it. Your children’s toy collection is another good place to purge. Even if your children play with all their toys, they’d probably still thrive with less than what they currently have. There are various approaches to purging belongings. Some people tackle it one room at a time. Others set a timer for 10 minutes and collect all they can to toss, sell, or give away. I have a small unfinished storage room in my basement. Every time I come across an item my family no longer uses or needs, it goes into a box in the storage room. After a while, I have a collection of boxes and I have a garage sale with friends. Whatever doesn’t sell goes to Goodwill or to our church, which hosts clothing giveaways several times a year. If garage sales aren’t your thing, skip the sale and donate directly to a charity.
Be sure to keep on top of incoming mail, too. Most of what comes in is junk mail and can go straight to the recycling bin after quickly glancing through for any useful coupons. Set aside a place to file away all other important papers.
2. Clean up small messes throughout the day so they don’t grow into big messes. I like multitasking. I put away dry dishes while my mug of water for tea heats in the microwave every morning. I try to load the dishwasher in small batches after every meal rather than letting dirty plates and bowls accumulate on the counter all day. Sometimes I scrub the shower while I’m in there. I make my daughter’s bed while I’m waiting for my curling iron to heat up. I take five minutes at the end of the day, while my husband is supervising teeth-brushing, to swiftly go around and pick up the main living areas in our house so everything is reset for the next day. Rather than carrying toys, laundry, outgrown clothes, or other items down to the basement in multiple trips throughout the day, I make a small pile near the stairs and when it’s big enough I take everything down at once.
3. Have a place for everything, and keep things there after you’re done using them. Do your kids have shoe organizers in their rooms? Train them to put their shoes there. That takes a lot of persistence but
is worth it. Do you have shelves or bins for toys? Make sure they get put there after play time. When you bring home groceries, take a minute to put your reusable bags in the cabinet instead of leaving them on the counter, and hang up your coat. Immediately file away important papers rather than letting a pile grow on the counter.
4. Put the kids to work. I regularly make my daughters clean up the toys in the living room at the end of the day. When our basement playroom gets really messy, I send my oldest down to tidy it up. She loves to have company, so sometimes I’ll sit down there and chat with her or read a book while she puts things away, and it makes her job easier. It’s not hard for a 5-year-old and a toddler to toss plastic Little People and blocks in toy bins. I also have my 5-year-old put away her laundry and clear her own dishes from the table after meals. It
teaches valuable life skills, makes my life easier, and makes my house look a whole lot better.
The important thing is to get started. Even if you only manage to clear off your kitchen counter this week, baby steps are good. How about you, readers? Please, tell me I’m not the only one who refuses to let clutter take over. How do you keep the clutter monster at bay?
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