There are people who are just tidy by nature. Like my friend I went to Italy with when I was 18. We shared a room and were about to go to sleep after a long day when she suddenly announced that she couldn’t sleep because there was bird poop on the window. If I hadn’t told her to lie down and let me sleep she would’ve cleaned that window at 2 am. She obviously had this strong internal drive to clean and tidy up. Well, I sure as hell don’t have it. I might not be the messiest person on this planet but I’d consider myself to be on the messier end of the spectrum by nature. It’s not as bad when I live with other people but my messiness reaches its peak when I live by myself. Because I’m sometimes trying to adult though I educated myself to be reasonably tidy during the past year. And seriously – if I could do it you can do it too. I believe in you. Here are the steps I took:
1. Identify your messy behaviors
Try to watch yourself for a couple of days to find out which of your behaviors are particularly messy. You might, for instance, come home and just throw your jacket over a chair instead of hanging it up. Or you might leave a mess in the kitchen after cooking.
I personally used to take off my shoes on the bathroom floor and then leave them there so after a few days my bathroom floor would be full of shoes.
2. What keeps you from being tidy?
Now that you’ve identified your messy behaviors ask yourself: what would make it easier to be tidy in these situations?
Let’s stick with the jacket example: there might not be enough hangers for your jacket so hanging it up requires more energy than just flinging it somewhere. So your goal would be to make hanging up your jacket more attractive than throwing it over that chair. You could for example move the jackets you currently don’t need to another part of your house / apartment / closet to free some space. As soon as there’s some empty space along with some empty hangers near your door your desire to throw your jacket over the chair will decrease.
Maybe what keeps you from cleaning is the fact that you just don’t have the right equipment.
My floor always used to be dusty simply because I was using a really old and cheap vacuum cleaner I actually hated. I couldn’t find the right dust bags for it, I hated having to plug it in and I hated having to drag it around my apartment. As soon as I got aware that this was what kept me from vacuum cleaning I got a really powerful, bagless, cordless vacuum cleaner that makes cleaning so much more bearable. You might just have to make a conscious effort to identify and eliminate the source of the problem once and for all.
3. Don’t let it accumulate
You might already be aware that letting small messes accumulate is what leads to one big mess. But here’s how to prevent this from happening:
Rule no. 1: If it takes less than 2 minutes do it right away. You might have heard this one before and it is so true. Don’t let micro-messes accumulate that could be cleaned up in less than 2 minutes. This will soon become a habit, I promise!
Rule no. 2: Clean for 15 minutes every day. Set a timer on your phone and just use this time to tidy up wherever it’s most necessary. It’s just 15 minutes. No matter how un-fun it is you can handle this for 15 minutes, I’m sure.
Rule no. 3: Do a deep clean once a week. Ouch. Now this one sounds nasty, I know. But hey… what’s that? There’s almost nothing left to clean because we cleaned a little bit every day! When I think of a deep clean I think of spending an entire day slaving to make my space look somewhat presentable. I was surprised to discover I could actually do a deep clean of my entire apartment in about an hour by not letting messes accumulate in the first place.
Rule no. 4: If you have a dish washer you are a very lucky person (#lifegoals). For everyone else I can really only recommend to wash your dishes right after your meal just as if you were staying at a hostel where other people are waiting to use your pan. Yes, it is so easy to just indulge in some YouTube food coma after dinner but remember that dishes get harder and harder to clean the longer you let them dry. Don’t do this to yourself.
Rule no. 5: Don’t leave a mess behind. Let’s say you are spending the weekend somewhere else be sure to at least do the dishes, take the garbage out and let some fresh air in before you leave. Nobody wants to come home to a smelly place full of to dos.
4. Every item should have its place
Obviously it’s so much easier to put things back into their place if they actually have a designated place. Identify the items in your household that are notoriously lying around in places they are not supposed to be in. Ask yourself: do I actually need this item? If so, does it have a designated place? If not, invest a couple of minutes to find a place for this item that makes sense. Some items might actually have a place but it’s too impractical or hard to reach. Make sure you can grab items easily that you need often and to store away items you don’t need during your everyday life. Consider getting storage containers / hangers / drawers for things that are currently lying around. I recently added some hanging baskets to the inside of my kitchen cabinet doors. This is a great way to store small things like sponges, cleaning rags or plastic bags out of sight.
5. Clear your surfaces
For some people clear surfaces might look a little empty but keeping desks, tables, shelves etc clear is so useful if you’re struggling to keep your place tidy. If you make it a rule that a surface has to be completely clear you will instantly notice that something is wrong as soon as you put down a single item there. It will instantly start bothering you and you’ll want to remove it. If there are several things on a surface already it’s way too easy to just add more and more. What’s more, a clear surface is so much easier to wipe down. Having to remove a billion tiny items from a surface first will effectively keep you from cleaning that surface (see tip no. 2). If you do need or want to have several items on a surface place them on a tray or in a basket. That way you can easily remove all of the items at once when it’s time to wipe down the surface.
6. It is okay to cheat a little
Now you might be super motived to become and stay tidy but your place is such a huge hot mess that you simply can’t tackle it all at once and get demotivated before you’ve even started. I feel you. Let me tell you this: sometimes a less than optimal solution is better than no solution at all. I had a lot of random stuff lying around on my shelf that made the whole shelf and pretty much the whole room appear messy. So I simply got a couple of nice looking, matching opaque boxes for the shelf and threw the stuff in there. Yeah, the perfect solution in a perfect world would have been to go through all the items and decide where every single item should go (#freetimegoals). But with this less than perfect solution my shelf looked tidy within minutes and has stayed like that ever since. Seeing progress will help you stay motivated, even if you had to cheat a bit. It’s still better than not starting at all. Now I can go through the boxes one by one without getting overwhelmed by chaos anymore.
7. Tell people that they can come visit you any time
If this article is really for you this headline just made you cringe. Okay, maybe you don’t even care anymore and all hope is lost already. But if you’re like me expecting a visitor would be the one occasion that might actually get you to tidy up your place. Obviously people always had to tell me at least a couple of days in advance and inviting someone over spontaneously was a big no-no. But I got so sick of my own messiness at some point that keeping my apartment tidy enough to receive guests at any time even made it to my list of life goals. Make it your goal to keep your place tidy enough for other people to feel well there.
Now this is probably more of a long-term goal and the topic actually deserves an article of its own. Try to get rid of things you don’t need (anymore) or that don’t make you happy. Not everyone is or wants to be a minimalist but if it’s hard for you to keep your things in order, owning fewer things can help. There are heaps of tips and best practices out there to help you get started and you’ll soon notice that being tidy will get easier and easier.
You really don’t have to be one of these tidy-by-nature people to keep your place presentable. What’s important is that you get to know your weaker self and figure out how to trick them.
What are your hacks for keeping your place tidy? Please share them in the comments!