The Secrets To A Clean and Tidy Home

Note: Because I have so many friends with chronic illness and disability, including more than one on the autism spectrum, I refer often to “spoon theory” to describe energy expenditure for everyday tasks. You’ll see this reference throughout this blog.

Handle Each Item Once (And Only Once)

When I was growing up, my mother used to cook dinner, strewing empty boxes and cans and piles of potato peelings all over the kitchen counters, and only when dinner was done and it was time to clean up did she address the mess she had created. To be fair, she addressed her own mess, but it usually was a mess.

After she passed away untimely, my father’s approach took over the house. Was I done with that can or box? Into the recycling bin with it as soon as it was emptied. Potato peelings? While the food was cooking, stuff them down the garbage disposal. Didn’t use that dish? Put it away. Raw meat plate? Put it in the sink, or straight into the dishwasher if space and time allowed.

After I finished college and moved out on my own, I started with my mother’s approach, and gradually shifted to my father’s approach as I realized something. As you finish with each item, putting it where it belongs as you go simplifies final cleanup a lot, for little or no extra energy expenditure. Cleaning up the mess afterwards cost me a couple of spoons, because I was often looking at a fairly extensive mess. Doing it my dad’s way, I might spend one spoon for all the work together. I had more energy and time for my evening if I cleaned as I went.

The takeaway: Handling each item once and putting items away when finished with them is the most efficient way to maintain a tidy home or office.

Clear the Clutter

A cluttered home eats the mind. It really does. It’s irritating and visually distracting, and navigating through a home that has too much stuff in it chews through spoons like you wouldn’t believe.

The reality is that most Americans have way, way, way too much stuff. Our consumeristic society tells us we need X number of movies and DVD’s and piles of books and clothes and the latest gadgets from Amazon to be happy. I’m happy to report that in general, that isn’t true. Remember that the only things you can take to your grave with you are your memories and your conscience. You’re unlikely to lie on your deathbed wishing you’d had just one more video game.

There are a thousand resources on the Internet for how to clear the clutter from your home and workspaces. Half of them disagree with each other, and a good quarter of them think you should trash 90% of what you own. That’s taking it a bit far (humans are so good at taking things too far!), but paring down your belongings to what will fit inside your living space is a reasonable and advisable thing to do.

One concept that has taken hold recently is the concept of döstädning, or Swedish death cleaning. It sounds morbid, but it’s actually practical. Meant especially for older people, it’s about who will care for your belongings should something happen to you, and is it really fair to make them sort through that much stuff?

The rule that I use is: if it doesn’t serve a specific function, and it doesn’t make me smile, out it goes, or if I’m looking at what to buy, I don’t buy it.

The takeaway: Having too much stuff wastes your time and energy to no purpose. Consider paring down your belongings to what will fit neatly into your living space.

Break It Down Into Smaller Bites

If you’re faced with a chore list that is five miles long, you can expend a significant amount of energy on being overwhelmed and figuring out what to do first. Instead, break that big to-do list into days, so that you do two tasks on Monday, two on Tuesday, two on Wednesday, and so forth, so that instead of having ten or fifteen tasks on Saturday, you have only five or six, and you get a lot of your weekend back without losing all of your weekday evenings. For example:

  • Monday: Upstairs litterboxes (2), dinner dishes, clean kitchen, vacuum stairs. Total work time: 45m.
  • Tuesday: Main floor litter box, basement litter box, dinner dishes, clean kitchen, vacuum main floor. (I live in a townhouse, so any given floor isn’t very big.) Total work time: 1h.
  • Wednesday: Upstairs litterboxes (2), dinner dishes, clean kitchen, vacuum office and upstairs hall. Total work time: 45m.
  • Thursday: Main floor litter box, basement litter box, dinner dishes, clean kitchen, vacuum and straighten bedroom. Total work time: 1h.
  • Friday: Upstairs litterboxes (2), dinner dishes, clean kitchen. I tend to go out on Friday nights, so that’s it. Total work time: 30m.
  • Saturday: Clean downstairs powder room and sweep/mop kitchen and bathroom. These are usually my social run-around days, so that’s it unless I’m prepping to have people over. Total work time: 20m.
  • Sunday: These are my real work days. Towels get grabbed and tossed in the laundry pile. Laundry, all four litterboxes, clean the master bathroom, restock towels, clean the kitchen, straighten and vacuum living room, fold laundry and put away. Take the garbage to the curb. Total work time: 5h, though not all at once. I still have time to goof off some on Sundays usually.

The garbage and recycling goes to the back door as needed.

The takeaway is this: To keep a tidy house without losing your mind or your social life, do a little at a time every day.

And that, my friends, is how an unmarried woman with a full-time job takes care of a 1600 sqft townhome on her own and still has a social life. Am I Martha Stewart? No. 🙂 I keep my home at what I call a friends-clean level – I have better things to do with my life than keep my home company-clean all the time, and so do you, I bet.