Keeping your home clean is difficult. It’s also life-changing. A clean home allows for a clearer mind, a more organized life, less stress, less looking for stuff you lost, less tripping over crap at 3 a.m. and a day to day life that just generally flows more easily. But keeping your space clean is hard. Many of us were never taught how to keep our room clean, and that translated to us being unsure of how to keep our homes clean. Exactly what works when it comes to keeping your home clean will vary a bit from person to person and lifestyle to lifestyle, but there are a few key principles that everyone can apply to their lives in order to start down the path to keeping your home clean.
For my entire childhood, I had a messy room. Like, really messy. Like, there was a path from my door to my bed, but only if you knew exactly where to step in between the mountains of stuff. Today, I really couldn’t even tell you what made up the bulk of the mess. Probably like, toys when I was little? And maybe clothes as I got older? I have no idea. The point is, my room was always messy. Nothing got put away, nothing got cleaned, it rarely got vacuumed, it was dusty and probably pretty gross.
My parents constantly tried to get me to clean. I’d either do nothing, or make a bit of a dent in a corner, which would take all afternoon, and my mom would deem that “good enough for today”, but then I wouldn’t pick up where I had left off the next day, so my room stayed messy. I thought I liked it like that. I knew were everything was, after all. I didn’t have to bother cleaning up, which I hated anyway. So messy was fine with me. Until it wasn’t.
Having visitors at our house stressed my mom out for a number of reasons, so during my childhood, we generally just avoided it. I wasn’t, and I’m still not, a very social person, so on the rare occasions that I wanted to hang out with someone, either I’d go to their house, or we’d go to the mall or wherever else 16 year olds hang out.
But then I found myself in college. Freshman year, I ended up in a coveted “dingle”, aka a double room meant for two people, but occupied, for some reason or another, by only one. I loved it. I love alone time, I liked having all that space to myself, and it was great for having friends over, which meant I’d often host the pre-gaming sessions in my room on Friday and Saturday nights. Then suddenly, my messy lifestyle didn’t fly anymore. Everyone’s favorite, the “clothes chair” took up one seat, and if I left my books and notes and laptop on my bed, that took up even more potential seating. Leaving crap all over my desks and dressers left little space for mixing drinks. So I had to suck it up and clean.
I wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t have Friday classes that year, so typically, I’d wake up late on Fridays, spend much of the day doing nothing, and then panic-clean my room right before dinner. I threw clothes in drawers, stacked up all my notes and put them in one neat pile, took out the trash, really just the basics. To be honest, I’m pretty sure I never once vacuumed or in any other way cleaned my floor that year. I also only wiped off flat surfaces if something got spilled on them, and even then it typically took a day or two before I’d get around to wiping it up. I was gross. I was very gross for a very long time.
There are TONS of people out there who can teach you how to clean and organize your space better than I can. What I will do though, is tell you that those people are right. Likely, one of their methods will work for you, but we are all going to tell you the same thing. Own. Less. Stuff.
My grandparents grew up during the Depression and instilled in my parents, who then taught me, that getting rid of things is wasteful. That sentiment is common. It’s also common to hold on to items because they make you feel safe or loved or like getting rid of them will somehow lower your quality of life. And yes, I fully understand that being able to massively downsize the amount of belongings you have comes from a place of privilege, and most people can’t just get rid of stuff, only to buy a new one if they end up needing it. There are many reasons why we are the way we are, but that doesn’t change the fact that in the end, it’s easier to keep your space clean if you have less stuff, rather than more stuff. The less stuff you have, the less effort it is to find a home for everything, and put everything in its home. The easier it is to put everything in its home, the more likely you are to do it. This is about making your space easy to keep clean, because no one wants to or has time to spend an hour a day battling clutter.
To keep a clean and organized home, I’ve found there are two things you need to do. 1. Own less stuff and 2. Do frequent “tiny cleans”.
Own Less Stuff
Probably the biggest secret (or not so secret) to organization is not owning so much stuff. There are many methods out there for how to get rid of things. The Konmari method is popular right now, and definitely helped me, but it isn’t the only method of getting rid of things. I’m not going to tell you how to do this, just that it is important. If you own too much stuff, it is impossible to keep it all organized. Research, determine a method that sounds good to you, and get it done.
I will tell you though, be ruthless. Throughout my life, I’ve tried to downsize my wardrobe countless times. I’d go through, pick out five or ten shirts that I didn’t like, donate them, and stop there. For some reason, I was worried that I was going to miss the clothes I got rid of. When I finally decided (inspired by the dear Marie Kondo), to get rid of any clothes that I didn’t absolutely love to the moon and back, I came out the other side with a manageable amount of clothes. This happened a whopping six months ago. I’m on the same journey you’re on. Turns out, I haven’t missed anything I had gotten rid of. I couldn’t even tell you what I got rid of. Now that it’s gone though, I feel so much freer, and my clothes actually fit in my closet easily, and they all get worn regularly. Getting rid of things isn’t nearly as bad as you think it will be. It might sting for a second as you say goodbye, but after that, you’ll feel so much lighter.
In tandem with getting rid of things, buy less stuff! After paring down my clothes this past summer, I can count how many articles of clothing I’ve bought since then on one hand. One of the items, a new bathing suit, actually replaced two old suits that I didn’t really like or wear anymore. That said, I still find myself looking at clothes in stores (ehm, Target), fairly often. When I do, I take a moment to really consider if I will wear this thing, and wear it often. Do I truly love this item? Or is it actually see through? Would it be better with pockets? I haven’t bought any dresses or pants without pockets recently, and I don’t ever plan to again. Usually, I’ll decide that this thing I was immediately so in love with isn’t something I would really wear. I let the deal breakers be deal breakers. Cutting back on how much you buy is just as important, if not more important, than getting rid of things that you own but don’t need. Be mindful of what you’re bringing into your home. Your home is a sacred space, and anything that you don’t genuinely love is not welcome.
Clean things, and do it consistently.
I’m sure people have been telling you for years not to clean in marathons. That you should be picking up a few items every time you leave the room and taking them to wherever they actually live. And every time you read this, you think, “I can’t do that. That isn’t realistic and couldn’t possibly keep my home clean”. I know. I know, I know, I know. I thought the same thing. That is, until I found myself doing just that. In all of my MANY attempts to clean up my act (pun intended, sorry), the one tactic that I found myself using, and that actually keeps my home (mostly) clean, is cleaning just a tiny bit at a time. Or, “tiny cleans”, since it makes them sound cute and less like a chore. It has taken me YEARS to build this habit, and I am definitely still working on it. If my mental health slumps, or I get busy, or I stop caring for a day or five, things get messy. But within a couple weeks, I’ll notice the toll that the mess takes on my mental health, and get my act back together. It’s a battle, but I’m finally winning it. Doing little bits of cleaning on a regular basis will keep your home clean. Yes, really.
A typical week for me, at least when I’ve got it together (so about 70% of the time), starts with the biggest chunk of chores happening on the weekend. I’ll do laundry, usually one or two loads, which is a much better schedule than the bimonthly ten loads that my mom did while I was growing up. I’ll also clean up the floor beside my bed, which typically has some snacks, a dirty plate or four, and a bunch of socks that I kicked off once I got into bed. Every other weekend or so, I clean my bathroom.
Throughout the week, my boyfriend and I both put (most of) our dishes directly into the dishwasher when we’re done with them, which gets run whenever it’s full, and we do the dishes that need done by hand every other day or so. The counters get wiped down whenever we remember. All of that together takes me no more than ten minutes every day. Aside from that, I have no specified daily chores, but instead I’ll put one or two items away as I notice them out of place, wipe down a dusty surface when I see it, and put away whatever I’m using after I’ve finished using it. Basically, follow the 5 Minute Rule. On Mondays and Fridays, our beloved Roomba, DJ Dave, vacuums the apartment. If you truly hate a chore, there’s no shame in outsourcing it, either to a person or a robot. All in all, keeping my apartment clean takes maybe 15-20 minutes of my time each day during the week, and 30-45 minutes each on Saturday and Sunday. It’s never done in marathons, and it’s rare that I do more than 15 minutes of cleaning at once.
Take it from someone who struggled with it for years, and still has a hard time sometimes, that all those “clean people” out there really are right. Own less stuff; clean a bit at a time. That really is all it takes. Getting there the first time can be a massive struggle, and maintaining the habit certainly isn’t easy, but it is definitely worth it. Go out and find someone with more experience than me, and know that when they tell you to own less, and clean in small spurts, they are right. From someone who has been where you are and has not found this journey easy, they are right.