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How I Taught Myself to Be Tidy (in 3 Steps!)

How I Taught Myself to Be Tidy in 3 Steps // To Love and to Learn

Ask any person who has ever lived with me (especially my college roommates and/or my mother), and you will quickly learn that I was not exactly the cleanest person growing up (or throughout my college days). While I’ve always known HOW to tidy up and the importance of BEING tidy, I’ve just always had a really, really hard time making myself take the time and energy to do it. And just as soon as I finally would get the apartment under control (and would look around and revel in how wonderful it felt, vowing to never let it get bad again), before I knew it, life just kept happening and we were back to a semi-disaster zone less than 48 hours later.

However, I have been noticing (happily) that over the last couple years, I’ve made some  huge strides in this area—whereas before, if you dropped by unannounced, I had about a 90% chance of being embarrassed by the state of my home; if you dropped by now, I only have about a 30% chance of being embarrassed by the state of my home (and the state of my home tends to not even come close to what it was before, so the embarrassment wouldn’t be as great anyway).

Being a person that naturally trends towards clutter and letting things pile up and putting off cleaning the bathroom/kitchen sinks/dusty dressers as long as possible, I have had to work very hard against my natural tendencies, but become tidy(ish) I have–

And here’s how.

***Note: all pics were taken in the kitchen of our new house, which I  hadn’t really posted about up until this point (and which may or may not get its own post as part of my house series).
***Second Note: below are some affiliate links, which means that I get a small percentage of the sale if you end up purchasing any of the books (at no extra cost to you). However you end up getting your hands on these books, though, they come highly recommended by me!
How I Taught Myself to Be Tidy in 3 Steps // To Love and to Learn

How I Taught Myself to Be Tidy in 3 Steps

Step One—Get rid of stuff. A LOT of stuff.

Perhaps some people (like my mother) are able to own and manage and organize a LOT of stuff (so that it sneakily never really looks like a lot of stuff).

I am not one of those people.

In fact, it took me getting rid of probably about half of my possessions over the past four years for me to realize that the less stuff I have, the less stuff I have to pick up, and the less stuff I have to pick up, the easier it is to be tidy pretty much 90% of the time.

Three books that really helped me to systematically attack all the clutter in my house:

Organize Now! by Jennifer Ford Berry

I owe a lot to this book, as it was what inspired me to do my life-changing 50 Weeks to Organized project. The book is broken down into week-by-week to-do lists focusing on different areas of your life, so it was really easy just to tackle each checklist one week at a time until I had basically gone through the whole house.

The Joy of Less by Francine Jay

While Organize Now! gave me specific checklists per week that helped me get my organization mojo going, The Joy of Less helped me when I went through my whole apartment AFTER my 50 Weeks to Organized project was over. Reading this book helped me weed out even more things to get rid of, as it details very specific items and categories of things throughout your home and has very specific questions you can ask yourself while dealing with those things.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

This book has a massive cult following, and I imagine most people have heard of it, so I won’t say too much here. Basically, though I don’t follow all of “The Kondo method,” this book gave me some really good mental frameworks to keep in mind from hereon out when it comes to acquiring, storing, and getting rid of stuff, namely—does the item bring me joy? Is the item useful? If not, don’t own it.

How I Taught Myself to Be Tidy in 3 Steps // To Love and to Learn

Step Two—Create organizing systems and routines that work with your actual life, not your fantasy life.

Once I had gotten rid of so much stuff, it was naturally easier to keep a tidier place, but I still noticed that certain parts of the apartment/house kept rearing their cluttery heads at me—the kitchen, any surface where mail or papers or other random stuff was likely to pile up, and the front room/living area (mostly with toys and picture books).

One enormously helpful tip I gleaned from Organize Now! was to make a list, before organizing a room, of all the functions of that particular room. The first time I did this was for our front/living room, and listing out all the functions of the room made me see some glaring areas in my organization.

Example: we used to always use our laptop in our front room, but there was no place to really keep it or store it, so it was just always in the room in various places (like on top of the piano bench or in the middle of the couch), cluttering things up. The ideal me wanted us to put it back in its bag after every use and tuck that bag neatly into a closet, but since I am far from the ideal me, that almost never, ever happened. So I outsmarted our tendency–-I had Matt build a simple wood table just for the laptop where it could live (but that still looked intentional and like it was part of the room), so the laptop always had a place and it no longer looked like clutter.

Recently, in our new home, I had to apply the same principle (once again in the front room). Since the living room is the first room you see when you walk in our front door, I wanted it to be inviting yet clutter-free, and I had intended just to do a cool antique side table by our couch, which I could put a large potted plant on and call it good. The problem was, that’s the room where we do the bedtime routine with Raven (and the morning routine), which always includes reading books together. Therefore, we just had books everywhere in the front room (rather than in the toy room downstairs or in her bedroom, where I’d originally wanted them). So, rather than try to fight our natural inclination, I simply moved the white cube bookshelf from Raven’s room into the front room, and we now keep the picture books out there. It’s maybe not my “ideal,” but it also means that the books are REALLY easy to tidy up because there’s a place for them right by where we actually use them.

As part of this step (and implied above), you need to make sure that everything in your house actually has a set place where it goes. If it doesn’t, it becomes clutter and remains clutter, because no one knows where to put it. So designate a spot for EVERYTHING, and designate a spot that works with your natural tendencies. For example, I have always been TERRIBLE at putting my shoes away and tend to leave them right by the door (which is where I most want them to be so I can put them on quickly and just go), so I’ve commissioned Matt to build me a bench with little shelves underneath it so I can always have a place for my shoes that’s where they’re going to be anyway.

Other tips in this step:

  • Go through the mail immediately, rather than just throwing it on the nearest flat surface as you walk in your house. I keep my recycling bin right in our garage by our kitchen door (which is the door I always enter after checking the mail), so that I can immediately recycle what needs to junked, and then I deal with the rest immediately.
  • Designate a specific day for laundry. I can be a little bit irregular on this one sometimes, but for the most part, I do laundry once a week and just do ALL the loads on that day, as well as fold all the loads. When I actually stick with doing this, it’s amazing how much it helps to keep our home tidy.
  • Make your bed every morning. It really does make a difference, in so many ways.
  • If you can, unload your dishwasher first thing every morning so that you can fill it throughout the day and then start through a load every night. That way, you’re not endlessly wondering if the dishes therein are clean or dirty, and you can load dishes in as you eat meals through the day, which severely cuts down on the overwhelm that the dishes can quickly cause.

A book that REALLY helped me with coming up with systems is How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind, which I talked about extensively in this post.

How I Taught Myself to Be Tidy in 3 Steps // To Love and to Learn

Step Three—Know some mental tricks to employ on yourself when you need motivation to clean and tidy up (aka, on a daily basis).

As I’ve said at least five times in this post so far, I am not naturally tidy, nor do I take pleasure in doing household chores. (In fact, I even told my (horrified) mother that on any given day, I prioritize reading over cleaning the house.) Thus, I regularly MUST employ mental trickery to get myself to get off my bum and go tidy up.

I’ve actually written a whole post on this subject already (called 19 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Clean the House), but since writing that a few years back, I’ve developed a few more tricks up my sleeve:

*Clean rooms in a clockwise or counter-clockwise way. Often, my biggest hurtle to organization is focus–if I’m constantly getting sidetracked (which I inevitably am), everything only gets half-done, which isn’t much of an improvement, but if I systematically clean everything in one area of a room before moving onto the area right next to it, working my way around the room, then the room (or even sections of the room) REALLY get clean, which makes a huge difference. Of course, I almost NEVER tell myself that I’m going to clean a whole room (because that just intimidates me enough that I’ll never start), so I just tell myself that I’m going to start in this one corner and work my way around until something else comes up. (Spoiler: I usually clean the whole room, or most of it, anyway. But it just makes it easier knowing I have an escape route, somehow.)

*Employ the “just pick up 10 things” mantra. Whenever I want to go and relax or work on something else rather than clean (which is always), I tell myself (and often ask Matt to join me) to “Just pick up 10 things” before we go do whatever thing we’re wanting to do. We almost always end up picking up more, but even if we each pick up just ten things and put them away, that’s still 20 more things that are out of the clutter line of sight.

*Expand the “just do this one thing” mantra further and tell yourself—I don’t have to do ALL the dishes; I’m just going to load the plates/silverware/bowls–or–Since I don’t want to get out all the bathroom cleaning supplies, I’ll just use this toilet paper to wipe up the area around the sink and pick up the hairballs that have collected around the floor’s corners. (Once again, usually more gets done after starting, but at the very least, even doing just that one thing will make it better than before).

*If you’re motivated by lists, make sure to put chores on your weekly or daily to-do list. For quite awhile now, I’ve been making a weekly to-do list every Sunday night for the coming week, and I STILL put on such tasks as “do all laundry/fold all laundry” or “do all dishes every night before bed” (with 7 boxes to check after it) to give myself extra motivation and accountability.

What are your best tricks for staying tidy?


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