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I've always struggled to be tidy. I can quite easily close my eyes to clothes on the floor or dirty dishes collecting in the sink. As a child, my strategy for cleaning my room would be to use my arm like the front of a plough and shove everything under the bed. If it wouldn’t fit I’d find another place to hide it.
As I grew up I took these tidying tendencies, or lack thereof, with me. I would happily stuff something in a box and make it look neat rather than actually sorting through the contents. My clothes were a jumble in my closet rather than neat piles of shirts, jeans and socks. If I took a book off the shelf I wouldn’t care about putting it back I would just add it to the growing pile next to my bed.
During college, my brother rented a house with a friend that had been owned by a hoarder. The rent was really low, probably because the space that wasn’t filled up with clutter was really small. The hoarder had kept every matchbox they had ever used and had boxes of used light bulbs. Everything was sacred enough to store. I visited my brother there a couple of times and thought, “I never want to live in a house like this.”
It’s been more than 10 years since I visited my brother in that rented home but that house still haunts me (and him). Though I’ve reconciled with the fact that I’ll never have a perfectly tidy house, I’ve also created strategies for keeping my house clutter free. These days if I know someone is coming to visit I don’t have to wander through the house shoving things under beds or into closets.
If you’re a messy person like me, here are five tips for restoring order to your cluttered home.
1. Start with one small thing.
Don’t try and tidy your house in one full swoop. Select one small area, maybe the pile of books next to the bed or the overflowing draws in the entry way. Make a rule for yourself while sorting this area: if your hand touches something you have to make a decision about what to do with it. You can’t put it back down or leave it where it was.
2. Make a place for everything
I’ve found a key to keeping things tidy is to have place for everything. I usually make three piles when I’m clearing an area. The first one is stuff to throw away. I usually just place these things directly in a garbage bag or if there are a lot of recyclable things in the area I’ll have a couple of these bags, one for papers, one for plastic and sort the rubbish as I go.
Secondly, I have a pile or box of stuff that I can give away or sell. The rule with this is that I have to be able to give it away or sell it within a week. Otherwise all that happens is this stuff goes back in another closet or corner of the house. So if there are clothes for Goodwill I drop them off as soon as I’m done or list items to sell on eBay the same day.
Third, I’ll have a box for anything that needs to be relocated. If I’m clearing out a chest of draws and I discover books or stationary or any other item that doesn’t belong there, I’ll put it in the box. As soon as that area is cleared I’ll walk around the house with the box, putting all the items in their place. If anything is left in the box after that I’ll reevaluate and see if I should put the item in the trash or give it away.
3. Get rid of stuff
If you’re anything like me, a lot of your mess is the result of having too much stuff. One of the biggest steps forward I’ve made in becoming tidier this year is in clearing out a lot of the clutter I no longer need. If you need ideas of what to do the things you no longer use read this.
4. Commit to doing small things
I realized that if I do these three things: tidy the kitchen at night, make the bed in the morning and clear the sitting room each evening, then it is easier to keep the house tidy all week. To be honest, I don’t manage to do these every day but I’m getting better. On the days when I don’t succeed, I don’t beat myself up about it. I just remind myself that I am becoming a better housekeeper.
5. Keep at it
Finally, if you want to keep things under control, those of us who have a tendency at being messy have to keep at it. For me, this means if I see a pile of clutter accumulating, I clear it out then and there. If I touch something I put it away instead of adding it to a pile somewhere. And I’ve made a rule for myself that if I spot something out of place and know it’ll take me thirty seconds or less to tidy it or put it away, I must do it immediately.
I find that when my life feels out of control, my home tends to get messier. When my husband went through chemo, piles appeared all over the place and I tended to just shove things in draws or on shelves. I felt overwhelmed with life and my house revealed that. Eventually, a few months went by and I found the energy to start working through these strategies again. I didn’t give up and neither should you. Even if you feel overwhelmed by the mess, start with one small thing and trust that in time you’ll see the space you call home become tidier.
Wendy van Eyck is married to Xylon, who talks non-stop about cycling, and makes her laugh. She writes for anyone who has ever held a loved one’s hand through illness, ever believed in God despite hard circumstances or ever left on a spontaneous 2-week holiday through a foreign land with just a backpack. You can follow Wendy’s story and subscribe to receive her free ebook, “Life, life and more life” at ilovedevotionals.com. She would also love to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter.