We all fight with clutter. There are various types- clutter left over from cooking a meal, clutter that piles up after school and work every day on the kitchen table, clutter that the kids leave behind when they’re playing, and the clutter that falls in the morning when you’re trying to get everyone out the door. There’s weekend clutter and weeknight clutter, the kind that shows up suddenly, and the kind that builds up over time.
You may notice that it congregates in certain areas, and that clutter breeds more clutter- here’s an example:
Let’s say that there’s nothing sitting on the island in the kitchen, or maybe only something simple that’s supposed to be there- say, a flower sitting in a cup of water in the middle of the clean surface. It looks nice, right?
Then let’s say that there’s a few things sitting there- say, an empty sippy cup, two lids from bottles of tea, bananas to take to day care the next morning, and a random tomato. While it’s not at all messy, there’s stuff there.
Now let’s say you have a dish in your hand and you’re in a hurry. If you see the second picture, are you going to even hesitate to set it down there and move along? Probably not. But if you see the first picture… well, I’d say most of us would be more likely to take an extra ten seconds and put the dish in the dishwasher.
Clutter breeds clutter. So what can we do to move towards a neater house? I’m not saying things should be pristine or perfect- I’m just saying, there are habits you can develop which, when practiced as consistently as time allows, help keep things neat. Probably there are more, but here are my main three.
1. Never move about empty-handed.
If you’re going downstairs to feed the dog, take just a moment and grab that sippy cup sitting on the floor that the toddler left. If you’re going to the bathroom, grab the new bottle of Tylenol sitting on the table from the recent grocery trip. If you’re done eating and are going upstairs, grab any dirty towels or cloth napkins sitting around to drop into the laundry basket. It really takes no extra time, and even though I keep a pretty neat house, there is ALWAYS something I can take from wherever I am that belongs wherever I am going.
(Also, not only should you use your motion to maximum efficiency, use your time. If you have something in the microwave for one minute, you can do a lot in that minute. Even with a mostly-clean kitchen, open the fridge and get rid of anything that’s gone bad. Go into the tupperware cupboard and get rid of lids that don’t go with anything.)
2. If it’s going to take two minutes or less, JUST DO IT NOW.
Don’t save things up. They’ll never get done, or they’ll breed lots more clutter before they do. You don’t have to wait to take something when you’re going somewhere, you can just do it. It’s always worth it, when a lightbulb burns out, to change it immediately- by the time you’ve put it on your to-do list and reminded yourself five times, you’ve wasted twice the amount of time it would take to just do it then. (This is even true if it’s high up. It’s less effort for me to get a chair and change the bulb than it is to bug my husband into doing it for me.) When things aren’t done that should be, they nag at you, and you lose mental energy thinking about them, and you’d have to do them anyway. So when you see the hairball of dog fur under the highchair, just SWEEP IT NOW- don’t wait for the rest of the floor to be dirty.
3. Always do one extra thing, when you can.
When you go to put away some socks, grab out that pair you see with a hole and pitch them. When the kids knock over a stack of puzzles and you see pieces that don’t go with anything, sort them out while you’re helping clean up. And when you’re putting away the dinner dishes, also put away the dry goods on the counter you’ve been meaning to put away for a few days. Again, not much extra effort, but over time it has a cumulative effect. (This also coordinates nicely with Habit 1- when I put away laundry, after each trip to the dresser, I grab an item that I see sitting on the floor and I put it away on my way back to the dryer.)
There you have it. Decluttering, tidying habits that make up for the mornings when you have no choice but to leave pajamas on the floor in order to get out of the house with your sanity intact. Get into these habits, and you won’t have to take a lot of time to put things away- it will just happen as you go about your daily business. Get your significant other and/or kids into these habits as well, and you may someday achieve a house that looks like a page in a catalogue.
(I will pause, or perhaps end, this post, while we all recover from the hilarity of the concept of teaching our toddlers to tidy up like this. Maybe when they’re older? If you have older kids, please report back, because I have no clue- yet- of what they may be capable of.)