Ten years ago, this was a common phrase out of my mouth. I didn’t notice anyone in my peer group with a home in the same shape as mine. I didn’t really understand how to maintain a clean house and after failing at it for the last ten years I felt like a complete idiot.
I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me that I simply wasn’t able to keep up with housework.
I’m here to tell you that you are not alone and there is hope for change.
Ten years ago, the house was filled with clutter, we were bursting at the seams. I didn’t believe that surfaces, like coffee tables and the tops of the entertainment center or piano could ever stay clear. When people would talk about decluttering their catch-all area, I thought “What do you do when every area is a catch-all area??”
It took me 3 days to prepare for company coming over. And by prepare, I mean: take all the stuff from those catch-all areas and pile them in my bedroom or the basement.
Then I would take care of the noticeable things- vacuum, dust, scrub the stove top…
After the visitor’s left all the things from the bedroom and basement would creep back out and fill all the surfaces again.
Fast forward to today
I live in a minimal home, I have a simple cleaning routine that happens throughout the day without me thinking about it and each Saturday the entire house gets a once-over with very little effort on my part.
First off: my thoughts about it.
I had built these tasks up so big in my mind, I had this belief that to keep a tidy home I would have to be cleaning and putting things away every waking hour. I thought I would never have time to be creative, I would never have time to play games with my kids and I would be utterly exhausted from it all.
I also felt alone in the task. No one cared to do it with me, the kids certainly wouldn’t be paying attention to what needed to be done and my husband didn’t seem to be bothered by any of it.
Then a mentor said to me:
If it’s important to you, then you are the one that needs to take the action to change it.
Talk about an aha moment! She was right. My husband and kids didn’t care at all, they didn’t notice it, it wasn’t affecting them, why should I expect them to do something if they didn’t even see it needed to be done?
Shift what you focus on
I hated cleaning. When I did clean, I would say to myself “I hate cleaning. I hate laundry. This is stupid, I just keep doing it over and over and there is no point. I never have help. Etc. Etc.”
Instead, focus on how cleaning benefits you:
“I love having a clean house. Having these things done means I’m free to do whatever else I want. I love having clean laundry and having it all put away. I love having the dishes done. I love having an empty sink. I love walking into my bedroom and seeing the bed made. I inviting people in when they stop by. I love being free to accept invites from others.”
Build a routine
All my “clean” friends didn’t relate if I tried to talk to them. I would ask about doing the dishes and they would say “You just do it because it needs to be done.”
That didn’t work for me. If I saw that they needed to be done, I would promptly talk myself out of doing them.
But I needed something to change! So I used a chart and decided to get the dishes done after breakfast and after dinner every day.
The first couple days were good and kitchen looked pretty, but then it got monotonous and I lost my motivation. But I still had my chart and I wanted to keep those checkmarks consistent, so I did it. Not perfectly, but seeing a chain of checkmarks keeps me on tasks.
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Get rid of clutter
Building a routine and getting rid of clutter are the two most important points of this post. You can’t have a clean house without both of these in place.
You have to have a routine or rhythm to complete the daily maintenance. When the daily maintenance is taken care of, the rest of life and the rest of the house seems in control. If you skip the daily cleaning and just get rid of stuff- all the daily household things will pile up and become overwhelming and it will be a flip-flop between decluttering and cleaning.
What we’re trying to achieve is a balance of both cleaning and decluttering.
Focused energy is important with decluttering. Don’t be tempted to flit around from one pile to another, tossing random pieces of junk.
Instead: commit to one room. Each day, sort through one area: one drawer, one shelf, one pile. Follow it through to completion (in order to do that, make sure the area or pile you pick is small enough to complete the sorting in 10-15 minutes).
If you don’t focus your energy on one room, it will be spread out over the whole house and regardless of how much back and forth and running around you did, it won’t feel like you got anything accomplished. When you have a specific area of focus, you see results every day and it’s motivating.