I Can’t Keep my House Clean, What’s Wrong with Me?!
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.
Thank you for this. Other people dont get it, even I did not grasp the struggle, because it was a slow, downward spiral. Getting help is hard, esp. if you have work, illness, legal and other stresses compounding your challenge to “keep up with it all” with kids. Starting with baby steps is necessary, for many of us “coming back” from being buried/overwhelmed. Having a focus is such a key point. For me, a room is too big – but a drawer, single hall closet or small dresser is a good start – to remove and reduce what’s hiding, so what we are using, what’s sitting on the floor, waiting to go in, can go in!
Thanks for sharing Cathy! And that’s a great point- focus as small as you need to.
Oh my goodness! That is absolutely me! I’ve been working on the 2018 in 2018 but lose my way so time for a refocus. Thanks so much.
Life can get busy for sure. Rachel I love your website and always appreciate your insights. The clutter has become mentally debilitating for me over the last few years, especially as an OCD neat freak kid. Life just got way out of control, work, illness, child. I’m on the other side of all that now and feel so fortunate that your site can mentor me through the emotional as well as the obvious clutter. I’m at 808 items checked off on my 2018 decluttering chart and making slow and steady progress. I’ve also had a friend join in with doing her own chart (she is now at 1,300) and my folks (at almost 500) Every one is at at different place on their journey and supporting one another is paramount. One thing I am really proud of myself for is the change of preconceived value I placed on ‘things’. My mindset is slowly shifting back to a healthy place and over this past year I have become far more conscious of my choices. Blessings to all you do Rachel! Thank you just can’t convey the depth of my gratitude for being part of this journey I have embarked on.
Oh Meeghan, that’s so wonderful! ❤️ Thank you for sharing, and for the encouragement! ☺️
I have really bad depression and it is really hard for me to clean or do anything at times.
Thank you so much. I have a breastfed baby, my last big age gap between last two and all she wants is my attention and I just want to cuddle her and nothing seems to ever get done because I make it huge in my head so I put it off and then it gets bigger and bigger.
Hi, thank you for posting this. I feel very embarrassed that my house has clutter and is not clean like my friends’ houses are. I cannot ever have anyone just “drop by” and I need to have advance notice before having any company. And then I stress about getting the house in order. I also feel that there is no excuse as I have no kids, but I have 2 dogs and a cat. I have never really got to enjoy my house and I don’t like that feeling. I was also thinking about hiring someone to do a good deep cleaning, but I’m again embarrassed to have even someone come to do that! I do not enjoy cleaning because I feel so overwhelmed.
Thank you again and any advice would be helpful.
I’m sorry Maria! Please remember that you are not the only one. If you ask anyone that has to go into people’s houses- plumbers, etc. they will tell you that most people don’t have clean and orderly homes. So if you decide to hire someone to help, remember, your house will not be the worst they’ve ever seen. And they will know how to help, it’s their job and they are compassionate. Someone that specializes in decluttering and organizing can help you develop systems. That’s all it is, some of us need help figuring out the systems. You are not alone. (((Hugs)))
Same thing here, Pet hair, dust and piles of clothes. Messy wardrobe and drawers.
It’s slowly killing me
Hi my name is Sarah mum of three struggling so much to keep my house clean its so bad it’s an really embarrassed its bit of both dirty and just stuff everywhere its mostly toys clothes partner is a man of many trade s so has many project and often brings inside which is tools etc.. And never puts away and that crates mess and not to mention the crease I try say outside or kitchen only and put away but never happens the kids are really bad there room’s are bad food toys and my two have adhd and start one task and start another are distritive and think nothing of it and it’s a horrible time of pleading and fighting screaming them for them to help and ask why and why live in it but I know i no better piles on clothes draws and mantal full of crap and stuff its messy not a good look or example for them it really is depressing I literally get no help and when I ask it’s all my mess apparently I know I am to blame as well I know I make excuses and pretend it’s not there I need to find the cleaning bug for my self and kids I want them to be proud and me and not worry about the mess and not worry about being judged and not hiding why people can come over I seriously need to change and find energy am a full time mum no excuse
Sarah, I’m sorry. I’ve been there. My best advice, what helped me the most is in this article. Start with just doing the dishes in the morning and in the evening. And when you feel motivated to declutter- work on one room. I think the kitchen is easiest, but decluttering toys also makes a big difference.
It starts with little steps. Just focus on one thing at a time, don’t think “I have to clean the entire kitchen.” Just think “I just need to do one load of dishes.”
You can do this. ❤️
What you basically just wrote is do it all yourself and don’t expect your husband or children to help because it doesn’t bother them. I don’t care if it doesn’t bother them! Some of the mess is their mess and they should care about your happiness and it bothers you, hence taking from your happiness. This is no way to raise children. They should be expected to and learn how to help around the house and they should see their father doing the same. Running a house is not a mother’s chore alone.
For the rest of this, maybe I just suck extra, but it doesn’t work. I pick one spot to clean, I clean it and move on to the next spot and you can bet that first spot it a disaster before I can finish the next area. Between four destructive kids, a destructive dog, two cats and a full time working husband nothing ever stays clean no matter how hard I try and I’m just a little bit tired of reading and being told, “take it one area at a time”. I’m truly at the end of my sanity! And my baby just threw up all over the carpet chocking on a small piece of cardboard the dog ripped up earlier. No joke.
I just came across this post because I am the clean one but my partner is driving me insane with his mess – he literally will leave anything, anywhere. Including rubbish (gladly not smelly rubbish, but all paper/plastic/cardboard). I have tried the “let´s learn how to organise, Ive helped him organise, I even bought furniture that would help as a storage solution. And no, he doesnt know where everything is because when he needs something hell just go looking for my stuff because “he know’s where I keep it” (for example my crafting scissors). I am starting to think that I should just give up – and play his “game” and be messier than him. Literally not put away one piece of clothes in my wardrobe or put away to wash my mugs of coffee or tea. It is lockdown/pandemic time so Im guessing I can survive with this hysteria… and see how he´ll feel with it. Is this my solution? Or what do you suggest? I´m exausted and I feel its unfair that I do all the cleaning up…
I’m sorry, that would be hard. Honestly, I would seek counseling to work through it, having a mediator can make a big difference in figuring out how to talk about preferences and why we do what we do, as well as working on a solution. ❤️
So sorry I missed this! I just fixed the post so the signup link is working again.
Do you have any suggestions for nurses and others who work 12 hour shifts? All in, I’m away from my home for 14 and 1/2 hours on the days I work. I spend every minute I’m home with my young children or sleeping so I can get up and do it all over again. With the current healthcare crisis, I do this 4 days a week.
I LOVE the idea of a cleaning routine but 3 days a week isn’t very routine. On the days I am home, I spend my time being a mommy and try to sneak in a chance to catch up on meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, dishes, cleaning and laundry.
My husband works 12 hour shifts as a police officer as well so we work opposite days to be home with our girls. We both feel like we are always catching up.
Two years ago we almost broke through to a much better place. I had decluttered most of the house, things actually stayed picked up, there was never more than a load of laundry to do and then the pandemic hit. Everyone in our home got CoViD, the kids were home from school, we did virtual learning for months and my hours at work have doubled (from 25 to 50 a week) because there aren’t enough trained RN’s in my speciality area (high risk labor and delivery).
Thanks for your content! It’s realistic, unfussy, uplifting and engaging.
That’s hard Danae! Would your husband be willing to maintain the same daily cleaning schedule, so you’re both working on the daily maintenance? If you’re already doing dishes regularly, having a set system like Mondays/bathroom Tuesday/kitchen, etc. would mean that all the areas get cleaned each week, but not always by the same person.
It can also help to simply box up the extra stuff and set it aside (closet/basement, etc) just to get things out of the way. I did that with the kid’s toys and we just had empty rooms for a few months (we kept out only a handful of favorites), it made an immediate difference in how the home felt. You’re in a busy season, so it’s fine to acknowledge you don’t have time to sit and sort/declutter/organize, and it might be best just to box things up and get them out of your space so you can focus on family during time off.
I have been in and out of the hospital for 3 years and getting ready to have major surgery this month. I am a true Maximus wanting desperately to be a minimalist. I know, good luck.