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How to Keep Your House Clean

“How do you keep your house clean?” I have been asked this a lot of times in my adult life, especially since I became a mother. There are a few contributing factors besides the obvious one, which would be that I clean it.

1. Big houses look clean more easily than small houses:  People often think the opposite. In one sense, it’s true that a big house has more surfaces to clean, and clearly it takes longer to clean five bathrooms than it would one or two bathrooms. But in a big house, there are more places for things to spread out or be stored, while in a smaller house, more things are bound to be right in your line of vision, which seems messier. If your house is on the small side, it is even more important for you to reduce clutter in order to feel freer.

2. Reduce visual clutter: “Messy” and “dirty” are not the same thing, but they are close buddies who travel together.  Some people think that if a room is messy, it’s okay as long as it’s not actually dirty. This is a myth. If it’s messy, it will soon be dirty by default, because it is so hard to clean in a mess, most people don’t do it. When people remark on my house being clean, the main thing they are responding to is lack of visual clutter. It’s not like they went around sniffing the toilets to see how clean they are.

What contributes to visual clutter?  The state of your horizontal surfaces factor into this heavily. Do you have a lot of knick-knacks? Do the kids strew their belongings everywhere? What happens to their school papers, hats, jackets, baseball gloves, books, water bottles and stuffed animals when they walk in the door?  You must train them not to walk in like a tornado of junk and shed it everywhere. (This is not easy. If they are already teenagers, you might just have to bide your time for a few more years instead.)

Process papers quickly. Throw away the junk mail very soon; pay the bills very soon; process everything to complete.

3. Reduce hidden clutter: 

This means your closets, drawers, pantry, etc. Just focus on one if it’s too overwhelming to consider them all. Pick one closet that would greatly improve your life if it was not stuffed to the rafters. Spend 30 minutes (or two hours) pulling down everything and deciding whether it’s giveaway, throw away or keep. If it’s throwaway, put it in a trashbag and take it out of the house. If it’s giveaway, put it in the car to take to a charity, or call a charity right away for pick-up. Or list it on Freecycle. Whatever. Just get rid of it instantly, so you don’t start thinking about what you banished and let it creep back in . Aim to have at least one shelf completely clear. Remember that Feng Shui thing I said before about keeping an open shelf.

4. Use routines to keep clean going: 

Set up a particular pattern you can stick with pretty closely for when you will empty the dishwasher, do the laundry, pay the bills, make the bed, and so on. I empty my dishwasher in the morning, so it will be ready to accept dishes throughout the day. We run it in the evening after dinner, no matter if it’s full to the top or not. If I waited until it was always totally full before running it, then it would run at odd times and be full of dishes at times inconvenient to empty. I do the laundry on a regular pattern, too; usually Wednesday and Saturday.

5. Train the kids: 

I have a friend whose philosophy is that the children have their schooling and their sports and activities and therefore should not help with the house or the meals. I disagree with this view. Children will one day have a place of their own (sometimes it may seem that day will never truly come…) and they need to know how to take care of their things and prepare food. Besides, even with schooling, sports and activities, kids still have some time to contribute to the household, even if it’s mainly on the weekends.

It can also be a problem if you are too picky about how everything must be carried out. Don’t do that – and that’s coming from someone who is a perfectionist with a smattering of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  If it’s going to make you nutsy, give them jobs that won’t make a gigantic big deal to you.  My boys sometimes have jobs like pick up all the branches and sticks in the yard, fill the birdfeeder or groom the pets. It’s not going to make me crazy if they don’t do it exactly perfectly. I leave bathroom mirror cleaning strictly to myself. 😉

6. Make it simple to clean

How many times have I heard this in my life, “Well, I’m not spending hours a day cleaning my house; I’m out taking my kids to the park or reading to my babies or going to Disneyland.” In other words, the speaker feels badly that they don’t keep their house orderly, so they create a false dichotomy as if there are only two possible choices: enjoy your family and have a trashed house or be a militant shut-in who scrubs the floor 10 hours a day.  Though my house is pretty clean and orderly most of the time, I spend a minuscule amount of time actually cleaning it during the week (more on the weekend) and I still go on many park days and library runs. (Although I’ve never been to Disneyland.)

If you have obeyed the clutter rules and you have trained your kids to help, you will only need to spend about 30 total minutes a day during the week and perhaps 2 hours on the weekend to have a house that looks good and is reasonably clean. If your house is small and you’re very ruthless about clutter, it could be less. If you’re determined to dust around a ton of stuff, it will be more.

Here’s another thing that matters: pets. Blue Collar Guy grew up on a farm, so in his mind, there was a place for animals. It was called the barn. He did not grow up with dogs and cats sleeping on the bed. When I first met him, it was pretty weird to me. After a couple of years living without indoor pets, though, I could really see his view clearly. Pets should be outside as much as possible, if you live in a space where it’s possible. Our dog and cats sleep in the garage at night, or during inclement weather.  The rest of the time, they have a yard and ten acres to explore. I don’t need to clean cat hair or muddy footprints off of anything. I will say, though, that I know people love their pets and I have no expectation that you’ll turn your pets outside if you were sleeping with a Labradoodle on your bed up until now. That’s fine. Just know that there’s a price to be paid in cleaning for every pet who spends times indoors.

7. Lastly, be realistic:  The people who remark about my house are invariably seeing it when I was planning to have guests. It doesn’t look that way 24-hours-a-day (or 25! 😉 ). I do maintain the house with a continuous eye to order, but it’s not neat as a pin from sun-up to sun-down. There are five people living here and two of them are not going away for school every day. There are constant minor messes from food preparation, science experiments, lego engineering and artistic inspirations. And mail. God, how I hate coping with the mail. Just know that because someone’s house is clean when they have you over for dinner does not mean it looks exactly like that all the time.

If your house is not neat or clean right now, decide to make it that way. Once it’s clean, it’s easy to keep it that way. I expect to be expanding on any or perhaps all of the topics above, so if there’s anything you’d especially like me to speak to more fully, just let me know.



Why You Shouldn’t Extreme Coupon

Years ago, Oprah did a show in which there was a barrel of shoes in the studio with a “FREE” sign on it. Hundreds of people scurried off with their treasure after pawing through the Free shoes.  There was only one oddity about this behavior: none of the shoes were a pair. It was just a barrel of left shoes.  A bargain, I suppose, only for those with two left feet.

The point of the experiment was to illustrate the strong pull of “Free”. Now – some of the people had good (in their minds) reasons for wanting only one shoe.  One lady said you throw a single shoe in the dryer and it confers some benefit to the drying clothes. (Anti-static? De-wrinkle? I don’t recall.) Several people though, couldn’t really articulate what benefit they expected to gain from a single shoe, but it was free, so why not?  I find this thought process at the heart of the Extreme Couponing movement.

Now, let me just say, I do use coupons some.  If I’m buying deodorant anyway, might as well get it at a dollar off if I can. I will also confess that I wanted Extreme Couponing to work like it’s supposed to, as long as certain parameters were not violated. But that was the problem.  There were always drawbacks that I couldn’t avoid.

The first problem to come into play is that Extreme Couponing is highly dependent on stockpiling.  If you know Colgate toothpaste can be had for free at CVS by layering a coupon with a sale, Extreme Couponers say, “By Ten! Or Twenty!”

Why is this a problem? It’s a problem for me because it is a form of hoarding. If you aren’t sure stockpiling is a form of hoarding, just google, “Extreme Coupon+Stockpile+Images.” It may be more organized than someone who hoards trash or knick-knacks, but it’s still based on filling all available space with excess. Unless you’re one of the Duggars, 20 tubes of toothpaste will be around for a long while.  It’s better psychologically to have fewer things in your home than to hoard a pile of them just because they were cheap or free.

In Feng Shui, there is a component that says shelving units should have at least one shelf empty. This represents being open to new things.  If every shelf in a closet or pantry is crammed with products, you signal to the universe, “I’m stuffed – I can’t accept more abundance!”

Another reason I object to stockpiling 20 toothpastes is that it drives the machine of consumerism. Every time you buy an item, it is like a tally-mark that signals manufacturers to produce more. In EC, part of the theory is to buy any item that is cheap or free, with no concern about whether you want, need or even understand what the product is supposed to do. This thinking drives consumerism and product greed.

Some EC’ers object to this point by saying they have items to donate to food pantries or Helping Up or Samaritan’s Purse. To that, I would say, if that is truly what is happening to 18 or 19 of the 20 toothpastes and lotions and razors and shampoos, then great. Still, it doesn’t appear to be the case, or else there would be no advice on how to stockpile.

Another problem I see with EC is that the majority of the coupons are for products that I don’t need or want to buy. The whole reason manufacturers create coupons to begin with it to try to induce you to buy products you haven’t tried or aren’t buying regularly.  If the product is one you aren’t buying regularly or haven’t tried, it may be that it’s unnecessary anyway.

For example: Air fresheners. There’s nearly always a coupon for air freshener. I never buy them. You know the best way to remove bad smells? Get rid of the bad-smelling source.  If the bathroom stinks, clean it. If the trashcan stinks, throw out the trash. If the cat box stinks, scoop it. You don’t need a perfumed block of gel emitting chemicals into the air you breathe.

Laundry and cleaning products can be unnecessary, too. I  make my own laundry soap. It costs pennies per load, is as easy to make as mashed potatoes and creates very little trash.  Bottled laundry soap lasts only a short while and then there is a piece of trash to recycle or throw away.  I make my laundry soap in the same 5-gallon bucket again and again.  Simple, cheap and eco-smart.

For these reasons, I don’t find Extreme Couponing to be in line with my values. Use a few coupons for something you need anyway? Yes. Stockpile 97 bottles of mustard? It bothers my Chi just thinking about it.


Have a thought on this? Am I wrong? Do you EC without stockpiling? Feel free to comment.


I remember once a conversation I was having with my friend, Marybeth. She said, “My mother-in-law says that it doesn’t really matter whether or not your home is ‘neat’, just so long as it’s not dirty.”  Then, she paused thoughtfully and added, “…but I don’t really agree.”

I don’t either.

Granted, I’m not a fan of dirty, either, but if the Queen or J.K. Rowling were dropping by my house any minute and I had a choice of sanitizing the bathroom or getting three-days-worth of Pottery Barn catalogs, lunchboxes, backpacks, shoes and Legos out of the way, I’m picking hide the junk. Nothing makes your house appear dirty more quickly than too much stuff. Besides that, I contend that having too much junk inevitably leads to things also being dirty.  “Messy, but sanitary” is a non-sensical concept. Here’s why: if you have to move a lot of stuff around to get to the sanitizing, it’s discouraging and time-consuming. If you have only a small amount of time to clean a counter, you probably can clean it if it doesn’t have 40 tons of mess on it, but you will put it off if you have to move Grandma’s vase, 2 furry coffee-cups, a pile of mail, an art project your kid did 2 years ago and a lone sock, wanting its mate.  Allow me to demonstrate.

Do you want to clean (sanitize) this counter? I bet you don’t. When a counter looks like this, it makes you feel unhappy. Discouraged. Even if it were somehow sanitary underneath all that junk, you won’t feel good about how clean it is underneath if it looks this way.

Do you want to clean (sanitize) this  counter? Even if you don’t love cleaning, I bet you wouldn’t mind cleaning this counter. It will only take a minute. (If I could convince Blue Collar Guy to clean out his mail drawer, it would be even better because the mail holder on the right would not be there, but that’s a different post.)

In the interest of full disclosure, the “before” picture was not staged all that much when I decided to write this post. It really did have the brochures from church, the sunglass junk and the cell phone charger tentacles-of-death all over kingdom come. The notes to the left on the wall in the “after” picture do contribute to mess also; I don’t really recommend having it this way, but that is the best way to keep it straight whose soccer game is when and what’s on the school lunch menu this month. If all family members are more comfortable keeping this info on the iPhone, so much the better; we’re just a little stuck in the Age of Paper notes around here.

If you have a lot of clutter to sort through, you’re in good company. I’m sure you’ve seen the show Hoarders or are at least familiar with the concept. I don’t consider myself a great keeper of things, but I still battle the endless deluge of STUFF as much as other mothers living in the civilized world. I could wax philosophical about how “abundantly blessed” we are in the USA, but at the end of the day, I just want to be able to walk to my bed without stepping on some god-forsaken Lego the size of a pin and just as sharp.

Where do you begin if you’re trying to dig out? Here is my suggestion: make your bed. If you are struggling to get control of a messy house, you must establish habits. Habits are engrained behaviors that you do over and over again until you have worn a highway in your brain. Neat freaks have a lot of these highways; OCD folks have too many of them and can’t find the scenic drive anymore. Be that as it may, habit is the route to order. Start with this one habit: make your bed every morning. Get out of bed and make it, or at least make it a bit later when you get dressed and brush your teeth (and God, I hope those are habits already).

If your bed is hard to make because you have a tangle of weird blankets and sheets that don’t fit, rectify this as soon as humanly possible. Give the nasty sheets to the dog and outfit your bed with a nice, warm comforter. You can make a bed with a comforter in about 28 seconds.

I know some rationalize that making the bed is a pointless activity, as you will only mess it back up later. (My son, The Negotiator, attempts this testimony on a regular basis.) I disagree and here’s why: the bed takes up a lot of visual space (and often, actual space) in the bedroom. If it is messy, some 87% of the room seems messy and, as I said above, messy feels dirty  and usually is. If 87% of the room looks messy, there is no motivation to also pull the underwear down off the TV and take 9 coffee cups down to the kitchen. Make the bed and feel like a diva in your bedroom.  You can face the rest of the house once you’re the actual master of the Master Bedroom.

Let me know if you decide to give it a whirl on my say-so.