Ask LH: How Can I Stop Being So Messy?

Ask LH: How Can I Stop Being So Messy?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m messy. There, I said it. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. I guess it’s never really bothered me until recently. Now I can’t stand the sight of my mess, but no matter what I try, I can’t seem to break the habit. I’ll do a massive clean-up, and then within 48 hours I’ve left a mess laying around again. I think my partner is ready to murder me too! Does Lifehacker and/or the community have any tips to become a clean freak? Thanks, Messy Dude

Messy house picture from Shutterstock

Dear MD,

We’ll share a few thoughts for how you can avoid your life being so messy shortly. But the most important point is this: no approach to staying mess-free is going to work unless you actually have a reason for wanting to be mess-free. If you don’t have a solid motivation for changing your habits, then you’ll quickly slip back into your “natural” state — and in your case, that state is filled with clutter.

You mention that your partner isn’t happy with your sloppy habits, and that could serve as a useful incentive. Another good reason to stop being so messy is to stop wasting time: if you have to spend ages looking for something every time you need it, that chews up time you could use elsewhere. If you’re embarrassed by the state of your house when other people visit, be sure to invite people over regularly. Pick a reason that resonates with you and remind yourself of it every time you’re tidying.

Psychology aside, here are some practical suggestions on how to make your life less messy.

Spend 15 minutes a day tidying, every day The problem with a “massive clean-up” is that it doesn’t build any maintenance habits. Rather than relying on massive blitzes, schedule 15 minutes every day tidying. Initially, this may seem less impressive, but in the long run, you’ll see much better results.

Tackle one room at a time On a related note, trying to tidy your whole house in one burst in unrealistic. Work on fixing one room at a time instead — the tidiness of one room can help motivate you to work on the next one.

Throw out the stuff you don’t use or need It’s hard to stay tidy when you simply own too much stuff. Check out our guidelines on how to declutter and what to get rid of. For more tips, there’s our top 10 ways to get rid of clutter.

Put things away, don’t put them down Clutter often occurs because we walk into a room and put something down on the first available surface, rather than where it “belongs”. Cultivate the habit of always putting things back where they belong when you’re finished with them — don’t just leave them lying around.

Those are our basic ideas: we’d love to hear more from readers in the comments.


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  • Something I’ve found very helpful is to make sure that everything belongs somewhere. That way, when I have to choose whether to put something away or put something down, I don’t have to think about where to put it because it has a place where it belongs.

  • Just a suggestion – are you a compulsive hoarder? The fact that you clean up, turn around, and it’s messy again, suggests you could be. If so, there is treatment available and it’s worth visiting your GP to discuss it, especially if it’s causing problems with your family. Have a look on the web for a checklist to see if you might be, or wade through this article: You can be a hoarder without having OCD.

  • My suggestion is to consider cleaning up as part of the activity itself.
    For example, eating dinner includes cooking, eating, and cleaning up. If you haven’t cleaned up after dinner, you haven’t finished the activity. getting changed for bed includes putting your dirty clothes in the laundry. If they’re not in the laundry, you haven’t finished getting changed.
    It sort of changes your mindset.

  • My experience is that you fall back into this behaviour because you’re not actually accountable for it.

    Make yourself accountable, using something that will actually matter to you, and the rest will follow.

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