How To Be Tidy Without 'Life-Changing Magic'

I'm gonna tell you a secret about picking your stuff up: It isn't any harder when you do it right away.

Wet Hot American Summer

If you hate cleaning, you probably put it off. But you're just making things worse. The longer you wait to tidy up, the harder it is to start. You tell yourself "I'll wait for a day when I can do all of it at once," but that just makes things seem scarier, as you let every pile get bigger. You buy a copy of Marie Kondo's book, and you add it to your stack of unread books. Your clutter solution is now clutter.

Because tidying isn't always about "life-changing magic". It isn't always about a massive, week-long project that transforms you as a person, so you live impeccably and drink plenty of water and hit Inbox Zero every day at 4:59.

You don't have to become a whole new person. You just have to pick up one thing. And then, a little while later, one more thing. And so on.

Don't Put It Down, Put It Away

When you clean up a spill, you start at the source. To tidy up, first stop leaving things out. When you get home, put your coat where the coats go. When you cook, as much as you can, put away ingredients as you go. Yes, you're really excited to just relax and plop on the couch after a long trip home, but you will feel so much more excited after you've done the drudgery of putting your coat away, too.

You don't have to go crazy. You don't have to be one of those monk-like ascetics who washes the dishes immediately after dinner. Just pick one thing that you hate picking up, and start putting it away instead of putting it down. Now you never have to pick it up again.

Don't Step Over It

My mum kept a five-person household clean with this rule. If she caught me tripping over something left out on the floor, she'd shout her catchphrase: Don't step over it! It worked so well that I occasionally throw out other people's litter on the street or the train.

You don't have to be the world's garbageman and carry around a little bottle of Purell like I do. Just refuse to trip over your own crap. Pick it up instead. Feel bad for yourself. Do the whole Paul Rudd dramatic routine. Really explore the space. Seriously, it will feel great.

Don't Leave a Room Without Bringing Something

It feels schoolmarmish to write these out! But have you ever seen a schoolmarm who doesn't have her crap together? Anyway, whenever you go from one room to another, bring something to put away.

This is an exceptionally good way to clean up your car. Once you've done this two or three times, you'll get greedy and try to see how many pieces of garbage you can take into the house at once, as if you're carrying in the groceries. Good.

Embrace the Junk Drawer

If you leave crap out because you don't know where it "goes", relax. You don't have to find a special home for everything, or buy it a home at Howards Storage World. Just shove it in a big ol' box or drawer or closet.

Your junk drawer won't be a fun place. But at least it's just one place (or two or three), and not your bedroom floor. That's still better! Maybe someday you can clean out your junk drawer, but if you don't, who cares? Just keep it dry, keep it from overflowing, and don't store anything that rots, moulds or smells.

Have Company Over

If you do want to shock-treat your home, give yourself a reason. Invite some people over, with a few days' notice. If you're good at cleaning - wiping up spills, washing dishes - but not tidying, then you can even host a party. (Some of us find it easier to vacuum and throw out 40 beer bottles than to pick up our pile of shirts.)

Otherwise just have one or two people over for dinner, people who are fancier than you, people you want to impress. People you're likely to tidy up for. Either way, this gives you both a deadline and a reward.

If that won't get you moving, have a friend over for the cleaning. Let them sit there while you pick everything up. Complain to them the entire time. Then go buy them dinner.

Accept that Tidying Sucks

No one likes cleaning up. That's why the people who do like it become millionaire gurus. As Deadspin's Albert Burneko pointed out in his pep talk "Clean Up Now", cleaning will always be drudgery. (If you'd rather skip all my baby steps and clean up all at once, read his piece to get motivated.)

See, being tidy doesn't mean enjoying to clean. It just means breaking the work into tiny steps so it can't overwhelm you. It's a cheat. And as they say, cheaters always win.


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