I wasn’t always tidy. For most of my life I was the opposite. Even early on in our marriage, I still had trouble getting dirty clothes into the hamper and I wanted to die every time I had to wash dishes. Our Tupperware cabinet used to make my head pound when I tried to find a lid to match a specific bowl and instead ended in an avalanche of plastic. Laundry was overwhelming. I could never develop a consistent routine. I also lived in fear of guests just popping in because everything was in such a disarray. If you’re reading this and you’re shocked that people would just pop over for a spell, you’re obviously not from the South!
When we moved out of the farmhouse and into our current home, I took it as an opportunity to force myself to be tidy and it actually stuck. I learned to embrace that outer order brings inner calm. These are the five ways I “tricked” myself into tidiness and became far happier than I’d ever been before:
- Let it go. Often, it’s hard for us to find a tidy balance in life because we have too much stuff. I’m far from a minimalist, but nobody needs to hang onto old college textbooks, grungy towels that you’ve been meaning to cut into dust rags, and clothing that no longer fits. Each year during July and December, we go through our entire home (closets, drawers, cabinets, the garage, linen closets, bookshelves, and toy bins) and ask ourselves what is actually worth keeping. We use Emily Ley’s mantra of best, favorite, necessary to aid us in making good choices. When we get ready for a purge, we take it room by room and make it a goal to have one empty drawer, cabinet, or bin in each room. By only keeping the things that are the most important, most functional, and most sentimental, we eliminate tons and tons of clutter and free up some space to breath. It usually takes us four to five days to complete the big purge and then we donate everything to a local ministry in town. Now when I need a lid to a Tupperware container, I open the cabinet and find exactly what I need instead of fishing through things that may or may not have a mate. If it isn’t the best, your absolutely favorite, or 100% necessary, toss it.
- Create a routine. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to thrive on routine. Our current lifestyle of football, football, football means we can either sink with a lack routine or swim by embracing it. We’re highly scheduled people because we have to be. Our time at home is extra precious because Josh is away so often, so we don’t do a whole lot of spur of the moment scheduling (my favorite excuse is, “I’m sorry. We can’t. It’s football season.”). We have a morning and evening routine that we follow to simplify our home:
- Evening: after Annabeth has gone to sleep (usually around 7:30), we set a timer for 30 minutes and do a whole-house tidy up. We load the dishwasher, wipe down counters, sweep, straighten couch cushions, put stuff back where it goes, setup the coffee, lay out clothes, pack our gym bags, put away our load of laundry, and handle any lunch needs. When the timer goes off, we’re done. We light a candle, turn on Netflix, and get comfy. Right before we go to bed, we gather clothing and start a load of laundry.
- Morning: each morning before Annabeth wakes up, we do our best to empty the dishwasher, transfer the laundry from the washer to the dryer, make our bed, and pack the car.
These routines are not fancy or complicated, but they make the mad rush of morning so much easier. Taking the decision making out of the morning makes everyone in my household much happier–we’re ready to focus on the day at hand when the morning is smooth!
- Laundry everyday (yes, every single day). We produce a significant amount of laundry, especially during football season. For Josh, there’s a set of running clothes, a set of work clothes, a set of practice clothes, and his “relax” clothes (and y’all, that’s three pairs of underwear for him PER DAY). I have my work clothes and gym clothes. Annabeth usually just has one outfit of play clothes unless we have something nicer to do. If I let all that laundry pile up throughout the week, it would be the size of Mt. Everest by Saturday. Saturday is the only day Josh has off during the season, so spending the day washing clothes isn’t how I roll. Each evening I collect everything we wore and throw it in the wash right before we go to bed. It’s almost always enough for a full load. The next morning I throw it in the dryer when I wake up and then fold and put it away during our evening routine. Is it fun? No. But it works. I’d much rather spend ten to fifteen minutes each day doing a load of laundry than hours on a Saturday or Sunday trying to play catch up.
- Make your bed. It takes us exactly 57 seconds to make our bed. And yes, I actually timed it. Why do people often avoid doing such a small task each day? We have made it a habit to make our bed each morning and I’ve actually come to love the 57 seconds it takes–we talk and work together and (most importantly), we know that no matter how awful a day gets or how tired we are once we get home, we get to crawl into a freshly made bed. It makes our bedroom feel put together and if our bedroom feels tidy, we’re less likely to drop our clothes next to the hamper instead of in it. If I’m feeling fancy, I use some of our favorite linen spray on the sheets.
- Friday reset. Each Friday afternoon, I take 45 minutes to an hour for a Friday reset. I sweep, wipe down surfaces, briefly scrub the bathrooms, throw out expired food in the fridge, plump up pillows and cushions, rotate Annabeth’s toy bins, and put away anything that needs to be tucked away. I wash a load of towels, light some candles, and then take a deep breath and relax. We usually go out or order in on Friday evenings (and during football season Annabeth and I either eat with Mama and Daddy or she eats at team dinner with Coach and I grab a hotdog), so I don’t have to worry about making a mess in the kitchen cooking supper. Taking this very short amount of time to tidy up means my weekend is free to enjoy with my family and even though I’m usually super burned out on Fridays, I embrace the knowledge that if there is outer order in my home, I will experience an inner calm in my heart.
*Bonus: hire good help* Full disclosure, we have a wonderful lady who helps us around the house every other Monday. She’s our favorite person and if we could adopt her or convince her to move into our spare bedroom, we totally would. She is one of the sweetest and most thoughtful ladies I’ve ever met and she does an excellent deep clean two to three times a month. We’re not fancy people–just ordinary teachers–but we determined a long time ago that we’re okay with budgeting money for such a service each month, even if that means we have one less date each month in order to pay for it. If you can find the room in your budget, definitely consider hiring someone to do the deep cleaning so you can enter maintenance mode during the in-between times.
*Additional bonus: if your kids live there, they should clean up, too* Annabeth doesn’t have many toys. This is by design. We focus heavily on quality over quantity and as a result, she has a few things that are really nice that she really loves. I could get on my soapbox about how too many choices is overwhelming, but we’ll save that for another day. We bought a chore chart for Annabeth and at 23 months old, she can clean up her toys, tidy her room, put away her books, and put her shoes in the appropriate basket. No, we don’t beat her. No, we don’t coerce her with candy. She is just highly motivated by the chore chart and about how excited Mommy and Daddy get when she earns her stars. Even when we’re somewhere else like my parent’s house or church, we can mention her stars and she begins cleaning up. Later, we’ll offer her a small allowance for handling her chores, but for now the stars are all she needs. If your kids live in your house, they have a share in keeping the space functional and neat. Good habits take a lifetime to build, so it’s best to begin as you mean to continue!
So those are my secrets. The core of a tidy home revolves around taking the guesswork out of day to day living–I know things will be neat because my routine causes them to be that way. I’m sure that sounds incredibly boring, but our homes should be our oasis from the outside world and nobody’s idea of paradise includes mountains of laundry or lunch boxes that sat overnight in a hot car because you neglected to take care of them. By investing a small amount of time each day into creating a tidy space, I reap major rewards by feeling at peace.
PS–we have this little robot vacuum that we have scheduled to run each day about an hour before we get home. It isn’t perfect, but it picks up pet hair, dirt, and debris pretty well. I clean the filter every other day and usually put a few drops of essential oil on the filter once a week. Bonus: this thing is an Amazon Deal of the Day at least once every two months and you can find it as low as $132!
PSS–we use Grove Collaborative to order all of our favorite natural cleaners. We love this counter spray, this dusting formula, and this is my favorite dish soap. Cleaning up isn’t quite as much of a chore when you’re using things that make you happy. Use this link to get a free Mrs. Meyer’s gift set and caddy!