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.