8 Clever Tactics for Keeping Your House Tidy

CC BY 1.0. Hamza Butt

Learning a few new habits can make it a lot easier to stay on top of the daily mess at home.

Cleaning the house is one thing, but staying on top of daily clutter and messiness is another task altogether. There are ways to streamline these efforts so that displaced objects and annoying tasks don’t pile up to the point of making you feel overwhelmed. What follows is a list of suggestions for tweaking your cleaning routines to make them easier. Some I’ve discovered over years of living with young children with limited time for cleaning; others are the ingenious suggestions of expert Melissa Maker, whose book, “Clean My Space,” I reviewed last week on TreeHugger.

1. Have an upstairs/downstairs bin.

Place a bin or basket at the top and bottom of the stairs. If something needs to go up or down, the item can be placed in this bin, and the next person traveling in that direction should take it with them. You don’t even need a bin; just place them in neat piles at the base or top of the stairs. Maker has another suggestion, too:

“Families may wish to employ a bin or basket system, where everyone in the house gets assigned a basket, and their items get placed in the basket.”

2. Hands Full

Use your hands to their full capacity. When you leave a room, fill your arms/hands with items that need to be moved elsewhere, saving you the trip later. Drop it off in the correct place. Maker says, “When I leave my bedroom to head downstairs, I’ll fill my hands with water glasses that need to go into the dishwasher. Sounds easy, but I promise you, this is a game changer.”

3. Donation Bin

Always have an empty box or sturdy shopping bag on hand for unwanted goods. That way, any time you come across something you no longer like or use, you can put it directly into the donation bin, rather than allowing it to return into household circulation. This is especially useful with kids, who tend to attract clothing and toys like magnets.

4. Be a ‘ruthless reader.’

If you subscribe to magazines or newspapers, toss them in the recycling bin as soon as you’re done with them; or leave them out for a specified period of time, i.e. the week leading up to cleaning day, or until the next issue arrives. Resist the urge to stockpile issues, and if there’s something of real interest, take a picture of it on your phone.

5. Use snippets of time to tidy.

Never underestimate the power of a few short minutes to get ahead with a task. Whether it’s waiting a minute for the microwave to reheat your coffee or oatmeal, a commercial break on TV, or a hair-styling device warming up, take advantage of these moments to do a quick tidy, wipe-down, or load some plates into the dishwasher. It all adds up.

6. Try the 40/20 rule.

If you work from home, as many of us do, you can use the following technique to stay on top of household tasks: Work for 40 minutes, do housework for 20. Repeat all day long. You can do a lot of chores in only 20 minutes, and it also gives you a mental break from working.

7. Switch out dirty towels and cloths immediately.

Don’t let smelly washcloths, dish towels, or hand towels linger. Every evening (or second evening, depending on your preference) after doing the dishes, gather the linens and toss them in the laundry. Keep fresh replacements in the kitchen for easy replacement.

8. Keep a laundry basket in the bedroom.

As soon as you take off your clothes (or your kids’ clothes), make the decision as to whether or not the clothes can be re-worn. Do not put this off! The decision has to be made eventually, so you might as well do it when your memory of the clothes is most fresh. Return clean clothes to the closet, toss dirty ones in the laundry basket. Always.