7 Sanity-Saving Clean-up Ideas

Suzanne Cowden

My house will never be tidy or organized.  Even before I had kids, I signed myself up for a life of chaos:  my husband is a hopeless slob.  Our wedding vows even included the phrase “in tidiness and in clutter.” He’s not afraid to remind me of this when I get snarky about the mess.

FHL Office

It’s not like I have such high standards, either. Lest you think I’m putting you on, you need to know that he’s famous for his messes.  Once a racoon broke into his office to steal the Girl Scout cookies that he hoards there.  He’d been working in his office for hours when a colleague dropped by and noticed the trail of muddy paw prints leading to the carnage of Thin Mints.

Office with Eliza Claire

Most telling, though, is the fact that, years ago, he won the “Messiest Office in Monterey County” contest.  The grand prize was ideal:  a team of the professional organizers arrived to teach him how to bring order to his work space.  He heard them gasp upon entering his lab, and that was before they reached his office.  After hours of work, one of the team members suggested that he take some of the seemingly unnecessary items in his office home with him. When he told them that his wife wouldn’t like it very much, one of them replied, aghast, “You have a wife?”

While I’ve made peace with the fact that my life will include a certain amount of disarray, I haven’t given up on cleanliness and some amount of order.

Here’s how I’ve managed to cling to my sanity despite the mess:

1. Tackle small spaces. When the clutter and chaos start to frustrate me, I look for one small task to complete successfully.  If I can clean out a single kitchen drawer, organize the bathroom cabinet, or clear off the top of the coffee table, I usually feel better.  By focusing on small spaces, I have the energy to clean my whole house gradually.  It may never feel super clean or organized, but this approach means it’s never a complete disaster.

2. Encourage routines. My kids’ habit of dropping their lunchboxes by the door when they came home from school everyday really started driving me nuts.  No matter how much I hinted or nagged, they never took them into kitchen to clean out themselves.  In desperation, I finally said I would only make lunches for clean lunchboxes that had been put away.  Suddenly, this simple task became a priority. The one time my oldest daughter forgot, she had the choice of buying lunch or packing her own healthy meal.  Other routines, like putting away shoes and laundry make a big difference in how the house feels.

3. Set a collective clean-up time. Like most families, everyone in my house is busy. The last thing any of us wants to do is spend time cleaning the house. Here’s the thing, though: when we all spend a bit of time on collective clean-up, it makes a big difference.  Most days after dinner, we all work on different tasks — some of us tackle the dishes, others fold laundry, tidy the living room, or find some small space to organize (see number 1).  We usually spend no more than 20 minutes working, but the house feels much better as we settle in for stories, a game, or a movie before bedtime.

4. Get rid of something every day.  Stuff accumulates. It’s a universal law. I force myself to part with at least one gently-used item every day to fight the madness.  Do I really need three garlic presses?  What about that pair of jeans that doesn’t really fit me anymore?  I’ve got a small box in my closet that serves as a depository for these castoffs.  When the box fills up, I take it to the Goodwill.

5. See disasters as opportunities.  This winter, when ants invaded my house, it motivated me into action. I suddenly found myself scrubbing my under-sink cabinet and taking everything out of my spice cupboard. Since I’d spent time tackling small spaces (see number 1) throughout the past several months, the huge clean up effort wasn’t so terrible.  Even better, it meant that my whole entire kitchen was clean from top-to-bottom at the same time.

6. Designate junk spaces. Some days I don’t mind partially completed projects or games left around the house.  Since we all clean up together, I know the mess will usually get cleared away by evening.  On other days, though, I need the clutter to move. If the mess-maker isn’t around, I need a place to put the markers and paper or Lego set. I place my kids’ items on the floor in their rooms, and I pile my husband’s projects on his desk.  While I’ve merely moved the mess to a different place, at least it doesn’t bother me every time I see it in our family space.

7. Appreciate others. Whenever I feel irritated about the various messes — and my family’s seeming lack-of-concern about the chaos — I try to focus on the positive.  My kids are busy creating rather than watching television or delving into the dark side of the internet.  And, when I see as my husband’s terrible mess in our garage, I try to remember the time he cheerfully (and miraculously quickly) extracted a kit of tools to fix my glasses or the time he produced the perfect set of letters stamps I never even knew existed — right when I needed them. While I would love to have a super clean and tidy house all the time, I suspect I’m much happier living in one that feels a bit cluttered with the people I love.



 This post was written by Suzanne Cowden exclusively for BonBon Break Media, LLC.

Suzanne makes most of her messes in the kitchen. She blogs at Flour Arrangements, where she focuses on food as centerpiece for both everyday routines and special occasions. Each recipe, from simple loaves of bread to fondant decorated birthday cakes, comes with a story that blends life with cooking.