I see homemaking as more than just creating a cozy space – I see it as a way to show hospitality. I love cleaning and tidying, especially this time of year. The warm weather always makes me want to open the windows, turn on music, and clean the house.
The ideas in this post aren’t meant to be viewed as a rigid standard for all to follow. Simplicity is my goal when dealing with my home and all the chores that go with it, not perfection. These are just a few tricks I’ve learned along the way as we’ve simplified and minimized our home.
Cleaning vs. Tidying
The words tidying and cleaning are often used synonymously, but they are two completely different things. If you don’t recognize this important truth, then your home will never be truly clean. First, the focus is different. Tidying deals with objects; cleaning deals with dirt. Both are aimed at making a room look clean, but tidying means moving objects and putting them away, while cleaning means wiping and sweeping away dirt….
Clutter accumulates when you fail to return objects to their designated place. If a room becomes cluttered “before you know it,” it is entirely your own doing. On other words, tidying up means confronting yourself.
In contrast, dirt does accumulate of its own accord. It is a law of nature that dust and dirt pile up. Therefore, cleaning means confronting nature.
Cleaning is wiping down the counters and bookshelves. Cleaning is scrubbing the shower and the toilet. Cleaning is sweeping and vacuuming. This can be streamlined but not eliminated.
Picking up is putting things back where they belong. This can be eliminated if new habits are put in place. With small kids, some picking up of toys is inevitable, but even toddlers can follow the place for everything rule if they know the system.
But where to start if your home feels overwhelming and chaotic?
Prioritize the Basics
Large Family Logistics had some good ideas about prioritizing chores without stressing. This book helped me view the home as a living organism, constantly changing and being lived in, with simple rules and procedures to maintain the order.
It’s important to let go of unimportant things. Say no to perfectionism. Have priorities. Some cleaning (like laundry and dishes) pile up if not taken care of. That stress of being behind can make the chore seem endless. These kinds of chores take precedence over things that don’t pile up (like vacuuming, changing sheets, and cleaning windows).
Sometimes living / crafting / playing / entertaining is messy. Don’t stress about how dirty something gets as long as it’s all cleaned up at the end of the night.
We host large gatherings at our home on a regular basis. My trick is to pick up stray toys and put things where they belong, but not clean before the event. Instead I make time to clean afterward. This makes me less stressed about all the people-traffic, like when things inevitably get spilled on the floor and splattered on tables.
Homes aren’t meant to look like a magazine photo or Pinterest board or Instagram feed at all times. Let go of that standard and just make it work for you.
Once you’ve minimized, picking up and cleaning are a lot easier. Cait from Blonde on a Budget put it well:
For years, I would write “clean” on my weekly task list. By “clean”, I didn’t just mean do laundry or scrub the bathroom tub; I meant tidy up and re-organize my belongings. Since getting rid of 75% of my stuff, however, I never have to do that. Whenever I’m done with something, I put it back where it belongs – in a spot that’s easily accessible and makes sense for me. And because I got rid of so much stuff, I never feel overwhelmed by the task (so now “clean” finally means exactly that).
If your home is always disorderly, you may have too many items. Do some serious purging. Be drastic and you’ll notice quite a difference. Toys should ideally take no longer than 10 minutes for the child pick up (with help if they’re little).
The rule of diminishing returns points out that too much of anything makes it less valuable. Some toys are nice, but too many toys can be overwhelming and hard to play with. Some clothes are necessary, but too many clothes might smother you with choices and laundry.
Cut your belongings in half if your home is overrun like Cait did. You’ll probably find it frees you and you won’t even miss those items. Less is truly more.
Have a System
It’s lack of good habits that makes a messy home stay messy. Homes get used. They don’t just stay clean all the time. Toys get played with. Beds get slept in. Kitchens are used for cooking. The difference is tidy homes have systems in place for handling the mess.
Most of these systems are so integrated and so habitual they no longer even feel like work. I always wash my bowl immediately after eating. When everyone in the house practices this habit, dishes don’t pile up in the sink.
Set habits in rhythm to maintain the system. I find that I can clean things like bathrooms quickly and easily when I notice they need it. Other people need a set day of the week to do this. For people that don’t notice when something needs cleaned, a schedule might be best. (I’ve included one at the end of this post.)
You might have some habits that unnecessarily worsen your workload. Personally, I streamlined our laundry a bit after I found myself putting things down the chute that weren’t really dirty. I did it because I didn’t want to mess with them in the moment. This quickly cleared one area, but it was doubling my laundry! Making a small effort to look at each garment and put it away if it can be worn again has made a huge difference for us. And that’s before you take into account the water and energy it saves!
My routine isn’t set in stone, but I have a little bit of a schedule. Large Family Logistics recommends having a laundry day, a cooking day, an errands day, and an office day. If you have a specific time to do each chore, it will get done without hanging over your head.
Handle items that come into the home right away. Sort mail immediately. Put away groceries and other purchases immediately. Recycle the packaging. File the receipts.
Our mealtime isn’t over until we’ve put the leftovers in containers, washed the dishes, cleaned the kids’ hands, and wiped the counter. The conversations and fun can continue, but that way there’s nothing left to do at bedtime or in the morning.
Maybe I’m extreme, but when returning from a trip or getaway I like to unpack the car, put everything away, and start the first load of laundry as soon as we walk in the door. It really only takes about 15-30 minutes and then I feel like I can relax afterward.
A Place for Everything
Picking up can essentially be eliminated when every item in your home has a place. Not just any place – the right place. Easy to access, easy to put away. Sometimes I have to try a couple different things before I find the right place for an item! (See Marie Kondo’s work for more ideas about this amazing concept.)
Once every item has a place, you’ll rarely lose things. When finished with an item, return it to its place after every use, and the system is easily maintained. Even small children can be taught this. They like order too! The boys’ room has a cubby system that they can reach, understand, and follow (mostly!) Toys, projects, books, shoes, coats, and backpacks should ideally all return to their proper place at the end of the day.
Resist the Urge to Spend
An orderly home comes from care, thought, and purging – not buying the latest cleaning tool and organizing system. While some organizing baskets and storage systems are necessary, you probably already have the tools in your home to make the needed changes. This is not an excuse to consume more and bring in more. It’s important to purge before you organize, and utilize what containers you already have before running to the store.
I’m a big fan of using what you have first, for the sake of being frugal, simple, and reducing the waste of production. Around here, we buy a new clock only when the old one breaks, even if the old one is no longer my favorite style. We want to reduce and reuse even in our home decor.
Maintain What You Minimized
We try to be intentional about not bringing new, unnecessary items into the home. New items come with lots of packaging, they take up space, they cost money, and every new item that comes in needs to find a place to live. By limiting what we bring into the home, maintaining the system is pretty easy. This step is crucial, otherwise it can become a vicious cycle of purge / acquire / purge again.
A Sample Schedule
Very little of my cleaning / organizing / purging is heavy-duty. Most of it is maintenance at this point. A toilet swish here. A toy pickup there. Donating an item every now and then. I’m more inclined to just clean what I see needs attention on a whim. But if you’re the kind of person who likes a schedule, here’s a brief breakdown of what I do.
(Don’t forget to check out my natural cleaning recipes before you get started!)
- Minimize and de-clutter – important to do this step first!
- Organize – designate a home for every item that remains
- Create a system for returning things to their home
- Handle incoming items ASAP to prevent additional clutter
Start of the day:
Start laundry / rotate laundry
End of the day:
Clean up toys – everything back in it’s home
Clean up kitchen – wipe counters, sweep, load dishwasher / do dishes in the sink
Put away laundry
Spot clean mirrors
Empty trash / compost / recycling bins
Change out towels and sheets
Clean inside the fridge
Deep clean – wet dust, wash cushions / pillows in living room
What are your weaknesses and strengths when it comes to housekeeping? Do you use a cleaning schedule or freestyle it? How can we better serve and love the people we live with?