Once upon a time, my home was immaculate. Everything had a designated spot and that is where it stayed. If I got something out, I put it away immediately when I was done with it. No piles of unfolded laundry, no dirty dishes filling the sink. Yes, I was a super housekeeper…once upon a time.
That “time” was B.C. (Before Children). Seven years into my marriage came Child #1. Then 2, 3, 4, and 5. And with each subsequent child, housekeeping became less and less of a priority. It’s not that I didn’t want to have a nice, organized house—it was just, you know, life.
Life has a way of shifting our priorities, of making the urgent seem so much less. Housekeeping had been such a high priority in the early years of my marriage that extended family members were actually concerned about how I would handle the mess that children inevitably bring. But in light of my children, housekeeping easily slipped several notches downward on my priority scale.
Fast forward 30 years and I am now regretting letting my housekeeping, particularly my decluttering, fall so far down on my priority list. Don’t misunderstand, my house is not dirty, nor is it unkempt. And I would not have ever been a candidate for the reality TV show Hoarders. And yet…
Let’s just say 30 years adds up to a lot of stuff when it’s not regularly weeded out like a garden must be to thrive. Now that my family is in the midst of preparing our home to sell for the express purpose of downsizing and living debt-free, I am seeing just how many unnecessary things I’ve kept over the years. The mounds of paperwork alone is mind-boggling.
You may not be a family of 7 with 30 years of marriage within the walls of your home, but I bet you can still relate. Because really, we all have a tendency to hold on to things that we don’t truly need. And seriously, I am not quite sure why I thought I had to bring home every shell I encountered at the beach each time I was near the Atlantic.
So it doesn’t matter if you’re single or married with a dozen kids, the struggle is real. When life happens, it’s easy to let the little things slide—until they snowball and become big things that we can no longer ignore.
Just between you and me and the rest of the world, I have actually ignored the doorbell because of the clutter on my table and countertops—not to mention the half a dozen pairs of shoes blocking the doorway. There, I said it. Confession really is good for the soul.
All soul-bearing aside, my desire to once again be a good housekeeper has been reignited. And I have to say, with every bit of paper I throw away, every bag of clothing I take to the second-hand store, I breathe a little freer. Less really is more.
When it first hit me that selling our house would require that everything be gone through, I was a bit overwhelmed. But like a 1,000-piece puzzle, you don’t start with the whole; you begin with a single piece. And so my goal to declutter, organize, and ultimately, downsize our entire 30 years began with a single cabinet drawer.
And this, experts have always claimed, is the secret to goal-achieving success: Break your goal down into manageable steps allowing the momentum to propel you forward. If you want your entire living space to be uncluttered and spacious, choose a single room to start. Within that room, zone in on a single area—a closet, a dresser, or a desk. Take your time and thoroughly clean that area.
This step is crucial, because to maintain an organized home requires that we eliminate the excess. After that, the maintenance becomes easier and we’ve developed the motivation for additional decluttering.
Now that I’m thoroughly cleaning out my house in preparation to move, I am reminded of how having less results in less stress, less distractions, less to take care of and clean in the first place. It has also brought back memories of how I came to be a super housekeeper way back when.
If these housekeeping tips helped me keep an uncluttered and organized home years ago, I know they will serve me well in my new house once our move is complete. Perhaps they can help you as well.
Here are 8 of my tried and true housekeeping tips for the modern mom.
1. Consider the purpose of things and rooms in your living space, then work toward their intended purpose.
For example, if the purpose of your living room is to hang out with friends and family, then it can’t double as your child’s play area. The same goes for the kitchen table; we all know its purpose and yet we can often use it as a drop-off for everything from coats to the mail. Decide how you want to use your things and space and stay within those boundaries.
2. Do a 10-minute tidy.
Once you’ve cleared the excess out, maintenance is not so overwhelming. But even before then, a 10-minute tidy can do wonders. Set a timer for 10 minutes each day and do a quick sweep of your living area. Hang a jacket, throw of load of laundry in the washer, dispose of the junk mail, do a quick dusting of stands and dressers, and so on. It’s really amazing how much you can get done in a concentrated 10-minute span.
3. Have the proper tools on hand.
Microfiber cloths are a must. They clean better than sponges or paper towels and they’re machine washable and quick drying. Also keep on hand an all-purpose cleaner and glass cleaner.
4. Clean as you go.
The kitchen is one area that I’ve held on to this rule all through the years. Even when I’m cooking, I put away each ingredient as I use them. If I spill something, I wipe it up immediately. And when I’m done with a bowl or measuring cup, I rinse it right away, making for easy loading of the dishwasher once the meal is underway. The “clean as you go” concept can be applied to most any situation.
5. Watch the horizontals.
Horizontal surfaces are magnets for clutter. Kitchen counters, dining room table, bathroom counter, dressers, and desks can all accumulate far more than they were ever intended to. Keep as little as possible on these surfaces at all times. This tip alone makes a huge difference in your home’s appearance.
6. Pitch or give.
On a regular basis, such as once a week, choose three things to throw away and three things to donate. This is a great way to start—and maintain—your decluttering.
7. Stay on top of high-traffic areas.
Ideally, the kitchen and bathroom should be cleaned three times per week. Sounds like a lot, but this will make the deeper cleanings much easier and less time-consuming. The key is to tackle a small chore before it becomes a big one.
If there is more than just you in the household, make sure you’re not the only one maintaining a clean and organized living space. Even children as young as two can help pick up toys. The older kids are, the more household responsibilities they should be in charge of. And if you can get your spouse on board, all the better. As the saying goes, “Many hands make light work.”
These are just some of the tips I utilize for clean and efficient housekeeping. The biggest rule of thumb is this: Don’t procrastinate. Procrastination is the enemy of tidiness. (Experience is a great teacher.)
We should always do our best to take care of the home God has blessed us with, but at the same time we shouldn’t allow some preconceived idea of perfection keep us from inviting others into our home, as I once did.
Under the best of circumstances, we’d like our living space to always be clean and tidy. But sometimes life happens. Even the process of decluttering can cause a bigger mess before true progress is made. Keep the big picture in mind. Visualize the finished picture and take one step at a time toward that goal.
Your home space doesn’t have to look like a magazine spread; perfection belongs to God. Our ultimate goal should be to simply be good stewards of the home we’ve been given.
We get in our minds that proper housekeeping takes hours upon hours a day, but in reality it only takes an average of 30 minutes a day once we’ve passed the decluttering stage. The fact is that we all can get a bit lazy with our housekeeping, but the good news is that these handy housekeeping helps can get us right back on track and before long we’ll be once again living in a fairly clean and organized home.
Tammy Darling is the author of 1,400 published articles and two books, And She Danced and While We Wait: Devotions for the Adopting Parent. She writes from her home in rural Pennsylvania.