Monday, May 23, 2011

How I Learned to Stop Being a Slob and Started Cleaning up After Myself.

My new, less-is-more closet.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: when I took the photos for this post, our apartment was unusually clean. We'd had people over, and had spent several hours cleaning up. I took advantage of having a tidy apartment by taking photos.

Our apartment used to be mostly messy most of the time. Piles of clothes on the floor by our beds, shoes stacked by the front door, dirty dishes in the sink, clean clothes waiting to be put away, junk mail scattered around the coffee table, and the bathroom counter home to my makeup, several baskets of baby bathing products, and Mike's razor. And so on and so on.

We would need several hours to get the place clean for guests, and would hesitate inviting people over if we didn't have the time to clean. Or would stay inside an entire Saturday in order to clean up for a dinner party in the evening. 

Every time we looked around our clean apartment before guests arrived, we'd agree that our apartment was so much more enjoyable when it was tidy. We'd promise to keep it that way, but it rarely lasted three days before the clothes, mail, and dishes piles were back.

When I was doing the Joy Equation, something I noticed I mentioned quite a bit was how much I liked having a clean house and how stressful and distracting I found it when it was messy and cluttered. It seemed like an impossible task - since I just was awful at cleaning up after myself and I'd tried so many times to be disciplined about it. I let things pile up during the week while I was busy, then spend an entire weekend day cleaning up. Not fun, am I right?

In March, however, things changed. I read this book (after seeing it mentioned on one of my favorite blogs) during my spring break. I tore through the book and was absolutely on fire. I spent the week getting rid of things and organizing like a madwoman. I think I may have scared Mike. 

Something just clicked, and now our apartment is clean most of the time. Instead of hours or an entire day, it takes us 30 minutes to clean up, an hour if we're being serious about it. It's a wonderful change, and I love being in our tidy, sweet little apartment. It's spread into other areas of my life, too - my email inbox is under control for the first time in years.

How did I do it? What changed?

Big Ideas: 

I am not my stuff.
Having interesting books on my shelf doesn't make me interesting. Having trinkets from all over the world doesn't prove that I'm well-traveled. Getting rid of boxes of memorabilia and high school yearbooks doesn't mean the past never happened. Holding onto sports equipment doesn't make me athletic. And so on.

Less stuff = less time spent cleaning clean and more space to live in.
Getting rid of things means we have less to put away. Everything has a space to live in - and those spaces aren't on surfaces that look cluttered.

Think about the purpose of things, rooms, and your living space - help them realized their intended purpose.
The purpose of our apartment is to live in, to sleep in, to use for our hobbies, and to hang out with friends. Thinking about the purpose of the rooms and spaces helped me minimalize and create useful, beautiful spaces. I reorganized my medicine cabinet to be full of things I use daily, instead of a bunch of random crap. I got rid of the random crap. I only kept six t-shirts, because I realized I don't really like wearing t-shirts. I got rid of cute, but uncomfortable shoes. I arranged my closet to have the things I actually wear most often in the most convenient spot.  

Little Things:
10 minute tidy
I made a playlist of a few songs that is exactly ten minutes. When the house starts to feel messy, I put on the playlist and clean up for ten minutes. It's simple, but ten minutes of cleaning makes a quite a dent in things.

Clear surfaces.
Horizontal surfaces are magnets for clutter (kitchen counters, coffee table, dining room table, bathroom counter, dressers, desks). And clutter begets clutter. In order to combat this, I keep as little as possible on counters and try to clear things off the table, etc when I'm done using them or before I leave the room. It makes a huge difference.

Three and three.
 I forget where I read this, but it suggested to go through each room once a month and throw away three things. Then choose three things to donate. It's an easy way to start decluttering. And fairly addictive!

Don't ever leave the kitchen with dirty dishes in the sink. Period.
Difficult, but effective. It taught me how to clean as I go, an elusive concept before. (This is the hardest for me, so I let it slide.)

So many people are great at cleaning up after themselves without a second thought. Me? Not so much. So these rules help keep me in check. And, sure, there are times where I am lazy about it, and I have a lot of room for growth (I really want to be able to only check my email twice a day. Must develop self-control!), but I have the tools to get back on track and not just let it all snowball until I'm living in a cluttered, messy pit again. Mostly? I'm really, really happy that I get to live in a fairly tidy, super functional little apartment.
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