Tips for keeping a clean apartment
December 2, 2011 7:07 AM   Subscribe

I'm a lazy slob, so I gradually fill my apartment with clutter, misplaced items, and occasionally a bit of trash. Now that I've finished my annual cleaning, I figure that the only way to keep my apartment neat and organized is to make keeping it clean about as easy as making it messy. Do people have any tips or useful items to help do that?
posted by JohnnyB to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 125 users marked this as a favorite
1) As you walk around your place, every time you pass something out of place, pick it up, divert yourself briefly to where that thing belongs, and place it there. Every time. Once you build the habit, it's fantastic.

2) Make sure you have enough storage for all your Stuff. This is my problem right now; I actually have a totally reasonable amount of personal possessions, but for various reasons not enough small drawers, etc to keep it all contained and organized.

3) Make yourself a strict schedule for vacuuming, and stick to it. Even something as horrifying-to-the-very-clean as the first of every month. Vacuuming forces you to look over an entire room and get the floor clear, which (hopefully) cascades into a general cleanup operation.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:15 AM on December 2, 2011 [18 favorites]

Best answer: I asked roughly the same question a while ago and got some great advice.
posted by griphus at 7:17 AM on December 2, 2011

Spend 10 minutes a day tidying up. Every. Single. Day. It's difficult to make it into a routine, but once you do, it's SO much easier than spending a couple of hours or more, once a month or something.

When I come home, I generally spend 5 minutes zipping around putting stuff back - hanging up stuff, putting away whatever I brought with me back home. Putting stuff back in their place.

5 minutes for doing dishes, and then 5 minutes every other day or so dusting and swiffering the floors (awesome and easy if you have hardwood floors).

Honestly, the best thing is to just get into a routine of putting stuff back in a set period during the day (for me this is as soon as I get home, but you can do it in a commercial break or something). It doesn't take more than a couple minutes to unclutter the past 24 hours, but it takes a hell of a lot longer if you wait to once a month or year or whatever. 5 minutes. Every day.
posted by raztaj at 7:19 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, the best -- and probably most repeated -- piece of advice in there was "everything has a home." Books go in the bookshelf. Coats go on the hanger. Shirts go in the closet. Garbage goes in the bin. This is, of course, opposed to one's natural inclination to dump everything on the nearest level surface. My girlfriend is probably reading this and rolling her eyes considering that I have not actually taken that piece of advice to heart, but it's still good advice.
posted by griphus at 7:20 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

---Try to get into the habit of immediately putting things back where they should be - as soon as you take your shoes off, put them in the closet, coats/jackets hung up right away, go through mail over the trash can (the day you get it) and throw all junk mail away immediately and stack all mail you have to keep in one place (a bin, a basket, a corner on a table).

---Also, I dont' believe that dishes have to necessarily be washed as soon as they are used, but AT LEAST quickly rinse off food and crumbs and stack them OUTSIDE of the sink, do them in a day or two or whenever there is a small pile.

---When you are wiping down kitchen counters and stove, use the same paper towel (if you use paper towels) and spot clean the kitchen floor. I do this and it seems to save me one big major effort of mopping the kitchen floor.

---And don't wait for the bathrooms to get as nasty as they can get before cleaning. Wipe off the toilet and sink often. I hate cleaning the shower and bathtub, so the last couple of times, i've taken a scrubby into the shower with me and give it a quick scrub as i'm showering.
posted by foxhat10 at 7:24 AM on December 2, 2011

Every time you use something (anything) put it back where it belongs when you finish. Every tiime.
posted by txmon at 7:25 AM on December 2, 2011

Avoid visual clutter by adopting the Breadbox Rule. Don't have anything smaller than a breadbox out on display. I did this (with a few exceptions) and it's glorious.
posted by mochapickle at 7:27 AM on December 2, 2011 [13 favorites]

Seconding Tomorrowful on the vacuuming. Make a little time every weekend or at least every other weekend to at least sweep/mop/vacuum the whole place. It gets everything off the floor and immediately the place looks better. Then you'll probably have a lot of stuff that you put on your furniture. This will probably annoy you and you can just go about putting it away little by little throughout your day. Also, when I'm picking up clutter from around the living room, dining room and kitchen, the main parts of our house, instead of picking something up and putting it away...I put everything that doesn't belong in that room or area in one place like on the dining room table or kitchen table, then from there I collect everything that goes in say, my bedroom and go put it away...conserve your energy! I sometimes use a laundry basket or something to carry it in if it's a lot. Hope this kinda helps!
posted by daydreamer at 7:29 AM on December 2, 2011

My best tip is to put all your furniture on rollies or felt so that it's easy to move around and vacuum behind.
posted by shownomercy at 7:33 AM on December 2, 2011

The crucial time for me is the 5 minutes after I finish something. I really love to come in the door, set my stuff down in a pile, and collapse in a heap with my cat; or finish a meal, drift over to the sofa, and collapse in a heap with my cat. To maintain cleanliness, the key thing is to spend 5 minutes tidying up the thing I'm currently involved with before I allow my self to call it "done". For example, I'm not "home from work and can do what I want" until my keys are back in my purse, my purse and coat are on hooks by the back door, the mail is out of the mailbox and sorted into trash and his/hers inboxes, and my tupperware from lunch is in the sink. I'm not done swapping out CDs for the car until the discs I just brought in from the car are back in their proper cases put away (i.e. not in a pile on the coffee table.) It's about redefining what "finished" means.

Second piece of advice: buy a Roomba. Put in on automatic pilot to start every morning as a "second alarm clock". Hear it crash into things and get stuck trying to vacuum your coat. Train yourself to clear all the crap from its path before you go to bed every night so that you can stop waking up to the sound of it knocking over the camera tripod you were too lazy to put away yesterday.
posted by aimedwander at 7:42 AM on December 2, 2011 [8 favorites]

I set a timer for 10 minutes once a day and run around and get us much tidying done as I can in that time. Timer dings and I can stop for the day guilt free. That and putting things away when I'm done and cleaning up as I go in the kitchen keeps me on top of most things. Oh and make sure everything has a "Home" most clutter comes from things not having a place to go.

The FLYlady website has some good ideas, though I think it's aimed more at stay at home mums, they are where I got the timer idea from. Their idea is I can do anything for 10 minutes.

Remember it takes 21 days to make a new habit. So get a calendar and a timer and tell yourself you are just going to do the 10 minute clean a day for 21 days. At the end of 21 days if it's not a habit just say to yourself I'm going to do this just for the next 21 days. The trick is to make the daily tidying up a habit, then it doesn't feel quite so much like work.
posted by wwax at 7:43 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Every time you use something (anything) put it back where it belongs when you finish. Every time. This really is 9000 % of it. Not making messes is easier than tidying and cleaning.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:47 AM on December 2, 2011

FlyLady (also mentioned by wwax I see) has some annoying stuff in there, but if you're able to get past that, she also sends out a daily "this is what you should spend 5 or 10 minutes doing/cleaning today" email, which can be super helpful/motivating.
posted by inigo2 at 7:52 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Every time you put a wet thing in the drying rack, take two dry things out and put them away.
posted by flabdablet at 8:03 AM on December 2, 2011

I only took a few things away from Fly Lady, but I really do think their Methodology is terrific.

In conjunction with the idea that "clutter cannot be organized", I'm big on not bringing crap into the house (don't take freebies; resist gadgets; don't carry something like a purse or bag that enables you to take things home) I also:

"Declutter 15 minutes a day – FlyLady’s principle is that anyone can do anything for 15 minutes. Just set a timer and declutter something for 15 minutes, and then stop when the timer goes off!"

We have so much stuff, with a kid and all, that I keep a bag by the door and every day I make a point to walk around and find a bunch of things I figure I don't want to clean, don't want to find homes for, don't use enough or need, really, and thankfully, there's a thrift store around the corner where I can drop them off on my way to work. So in the bag they go. If I go about it all day long, it's not as effective - my decisions take longer. But if I do it in a "27 Fling Boogie" style, it's an easier and faster process that's much more satisfying. (I'm working on years of accumulation as an antiques dealer).

The other is having a "Before Bed Routine"

Here is a sample from their FB page:

Before Bed Routine:
1. Tidy-up Kitchen (counters, dishes, table, etc).
2. 5 min. Hot spot (clear out that area that always seems to accumulate clutter).
3. Load Dishwasher
4. Load Washer (clothes)
5. Wash Pots, remaining dishes
6. Shine my sink (no clean or dirty dishes in sink)
7. Where is my purse and keys? (you know how it is in the morning???)
8. Tidy-up Living Room (put everything in it's place).
9. Check my planner for tomorrow's activities
10. Wash face/teeth
11. Lay-out clothes for tomorrow
12. Lay-out items needed for tomorrow's activities

That doesn't work for me, mine is more like moving backwards through the house, ending up in bed (or on the sofa surfing for hours, but whatever), and making it so my morning is visually uncluttered and ready to do real cleaning the next day. It's about twenty minutes, but it makes the next day so much better that I can actually do what I need to without a million little tidy-ups before I need to use a space.

1. Fold/hang/put away any laundry
2. Empty dishwasher and clear and wipe down counters and table and sweep floor
3. Get breakfast things ready
4. Get papers/items needed ready for tomorrow
5. Tidy living room (fluff pillows, flip sofa cushions, fold throw, clear coffee table, toys away)
6. Tidy front hall, place phone/items needed to out tomorrow in bag etc. on landing strip
7. Quick tidy of upstairs - stuff off floors, laundry in bins, fresh towels out, toilet and sink and floor swiped
8. Clothes ready for the next day
9. Clean up myself and hit the hay

That way, the next day I can wake up and get dressed with no glitches. I can be ready for anything, and can do things vacuum or mop spontaneously without having to pick up first. Dishes can go straight in the dishwasher all day. I can sit down to work, or cook, at whatever surface without needing to move things around. I still have areas where I have piles to go through, but as long as my floors and surfaces are generally clear, it's all more functional and I don't have to declutter before I do anything. Because decluttering time takes away from actually cleaning things time.
posted by peagood at 8:06 AM on December 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Since you talked about "gradually filling" your apartment -- try not to. Think before you buy anything or bring it into the house. Do I really need this? Is this meaningful, beautiful or useful? Do I already have one that's perfectly good? Is it worth my money/time/effort, not just to acquire this object but to maintain it, find a place for it, integrate it into my home and life? You may also consider a "one in, one out" strategy -- when you acquire something new, get rid of something.
posted by chickenmagazine at 8:06 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Making it easy is definitely key for me, too. Trash cans in several, actually convenient locations! If you have things that live by the door (coat, shoes, etc.) then make a proper home for them there instead of trying to convince yourself to take them to a closet. Coat racks are great. Ditto, get a basket for mail so it's not just sitting on the table, it's in the mail basket. Drawer dividers make putting clothes away easier. Hamper by the bed so that your dirty clothes go in the hamper.
posted by anaelith at 8:06 AM on December 2, 2011

This AskMe will likely have some helpful tips. My answer there:

It really helps if you stop making more work for yourself: wash dishes as you cook, or put your used plates and silverware in the dishwasher right after you eat. Don't pile them in the kitchen. Same thing for the rest of the house: don't put your clothes on the floor, and you won't have to pick them up later. Put your books away as you're done with them. By not creating the mess in the first place, you're avoiding having to clean more later.

I'm a big fan of cleaning while you have a minute. When you walk into the kitchen to get something to drink, take three minutes to put away dishes (yes, that's really all the time it takes) or scrub the stove quickly. As you pass through a room on your way to the bathroom, pick up a thing or three. You can also try the method of setting a timer for 15 and cleaning one room for that time. You'd be amazed at how much you can get done at that time.
posted by runningwithscissors at 8:07 AM on December 2, 2011

Commit to having company over at least once a week. I never notice the mess in my house, it just doesn't bother me. I truly don't even see it and think my house looks okay. Then, a friend will call and ask to stop by and then I notice the mess. I have this moment of, wait, wasn't my house clean a moment ago? Where did all this filth come from?
posted by myselfasme at 8:12 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, one more question to ask before you acquire something. Where am I going to put this? This question really makes you think about how this object is going to fit into your home and life. Do you have room for it? Can you find a place for it that will enable you to use it and put it away as needed? Or is it going to end up shoved on a high shelf where you'll forget about it?
posted by chickenmagazine at 8:12 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

When you're cleaning, pay attention to how long it takes you to do certain things like washing dishes. You will realize that it does not take as long as you think. I used to be a slob but now I'm borderline neat freak because I finally realized hey, it takes less than 5 minutes to wash this sink full of dishes and then I feel great about myself. It takes me a few minutes to vacuum when I do it regularly and it's nice not having clumps of cat hair everywhere. I also learned to really like having a clean apartment. I used to not care. Get some all purpose cleaner(like the mrs. meyers stuff) that you can wipe down surfaces quickly with.

I had to change my attitude about having a clean dwelling because I grew up with slob parents in a clutter-filled house, and they would always badger me about cleaning my room but it seemed hypocritical to me because their house was a disaster so why did they care about my room? I had to get over that rebellious feeling and realized that I prefer keeping things neat and tidy.
posted by fromageball at 8:19 AM on December 2, 2011

One thing that helped me was to start being mindful about why I didn't enjoy keeping things tidy or what precisely was driving me crazy about a specific room.

For example, my kitchen was always cluttered and when I thought about it it was because my kitchen cart was a pain to use & i hated its sliding shallow drawers. I got pissed off every time I cleaned the kitchen because of that horrible piece. Got rid of it and replaced with a piece that is a joy to use and thus better to look at.

Another simple solution - a coat/umbrella rack that was the right height for me in the foyer.
posted by pointystick at 8:42 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I do the same thing, and lately I've been teaching myself that it takes literally 20 seconds to put a single item away. If I'm waiting for water to boil, there are probably any number of screwdrivers, pencils, pads of paper, junkmail envelopes..."stuff" on the counter next to the stove. It takes a whole minute to put them away and lose a little bit of the clutter that makes my apartment look generally "junky" (in both senses of the word). Another two minutes to actually Simple Green and sponge the countertop afterwards, since it's probably dusty from being covered in miscellany for the past three months.
posted by rhizome at 10:50 AM on December 2, 2011

If you like to follow blogs, I really enjoy A Slob Comes Clean. She can occasionally be a little Bible-y for my taste, but I generally like the way she writes. Also I get energized by learning cleaning and organizing tips from blogs and Pinterest.
posted by radioamy at 10:55 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Having a trashcan in more rooms than just your kitchen really, really helps with trash.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:21 AM on December 2, 2011

Hey, you're me!

Advice will come in the form of anything from 'Just put one thing away when you walk past it' to 'throw out everything you haven't used in the last two weeks'. Some people are materialistic and quite happy with this state of affairs; the challenge is to make sure that those material things have their own place. I've also met people who live in apartments that look like they just moved in, despite having lived there for years; I can't understand how living with next to nothing works, but if it makes you happy then knock yourself out.

My plan for cleaning my bedroom in three days? Yeeeah, that didn't happen. What HAS happened however is the absence of about five boxes of CRAP because I sorted through everything and threw out a bunch of junk I didn't want.

Lately I'm trying to remember that every time I leave the bedroom I want to find enough STUFF to hold in both hands that either needs to be put away or gotten rid of. ('Gotten rid of' in this case can mean thrown out, recycled, put in storage, or given away somehow. For storage, I keep a box by the garage and when it's full, into the garage it goes. There's a similar box for giving away, a catchall for donations/gifts.)

I agree with FirstMateKate -- I put a trashcan and recycling can in my bedroom and I'm amazed at how often I fill them both.
posted by Heretical at 11:38 AM on December 2, 2011

I'm a recovering slob. Some things that really helped me:

1. Make sure everything has a place. The biggest source of friction for dealing with clutter is having to stop your decluttering and figure out where the particular piece of crap you're holding should go. Whenever that happens, I stop cleaning and start browsing the web.

2. Don't fight your laziness. Do you always leave your shoes by the door? Put a shoe rack there. Poof! Now they belong. Similarly, I've got a bin for commonly-used utensils by the stove, a basket for clean laundry in the laundry room (baskets are much better than piles), and trash cans near every place I might possibly generate trash. Wherever you see things collecting, figure out of a bin, shelf, box, whatever, can turn that place into a home.

3. Create a clutter sanctuary. My boyfriend and I each have a place or two around the house (our desks, but could be anything) that's allowed to collect random clutter. THis solves problem 1, because whenever you don't know where something goes, toss it in the clutter sanctuary. Why does this work? Because of 4.

4. Don't let the clutter take over. You'll be so much more motivated to clean when you can look around a room and say "You know, ten minutes and this will look fantastic!" as opposed to "10 minutes and this will look marginally better but still pretty messy." Confining and hiding the clutter keeps more of your apartment in this state.

5. Start small. Even if you only designate one or two public rooms to keep clean clean, at least you'll have that pocket of order to build from. And once you've figured out how to keep your living room presentable, it'll be easier to fix the kitchen, and then the bedroom, and so on.
posted by psycheslamp at 11:57 AM on December 2, 2011 [9 favorites]

I have learned the stress of having a messy home, the place you go to relax and is your sanctuary from the demanding world outside, FAR outweighs the inconveniences of forcing yourself to make tiny daily changes.
1. Get rid of things you cannot store comfortably. I go through my closet every spring and take the clothes I haven't worn in the past year / intend to wear and give them away to charity. It is very hard, but it feels GOOD. You have more room, less piles.
2. After years of eating in front of the television or computer, I now force myself to eat in my dining area only. It's easier to collect up dishes / silverware / trash / packages in one room instead of running around all the rooms 'picking up' after yourself.
3. It'll take some time but keep your place as clean as you can for a while, even if it's a pain. You will naturally start to notice when things are out of place instead of being blind to the messes. You will learn where everything you own is (if it's in place), you will be conscious of throwing stuff down when you get home, you will find you start inviting people over on a whim more because the place is presentable. Trust me, you will start to care if something's been sitting out for more than a few days. It's great! You just need persistence.

Some useful items:
- Storage underbed bins (for seasonal things - blankets, Christmas decor, etc).
- A coat rack / hooks (when you come home take everything off at the door and viola! It's there for you when you leave, and not spread about the place)
- Trash containers in EVERY room. Collect it all up in a month or so.

I hope this helps.
posted by hillabeans at 12:01 PM on December 2, 2011

One thing I do, that sounds ridiculous, but really helps if you are prone to leaving stuff on the floors: whenever I HAVE to bend over to do something (tie my shoes, pick up something that's dropped, etc), I pick up something else that's on the floor that isn't supposed to be, while I'm down there. This is basically ALWAYS a pair of shoes that I have left somewhere randomly, but it could be books, magazines, whatever you're prone to leaving on the floor. And then I put it away. Just one thing.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 1:21 PM on December 2, 2011

I went from a teenage slob to a relatively clean adult. Here are my habits:

1. Have an little "stuff" as possible. It's impossible to keep things clean if closets are stuffed to the gills.

2. Set your microwave timer for 10 minutes, then clean until it goes off. I loathe starting the task of cleaning. I discovered that if I know I only have to do it for 10 minutes, I can easily get started. Either I time myself or I tell myself that I have to put away 10 things.

3. The two things you have to stay on top of: Dishes and laundry. They need to be done regularly and completely. No leaving the clean things out, put them away to make room for dirty. Dirty things need a home, too (ex. large laundry basket)
posted by Foam Pants at 2:31 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

psycheslamp's tip #3 is a good one. When I was in college, which is when I learned to be cleanly, my roommate and I each had a chair where we dumped random crap. It was our clutter sanctuary. Every Friday after classes were over, we had to take care of all the crap on our chairs. I currently have my crap chair in the bedroom. I also have a small metal crap bin in the living room.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:37 PM on December 2, 2011

Everything has a place and everything in its place. Then set up a schedule for cleaning. Do you got out weeknights? No? Then pick a chore or two to do every evening and you have your weekends free. Otherwise, take a couple hours each weekend and do all the chores.
posted by deborah at 11:41 PM on December 2, 2011

How to deal with receipts, leaflets, random doodads and other Stuff That Has A Small Chance Of Coming In Handy (otherwise known as 'clutter'):
  1. Get a container and label it accordingly, e.g. 'receipts'.
  2. Keep it near the source of the clutter, e.g. receipt box next to coat hook (so you can empty out your pockets on the spot), junk mail box next to wherever you open your mail.
  3. Whenever you think 'I'll just put this down somewhere for now', walk straight to the appropriate container and dump it in there.
  4. Forget about it. In the rare case you need it again, you know where to look.
  5. Once a year or so, empty the contents of your containers guilt-free: if you've not missed it for an entire year you're hardly going to miss it in the future!
This strategy works well for clothes too - each time you wear something from your wardrobe, reverse the direction of the hanger. At the end of the year get rid of the clothes you haven't touched.
posted by fix at 1:51 PM on December 3, 2011

Have a place for everything to go. I'm a scavenger, and often bring stuff home. It may not have a purpose(yet), so it's hard to assign it a home, and it tends to become clutter. I'm working on a way to deal with it. I'm not as anti-stuff as many are; it's often great for home renovation or crafts, but categorizing it takes some effort. Put in the effort. When your storage space is too full, it's time to re-organize or purge. I.e., when there are too many tshirts to put away laundry/too many magazines for the magazine bin/too many books on the to-be-read shelf/ so many computer gadgets they're a horrid tangle, re-organize or purge. If I followed this rule, my house would be tidier.
posted by theora55 at 12:16 PM on December 4, 2011

Figure out which spots get messiest. Figure out what the mess is.
Make it *easier* to put mess where it should go, than somewhere else.
Sometimes this will mean having a trash can in view, rather than hidden. A laundry basket with the lid up, rather than down. This is still tidier than mess, see?

I'm going to take a bedroom as an example.

* Have a trash can where you can throw things into it easily
* Have a laundry basket, with a lid open, where you can also throw dirty clothes easily
* If the problem is you have clothes you will be wearing again, have another basket of 'not clean, not yet dirty' that you can throw things into
* Have a hook for frequently used bags, coats etc
* Have a tray/container next to your door, for things that are 'leaving the room'. This includes dishes, books, whatever. Whenever you leave the room, pick up the things from this tray, and take them where they should go.
/ I use the same basket for things that are leaving the house, but you could have one at the door. This includes things like library books, things to give to someone, shopping lists etc.
* Get a large concertina folder, and small post it notes.
For every category of paper you think you need to keep (Letters, Cards, Medical stuff, Legal stuff, Work stuff, Photos), just write it on the post it note, and use that as the label for a new section. It doesn't have to be alphabetical. It's only post it notes so you can rearrange it. If you need that bit of paper, you only have to read the section.
* Copy invites etc into google calendar etc, or put them on the fridge, then throw them out.
* Cut up some cardboard into drawer dividers, and use them for everything. Clothes drawer: socks on one side, undies on the other. Random meds & hygiene drawer - Vitamins in one section, hair brushes another, then meds, and miscellaneous in another. You get the idea.
You can just drop stuff into drawers, without having to rummage around for things.

'ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life' by Judith Kolberg includes a lot of good tips like this, including visual ways of organising.
posted by Elysum at 3:03 PM on December 8, 2011

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