If you were a long time messy person, how did you change?
July 11, 2013 6:32 PM   Subscribe

If you were a long time messy person, how did you become good at keeping things clean?
posted by drezdn to Home & Garden (36 answers total) 143 users marked this as a favorite
I lost roommates because of my slovenly nature. But when I had my first child, I realized that the chaos around me made the chaos in my head worse. By keeping my environment cleaned up and neat, I didn't feel so overwhelmed. Nowadays, I find that if I clean as I go, it's not difficult to maintain a relatively clean house. I save the big, deep clean for seasonal stuff.
posted by cooker girl at 6:36 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have improved by getting into the routine of cleaning every day in short bursts. Usually when i have little moment where I'm waiting for something to boil or defrost in the kitchen or waiting for a friend to come over, or the bank put me on hold etc.
posted by geegollygosh at 6:37 PM on July 11, 2013

I'm still working on it, but what's helped is:
- wastepaper baskets in every room, conveniently located
- paper plates, plastic forks/spoons/knives
- a place for everything - sufficient shelving, storage boxes, plastic drawers, wall hooks, etc
posted by Sophont at 6:40 PM on July 11, 2013

I got a declutterer to sort things out to the point where I could hire a regular cleaner.
posted by Flitcraft at 6:40 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. I got enough space (when I don't have room to have an art studio and an apartment, the art supplies overtake every part of the apartment...). This includes furniture space, as in, having a cabinet in which I put my paperwork cleared my table so I could eat on it which cleared my counters and so on.

2. I upgraded my belongings. When I had numerous sets of mismatched thrifted silverware, it wasn't really a problem for them to sit dirty in the sink for ages and if need be to be tossed. Now I have one set of silverware I actually like.

3. I have enough time. If I'm crazy-tight-deadline woman, I still get messy. But in normal routine periods, I clean as I go.

4. I watch hoarding television shows while cleaning. Seriously.
posted by vegartanipla at 6:53 PM on July 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think my big turnaround was when I moved into a place that had an extra bedroom. I let my Other Room get messy (and I shut the door when I don't want to see it), the rest of the place stays neat-ish. Actually, having a place of my own really helped snap me out of my messy nature. I like my habitat to be neat now. My parents are bowled over that I am now something of a neatnik.
posted by Elly Vortex at 6:56 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I asked my Mom.

No, seriously! She told me her exact routine (which includes doing one major and one minor thing each day, like dusting everything on Mondays, and bathroom cleaning on Wednesdays). The one thing she told me was that I wasn't done doing something (cooking, eating, crafts) until everything was put away. By "put away," that means, "In its place, neatly stacked/folded/hung, or thrown away/cleaned/scrubbed."

It works wonders, because you start with a clean house and end with a clean house every night.
posted by xingcat at 6:57 PM on July 11, 2013 [10 favorites]

I have a cleaner come once a month, and also try to make sure at least the dishes are done every day. I'm working up to "everything off the floor before bed" but we'll see.
posted by sweetkid at 7:00 PM on July 11, 2013

I made it easier to not be messy.

When I didn't have somewhere specific and convenient to put something, it turned into mess. So:
- bins in every area I commonly generated rubbish
- a 'dump' area and hooks by the door
- a laundry basket in the corner of my bedroom, such that I can throw clothes from the other side of the room and they will not miss (they slide down the wall)

If every shelf/cupboard in the house is full, I either need to do a clearout, or obtain a new item of furniture. If I always do this well before I run out of space, I then always have space for new things until such time as I have time to do said clearout. Cheap second hand bookshelves are rarely precious - and fit in some surprising places.

- Less standing around. If I'm waiting for the kettle to boil or the microwave to reheat something, sounds like a good time to put the dishes away/wipe down the counter. I have a headset that works with skype from anywhere in my unit - I can talk on the phone and do basic chores.

- Having regular visitors whose opinion of the tidiness of my unit mattered to me was also a motivating factor in keeping it relatively decent. It is a lot easier to motivate myself to maintain a reasonable state of tidiness than once it gets particularly bad.

And if I'm particularly busy, and there is something non-time-dependent I really do not want to deal with, I put it in an out of sight location. Currently, this is the basement. So, there's a box of old computer parts and cables down there, as well as a year of random notes and paperwork in a box.
posted by Ashlyth at 7:01 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I heeded my older sister's edict that order springs from the dishwasher. You have to empty it as soon as it's done or there is nowhere to put dirty dishes waiting to go in and mess begins to sprawl. I hate it when she's right but by golly this is the most remarkable truth.

Also I got enough storage receptacles to house All The Things so there is a place for everything.

And finally, having someone come to actually clean the house once a week means I'm slightly tidier because there is only so much mess my pride will allow me to display in front of another human.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:06 PM on July 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

I wanted to stop being embarrassed by my living conditions and so I started just keeping the sink clean, laundry in the basket and trash in the can. Once I got those three things down pat, everything else followed pretty easily.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 7:10 PM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Realizing that five minutes of work every day gets more done and is far easier than doing two and a half hours once a month, but it's the same time commitment.
posted by Etrigan at 7:10 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

I used to be a dishes in the sink for days kinda guy. I realized the only way I would ever do them is if I made myself do them immediately after eating. I don't always feel like it but it's only a couple minutes.

Which leads to my second idea which I read here sometime- if it takes less than 5 minutes to do, do it as soon as it comes up. That, along with the clean as you go idea have helped me a lot.
posted by saul wright at 7:29 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I read the site Fly Lady for a few days and realized there are people out there much worse than me and if they could do it, I could too. The real impetus was when I realized I was asking my kids to clean up after themselves and the best way to do that is to set a good example. I am now sort of a freak about keeping the kitchen and bathrooms neat, clean and orderly. I tell the kids that they can keep their rooms as they see fit, but it has to be clean when the cleaning lady comes every other week and they need to do their own laundry etc. If they want to live in a pigsty, I let them except no food upstairs.

I think the key is to simply pick up as you use it. Use a plate, put it in the dishwasher or clean it. Take out a game, put it away when you are finished. Open the mail? Throw it out, pay the bill or file it. Leaving things for later never works.

I am also much more diligent about throwing stuff out or giving it away rather than thinking it might have a use at a later date. Even having done that, I just moved houses and I threw out 36 cubic yards of crap so...
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:36 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have benefited from reading Unfuck Your Habitat.

Beyond that, I started withholding stuff from myself until I did tasks - can't eat dessert until you do the dishes from dinner, that sort of thing. For some reason, that motivates me even though it's purely a self-commitment device enforced by nobody but me.
posted by dismas at 7:37 PM on July 11, 2013 [10 favorites]

I'll give you the trick that my messy wife regards with the suspicion of a medieval peasant. Seriously, she's all ART THOU A WIZARD when I do this.

So I'm cooking, right? I'm preparing the food, chopping stuff up, mixing stuff, tossing utensils and stuff in the sink as I finish up. But at some point, I'm waiting for something to happen. Like, I'm waiting for the water to boil or the oven to heat up. So in that time, I unload the dishwasher and put that stuff away and start loading in all the dirty stuff I've made dirty.

Okay, so now it's time to cook, but usually that doesn't take any input on my part or takes something like a watchful eye every few minutes and the occasional stir. So the food goes in the oven or pot or whatever and I finish loading the dishwasher--from that point forward, everything being made dirty goes in the dishwasher rather than the sink--and then start wiping down all but a designated section of countertop I'll use for serving, scrubbing down the sink, and straightening up.

Serving time. Plate the food and then...you know how you usually spend a few minutes sitting and staring at it while it's too hot to eat, picking at it and kind of stirring it around? Well, during that time I dump the serving utensils and pots/pans in the dishwasher, wipe down the serving area, then go eat and the food is the perfect temperature for devouring. After dinner, all you have to do is toss in the plates, utensils, and cups you used, turn on the dishwasher and, voila, the kitchen is cleaner than it was when you went in and you have made dinner and created negative dishes in the process.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:41 PM on July 11, 2013 [34 favorites]

I'm a work in progress, but routine, routine, routine.

Start small with forming the routines, and only add a new habit once the old one is really solidified.
posted by randomnity at 7:41 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check out how she did it: http://www.aslobcomesclean.com/about-me/

This site is helping me HUGELY recently. One thing, I don't even know she did it on purpose, was to list the things she did in a day instead of the things she has to do tomorrow. I did that this week, I just wrote down the yay-I-did-its to refer to the next day instead of panicking at ALL THE THINGS TO DO.

Seriously, start at the beginning and start reading it.
posted by mibo at 7:43 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

I was slobby through college, and then I did a few things

- Got mice and ants (not on purpose!) which meant I had to keep all the food stuff really in good shape or else my place would become almost instantly grosser. Now I pretty much do all the dishes before I go to sleep and am really uptight about any standing water or crumbs lying around.
- AirBnB - I rent out my place when I am traveling. I look at this as someone paying me money to clean my house
- Before I travel I do stuff like get gross stuff out of the fridge, take out all trash/recycling, and gets sinks/tub clean. I look at this as a present that current me is doing for future me. I really like the idea of being nice to future me.
- Always carry a thing closer to where it's going if you're going in that direction
- Have a PO box so all junk mail doesn't even get into my house. Open all mail immediately and toss out anything that isn't the thing I need (i.e. no keeping envelopes and all those other annoying pieces of paper) and once I've done what I need to do, file stuff. I hate filing so mostly I put stuff in a drawer and a few times a year I actually file things. The drawer keeps things neat until then.
- Have a laundry hamper in my bedroom. Clothes either go into the hamper or get folded and put away when I take them off.
- Got a good vacuum/dustpan/broom so that when I do need to use these things, they are nice to use. Also have a nice little dustbuster smaller vac that I can use for spills or whatever.
- Charging station for all my unruly cables. Have a dedicated iphone cable by my bed and another in my office. Same with laptop cables.
posted by jessamyn at 7:51 PM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

What flipped the switch for me, a lifelong slob: every evening before I go to bed I set a timer for 15 minutes and spend that time cleaning. 15 minutes a day, every single day, no exceptions for tiredness or busyness.

I find it's the perfect amount of time - long enough to get things done, short enough that there's no excuse not to do it. Granted, I'm one half of a couple living in a 1BR so the load isn't that heavy, but my place has never been cleaner.
posted by beatrice rex at 7:52 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was already on my way there...not wanting to be embarrassed when people came over, deciding it really was worth it to just do the damn dishes rather than negotiate a battle plan for tackling the befouled and potentially buggy kitchen, not having the money to replace things that broke because of carelessness and clutter, etc.

And then I lived alone.

Where there is not even a tiny lame sliver of anyone else to blame except yourself when you trip over your shoes, when the trash bag stinks, when you're late to work because you couldn't find a clean shirt, when the tub won't drain because your hair clogs it up. It's also less stuff to manage...tipping the scales toward "eh, no big, I'd rather just take care of this now."
posted by desuetude at 8:12 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. Get motivated by realizing that the mess may actually harm your children's development. You might be used to it, but mess is a stressor for kids. It's good for them to wake up to a clean house.

2. If you're like me, you don't notice mess as early as your wife does. Eventually I realized that this puts an undue burden on her to clean up, because realistically she'll always be the one to get to something first. There's no sense in hoping that maybe she'll leave something for you when it's driving her crazy. So make a special effort to notice what's there; if nothing else, notice what your partner is cleaning/ has traditionally cleaned in the past and see whether you can beat her to it every once in a while.

3. Keep things mostly straightened up while you're playing with your kids. If a kid already has three toys/ play sets out and they're ready to get something else out, ask them to choose one of the toys/ play sets to put away. If you do this, then you won't spend as much time just undoing the kids' damage when you:

4. Use your kids' bedtime as a reliable reminder to clean.
posted by a snickering nuthatch at 9:18 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

My mess style is "clutterer" and only one thing has worked to change that. Last October I adopted a cat. Torgo cannot stand it when there are THINGS! ON OTHER THINGS! so he knocks them off and restores order to his kingdom.

He wasn't breaking anything, it was just driving me nuts. It forced me to start putting things away and now I do it without thinking most of the time. I still leave things out sometimes (or things just need to be out because I'm using it) and he still knocks them off the other things just to remind me.

I'm one of those people who takes up as much space as I have. Moving to a very small apartment and getting rid of a bunch of stuff did help a little, but the change was mostly relative to the size of the apartment.

Just don't get too neat:
"If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?" -- Albert Einstein
posted by Room 641-A at 10:36 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


You may have to disregard some aspects of the message (it's cutesy, religious, SAHM- and homeschool-centric) but it doesn't matter because it works. And along with breaking things down into undeniably simple steps so it's nearly impossible to get overwhelmed, it's extremely easy to make a habit.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:54 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am far from organized, but I've made big strides in cleanliness by working with my bad habits. When I came into my room from a shower at night, I'd drop my clothes on the floor. Moving the hamper three feet to the left means I'm now dropping them in the hamper instead! I'm working on good habits, too, but don't discount small changes.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 10:56 PM on July 11, 2013

I got married. My husband is a good influence on me. He also does laundry and dishes. All I had to learn to do was put dirty clothes in a basket, dirty dishes in the sink, and unfilled papers in a paper holder.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:03 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

While waiting for something to cook, I pulled out one of the refrigerator's drawers, washed it, and returned it. So much easier than trying to do the whole fridge at once without the upheaval of finding space to set every bottle and jar. Meal time is not the best time for a major cleaning job anyway.
The advice above about clean as you go is wise. Put away the ingredients as you finish using them. Pans soaking in the sink will be easy to wash after dinner. Load the dishwasher and you will be out of the kitchen in time to do something more fun. Make yourself do it until it becomes your routine.

Did you ever see the embroidered dish towels: Launder on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, etc? Divide and conquer the housework.
posted by Cranberry at 1:09 AM on July 12, 2013

I got rid of a ton of stuff. Basically I thought I was going to move so got rid of a lot of replaceable stuff, but then the move didn't happen and so I was living there a while longer with a lot less stuff. It was eye-opening to me how much nicer everything looked now that the surfaces weren't cluttered, how much easier it was to tidy up, and how little I missed all the stuff I'd gotten rid of.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:15 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

These are things I've learned that help me fight my clutter/hoarding tendencies. I've gathered them from various web sites over the years (some from here, I think). They might help someone else:

1) The longer it sits, the more it looks like furniture.

2) If you want storage space to put away those useful things, you need to periodically get rid of things you never use.

2a) COROLLARY: If it's not easy and convenient to put away, it won't be put away.

2b) To enforce this rule, use the One Year Rule: if I've had it one year, and I've not used it in that year, then I either don't need it like I thought, or I have something else that serves the need just as well. Either way, it goes.

(I have some limited exceptions to this rule. Like, I'm not getting rid of my lawn mower just because we had a drought one summer and the lawn turned brown and I couldn't mow at all)

3) Get rid of all unnecessary horizontal surfaces. They invariably accumulate stuff.

3a) COROLLARY: Strive for clear surfaces -- counter-tops, coffee table, kitchen/dining table, dressers, night tables. Before I go to bed, I do a walk-through and put stuff that's accumulated the previous evening away. It really does make coming home more pleasant at the end of the day -- uncluttered and inviting -- when the remains of the previous day are gone.

4) Never leave a room with empty hands. (helps keep things picked up and put away)

5) Decorations collect dust.

5a) COROLLARY: Decorative items SUCK. Think of them as vampires who want to drain away your visual space and life energy. I'll make an exception for framed photographs. All other knick-knacks or craft junkā€”out!

6) Know exactly where you are going to put it before you buy it (this helps with both tidiness and superfluous spending). With clothes, I ask "where am I going to wear it?" and "what does it go with that I already have?"

7) When you move, if you have boxes packed from your last move which you never opened since, throw them away without looking inside.

8) If one comes in, then one goes out. Don't bring in any new item--clothing, decor, media, technology--without also removing an item via recycling, thrift store donation, eBay, or gift.

9) It's okay to have two (or more) of the same item if you use it in two places (for instance, I keep a pair of scissors both in my desk and another in the box with my wrapping paper--along with the clear tape, ribbons, and bows--since I use them both places regularly).

10) If you haven't worn it in two years, give it away.

10a) COROLLARY: Open your closets. Arrange your hangers so that all your clothes face left. When you wear something, put it back facing right. At the end of the year, give everything facing left to charity.

11) Try to touch each piece of mail only one time after you bring it into the house. Bill? Pay it now or if you can't pay it right then, put it in the place that bills go. Junk mail? Recycle it right now. Something that needs to be filed away? File it right now, even if that means going to the basement.

12) There's no such thing as "too little storage space." You have exactly the amount of space that you need.

13) A thing probably belongs in the first place you think to look for it.

14) Realize that the phrase "I might use it one day" most often means "useless junk".

15) If you forgot you had it, you won't miss it if you throw it out.

16) Messes GROW. That one dirty spoon you leave on the draining board now will have been joined by half a dozen unwashed cups, a stack of unwashed plates, a coffee press with the grounds in, a pan full of congealed fat and a crusted cupcake tray by this evening.

16a) COROLLARY: The more people using a space, the faster mess will nucleate within it.

17) It's easier to do something (cleaning, straightening, dusting, whatever) for five minutes every day than it is to do it for two and a half hours once a month. You'll get more of it done the former way. And you won't even notice that five minutes. And that way, you constantly have a clean house, instead of having it for one day each month.

18) When possible, go digital. I love recipes, for example, but I have replaced many of my newspaper cut-outs of recipes with digital copies preserved on an external hard drive. Much more efficient, and takes up much less space.

19) You don't need holiday decorations. Okay, maybe Christmas (two bins). But no Halloween, no Valentine's Day, etc. No special dishes you use once a year. No "seasonal" towels and soap dispensers. A Thanksgiving tablecloth? No thank you. A fall-colors tablecloth that can be used the entire autumn? Sure!

20) Always, always have a donation box or bag in your house (mine is in my coat closet) and take it to Goodwill or Salvation Army or where ever every month or two. Don't wait until you have "enough" stuff to donate -- you can donate 1 book, 1 shirt or 1 dish at a time if need be.

20a) And get a receipt for that donation! The tax deductions add up!
posted by magstheaxe at 4:45 AM on July 12, 2013 [25 favorites]

I am a natually neat person, and I can give you some advice about how to keep a place neat and clean.

1. Everything has a specific place. If you can't find a place for it, then you either have to get rid of something else, and put it there, or take it back to the store.

2. If you buy a new thing, an old thing must go. You want 'thing stasis' otherwise you'll run out of room.

3. Clean as you go. This was my first lesson in the kitchen, but it works for everything else. When you get ready in the morning, just clean behind yourself. Out of the shower, spray with cleaner and wipe. MUCH better than scrubbing once per week.

4. Get a routine for EVERYTHING. It's really anal-retentive, but it works. I do everything in the exact same order, every day. Shower, deodorant, lotion, perfume, face creams, make up, get dressed. If I deviate, I get screwed up.

5. Do the cleaning before you do the fun stuff.

6. Only touch paper once. Don't let your mail stack up. Have a central location, open it, toss the envelopes, read the mail. If it's a bill, pay it, if it's junk toss it. If it's a magazine, read it. If you need to keep it, file it.

7. Stop getting paper mail, do as much on-line as you can.

This, and a lot of good advice above, will get you started.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:46 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Looking around my house at the moment makes me feel very unqualified to give this advice, but here you go: bribe the hell out of yourself. I feel like there's a lot of people here saying, "You can't have fun until you clean!" but once that voice gets going in my head (hey, mom!) I will waste the entire day sitting stubbornly on the couch instead of washing one dish. Download every podcast on the planet, sign up for Spotify so that you can listen instantly to any song that occurs to you, and organize your television so that you can see it from the room that needs some cleaning. Choose one stupid but fun show, and make that your cleaning show, so you're only allowed to watch it while you're cleaning. (I recommend Supernatural, but to each their own.) And then cleaning becomes just mindless television watching while your hands wash dishes. This can be particularly effective if you don't save it up for the times that you're usually watching television. I work from home and the chance to watch TV and clean in the middle of the day is a crazy luxury, so if I get in the right mood, suddenly the idea of taking a cleaning break is what's motivating me to write the next 2 pages. Yes, I'm motivating myself with cleaning as a reward! My mother would never believe it.

Also, if you just need some reassurance...people tend to get a little neater as they get older. Being hugely, slobbily MESSY was a huge part of my identity in college and early adulthood, and it came as a surprise to me when it turned out my most recent roommates actually didn't think of me that way at all. I wasn't like a neatnik or anything, but I'd gotten used to doing the basics, which simply wasn't true when I was 19.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:45 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I became friends with a woman who kept her house spotless. After a few weekends staying at her place, I realized that every single time I came home to my house, I was stressed out and pissed off. At her house, I felt serene and relaxed. At home, I felt crowded and flustered.

And then it dawned on me, I was relaxed because everything had a place. I didn't have to worry about where my keys were, or where the remote was because everything was put away in the same place.

So the next time I went to her house, I watched her. She cooked and cleaned as she cooked. Before we went to bed for the night, she wiped down the counters and tided up the coffee table. All the dishes were in the dishwasher immediately after eating, and when we got back to the house after an afternoon out, she emptied the dishwasher while we chatted.

The cleaning and the tidying up became part of her daily routine and because of that she kept her house fairly clean. So I started with small things, like sweeping the kitchen while the coffee brewed in the morning or wiping out the sink after I brushed my teeth.

The house gets away from me every now and again, and I have to do a big clean to get things back in the groove but the best way I have for staying on top of it is to just do a little bit every day.
posted by teleri025 at 7:12 AM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm still working on it, but the thing that has made the biggest difference so far has been taking antidepressants.
posted by Acheman at 7:32 AM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Put it away as soon as you can. That's been working for me for the past year! Don't give yourself exceptions. Tired? Not feeling well? Busy? Doesn't matter. Put away your coat,shoes, and everything in the bag you brought home, right away. Do dishes before you eat. (The cooking dishes.) Do the cleaning while you go. It always takes way less time than I think. It's going to suck for the first month--really. But I swear that it gets awesome and easier.
posted by manicure12 at 10:43 AM on July 12, 2013

I am naturally kind of a slob. What finally pushed me into being tidy was realizing how much time and energy I wasted thinking about cleaning, dreading cleaning, and generally feeling like a dope for being such a slob. For every hour I spent cleaning, probably spent twice as much time feeling bad about not cleaning, thinking I should clean or dreading the time when I would have to clean. What a waste!

Now I have a weekly cleaning schedule with tasks assigned for each day. Everyday I load/unload/wash dishes, wipe surfaces and complete one or two other weekly tasks. After 20-30 minutes, I'm done. The best part is that I no longer waste time worrying about cleaning because my apartment is clean every single day. It's kind of awesome.

By cleaning 20 minutes every day I preserve myself from mental anguish, have a clean home and can spend the rest of my time on things I actually enjoy doing. It works for me.
posted by meganh44 at 5:39 AM on July 13, 2013

Medication for my ADHD.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:44 PM on July 13, 2013

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