By Julia Pantoga
List of tasks to complete in hand, with time carved out to get the first few done, where do you begin? I’ll address that at the end of this essay, but first I want to share some principles that apply to most any housework project you would undertake.
Make It Easy to Put Things Away
You greatly increase the likelihood that you will put things away, if you make them easy to put away. I’ve identified three factors that impact the ease of put-away-ability
1. Room to put things away. If your drawers are so packed that it’s hard to shut them when half of your clothes are in the laundry, you aren’t going to put your clothes away automatically. Take clothes that you don’t wear out of your drawers and your closet now, and make going through them and deciding their permanent fate another project on your list.
2. Containers that work and that you like to put things away in. It’s enjoyable to put clothes away in a dresser that you love where the drawers are all the right size and slide out easily.
3. Location of storage near where things are used. If you put your pajamas away in a drawer that is right where you change in the morning, putting them away is just as easy as throwing them on the floor.
The best example I have of put-away-ability involves my shoes. I like the way my shoe display looks and it is located right next to the spot where I usually change my shoes. You will notice from the picture that my shoe storage is full at this point, which means that when I acquire more shoes, I will have to either get rid of some, put some in storage, or move somewhere where I can install another shoe rack.
My nemesis in keeping the house picked up is BOOKS. There are books in every room of my house, but the only large bookshelves are in my office. All my bookshelves are full and putting books away is a big job. But, I am always bringing more books into the house! Putting books away on my bookshelves is not an everyday task; moving books from various places around the house into my office is.
The Three Container System
I learned this method from a social worker. Every time you start a sorting/putting-things-away job, take three containers with you: one for items to take to another room, one for items to throw away and one for items to give away. The containers don’t have to be attractive and match, but wouldn’t it be more fun, and don’t you – you who are doing all of this hard work of putting your house in order – deserve some fun?
The real beauty of this system is that you can stop at almost any point in your work and a) not have a mess and b) be able to start work again at any time without retracing steps.
Know Your Stopping Points
Know when you can stop working on a project and not leave yourself a mess or put things back into disorder again. For example, when you have just dumped a drawer out on the kitchen table, you are not at a stopping point. When you have gone through the contents of that drawer and done your three container sort on them, you are at a stopping point. You can quickly wipe out the drawer and return the items that belong in the drawer, even if you don’t have time to order that drawer in the adorable drawer dividers you bought for that purpose. One of your goals is to never leave a mess for yourself.
I keep: a trash basket, scissors, tape, pens and paper in every room of my house. These items never need to be put away in other rooms because they belong in the room that they are in.
Where to Begin
I’m all about playing mind games with yourself, so I think that your first priority has to be the space that is your private space—your bedroom. That way, you are giving yourself the message, “I am important; I am putting things in order for myself.”
Next, I’d work on the kitchen, because that’s where you spend a lot of time and, if you’re anything like me, that’s the place you are most likely to have other people visit. After that, it depends on what’s coming up. If I have an overnight guest coming soon, I might want to work on my three-season porch, because that’s where I have guests stay. If the school year is about to start, and I know I’m going to need my books, I might work on the bookshelves in my office.
You are doing this for yourself, so you really need to prioritize based on what will make the most difference to you. For example, I’m easily embarrassed, and it would be quite embarrassing to me if someone showed up to spend the night at my house, and the room where I was going to have her sleep was a mess. I would make it a priority to put that room in order—to prevent an anxiety-producing scenario for me, rather than to impress her.
I was telling a friend of mine about this column and I said, “I didn’t expect to spend three weeks in a row on housework” and she said, “We never do, Julia, we never do.” Well, housework never ends, but things get a lot better as you put your home in order—as long as you keep doing your basic tasks every day. And, mark my words, if you decide that it’s important to you to put your house in order, you’ll do it. But it takes time, and I implore you to be patient with yourself while you’re working on it.
Now we’re going to take a break from housework (not doing it, just talking about it) for a few, maybe even, several weeks. When we come back to it, I’d like to address a really interesting question that a reader asked me that I didn’t have an answer for, “How do you keep your house neat if you’re an artist living in a small space, and you need to keep your supplies and projects out to work as you are inspired?” She added, “My ‘projects’ are spread out in my living room, which is the first thing that you see when you walk in the house. I don’t have any extra space or rooms to keep things out and out of sight of visitors.” Good question. Any thoughts?