Having the house on the market has been a huge wake-up call. I simply cannot allow the house to get in a serious state of messiness, particularly since we could get a call for a showing at any moment, and lately potential buyers have not been giving me much notice. I've actually had to cancel plans at 11:57am because a buyer wants to come by at 1pm and I need to frantically pick up toys. It has been a struggle, that's for sure.
I have learned some serious lessons about keeping the house clean, though. Some of them are easy, others impossibly hard, but certain tips have improved my life drastically, so I figured I'd share.
1. Get rid of half of your stuff.
I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous, but this is the absolute top of the list of what worked for us. Those toys your kids never play with? Sell them, give them away, get rid of them somehow. You know all those books you have that you may someday possibly read? Chuck them. Or don't chuck them because throwing books away is a mortal sin in my book, but give them away to your friends or sell them at that used bookstore in town and get credit to buy new books you really are going to read! I cannot tell you how much this helped. We got rid of countless pieces of excess furniture, clothes, toys, books, dishes and cookware- all things we hadn't looked at in years and were just holding onto for some imaginary future point in time. Just declutter the heck out of your house, but make it a huge sweep. Look at everything, chairs, couches, extra tables, whatever. Be ruthless.
2. Only keep enough stuff for your house today.
My worst sin was saving stuff for our future home or yard or bedroom that might be bigger. I couldn't throw away stuff that was perfectly good but didn't fit our home now, because what if we move and have a bigger home? I had 5 bookshelves worth of books, but only one bookshelf in this house. Fit your stuff to the space you have today, not some imagined amount of space you might have tomorrow. Unfortunately, this meant we had to get rid of books and cds and empty binders and folders, because this is how much space we had today, not tomorrow. If we do move and do have more space, well, I'm sure it won't take me long (unfortunately) to accumulate more stuff.
3. Find a place for everything.
It sounds obvious, but this one blew my mind. Rather than making piles of junk mail and magazine articles and items that didn't fit anywhere- find or make a place for all of these things. Just take the time to do it once, and it will change your life. It turns out that whole "a place for everything and everything in its place" is true! Who would've thunk it? Now, when the mail comes in, I don't throw it on the table, I toss the junk and then sort the rest into its respective place. The toys in the living room get placed into the appropriate basket and the clothes get put into their dresser drawer or closet spot. No more piles sitting in laundry baskets indefinitely (at least, not every day).
4. Don't make extra work for yourself.
If you are carrying a plate to the kitchen anyway, don't toss it in the sink. Rinse it and place it in the dishwasher. Sure, it'll take 5 extra seconds right then and there, but you won't have to look at the piles of dishes throughout the day, you won't get fruit flies, it won't stink, and you won't have to take 5 minutes to wash them at the end of the day. Don't throw your clothes on the bathroom floor where you'll have to pick them up anyway, just throw them in the hamper. This one has been a tough one for us, because the mental energy we have to expend to stay on top of keeping neat is difficult, but worth it when I don't have to walk into the kitchen at 10pm and find piles of extra work you still have to do.
It is amazing what a few minutes on Saturday night will do for your sanity and tidiness. Josh and I do it together and race through the house with the intention of getting through it quickly and settling down to watch a movie. I find this step the hardest of the ones listed above, because this takes actual motivation when you are feeling tired and lazy. It really does take no time at all, and once it becomes a habit, it makes a huge difference.
6. Purchase a basket or laundry basket for different zones in the house.
I went to Target and bought 4 laundry baskets, all the same, for each of the 4 members of our family. The laundry baskets are on the smaller size, so they don't take up too much space, and they are all exactly the same so I can stack them when they are not in use. When I do laundry, I fold each person's load straight into their respective laundry basket and then carry it up to their room. When I do a big clean up also, I use those laundry baskets to get each person's stuff back in their room too. So Gabe's cars, trucks, and trains all get piled into his laundry basket and placed in his room. These laundry baskets are small enough to fit on our closet floors, so if I can get to it to put away his toys and laundry- great! If not, I shove the basket into his closet and tackle it tomorrow when I'm getting him up or dressed or playing in his room. In a pinch, I've even shoved these baskets into the car when we have a showing and I don't want the closet to look crowded. 4 smaller baskets feel much easier to tackle then one heaping pile of clothes. Also, what do you do when you need your child's clothes at the bottom of the pile, and tons of clothes are sitting on top? This way, I'm hoping I'll even be able to teach Gabe to put away his clothes relatively soon. I'm also keeping better track of everyone's clothes because all mismatched socks or loose toys all get put into one (or four) central spots and I know where to find them.
I'm by no means an expert, but as a messy person who has now kept the house neat and clean for 2+ months without a major slip-up, I feel like I have learned some valuable tips for changing our life. I've also been shocked, honestly, at how much easier it is to keep the house clean when it is all picked up! It takes me no time at all to dust and vacuum and wipe down surfaces when I don't have to spend 2 hours beforehand picking up toys and clothes. That being said, I'm anxiously awaiting the day when I don't have to keep the house in this perfect state every day and we don't have any more showings. But I know I won't let it get to the same point it was before, that's for sure.
Any other tips that are helpful to you?