5 Little Ways to Get Yourself Out of the “My House Is a Mess” Rut

updated Mar 23, 2020
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Have you heard that saying about how trying to clean up the house while your kids are home is like trying to brush your teeth while eating Oreos? I’ve been living that reality lately, with the added bonus of packing and unpacking and moving things around due to a renovation. My house has been a near-constant disaster and the rut is deep.

Even without the reno factor or children, most of us find ourselves every once in a while in a messy house that looks like a tornado whipped through it. It’s so overwhelming that you don’t even know where to start. Sometimes the only solution feels like flicking on the TV to escape. Eventually, though, your disaster of a living space will get to you and all the things you’re putting off will start to weigh you down. This is when you need a strategy, something that will help you push that stone up to the crest of the hill so you watch it roll down.

Here are some of the best ways to bootstrap yourself into a picked-up home.

1. Eat the frog first.

The quote about eating frogs first thing in the morning has been popularly, but incorrectly, it seems, attributed to Mark Twain. Wherever the saying came from, the thought it conveys is a good one: Do the hardest thing first. When it comes to cleaning a house that’s a mess everywhere, pick the area or the task that feels the worst and clean that area completely before you try to do anything else. Your subsequent tasks will seem easier by comparison and you can coast on that wave of momentum.

2. Employ the laundry-basket method.

The laundry basket method is specifically designed to address overwhelming messes at home. The idea is that you take an empty laundry basket around the house and pick up everything that’s not where it belongs and toss it in. This may be the fastest way to pick up a messy house, and definitely the one that gives the most instant gratification.

If the thought of putting away laundry baskets full of a jumbled mess of things makes you twitch, perhaps you can “outsource” that part of the job to someone else in the house while you do something more fun, like vacuuming the carpet now that you can see the floor again.

If you can’t outsource, and the “putting things away” part feels too overwhelming, it’s ok to let your laundry basket sit for a while. But if you haven’t touched anything inside it for several weeks, it might be a sign that your laundry basket and everything in it might be ripe for a trip to a donation center.

3. Work clockwise.

This technique (which I mentioned in I Can’t Keep My House Clean, What’s Wrong With Me?) involves pinpointing a place to start cleaning and then working your way around the room. For instance, if your kitchen is an explosion of dirty dishes, start in one corner and clean everything on those counters. Move the dishes to the sink, put away things that aren’t where they belong, clean any small appliances that live there, and then wipe the counters down. Then move on to the next chunk of kitchen surface area to your right and repeat. It’s a clean sweep that will build on itself until, before you know it, a whole room is clean — and you move on to another.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

4. Play the “ten things” game.

The ten things trick is another way to light a little fire under yourself when you’re stuck in your own big mess. Tell yourself you’ll pick up just ten things and do it. Chances are, you won’t be able to stop. You’ve gotten yourself over the biggest hurdle of all—the mental one—by making a way to actually begin tackling the mess.

5. Set a timer.

There are a few different ways to implement this strategy. Set a timer for cleaning the whole house or per room or for increments between break times or treats. No matter which you choose, the fundamental idea is to commit not to picking up the whole house or even one area, but to cleaning up for a pre-determined amount of time, say 30 minutes. Promise yourself you’ll pick up and clean with all you’ve got for a certain amount of time and you’ll be able to get in gear far more easily than if you keep trying to face an entire messy house.

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 5 Ways to Get Yourself Out of the “My House Is a Mess” Rut