By Pamela Chan, Contributor
Every two or three years my mother used to pack up our house and move us from one city, country or continent to another. This was what life was like when I was growing up in a Foreign Service family. Each time she set up a new home, she used the same logic to organize the kitchen, set up each room and unpack our movable home in a new location. Years later, our family homes tend to have well organized kitchens and many other organizational systems in place. Here are some ideas that I picked up from my mother about the relationship between a well organized home and the daily effort to keep it clean.
1. You Never Have Enough Storage
Even if you’ve gone for the minimalist look, hidden infrastructure using shelves, rolling storage units under beds, specially designed closets and other nifty storage units – such as a free standing panty – can make a big difference. Is there a corner in your home where you could put a storage unit or shelving? I had a small apartment in Japan that had deep closets, a loft and loads of storage. Even larger Canadian homes can be quite frustrating for their lack of places to tuck things away. If you always seem to have things shifting around on the surface, you have one or two possible problems: too many possessions for the size of your living space or not enough storage.
2. Keep Chucking
Keep items that are beautiful and make your home – and you – look great. Never stop getting rid of clothes that are dated, worn out or too small. Books that you don’t care about. CDs you don’t use anymore. Technology that is too old and isn’t used. Clippings and magazines you’ll never read. Broken items and dated furnishings and personal effects. The list goes on and on. Sell it. Give items away to interested recipients. Donate things to the thrift store if they can use them. Repurpose or recycle these items. Throw out what is worn out but can’t be recycled or cleared out in any other way. Nowadays we also have to be careful to not buy things we don’t need or purchase items such as fast fashion that will wear out in a few years.
3. Limit Screen Time
My mother used to watch one evening show a week. Yes – imagine that. Otherwise she was busy – after being at work all day – with cooking, cleaning, sewing and organizing the home in the evening. If you’ve been up early and dashing about all day and/or staying up at night with your young child or do to a night job, the To Do list might seem like a never ending task. If going out on the town, watching TV or going online is a stress release for you – or something that you simply want in the evening – you have to make a choice about how your home is going to run. You have a limited number of hours per day in which you can get things done. If you’re willing to accept a less tidy and organized home, this plan will work. And many people are perfectly happy with this plan. I’ve heard many mums say that they have more or less given up on the notion of housework. Otherwise you’re going to have to think about outsourcing the housekeeping to a housecleaner.
4. Divide and Conquer
If you’re always the one doing the cooking, hopefully – if there is a partner – another person will clean up the kitchen and tidy up. Every family has their own routine about setting and clearing the table and washing dishes. Some don’t own dishwashers and everyone helps wash and dry the dishes. Whether it’s putting out the garbage and sorting recycling or cutting the grass, it helps if family members can focus on chores that they don’t mind doing. When I was growing up, my brother liked to wash and wax the family car. I wasn’t interested in this job in the slightest and would have hated to do it. In our family this allocation of tasks seems to work better than asking people to be able to do many different types of household chores, even if they don’t like doing them.
5. Do a Nightly Reset
I grew up with a standard that every night the kitchen should be cleaned, floors cleared, laundry and clothes folded and put away, counters and surfaces wiped, and miscellaneous items brought into the home needed to find homes. If I’m staying at my parent’s home and leave a book in the living room when I go up to bed, I’ll find it outside my bedroom door in the morning. If you don’t have the energy to do all of these tasks before going to bed because you have a young child or you’re tired from work, for example, decide what you really feel you need to do and what you can sort of do – but not up to 100% done. Grabbing items and moving them around the house is one of the easier jobs. Ironing? Groan. Not so much! It rarely happens. (I throw items to “buff up” in the dryer for 10 minutes.)
6. Have a Well Organized Laundry Area
The areas where I have the laundry and cleaning supplies is fairly well organized because I use this area multiple times per day, every day. In this area I keep a plastic basket that has a focussed grouping of cleaning supplies. I can quickly take this basket and go around the house to clean. I keep a nice duster in the house and my children are always happy to use it. You don’t have to keep a host of toxic cleaning ingredients to “have at it” in your house. A core need for me is to ensure that I have a sufficient supply of cleaning brushes, reuseable cloths and environmentally sensitive cleaning supplies because I’m using them all the time.
7. Have “In Transit” Areas
Don’t get too comfy with baskets where you can store items that need to be organized. We use the floor near the stairs to the basement and the end of the banister leading to upstairs. I drop items in these areas, where they stay until I’m ready to move them. As I’m going upstairs or downstairs, I grab items and haul them up to their next destination.
8. Have an Efficient Laundry System
Anything that needs washing is sent down to the laundry area immediately. Don’t imagine a fancy system. On our top floor we have an L-shaped banister. I fling clothes into the air so that they’ll land below near the door to the laundry room, where I’ll scoop them up. My children get into the act too and toss things into the air from their room. They land where they need to 😉 . There are no hampers in the bedroom area. I keep one hamper near the laundry room. Even though the washing machine will adjust to the amount of laundry that’s inside, I like to have a full load before I run the machine.
My mother folds the clothes immediately before taking them to their destination. She also does ironing on the same day! (If you must iron, make sure you use a heavy iron. They work better.) I take the whole pile of clean clothes and put them on a chair in the master bedroom, where they’re folded immediately – or folded later on – and organized in piles on the bed before being delivered.
9. Entertain and Get Mad
There is no better motivation to clean and organize a house than knowing that you’ve got dinner guests or a houseguest coming over. Houseguests always get me in an efficient cleaning and organizing mood. Another good time to clean and downsize is when you’re in a bad mood. When your emotions are at an all time high level of irritation, you can see very clearly what you need to do.
10. Organize Your Family Members
There’s no best way to organize your family members to help out with the cleaning. In my family, when I was growing up, reward systems never worked. Whatever system you use, remember that children will clean according to their capabilities. Spouses might also not have your skills and vice versa. I have a saying – “if you want something done the way you want it done, do it yourself”. If someone asks me to do a task that I don’t know very well, and they don’t like the job I’m doing, I will most certainly haul out this expression. When I was a child, my mother would come into my room while I was sleeping and tidy up the toys that I’d already tidied up. She’d even reorganize the Lego by colour. I don’t do night time tidy ups, but my children do see that I do a once over in their rooms after they’ve done a tidy up. I usually do this while they’re falling asleep. My six year old daughter often mutters, as she’s falling asleep, how grateful she is to have a mum like me who looks after her. My two six year olds definitely see my husband and me cleaning and organizing every day. The message that you have to go at it regularly to keep your house tidy and organized has not been lost on them.
11. Hire a Housekeeper
If you’re up with the roosters and coming home or finishing your day late, when will you have time to relax and be with your partner and children if you’re resetting your home every evening? For goodness sake, right? If you do hire a housekeeper to come in once or more a month, most likely you’ll ask for help with deep cleaning of bathrooms, the kitchen and floors. And if you are stretched to the limit, you should seriously give this plan some consideration. Unless you like doing housework. Some people do. Me? Not so much.
12. Have a Place For Everything
“You know how you have a place for everything in your house?”, I was once asked. It is good to know that other people see my home as being organized. For me, a home’s potential to be organized is based on hidden organization systems in your home. In your kitchen drawer, is there a specific area where you put the cake server? And did you add extra organizing infrastructure into the drawer – such as smaller boxes and baskets? You might always know where to find your coat but are you always looking for your phone or other items that are left in different places depending on how you’re feeling that day?
There are still areas of my house that aren’t completely organized. And my foyer is in a constant state of flux – from being clean to hosting items that have been hauled in by the car. When you group these organizing and tidying up ideas together, you end up with daily routines that helps to keep chaos at bay. There will always be more to do, but at least you’ll be making your best effort.