How Cleaning is Linked to Life
If you’re at home, take a moment and look around the room you’re in. If you’re not at home, picture your room as it was the last time you saw it. What stands out to you? No judgment here, just noticing what’s there–like stacks of papers, piles of clothes, a random pencil or marker under the bed, hair ties scattered on the floor. Would you consider the room clean and organized, or cluttered and messy? We’re not being critical, we’re being curious. With that in mind, I want you to check in with yourself; when you see a messy room/space, how does that affect how you feel?
Just a few years ago, a study found that clutter has a negative effect on people, impacts their quality of life, and causes them to feel overwhelmed and procrastinate (meaning they wait til the last minute to get things done). On the flipside, a recent study in China showed that people who lived in tidy homes “were more likely to report good health.” A few of you suggested a topic on organization/cleaning. I want to discuss this NOT because I’m really good at it, but because I have struggled with it, gotten better at it, and am actively working on it. Progress, not perfection right?
Organization + Cleaning Tips
Sometimes messes don’t bother me at all because I’ll make a pile of the mess with good intentions to come back later and clean it up. But then I don’t, and the messes pile up. I lose track of where things are, feel anxious about the piles of piles, until I can’t wait any longer and finally give in and start cleaning them up. Because I allowed the messes to grow, putting all of the things where they go is a much larger task. So here are my organization and cleaning tips as someone who is not naturally good at it.
Choose One Thing
First, choose one thing–one pile, one box, one drawer, one shelf in your closet. Choose one thing at a time to clean. It’ll feel much more doable and you’ll prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed. South African Theologian Desmond Tutu said, “There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” This expression means when taking on a large task, work on it little by little. I don’t eat elephants, but I do love Costco cakes. You can’t eat a Costco cake in one bite, even in one meal. But if you break it up into smaller pieces and have one bite at a time, eventually you could eat the whole thing (ask me how I know). If you try to take on cleaning your whole room, or even just your closet, it will likely be too much to tackle in one cleaning session–you’ll get tired of cleaning and either shove the mess back where it was, or leave it and have an even bigger mess now that it’s been pulled apart. By only focusing on one thing at a time, the task seems much more manageable. Choose one thing to clean and don’t switch to another mess until it’s cleaned up.
Next–set a timer and clean until time’s up. Do nothing else during that time, no other distractions, just clean until the clock runs out. The timer could be a traditional countdown on a device, or you could make a playlist and keep cleaning until the last song ends. Music can be a great energizer, making a mundane task more fun. Timed cleaning doesn’t have to be a big chunk of time either, you’d be surprised what you can accomplish in just five minutes of dedicated cleaning time. When you see how effective timed cleaning is, you may be more motivated to try it again–helping you take one bite at a time.
Spark Joy with Essentials
If you’re trying to declutter but having a hard time deciding whether or not to keep something, take advice from experts. Marie Kondo, a Japanese professional organizer, created her own method of tidying up, KonMari, which centers on whether an item “sparks joy.” Take an item in your hands and pay attention to how your body feels. If it makes you feel good, hang on to it until the next declutter; if not, don’t. British Author Greg McKeown is an essentialism advocate, and he says instead of asking yourself whether you’ll ever wear/use something in the future, ask yourself, “Do I love this?” (like now) and “Do I wear [or use] this often?” and if there is a hint of a “no,” to let it go. Another technique I use is to visually show myself what I’m using and what I’m not. So shirts for example, I flip the hangers around and hang them from the back of the rod. Then when putting away laundry, I hang up shirts I wore like normal from the front of the rod. When the season changes or three months later, I’m able to see what I actually wear and what I don’t. You could do this with jewelry, shoes, lots of things–whenever you use them, put them back on the opposite side of the drawer or shelf or rack, and you’ll start to see what isn’t getting used. Cut down on the clutter and you’ll cut down on messes.
What to Do with Clutter
Once you’ve decluttered multiple one-things, you’ll likely have a collection of stuff you’re letting go of. Unless it’s actually trash, don’t throw it out just yet. Let your parents look over the items–they may want to hang on to something for a younger family member, or check for keepsakes that “spark joy” for them. Decide what to do with the remaining items–host a swap with friends, donate to an organization that collects gently used items or to a thrift store, have a garage sale, or see if you can sell items to a consignment store.
Another way I stay organized–and enjoy it–is with storage systems like bins, boxes, dividers, and shelves. Here’s the thing–I choose storage items that are my style–like color, design, and material. This may seem silly, but I’ve found that I’m more likely to use storage systems if I like looking at them. For example, here in my office I have plastic bins with white polka dots that hold workshop materials. In my desk I have a tray with compartments for things and this organizer sorts my office supplies. In my closet I have a box with all my nail polish and supplies, another for mementos like thank you cards and ticket stubs. I have a jewelry organizer that holds necklaces, bracelets and earrings–only the ones I absolutely love. Storage systems do not have to be expensive to be effective–you can personalize a plain but sturdy bin using permanent markers or stickers or cute labels. Create something you like to see and you, too, might be more likely to use it.
Put Things Back Where They Belong
On that note, my final organization/cleaning tip is to put things back where they belong. The saying goes “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” If you’re like me, and rather than just putting something away where it goes, you tend to set it aside out of convenience with good intentions to come back to it later thinking you’ll definitely remember where you temporarily placed it, then later you frantically searched all over for it because you didn’t put it back where it belongs and now you don’t know where it is. Staying organized may require you take a few extra steps upstairs or another moment to return something to its box, but it will save you time searching for it and sanity wondering where it could be. If you always put things back in the same place–where they belong–you’ll be able to find them the next time you need them.
By consistently practicing these tips, organization and cleaning will become less dreadful to you–you might even start liking them! Remember to do one thing/one bite at a time, keep things that “spark joy,” motivate yourself by cleaning with your music and organize with your style, and put everything in its place. Organization and cleaning are not only great life skills to develop, they’ll also help you feel more in control of and better about your life.
Organization + Cleaning Worksheet Printable
I created an “Organization + Cleaning” poster for you to print out, personalize, and post on your wall where you’ll see it, remember it, practice it, and believe it — that’s the important part.
If you have a topic suggestion, I’d love to hear from you! Send an email (tweens get the OK from your parents) to hello@EmpowerfulGirls.com .
If you have social media already, follow me on Insta or tiktok @empowerfulgirls. I’m not encouraging or endorsing social media, but I’m on there to offer an unfiltered, uplifting alternative to what’s in your feed. Remember to get on the email list for the newsletter!