I have been deep cleaning and doing major organizing in my house for about 15 years. That’s not even counting the years when I was “just” keeping up with seven growing children. I was always cleaning and organizing, as evidenced by the fact that the hallways are clear. Then, several things began to happen. And kept happening. So, I kept deep cleaning and organizing.
Maybe that sounds like I am hopelessly bogged down in organizing, but really it means that life is in constant flux. Kids keep growing up and leaving. There was moving to Taiwan and back, fortunately to the same house. Throw in a couple of intense remodeling projects in the house, and the fact that things wear out or get broken or become obsolete, and you find you have to attend to organization or abandon all.
I know some people talk about doing just that, and everyone has to find their own balance, but if you live life with more than 2 suits of clothes, like to engage in any sort of hobby, and/or simply like a bit of comfort, there will always be organization and cleaning to be done. I’ve been inside a few African huts, and I was rather astonished to see how much stuff they had inside of them. People like to make use of and enjoy stuff and that’s okay. Don’t feel guilty about it, but do keep in mind that you will enjoy it more if you know what you have and where it is.
The degree of cleaning and organizing will likely oscillate over time. However, you will get discouraged if you think you will ever really be done. It is like laundry or dishes. Living life involves action that “messes things up,” so there will always be need of action to put things in the sort of order that makes them easier to use. Here are a few tips that can help you be organized in the times of deepest cleaning. Some tried and true basic strategies are very well known, so I won’t list them again here. What I will list are ideas that might be considered against the “common” organizing wisdom or have more to do with attitude and overall approach:
1. Create a main sorting area. This does not have to be a permanent place, but for each major cleaning and organizing time period, have a place to put things that need to have decisions made that don’t seem to be easily made at the moment. For me, this is usually my kitchen table. It is central enough, helping to keep things on my mind and making it easier to ask others about items.
2. Be very limited in what you throw away right away as you empty and sort in spaces. Sure, a waste basket for obvious trash, but also have a “throw-away” container for one more go around. It is too easy to accidentally discard important knobs or thingy-ma-jigs in a cleaning frenzy. Give yourself time to recognize and remember things. Of course, labeling things when you put them away can help with this a lot. A piece of tape on a cord, or items in a labeled plastic container is very worth the time it takes.
3. Let one thing lead to another to some extent. While you want to concentrate on one area or type of item to some extent, don’t dismiss every potential distraction. At least make some notes, but sometimes just go put something away somewhere else, or make that phone call to identify an owner. It may be the most time efficient approach in the long run.
4. Remove very likely give-aways as soon as possible to an out of the way location, like the back of the car. If they are left in the house (or whatever area is being dealt with), they tend to clutter the vision and mind. Make notes on boxes to remind yourself what is in them, if desired. Also, don’t hesitate to go back through things before the actual give-away.
5. Start a group on Facebook or Google or someplace like that where you can post things to family members. This was invaluable to me this last year. It is very useful for faster sorting things to give back to kids.
6. Put things in groups for evaluation by other family members. For instance, have all the games or water bottles you have questions about handy in one place at one time. Inform family members that you are ready for them to look at this category within a certain time frame. If anything is important enough to them, they will take time to say.
7. Eat and drink on schedule. It can be easy for me to indefinitely postpone these basic needs when the house is in a bit of upheaval, but I have proven time and again that my deep cleaning and re-organizing efforts are more efficient and well thought out if my body is not unnecessarily stressed.
8. Take breaks to exercise, rest, attend to normal chores, work on a craft project. This kind of cleaning involves a lot of decision making. The brain can get on overload and feel “jammed up.” Letting it relax for a while will help it work better in the long run. I have often found certain organizing dilemmas will occur unexpectedly to me during these rest phases. It seems similar to how sleep is beneficial for the study process.
If you are rarely home, or if you don’t engage in any activities at home other than eating and cleaning, you may be able to have a magazine worthy house. But if home is anything more than a showcase, if it is actually a place of function and life, things will get messy. Try to use the clean-up times to help you evaluate priorities, but don’t let the need to clean stop you from living.