Let’s be honest, nobody really enjoys cleaning. Often, it feels like a pointless exercise—especially when you’ve got hundreds of other things on your to-do list. We wash our plates only to eat off them again, we fold away our clothes only to wear them again tomorrow and we make our bed only to sleep in it that night. It’s relentless and sometimes it feels easier to neglect our mess than to get on top of it.
And yet, we can’t help but strive for picture-perfect homes. You’ve probably read a range of tidying manuals and overhauled your possessions a few times each year in the hope of achieving one. But chances are, you’re no closer than before. You’re still surrounded by way too much stuff, living in a perpetual yo-yo between messy and almost clean.
Rachel Hoffman, the author of Unf*ck Your Habitat, knows this all too well and she thinks she has the answer. “There’s a reason that all of your past attempts haven’t been successful: you can’t change everything all at once and you shouldn’t try to.”
Unlike other aspirational tidying methods that suggest a marathon cleaning session, Hoffman believes it’s the tiny changes that make the biggest difference. Her book is more realistic; it’s a pragmatic, practical guide to getting your sh*t together once and for all. She recognises that we’re all human beings and that life is messy, and encourages us to put down the interior magazines because “they are impossible if you own enough possessions to function in modern life.”
If you just want to get your home to a point where a drop-in guest doesn’t send you into a tailspin of panic and where you can live your everyday life without being depressed and disgusted by your own surroundings, the book is for you. Below, she shares her ten commandments of tidying. Read them and you’ll worship her forever.
“By doing something, anything, every day, you avoid the need for a massive cleaning session once a month or once a year or just once ever—whatever it is you’ve been doing. If you’re doing even a small amount of work on a daily basis, you not only catch up with the mess you’ve made that day but also help to get yourself a little bit ahead of the curve by making a dent in your baseline mess. Over time, you’ll find that with just one twenty-minute session on the days you “don’t have time,” you can start in on the bigger projects that have been plaguing the landscape of your home for longer than you can remember.”
Think you don’t have the time? Hoffman says to ask yourself if you find time to watch Netflix or catch up on Facebook. “So it’s not that we don’t have time; it’s just that we’re choosing to prioritise the little bits of time we do have differently.”
“You don’t have to stop your life in order to clean; you can integrate a little bit of housework into what you’re already doing,” she says. All that time you lose to technology? Use it. “Do something while you’re catching up on your series. Fold your clothes and pair your socks. Bring the laptop into the kitchen and clear off a counter. Find a twenty-minute podcast and use it as a soundtrack while you catch up on your dishes.”
She recommends knocking out a 20-minute session as soon as you get home before you switch into I’m-going-to-lie-on-the-couch-in-my-underwear mode.
“One of the most effective habits for keeping our chaos under control is putting things away where they belong instead of just setting them down. Every time you set empty packaging on the counter instead of putting it in the recycling bin, every time you kick your shoes off and leave them wherever they land instead of sticking them back in the closet, every time you return from a shopping trip and set the bags on the counter instead of putting the items away, you’re making the mess worse. By being mindful about where items end up, you can keep the chaos from escalating.
Once you start becoming aware of where you’re putting things, you’ll notice that it’s really not as much work as you think to put things away instead of setting them down wherever.”
“We all have short spans of time during our day when we’re stuck waiting for something else to finish before we can move onto the next thing,” says Hoffman. She suggests we learn how to use them efficiently by completing easy, low-investment, low-commitment tasks.
“While your coffee is brewing in the morning, unload the dishwasher from last night. Once you put dinner on to simmer or bake, wash all of your prep dishes so there’s less to do later. Does your shower take a while to heat up? Use that dead time (and a sponge soaked with the not-hot-enough water) to wipe down the bathroom counters.”
“Oh, I can just hear some of you now: “Why should I make my bed? I’m just going to mess it up later anyway.” Well, smartasses, you wash your dishes even though you’re going to use them later. You hang your clothes up even though you’re going to wear them later. You throw your rubbish away even though you’re going to make more later. The continued use of an item doesn’t mean you never have to clean or maintain it.”
“Unmade beds are agents of entropy; they’re only going to get worse. First, the bedding is in disarray. Then laundry starts to pile up on it. Then there’s so much other stuff on it that there’s no room to sleep unless you toss everything on the floor.”
Sound familiar? According to Hoffman, an unmade bed makes a room look messier, while a made one brings a focal point of cleanliness and order so “Just make your damn bed.”
“This is as much psychological as anything else. Flat surfaces like counters, tables, dressers, nightstands, etc., tend to accumulate a lot of crap. When they’re all piled up with stuff, visually, they’re messy, they’re overwhelming, they make everything look bad, and the whole thing makes you feel like conquering your mess is hopeless. By keeping the most visible flat surfaces clear on a daily basis, you’ll have tangible proof that your cleaning and organising efforts do, in fact, make a difference.” And, if you apply habit #4 daily, chances are your clear surfaces shouldn’t pile up anyway.
Tidying tip: pick a surface that you see every day that tends to accumulate clutter. Take five minutes or so daily to clear it.
Unless you’re one of those rare people who have your sh*t together every day, chances are, mornings are a constant battle.
“Let’s face it, mornings are chaos. We wait until the last possible minute to wake up, get ready for the day half-asleep, usually forget something critical in our mad rush, and fly out the door basically unprepared for the day ahead because we’ve just completely run out of time to get ready.”
Instead, Hoffman suggests taking 20-minutes before bed to prepare yourself for tomorrow.
“Think realistically about what trips you up in the morning. Do you lose time trying to find matching shoes or your keys? Is trying to throw together a last-minute lunch costing you time (or money in takeout, because let’s face it, that’s way easier)? Do you forget to take your vitamins only to realise it when you’re on the road and they’re at home, forgotten? Get all that shit together the night before and make your morning that much easier.”
“While this is certainly an extension of “put it away, not down,” it also requires a little bit of self-awareness. What rubbish are you creating, and what do you do with it once you create it?”
Hoffman says to look around, is your house filled with receipts, napkins, shopping bags, or packaging? Be aware of putting rubbish in the bin before using the products it was created for. Also, make a habit of taking the rubbish and recycling out on a regular basis.
Tidying Tip: If you don’t have some kind of rubbish receptacle in every room, get one. Throwing your rubbish away is a lot easier when it doesn’t require a special trip. Better yet, try the #ZeroWaste Movement…our editor did.
“Listen, it’s just a fact that dirty dishes multiply infinitely until they fill up every square inch of available space in your home. The longer you leave them, the more they breed, until the best option to deal with them seems to be lighting a match and hoping a nice cleansing fire will make them go away. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you can manage to incorporate washing up into your daily routine, you’ll only need to invest a few minutes at a time in dealing with it, rather than having to set aside the better part of an afternoon.”
Tidying tip: Try to get into the habit of dealing with your dishes immediately after using them. If washing up is just as much a part of mealtime as food preparation and eating, you’ll soon find that the dish problem isn’t that much of a problem after all.
“Laundry and washing up have three steps, everyone. It’s not done until it’s put away.”
That being said, Hoffman notes “You can’t put things away if everything doesn’t have a home. So [first things first], make sure you have enough storage for your stuff, and if not, it’s time to look into less stuff or more storage.” She says less stuff is almost always the better and easier option.
Once this is done, it’s important to get into a habit of putting things away immediately before your clothes end up on the floordrobe and your dishes wait on the drying rack until they’re reused.
Unf*ck Your Habitat by Rachel Hoffman is published by Bluebird, RRP $19.99