How to Manage Clutter Between Cleans

I thought I’d outgrow my messiness by my late 30s, but here I am, still scrambling like a lunatic to pick up after myself if I have unexpected company.

I like to think it’s just a lack of time, but COVID called my bluff. Could clutter somehow be more psychologically comforting to me than cleanliness, like an outward extension of the mess in my head?

And I’m always wondering about neat people. Are they perpetually picking up after themselves? Do they just not have as much stuff as I do? Or do they have more storage? Do I have undiagnosed ADHD? Very puzzling.

Personally, I blame my mess on my preference to work in sprints. It’s how I exercise, go out, read, etc. I’ve always preferred the weekend, pseudo-cathartic, marathon cleaning session to the daily pickup, but I knew this had spiraled into a “real” problem when my messiness began messing with my social life.

When I found myself vetoing get-togethers at my place and telling friends they couldn’t crash, I knew something had to change. I devised a few tactics to curtail my messiness, and they actually worked. Here are my three go-to methods to curbing clutter and keeping things decent between deep cleans:

Hide your stuff.

I do not mean kick your clothes under your bead (though, sometimes such a desperate act is necessary). I’m talking about putting things that you don’t need or use out of sight. I live alone and I have like 10 butter knives, 12 plates and bowls, etc. — and I’ve learned that I will dirty most of them before I wash any. Stupid, but true.

I put away all “excess” plates, glasses, and utensils on a very high shelf I need a chair to reach, and leave out only the bare necessities.  It works! Most of the time, I’d rather wash a dirty glass than involve setting up a chair to reach a clean one.

Get Closer

Whenever you walk past something out of place, just move it closer to where it belongs. Maybe you don’t intend to load the dishwasher right now, but bring the mug to the kitchen. You spot a pair of shoes that belong in the closet upstairs, put them on the stairs for your next trip up. It feels like past self is always doing you a favor, and it could dovetail perfectly with the next tip…

Put 10 Things Away

I need to gamify everything I do, apparently, so if I’m short on time, I’ll commit to put just 10 things away, even if that’s just putting 10 things in the hamper. May feel like cheating, but it’s not.

Commercial Cleaning

If you watch anything with commercials, take that little interruption to get up and clean something during that time. Anything. Windex a mirror. Swiffer your entertainment center. Pledge your cabinets. Fold a shirt or two. By the end of an hour, things can look surprisingly tidier. I promise.

Take a Picture — It’ll Last Longer

While being sentimental is a nice thing (hi, Cancer rising here), keeping old receipts and greeting cards isn’t practical when you’re trying to maximize your living space.

To help myself here, I limit myself to ONE box of mementos. Pick one box — the smaller the better, obviously — and that’s your new designated home for all things sentimental. You’ll find you get pickier about what gets to go in that memory box in future.

Anything else, take a picture and get rid of it. You don’t need to physically hold onto it anymore.

So while I always fantasize about becoming someone who’s always company-ready and lives clutter-free 100 percent of the time, these tips will help keep your mess at bay in the meantime.


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