Great news! You can jump into any section of the Home Organization Life Cycle at any time. However, I personally think the very best place to start is to CLEAR SURFACES. So that’s where we’re going to begin this series!
Stacks of mail. Paper piles. Stacks of books. Tchotchkes and knick knacks. Piles in the floor. Toiletries on the counter. The list is endless…
Walk into 99.9% of homes and the majority have a surface cluttered with stuff.
Of course the amount of surface clutter varies for each of us.
Some have a few too many decorations. Their house is in decent shape but there are knickknacks galore on the mantel, shelves, tables and counters. Others will find that every surface in the home is covered with items that obviously don’t belong.
A real life example.
A few years ago, I entered Rita’s home to deliver a turkey. She was the most gracious lady and invited me in to talk while she put the turkey away. As we chatted in the kitchen, it was obvious she was a collector of ducks. Most, I assumed, were probably gifts.
However, prior to putting her turkey in the standalone chest freezer, she removed no less than 20 duck figurines from the top of the freezer. Piled on her kitchen table were baskets that she scooted to the center in order to make room for the figurines.
Multiple bags were in the corner of the room that had begun to drift into the center of the floor. Stacks of paper, multiple cookie jars and dozens of canned goods covered her kitchen counter. Not a single surface in the room was clear.
What I noticed, though, was that most of the items covering the surfaces didn’t serve a purpose. The baskets weren’t holding anything. There were so many ducks that it was difficult to appreciate any one of them. The items piled on the floor could have been stored in a better place in the house.
Because of the clutter, the simple task of placing a turkey in her freezer took about 15 times longer.
Rita’s clutter was wasting her time.
Although this situation seems extreme (or perhaps it’s more of a reality), we all have cluttered areas in our home that cost us time.
But when our homes are a mess, it’s often difficult to know where to clean first. In fact, the most common question I get is, “How do I start?”
The best place to start: clear your surfaces.
Here’s why. When you walk into a room and you only see flooring, furniture, and your special decorations, there’s a feeling of openness. The room is visually appealing. There’s space to move and enjoy the room. You get to see the beautiful and meaningful items in the room instead of the mess that used to cover everything up.
Here’s the kicker. You get the benefits of a clean and organized home, even if the drawers and closets in that room are crammed full!
Of course, the spaciousness in that room won’t last long if you never tackle the clutter hidden away. We’ll talk about how to organize those closets and drawers in another part of the Home Organization Life Cycle. But for now, just know that the first place to start is to clear surfaces.
Systematic process to clear surfaces.
Just like anything in life, there is a slow way to work and a fast way to work. My guess is that you don’t like to waste time. So, in order to be productive and make progress quickly, I’m going to describe the systematic process I like to use when clearing surfaces.
1. Start clearing surfaces in the cleanest room.
If you entered my home through the front door, you would see the dining room on your left and the living room on your right. Except for the occasional toy or disheveled throw pillows, these rooms stay tidy most of the time.
When it’s time to clean the entire house, I always start in these two rooms.
All I have to do is fold a few blankets, fluff a few pillows and move any out of place items back where they belong.
Because the surfaces of these two rooms are clear, a quick dust and vacuum is usually all it takes to actually clean the room. In fact, when these two rooms are clear and the surfaces are clean, it’s pretty simple to add a few extra chores like conditioning the leather couch and polishing the furniture.
In just a few short minutes, I can have two spotless rooms in my house.
That gives me a quick win!
Think about the cleanest room in your house and start there. Then…
2. Move to the next easiest area to clean.
Since the first two rooms I tackle are on the first floor, the next logical place to tidy up is the back entryway/hallway. Our drop zone is by the back door, so there’s always something to be picked up and put in its proper place.
Next, I usually move to the downstairs half-bath. For most, a small half-bath may not be a big deal to clean. But with two small boys, it’s not my favorite room! Perhaps this room will take a turn for the better in coming years.
Finally, I begin to work in the kitchen. Since the kitchen is used a lot in my house, it can get messy quickly.
It is easy to get overwhelmed, so I apply the same “work systematically to get a quick win” concept.
If the dishwasher is full, I’ll empty the silverware basket first. Then one rack. Then the other rack. Next, I’ll load all dishes that are in the sink into the dishwasher. Finally, I’ll move items piled on the kitchen counter to their proper location.
When the entire first floor is clean, it’s time to move upstairs. Since that’s where most of our “living” takes place, it’s usually the messiest. Even so, I’ll start with the cleanest room (usually the master bedroom) and work my way to the messiest room (always the bonus/school/toy/tv/misc. room!). Even when I stop before cleaning up the bonus room, the majority of the house is nice and tidy!
Why the systematic approach works.
What I like about this systematic approach to cleaning the house is that it’s easy to see progress. You always know the next step to take. And each step makes it easier to complete the next.
Systematically working through each room gives you quick wins. It also enables you to have the majority of your house picked up…even if you don’t have time to clear surfaces in every single room.
Questions to ask as you clear surfaces in each room of the house.
We all have different types of surfaces and different problem areas. However, here are a few questions to ask yourself as you begin clearing surfaces in your home.
- Do you have anything other than kitchen items on your kitchen counter? If so, move them to a more appropriate location.
- Do you have dishes on the counter? Clean all of them. Run your dishwasher more than once if needed. Hand wash if necessary. Just get every single dish clean and in the cupboard.
- Is there anything on your counter that can be placed behind a door? Perhaps your pantry? Or in a drawer?
- Is there anything on top of your refrigerator or on the side of your refrigerator? If so, clear those surfaces too.
Dining room surfaces:
- Are you able to eat on your dining room table or is it piled with stuff?
- Is there anything hanging on the chairs that belong in another location?
- Do you have items in the china hutch or a piece of furniture that doesn’t add to the dining experience?
- Do you have items on your nightstand that could go in the nightstand drawer?
- Do you have anything on the top of your dresser that could be stored elsewhere? Perfume? Jewelry? Books?
- Is your bed made? This is a surface that can automatically make your bedroom look like it’s put together.
- Do you have items piled in the floor that should go in a closet, storage room, drawer, etc.?
- Do you have items on your bathroom counter that should be stored in a drawer, cabinet or closet?
- Do you have clothing, bathrobes, etc. hanging on the back of the bathroom door that could be moved elsewhere?
- Do you have items piled in the floor that would be more appropriate in a drawer, cabinet or closet?
Repeating the “Clear Surfaces” section of the Home Organization Life Cycle.
The first time you go through the “clear surfaces” portion of the Home Organization Life Cycle, it may be a huge win to just move items to the correct room.
Random items piled on the credenza may be swept into the credenza drawer. Papers may be stacked up into one pile instead of six. Items that belong in another room will be removed from the kitchen counter.
Eventually, after you go through the entire cycle a couple of times, the process of clearing surfaces will change.
Instead of clearing items that don’t belong in a room, you’ll start clearing items that do belong in that room.
For example, instead of putting your unused toaster on the kitchen counter, you could have a new storage area for it in the pantry. The ten knickknacks decorating your mantel could be reduced to three. You may even find yourself removing items from the top of your bedroom dresser that have been there for years.
We can easily get numb to the possessions in our house.
There’s a high probability that you’ve gone through the “Clear Surfaces” part of the Home Organization Life Cycle before, even if you didn’t consciously know that’s what you were doing. You worked hard and you may have even invited some friends or family over.
But for some reason, your efforts only lasted a few days. Your house was once again embarrassingly messy.
Want to know the reason your clean home didn’t stay that way?
The kids. Just kidding!
Your house didn’t stay clean because you didn’t finish the Home Organization Life Cycle.
Next week, we will dive into the next section of the Life Cycle….Implement Daily Habits. Make sure to sign up to get the entire series delivered straight to your inbox.
Until then, clear a few surfaces and leave a comment to let me know about your progress! I’d love to hear about it!