How to tidy your home the Zen way [and make sure it stays that way]

There are many advantages of devising a simple system to keep your home clean… and keep you calm

a cluttered rack of clothes next to a tidy one

Too often we pile up our list of tasks, only to rush around to get them done later. But the key to creating calm and simplicity in your life is to craft simple systems for doing chores like cleaning, yard work and errands.

Default design

When we don’t intentionally design a system, one will form anyway and it probably won’t be an optimal system; it seems to work for us, so we just continue to mindlessly use it. But using complicated systems for doing things like chores, cleaning, gardening and errands produces unnecessary stress.

Let’s look at a complicated system for cleaning our house that might get formed if we don’t deliberately design it:

Rita and Dhruv Gupta, a couple with two children, intend to keep a clean house. But the kids keep Rita busy and she can’t find the time to clean the glass showcase that is slowly accumulating dust. Dhruv is too tired to do it when he gets home from work. They also have a broken couch, chipped cabinet and paint peeling off the walls that they need to attend to. One by one, things start to pile up and the house starts to get messy.

One day the Guptas have guests coming over. Dhruv rushes around pushing the kids’ toys under the sofas to keep them out of sight. Rita quickly dusts the house, hiding the broken items and they are yelling and screaming at each other. So though the house looks ‘clean’ on the surface, there’s still a lot of hidden clutter and mess even when the guests do come over.

When we don’t intentionally design a system, one will form anyway and it probably won’t be an optimal system

Now, your house might not be this bad, but you get the idea. Things get problematical because there is no process by which to keep the house tidy and we get stressed out by the last-minute maintenance and constant mess. We clean only when we have people over and then let things deteriorate again until the next guest comes over, or until we’re sick of the way things are. A look around our house could reveal there are dust bunnies under the furniture, grime in the fridge, and we don’t even want to talk about what’s in and around the bathtub.

Designing a system that works

The solution to eradicate the mess is to design a simple system and create a routine that works for you. Here are some systems that might help you get started; you should modify them to suit your convenience. An important starting point is to write your ‘simple systems’ down, put them somewhere you’ll see them and focus on making them a habit for at least a month.

Here’s a sample system for house cleaning:

  1. First, allocate a weekend dedicated to cleaning, so you can start your simple system with a clean slate. Get the whole family involved, and clean one room at a time, from top to bottom, clockwise, until you’re done. It helps to get rid of clutter.
  2. Once your house is in order, have a clean-as-you-go routine. When you’re getting ready in the morning, do a quick wipe around the sink, toilet and bathtub. Put things away as you go through the day. Wash the dishes when you’re done using them instead of piling them to be washed at night. Mop the counters and table when you’re done cooking or eating.
  3. Also have a daily routine: every morning, make your bed, take out the trash and restore anything that is out of its place to where it belongs. In the evening, sweep the kitchen/dining room and do a quick pick-up before hitting the sack.
  4. Have a weekly routine: either designate one day for a quick one-hour clean [it shouldn’t be that dirty if you’ve been cleaning as you go], or have different days designated for different things—for example, wash the linens on Monday, vacuum clean the living room on Wednesday and so on.
  5. Every few months, do a deep clean: wipe down the refrigerator and oven, clear out the cabinets.

Get the whole family involved, and clean one room at a time, from top to bottom, clockwise, until you’re done

Other chores

Zen and the art of house cleaningBesides cleaning your house, you probably have other chores you need to do on a weekly basis. It’s good to get a weekly routine going so you never forget to do them and you know when you have to do what.

Here’s a sample:

  • Monday: Prune plants
  • Tuesday: Clean the car
  • Wednesday: Pay bills, update financial documents
  • Thursday: Errands, groceries
  • Friday: Change linen
  • Saturday: Tidy the closet
  • Sunday: Family Day

Efficient errands

By continuously doing chores everyday throughout the week, you will keep stress at bay, and also save time and money. Here’s a simple system that works well for me:

  1. Keep an errands’ list and add to it as you think of things, so when errands’ day comes, you know exactly what you need to do. Also keep a running grocery list.
  2. The night before your errands’ day, plan your menu for the next two weeks, jot down other items like—stationary that your kids require, or hardware like nuts and bolts you might need. Then look at all the tasks on your errands list and plan out the best route.
  3. On errands’ day, you spend a couple of hours doing all the errands on your list and then buying all your groceries on the list. One trip, planned resourcefully, saves fuel, time and multiple shopping trips.

Once you get things in order serenity follows, with a knowing that you don’t have to rush around cleaning things up at the spur of the moment.

You may also like: Spic n Span

I advocate doing the important things first; don’t put them off by focussing on the small things. But the small things add up to big things. They weigh on you till they become a burden.

Instead of waiting for that long weekend or holiday to clean the house, do it one day at a time. Clean everything and put it where it belongs as soon as you finish using it. In the end, your house looks immaculate, and you feel incredibly relieved because the clutter and the list of chores were weighing on you mentally as well.

Keep cleaning your house. Try it. You’ll love it.

How I decluttered an entire room in one go!

Zen and the art of house cleaningThough I often advocate decluttering in small steps, sometimes it can be fun to do an entire room at once. So here’s the method I’ve used to clean an entire room at one stretch:

  1. Clear a working space, preferably in the middle of the room. [I used my bed in the bedroom for this].
  2. Start on one side of the room and clockwise cover the room.
  3. Do one drawer, shelf or area at a time.
  4. Pull everything out of the drawer or shelf or section of floor and pile it in the working space.
  5. Sort the pile into two piles: 1) what you use regularly and love, and 2) what you’re going to get rid of. Pick up one item at a time and make an instant decision—when was the last time you used this? If you haven’t used it in a few months [6 months being the longest], get rid of it. This excludes seasonal stuff like winter items.
  6. When you’ve sorted through your things, neatly put back the stuff in pile one. Separate the other pile into boxes to be donated, recycled or given to friends and family.
  7. Move on to the next drawer or shelf and repeat the process until you’ve worked your way across the entire room. Do the same thing with your closets: one section at a time.

Though it does take a lot of time, it feels amazing when you’re done.

A version of this article was first published in the January 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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