I’m not naturally neat. Far from it.
But people often tell me the reason things are so chaotic in their home is that they aren’t naturally neat.
Thing is I’ve never actually met anyone who is naturally neat. And I’ve certainly never met a naturally neat child.
Yet I have met, been related to—and even become—someone who keep things tidy and orderly.
So what’s the secret?
Neatness is habit, not a personality trait
No one is born putting things away when they are done with them. It’s something we learn to do (or not).
Human beings don’t like to waste energy. We’re naturally programmed to conserve it.
Trouble is our instincts about what’s a waste of energy is often skewed, especially when it comes to tidying up.
People who are neat have noticed it actually takes less energy to put things back or clean up after themselves than to not.
I learned this from my grandmother.
Whenever we did something together she would tell me she was lazy. I can assure you nothing could be further from the truth. But what she meant was she didn’t want to do things over again or waste her effort doing a half-ass job. She equated leaving things until later with making extra work for herself.
She taught me that the time and energy saved by being able to easily find something or do a particular task more than makes up for the energy spent keeping the space orderly.
So what keeps most people from being ‘neat’?
In a word: stuff. Most people have more stuff than they can handle.
Years ago—when I had my first adult home—I tried to keep it as tidy as my grandmother’s.
Until I realized there was no way: I had too much stuff. It didn’t all fit. I couldn’t stay on top of it without doing it full-time. (By the way, my grandmother didn’t do it full-time either just in case you were thinking that was her secret.)
So began my journey of decluttering and simplifying my possessions.
Along the way I’ve learned there’s no magical organizing solution to keep your house neat.
It all comes down to three simple things:
If you want your home to be neat—have less stuff
No mystery here: the more you have, the more time and energy you’re going to spend managing the stuff. So the first—and most important—step is to have less of it.
Look around you right now—do you need or want all the things you can see right now? Or are there some things that aren’t serving any real purpose?
Get in the habit of letting go of things you don’t need or want. Don’t save things just because you might need them in the future. Besides your tax documents, frankly, there isn’t much that you have to keep. So exercise your freedom to let things go.
And do it regularly.
Next, know where things go
Make sure everything has a place.
Look around and notice—do you know where everything that’s out actually goes?
See, a lot of the time, people haven’t decided where something belongs so it hangs around becoming clutter, even if it is a useful thing.
On the other hand, if you haven’t cleared out, you likely have more stuff than places to put things. If things don’t have a place, the space will never look neat and tidy.
So get in the habit of deciding where things belong rather than just leaving them to deal with later.
After that, it’s just a matter of putting things back
This is the part that people most often associate with being neat. But in fact, it’s the last part.
Once you have less stuff—and you know where everything goes—then getting things back actually becomes a much simpler task. You can spend 10 minutes after dinner putting things back … and have it make a visible difference.
But it’s crucial to do the first two steps first … otherwise it can take a long time to put things away.
And then you’ll resist this last bit. It won’t feel ‘worth it’ or doable because you need a chunk of time to do it.
This is definitely the part I struggled with the longest—because it used to take a long time.
But the beautiful thing is when you get in the habit of neatness it gets faster. Until one day you’re looking at the clock thinking, why was I moaning about that? It only took six minutes….
There’s nothing magic about being neat—it’s just a habit. One that starts with clearing out the excess stuff. Then you can find a place for everything—and start to build your putting- things-back muscle.
Whenever I’m tempted to just leave it, I think of my grandmother—she washed the dishes after every meal, she put the laundry away when it was dry. She just did. Because she was ‘lazy’.
How about you?
Where could you start right now building the habit of neatness? I’d love to hear which of these pieces trips you up the most—click here to share.
Clutter getting in your way? This is for you!
Lately I’ve been hearing from women about how they struggle with clutter and feel overwhelmed by the idea of tackling it. So I created Making Space, a group program for women who want to stop moving the stuff round – and get rid of it! Because life’s too short to be frustrated and embarrassed by the state of our homes.
Registration opens in August but I wanted to give you a sneak peek. You can also get on the Insiders’ List to grab a spot before the doors open—and get a special price. Hope you like it, I made it for you.