How to Fit Tidying up Into Your Existing Routine


Tidying Up | Wit & Delight
Photo by Beazy on Unsplash

Editor’s Note: This post was written and scheduled before protests began in Minneapolis and St. Paul following the murder of George Floyd. We decided to publish this piece because we all cope with our emotions in different ways, and for some of us, that means keeping our hands and minds occupied on tasks. As always, continue to listen to, learn from, and support people of color. Stay safe.

If you’re spending a lot of time at home these days, it might be difficult to work, live, cook, perhaps parent, maybe hang with a partner, and relax all under the same roof. You’d be right to feel that way! It’s a lot of different roles to organize in one space!

I personally like to tidy to feel clearheaded. I know, I know. It could be considered trite, but in my life, being tidy is impactful. I think of changing my sheets and scrubbing the tub as self-care. They’re not particularly relaxing chores in the moment, but later, I so appreciate the effort. When I’m stepping into a bath with a candle lit or climbing into fresh sheets, I feel like I’m taking good care of myself. I’m able to appreciate the experience, knowing I set myself up for a nice moment.

Visual clutter throws me off. If I’m in the middle of one project and I walk into a mess in the kitchen, I can get derailed. Looking at a pile of something is like an item on my to-do list, blinking at me, reminding me all is not in order. To keep myself from feeling overwhelmed with all the everyday tidying, I’ve developed some theories on cleaning.

First, there are two types of cleaners: cleaning sharks or stagehands.

Cleaning sharks (I think this term is borrowed from a parenting podcast, but I’m not sure of the name…if you know, please share in the comments!) are constantly moving, constantly making things tidy. Maybe they have a phone in hand or a cup of coffee or are simultaneously carrying a conversation with someone, but all the while, they’re also putting blocks back into the bin, stacking clean laundry to be put away, or carrying dishes to the kitchen. Moving slowly and methodically, cleaning sharks attack unsuspecting messes along the way.

I am a cleaning shark. This is my nature. I find being a cleaning shark works well often. I get a lot done and it feels good! On the other hand, being a cleaning shark isn’t great when I need to focus, when kids are in the middle of playing, or when it makes people (my partner) annoyed that I’m roaming the room. There are times when a cleaning shark isn’t helpful or welcome.

Because of this, I decided to intentionally take a different approach on certain occasions, which leads me to the second type of cleaner: a stagehand.

I personally like to tidy to feel clearheaded. . . . I think of changing my sheets and scrubbing the tub as self-care. They’re not particularly relaxing chores in the moment, but later, I so appreciate the effort.

Ok, stay with me. Sometimes I think of the day as a play and when we’re in one room, doing life, that’s the play going on. The lights can’t dim and the kids (Listen to me, kids? I know adults can act and be stagehands as well but as a former middle school teacher, when someone says stagehand, I’m going to picture a lanky kid in a black turtleneck.) can’t run in, slightly hunched over, and wheel around the set pieces on castor wheels and clear everything away. That’s me—I’m the lanky kid in their dad’s black turtleneck, waiting in the wings to return the entire set (or home, in this case) to its original state. 

When it’s Saturday morning, around 10:00 am, and the kids have successfully taken out every toy in the living room and are playing some loud and weird pretend game where they’re giving lots of shots to reluctant stuffed animals, I wait in the wings like the seasoned stagehand I am. I pour another cup of coffee and chat or read or look at Instagram.

When someone (my partner) is cooking dinner and they’ve used every pot and pan and the counters are covered in cooking debris and literally every cabinet is open (very Sixth Sense…so jarring to walk into), I know now is not the time to break down the set. I have to wait for this act to come to a close.

I’ve learned that the cleaning shark and the stagehand can coexist, taking tidying turns when appropriate. No matter what type of cleaner you are, I have a few helpful tips for inserting tidying up into your existing daily routines:

Schedule it. Make it a routine. Map it out.

When you have a physical list of duties mapped out, it becomes so much easier to organize chores for yourself and to share them, if you live with someone else. It also takes some of the moment-by-moment decision making out of the process of cleaning, which can be mentally exhausting and detrimental to progress.

Maybe you woke up on Monday with the thought, I’d love to tidy the house today. That’s a lot. Maybe you were overwhelmed before you started, thinking, Where do I even begin?

What if instead, you woke up on Monday with the thought, I’d love to get the house cleaned up, so today I’ll focus on getting all the laundry done. Wednesday I can clean the kitchen and bathroom. Friday I’ll vacuum the floors and dust. By the end of the week, the house will be sparkling and you’ll still be able to live your life along the way. I like to keep my cleaning duties simple, give myself a chunk of dedicated time, and then move on with my day.

Stick to the Plan

Other to-do items are going to pop up as you tidy! Don’t get sidetracked with extra projects. You may be cleaning up the bathroom and notice an entire cabinet is filled with dusty products. You may want to organize the cabinet. Schedule those projects for a later time. It can be satisfying to notice something and get after it immediately, but if you only have an hour, you’ll end up making a larger, more disorganized mess that you’ll then have to walk away from, with a tub that’s still scummy, a toilet that’s still gross, and old products that are littered all over the floor.

Instead, make a mental or physical note of that cabinet and get after it when you know you’ll be able to finish. The same goes for things like dusty baseboards and smudged windows and other big organizational chores. Those things take time!

Bring Your Cleaning Products Along With You

Move from room to room and carry your necessary cleaning items with you as you go. I like to bring the vacuum, some rags, and cleaning products. It saves time and offers less opportunity for me to get sidetracked along the way.

Entertainment Is Your Friend

Music or podcasts are nice to have on in the background. This is the cleaning shark in me. I like to multitask and having something to listen to helps the process feel slightly more enjoyable.

Mark Your Accomplishment

Finally, I like to light a candle or incense when I’m finished cleaning to cap off the chore. It’s cozy and it reminds me to feel grateful for my home and all the living that happens in it. I’m not one to bow to the empty room and recite a mantra on gratitude (more power to you if this is you), but that is pretty much the vibe. A moment of appreciation can make the whole experience so much more pleasing.

Constant messes and chores can sometimes get in the way of feeling comfortable and pleasant in your space. Remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just needs to be tidied to you and your people’s liking. When it’s tidy, there will be more space to settle in, relax, and enjoy your home.

BY Meggie Maas - May 31, 2020

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June 1, 2020 12:04 pm

I like to do the 10 minute tidy before bed. I set a timer and when it goes off, I’m done. I always am surprised at how much I accomplished in my 10 minutes and it doesn’t overwhelm my fragile psyche. 🙂

June 2, 2020 2:09 am

i like tidying up!it’s part of my selfcare routine. When I had a full time job, i’d take off days just to reorganize and clean my apartment. Now that i have two kids, it’s harder because i’m alone but i try to do split chores and do a little bit of each every day of the week

June 2, 2020 12:15 pm

I feel like my house is falling apart with everyone home all the time, so I needed this!

June 3, 2020 7:35 am

I don’t think that portraying yourself as the only person cleaning your house is very productive. Women still do disproportionately more housework across the United States, and this has been amplified during the pandemic. We each cope with the engrained sexism in our households in our own way, that feels right for our family, but setting an example through this article that if you just ‘plan better’ you can get to all of the tasks is not what women should be striving for. We should be striving to share household work in some semblance of equality. Even the mental labour… Read more »

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