Three Magic Words for a Clean Home and a Better Life

Ask anybody who knows me well: For years and years, a passion of mine has been cleaning and organizing. This might lead you to believe that our home has been a bastion of tidiness and order, but the truth is, I was constantly fighting against chaos. Unfortunately it was more a battle of the mind: I read novels and tried various plans; I studied my organized friends and family and thought about it. Looking back I can see all I needed to do was get rid of at least half my stuff, establish some cleaning routines and establish a couple of systems.

Half of you read that last sentence, pressed your lips together and thought, “Yes! Obviously!” While the rest slumped across your keyboards and wept, “Why don’t we simply climb Mount Everest while we’re at it, Alison!”

Hang in there, all y’all. I promise you, the 3 words are not “Just do it”

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To the first group, you know that you don’t want my help. You have a place for all, and you make damn sure everything is in its place, and yet you may be residing with a individual or two who can’t seem to understand this. Would you routinely find yourself, pillow in hand, stalking the house, intent on smothering your loved ones? Maybe you could use a little support, after all.

For the purposes of this guide, we’ll refer to our different camps as the Obviously Organized and also the Not Obviously Organized, but both parties will be known as “she,” because I’m a woman and it’s easier.

When something is out of place — say, a bit of paper which overshot the wastebasket or a pencil that rolled off a desk — a Obviously Organized individual spies it instantly. Lights flash and alarms sound. She scurries to pick this up and instantly throw or put it away. That is reflexive; she doesn’t even consider it. She can’t help herself and she can’t understand how her Not Obviously Organized loved ones are able to walk. Can not they see?

The answer is no and yes. I’m sorry.

If a person who isn’t Obviously Organized walks by something out of place, it’s not that she doesn’t see it — she probably does, but it just may not be consciously. Maybe she’s attempting to stay focused on whatever job she’s doing. She might see the bit of paper or the fallen pencil, and if she does she tells herself, “I’ll get that later.” She probably doesn’t hear herself believe that. She’ll probably pass the thing a few more times, and every time she tells herself “Afterwards,” till she finally picks it up or — as is more often the case — among her Obviously Organized loved ones does.

If you’re struggling to organize your home, you might scoff at the suggestion that picking up one piece of paper or a lone little pencil is really going to make a difference, and you’re right, unless it truly is a struggle of the mind and also the only single issue is the pervasive thought “Afterwards,” that never comes.

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If you’re not Obviously Organized like I’m, here’s my suggestion: Live your life and discuss your day but try to listen to the “Afterwards”s. It may take some time for you to hear them, however you will finally, if you continue. Maybe you’re going to be walking down the hallway headed to your bedroom, when you see it a stray sock lying at the center of the floor and — as clear as a bell — you hear, “I’ll get that later.” Normally you would walk right on by but you’re finally onto yourself. Order and mayhem hang in the balance of everything you do.

This is the time for the 3 magic words, and you need to say them at the most optimistic tone you can muster: “How about now?”

I’m not kidding you.

It’s a sock. Easy peasy, right? Ho, ho, ho! No. Running underwater with cement shoes would be a stroll in the park in comparison to this. Just try it. Time will slow down, the atmosphere will grow thick and this teeny, tiny thing — the paper, the pencil, the sock, whatever — will probably feel as the heaviest thing in the world. Just remember, civilization is counting on you, and magic is on your side. Pick up the item and trudge to where it belongs — trash, table, desk — and put it in its own place. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And your life will change.

It is really as easy and as hard as that.

Maybe you have never really thought about coordinating. Perhaps the only reason you’re reading this is because someone who you love thrust it in you. This individual is almost certainly Obviously Organized. Steal a glance: Does she seem to be in prayer? Assess her breath; if she is not holding it, it’s almost certainly coming loudly and through her mouth. You are taking a look at someone in pain.

What’s the big deal? It’s just a piece of paper/pencil/sock/java mug/beer bottle/set of keys/wallet/pair of sunglasses/pair of shoes/sweatshirt/towel! Does this even matter? Multiply that by a hundred or a million, however, and it starts to pile up — in every sense of the phrase. And by the same token, if you do this small thing — select up, throw or place away — over and over again, it all, the mess, the frustration and the strife — like magic — will disappear.

Justine Hand

More: We Can Work It Out — Living and Cleaning Collectively

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