The Marie Kondo method has enthralled our culture. But let’s be honest for a moment: when it comes down to it, just about all of us are too busy to spend our precious time cleaning, organizing, and tidying. A clear alternative, of course, is outsourcing household chores—but for many young professionals and burgeoning families, that simply isn’t in the budget yet.
But if we don’t have a lot of time or money to pour into maintaining a clean and tidy home, just accepting the mess isn’t our only choice. In my own life, the people I know who have the cleanest, loveliest homes—let’s call them “neat people”—all share one habit in common: they clean, organize, and tidy little-by-little. In fact, for them, habitually doing certain things—like giving each item a “home” and spending five minutes wiping down the kitchen each night after dinner—helps them roll tidying into the very fabric of their days. For them, cleaning has taken on the power of habit, rather than becoming an ever-intensifying demand on the to-do list. Because neat people make tidying a way of life, they never spend a Saturday rolling up their sleeves and scrubbing, nor are they necessarily shelling out hundreds a month for a cleaning service.
What I’ve learned from neat people is how to make having a tidy home a way of life as opposed to yet another obligation or burden. Just as I don’t put “shower” or “brush teeth” on my to-do list, I’ve applied these same habitual tendencies to keeping my home constantly tidy and livable. These practices are so easy that I hope to continue them even after I have kids.
So without further ado, here are ten simple, attainable tasks to adopt that will have you well on your way to an (almost!) Marie-Kondo worthy living situation without spending much time or effort.
01. Sort through your mail—while standing over the trash.
Nothing piles up and takes on a life of its own like the mail. But when it comes down to it, most of what we receive on a daily basis is, well, junk. And junk has no place on your kitchen counters. When you bring in the mail, spend less than a minute sifting through it, and immediately toss the junk. If there is something you can address or handle in less than ten minutes, do it right away. And if it is something that will take longer, put it in a special, designated place and convert it into an “action” item. As soon as you address each action item, toss or file the mail so it doesn’t pile up and swallow other, more pressing items.
02. Don’t let anything new come inside without first letting go of something.
Develop a habit of tossing something old or worn every time you bring something new into your home. Brought home a new dress? Before you hang it in your closet, quickly peruse your wardrobe and toss or donate an old, ill-fitting, or tired dress that you know you will never again wear. By doing this, you will ensure that your home is filled only with items you love—and that those items don’t collectively outgrow your space.
03. Clean your fridge before restocking it.
There is so much joy to be found in loading a refrigerator with fresh new groceries—but not if week-old takeout containers come tumbling out the minute you open it! Before you load your fridge with new groceries, spend a few moments tossing old or expired items and wiping down the shelves. As a result, your fridge will always appear clean and will be filled only with essential items.
04. Do a load a day.
The thought of doing laundry every single day may make you want to cry, but in reality, it is much easier to simply throw in a small load while dinner is cooking or while watching TV than letting it accumulate. Paradoxically, by staying on top of your laundry, you will avoid feeling as though your life is consumed by it. Think of it this way: fifteen minutes here and there on a weeknight to load, unload, and fold is better than an entire Sunday afternoon spent slaving over the dryer dividing up whites, colors, delicates, sheets, and towels.
05. Clean the kitchen every night.
As with the laundry paradox, developing a daily practice of tidying the kitchen can result in a cleaner house overall. Each night after dinner, spend a few moments wiping down the countertops, loading or unloading the dishwasher, and cleaning any grease spots on the cooktop. Because you likely spend much of your time in your kitchen, keeping this space clean will make your whole house feel clean, even if it isn’t.
06. Take off your shoes.
Developing a practice of removing your shoes when you come inside will keep your house so much cleaner: it will keep your carpets looking fresh and will protect any hardwoods or other surfaces. Not to mention, shoes carry an entire colony of germs and bacteria. Keep a basket or tray by your door to encourage family members and visitors to remove their shoes before they enter.
07. Stock every bathroom.
You are much more likely to keep your bathrooms clean if you make it easy for yourself to do so. Start stocking each bathroom in your house with a container of Clorox wipes and a bottle of Windex with an old rag. Every few days, make a habit of spritzing the mirrors and wiping everything down (including the floors!). That way, your bathroom will never get so dirty that cleaning it requires a whole cleaning crew to remove the grime.
08. Line your trash cans.
Few things are more off-putting than walking into a room and spying a garbage can overflowing with dirty tissues. To keep those cans empty, line them with plastic grocery bags so you can easily tie up and toss the bag when it starts to get full. Stock the bottom of the can with 5-6 extra plastic bags, so you can replace the liner when you toss the old one.
09. Give everything a home.
Organization experts far and wide advocate the practice of “giving everything a home”—that is, for every item you take into your house, determine where it belongs, and keep it there. When you do this, you will be less tempted to toss something on the kitchen counter, throw it on the floor, or shove it into a random closet. If you purchase something and you simply cannot figure out where it should live, then perhaps that is a sign that it doesn’t need to enter your home.
10. Divvy up the tasks.
If you have a spouse, children, or roommates, have a frank discussion about who is responsible for certain household tasks. As one person, you cannot—nor should you—be responsible for keeping a shared living space immaculate and organized at all times. Give everyone a “job” and, if possible, divide the tasks based on who is best suited for them. For instance, if you loathe washing dishes but your roommate doesn’t mind it because she likes to listen to podcasts while she does it, then let that be her task. Keeping track of a small set of duties that you know are yours will take away some of the overwhelm in having to keep a house tidy.
Even for the most time-crunched among us, keeping a tidy household does not have to require tremendous amounts of time and effort. By incorporating simple, attainable practices into your days and weeks, you can honor your cleanliness standards while saving your time and money for the things you love.