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Systems for a Healthier, More Organized Living Space

A floor to ceiling bookshelf full of books and knickknacks against a white wall with a flat screen TV toward the bottom left.


With remaining indoors being the responsible thing to do these days, people are being forced to confront the less-than-ideal realities of being a living thing in an enclosed space. Aside from the unsightly accumulation of dust and hair which isn’t the best for our physical well-being, mental health has to be taken into account. A good, thorough clean-up when one gets the urge can go a long way toward feeling happier and healthier in your space, but a mopping is temporary and muck and dishes build-up again in daily life.

I am a firm believer that the stigma against homes looking lived-in is a growth from the past best excised. While numerous studies reveal the neatness of one’s living environment correlates positively with the state of one’s mental health, this doesn’t mean everything must be pristine for everyone, all the time. I always put my clean laundry away, perfectly folded, immediately after wash day, but I will let dishes pile up for days. Sometimes, I leave my work strewn about the living room overnight, but I always know exactly where my things are with precision my family deems frightening. Mess isn’t a one-to-one translation to bad!

Can you hear the “but” implied?

Here it is—but messes can easily become overwhelming. We become desensitized to the way the dusty clutter makes us feel over time, unaware of its contribution to feelings of anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and a lack of motivation. However, our busy lives can be our worst enemy, preventing whittling down the disarray as much as adding to it.

So what’s to be done?

The answer? Systems. 

For your sanity and health, consider implementing these easy systems and mindsets in your daily routine. 

1) Stop the all-or-nothing mentality

An all-or-nothing mentality goes hand-in-hand with constantly being overwhelmed. If you look around your living space and all you see is an unending to-do list, you are more likely to turn on Netflix and hike up the hood on your sweatshirt to better ignore the mess than you are to do anything about it. 

Sometimes, it is enough to simply put away the clutter that is preventing you from lounging on the couch for said evening of Netflix rather than sweep it off onto the floor. Dedicate yourself to progress. Then, let yourself get comfortable with good enough. Don’t think that cleaning entails turning the entire house inside out. Focus on one small area. For me, that area tends to be the shower or my desk. Tidy it thoroughly, and leave the rest if you’re not feeling the motivation to continue. 

2) The Two Minute Rule

David Allen popularized this rule in his book Getting Things Done. It’s simple, so simple my family calls it the F#&k It Rule. If a task would take less than two minutes to complete, go ahead and just do it rather than continue thinking about it. So much of what piles up on our altar to procrastination are easy, tiny matters that barely deserve their place cluttering up our mind. See that pile of mail you can’t even recall the contents of? Sit down at the table and sort it. Keep what you need, recycle the rest, and mission accomplished. Now you don’t have to stare at it anymore. Wash that breakfast dish in a minute rather than spend an hour washing a full sink later tonight. Coming home from work? Don’t drop your work clothes on the bed in your haste to get rid of your tie, bra, or stiff shoes. It takes no time, so hang up that jacket and put your shoes in the closet. Well done. You’ve earned a bra-less evening uninterrupted by the nuisance of a ten-blazer pile-up on your bedspread. 

A couple of caveats. 

Don’t use this rule as a means of procrastination itself, allowing diversions to distract from bigger, more important things. Best to leave this system for when you aren’t in the middle of repainting the hallway or are on a deadline.

Don’t overcommit. That undermines the point. If you know for a fact you are underestimating a time commitment or you legitimately do not have time for something, leave it. It’s not laziness if you’re just being productive in another direction.

3) Make a task easier on yourself

Navy Seal Admiral William McRaven sparked a wave of enthusiasm for telling folks to make their bed. I do not share his conviction. Do I like having my bed made? Usually, yes, but my satisfaction at having everything neat doesn’t daily extend to the pain in the ass that is making my bed—until I stopped making it a pain in the ass. 

No, this was not a mind-over-matter issue or a change of heart. I just moved my bed a couple inches away from the wall. In addition to improving ventilation around your mattress which has been linked to a better night’s sleep and improved overall health for you and your mattress, that little gap makes throwing the duvet in place and doing a quick straighten-up a snap. Do I constantly make my bed now? No, but I make it more often than before and remember what I said about progress?

4) Find what satisfies

Don’t enjoy dusting? You are in good (questionable) company. It’s messy and unenjoyable, which means you are less likely to do it. Everyone has their share of monotonous upkeep duties they loathe for no good reason. Mine used to be folding laundry, but now it tends to be dishes. Whatever yours is, pair it with a task you actually like to make it more bearable. Having your mind working along two parallel tracks prevents you from stewing in how much you don’t want to do this. It’s why we watch YouTube while we cook and listen to music while running. Mindless tasks like dusting are perfect opportunities to catch up on podcasts and lectures or make those phone calls you’ve been putting off. 

Alternatively, do the task differently. For instance, I weirdly love vacuuming. Similarly to how I moved my bed to simplify making it in the morning, I bought a new attachment for my vacuum so it can effectively be used to dust. It does the job better, faster, and prevents my hands from getting chemical cleaner all over them. 

5) List what needs done and leave it where you must see it

Planners work for some. The “Notes” app works for others. The rest of us tend to forget these things exist as soon as we have looked away from the detailed list we have so diligently fashioned. Should you also be of that bent and have no interest or patience to withstand the constant blaring of legion alarms, here is what I recommend.

Get a white board. No, not a big eyesore that takes up half the wall. Just get one near the size of a notebook or so and stick it on the inside of your front door. I use a magnet or sticker strip. How does this work any different from Post-It Notes or refrigerator calendars? When something is in our space all the time, we get used to it and stop paying attention, similarly to how commuters cease seeing advertisements on the subway in any meaningful way. Prevent this by using this board as your junk drawer of information. Write down restaurants in the area you want to try, the grocery list, items you’re saving for, etc., in addition to your to-do list. By surrounding it with information that changes frequently and is often referred to, you prevent inattentional blindness. 

6) Everything has a place, everything in its place

This is a bit over the top, but the sentiment is valuable. I won’t preach minimalism to you. While the lifestyle can be beneficial in many ways, it can lead to more harm than good if it is not truly the right lifestyle for you. If I leave you with one thing today, though, I hope it will be this. An overabundance of stuff leads to most clutter and overwhelming chaos in your home. It can make even a clean home feel like a disaster waiting to happen by virtue of its existence. 

Make space by getting rid of knick knacks, furniture, and extras that you don’t need and keep that space by being mindful of what you buy. Ask if you really need another blanket just because it’s so soft on the rack. Be critical of the art piece you like but have no room for. Check yourself when it comes to that third leather jacket. Will you love it as much when it’s another bulletpoint on the list of things you have to tidy? Be honest. Not only can doing so save you time, it may also prevent headaches down the line. With fewer items in your inventory, it becomes easier for your stuff to have a designated space to live, and that is the core of organization. You know where something goes, you put it there, and it is easy to find again later.

These are just a few, small adjustments you can make to your routine to better your life in the confines of home. Share on social media and let us know what small adjustments you’ve made to make life a little easier. Maybe your suggestion can find its way into a sequel to this article and help others! Oh, and, open a window every once in a while. Maybe buy a plant. It’s better for everyone. 

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