How to Tidy Your Home When You’re Busy

If you know me well, you know I love a tidy home.

I’ve differentiated between tidy and clean in this post here, so you’ll also know that while there may be dog hair along my baseboards or a few toilets that need scrubbing, nearly everything has a place in our house. I believe more than a little dirt, clutter can lead to a lot of disharmony in a home. When it comes to an overload of stuff I often feel more stressed out, chaotic, and out of control. Maybe you’ve read articles that echo these same thoughts. Or maybe you you feel this same way too! Am I right?

For us, keeping a tidy home with a second child in it, while the winter season unfolds has been increasingly more difficult than keeping a tidy home with only one busy toddler. Mainly because our time is divided differently now and my hands are more full. Not to mention we are mostly stuck indoors all day every day. But, and this is a big but, my strategies for keeping things tidy have helped me to keep some sort of peace within the walls of our home, allowing us to survive and weather this joyful but exhausting season.

Here are some things I hope inspire you to maintain a little more peace and order in your home!

A Place for Everything and Everything In Its Place

I have no idea where this phrase came from and I certainly cannot take credit for it but man, it’s the backbone of how I move and groove in our space. I’ve been a pretty tidy person for as long as I can remember, always making sure my stuff goes where it needs to so this is second nature for me. But making sure everyone in our home understands everything has a place is so important to keeping order around here. Whether it’s a space for coats and shoes, storage for toys and books, only the right amount of decor and miscellaneous items on surfaces like credenzas, desks, tables and shelves, and catch alls for mail, papers, and the flow of things going in and out of your home, everything should have a resting place. If it doesn’t have a place, make one or get rid of it.

For the things that might need a temporary home while they wait to be put in their final place (like unopened mail or a document that needs to be filed away) we have a basket system for adult stuff. He gets a basket and I get a basket. We both have the power to put the other’s things, whatever they may be, in that person’s respective basket. So for example, if my husband has his sunglasses, computer charger, and some unopened mail sitting on the table, I’m allowed to put all those things in his basket signalling him to take care of each item separately when he gets to it. Andrew may do the same with my items and then we both take it upon ourselves to deal with our baskets once they’re full. More than often Andrew’s basket is fairly full and I have to remind him about it but at least all of his things are in one spot for him and easy to locate and tend to.

EDIT 12/20: we don’t use our basket system anymore because using this approach for so many years instilled in us a great sense of organization, so much so, the baskets are now used for different purposes in our home! We also have a small ‘junk drawer’ in our kitchen island that often catches all these things and I’m alright with that being messy and full of random things. That is, after all, the point of a junk drawer, yes?!

Make Your Tidying Strategies Work For You

Some organizing pros swear by labelling systems, color coded bins, and other complicated (to me) strategies to keep your home tidy. But for me these aren’t practical strategies with the routines in our home and they aren’t systems my family will adapt to. When I think of what matters to us in our home, it’s having easy access to our things and having an equally as easy and beautiful way to put things away to ensure visual harmony in our home (visual harmony is a foundation of our home roughly circling back to this post here).

I also wrote an in depth post on our toy storage solution. This is a big piece of our tidying efforts!

Additionally, building off of the basket system as mentioned above and shown in the photo, we have three vertical file organizers on one of our IKEA cabinets. Andrew and I have our own while the boys share one. And in these are items that do not have a final place to go. So things like school word cards for Lachlan, spare batteries for toys, the remotes for the TV, a flashlight, spare phone charger, blank thank you cards, and so on. I like to think of these three containers as an extension of the basket system, much like a pared down and intentional junk drawer!

EDIT 12/20: We moved the file folders to our basement storage to use at a later date, because the things we used to store in the file folders are now stored in different ways. Things like batteries go in a container in the pantry, blank thank you cards are with my business stationery since I write all the cards in our home, our TV is activated through our phone now, etc. I add these edits to highlight how systems should change as your family rhythms do.

Figure Out Your ‘Cleaning Bare Minimum’

What is your daily standard for cleanliness? Vacuumed carpets and washed floors? Wiped down counters and spotless toilets? Pinpoint a family standard and stick with it until a change is necessary. For us, aside from our basic daily tidying tasks, when it comes to cleaning this means staying on top of laundry daily (my job), making sure the sink and kitchen counters are wiped clean (a mutual job), taking out the trash (unless it’s not even close to being full), and wiping down our coffee and dinner table where food is consumed (and often there are crumbs everywhere!). It’s an unspoken rule this is our minimum each day and we’re happy with this being enough.

We also have weekly cleaning standards, which include things like sweeping the floors, vacuuming the carpets, cleaning the bathrooms, wiping down the mirrors and storm door, washing sheets, and dusting. Then from there we have monthly cleaning standards which focus on deep cleaning and includes items like washing the floors, dusting blinds and ledges, vacuuming the couch and washing couch pillow covers, cleaning the microwave and stove, wiping down handrails and door knobs, and so forth.

If you decide it’s not worth your effort or time to vacuum every day, but vacuuming once a week is doable, then stick with that. And instead worry about making sure the stuff ON the carpet (toys, books, personal items, etc) are put in their place so the non vacuumed carpet doesn’t feel dirty. Do you follow? It’s astounding how a tidy space can have the appearance of a clean one!

If All Else Fails, Outsource & Get Help

We’re big advocates of outsourcing a monthly or bimonthly deep clean. It’s about $25.00 an hour and for three to four hours someone comes and deep cleans our entire home (the studio isn’t included). A lot of things I’d never get around to especially in this transitional season are left for the deep clean and it’s a big load off my back to know someone else will be on their hands and knees cleaning the baseboards and the blind slats instead of me.

Outsourcing may mean we spend less money in other areas of our life and requires extra budgeting but it means we free up valuable time to do whatever we please; like get down on the carpet with our boys and play trucks, or run around our main level playing ‘snowblower,’ a new and very imaginative game thought up by Lachlan.

Also! If cleaning IS your thing but organizing and tidying is not, or you simply need to kick start your organizing and tidying efforts, consider outsourcing this to a pro. Even your most organized best friend or family member can help make sense of the systems and things currently in your home. Sometimes an outsider’s perspective and just getting started is enough to motivate you to create and maintain long lasting habits!

EDIT 12/20: Our home cleaner, bless her, has four children and is currently home schooling them with the help of a tutor as the pandemic continues. As a result she dropped her cleaning clients and I’ve been doing the deep clean myself since September. This requires a little more creativity with when I clean and how well the job gets done but in this season this is working for us!

The Hack of All Hacks: Own Less Stuff

I’ve jokingly referred to 2018 as The Year of the Purge in the Bosse home.

Actually, in November alone, one of my weekly goals was to donate at least one box of things we don’t use or love to The Goodwill or Salvation Army. And I’ve met and even exceeded that goal every week so far. I’ve been ruthless with what’s been donated! Old holiday decor, things I ‘swore up and down’ I’d use again one day, clothing that will ‘one day’ fit my body again, toys the boys don’t touch, old gymnastics medals, baby things I can stand to part with, wedding inventory that doesn’t fit in with my brand, and the list goes on.

One of the bizarre things I’ve experienced with motherhood is being acutely aware of how much useless stuff, trash, and waste we accumulate not only as well-to-do adults but as parents, too. I think the holiday season has contributed to these strong feelings of excess because the pressure to buy and spend and accumulate somehow feels higher with two little ones. But the massive amounts of things, packaging, containers, gifts, gadgets, and so on is too much for me. Again, I’ve seen so many articles floating around social media about minimalistic holidays and how we can do better to care for our planet and society.

So if there’s one thing you take away from this post or that you enforce in your home to help keep it more tidy, it’s to own less stuff. Buy less stuff and own less stuff. Which means you can spend less time tidying and cleaning. It’s a pretty straightforward way to keep order and harmony in your home if tidying AND cleaning is too far beyond your capabilities!

A couple other things to add:

• Less decorative objects and items on your surfaces, means both a more pleasing aesthetic that looks cleaner and an easier TO clean space. We sometimes call this type of item a ‘tchotchke‘ and if you love to shop at Target or Home Goods, you’ll know they are really easy to fall for. My rule of thumb is do not buy anything unless you have and can name a place to put it AND can think of one thing that will be donated in its honor. If one thing comes INTO your home, make sure one goes out.

• I recently admitted to Andrew that the pillows on our couch feel like overkill (shocking, I know). They are beautiful but no one else here seems to appreciate them like I do. They are constantly squished, thrown about, soiled, and so on. I know, you’re thinking to yourself, why even have that many pillows? BUT! Even if the entire living room is in disarray and I’m behind on my usual tidying tasks, a couch with fluffed pillows makes the entire space feel TIDY. I swear by it. Pillows make a happy home. Someone put that on a mug. Or a pillow.

• A solid rule of thumb when it comes to getting rid of stuff? If you haven’t worn it in six months to a year, toss it. If you can get money for it, consider selling to a consignment shop or online in a facebook sale. If it’s replaceable, toss it or please consider recycling it. If it doesn’t bring you joy or do anything for you, toss it. But if you must keep it, even if it’s not something you use or admire daily, make a place for it. Large clear Tupperware bins in the garage or in a basement storage closet are excellent for these kinds of things (e.g. awards you’ve won and want to keep, children’s artwork, seasonal clothing, holiday decor, etc). Here’s how we organize those things!

• Get savvy about multitasking your tidying and organizing efforts. If you’re running upstairs to put a load of laundry in the washing machine, grab any dirty items in your kitchen to bring with you. If you’re heading downstairs to empty the dishwasher, grab the bathroom trash to empty when you’re there. If you’re putting away toys with your kiddos, be cognizant of things that often aren’t touched at the bottom of the toy chest and put those in the donate pile or better yet, in the trunk of your car so next time you’re out you can donate them. Keep a stack of hand towels and wash clothes in your linen closet and under your sink so when you need one it’s at your finger tips and you can avoid being wasteful with paper towels (here’s an idea for that). If it takes less than two minutes then do it. The more you figure out what works for you, the more you can find ways to multitask in efficient ways!

• And I throw this one in here because I’m all for a little honesty; know that life is always changing and so the rhythms in your home and the way you tidy, organize, and clean will change too. While 99% of our home is tidy, there’s a big fat 1% called our garage that is not. Our garage is the one space we can’t quite get on top of mainly in part to my business inventory and not being able to quite yet decide what to keep and what to get rid of. And with multiple weather seasons and products that we cannot get rid of (like summer toys and lawn and garden tools, then winter toys and snow related items like shovels, salt, and a snow blower) there’s just a lot of chaos and tangible things. So make peace with some of the areas of your home that don’t quite feel manageable right now. Work in chunks and you’ll get there. At least that’s what I keep telling myself!

I’d love to hear from you too! What strategies do you enforce to keep your home tidy and organized? What about cleaning? What systems do you depend on to help keep your home spic and span? I would love to have you join the conversation below! Xo