5 Tips for Finally Ditching an Unkempt Life

5 Tips for Finally Ditching an Unkempt Life
Photo by Jef Rouner

I recently moved into a new apartment, and as I have done with every move I have made since I left my father’s house, I vowed that this time I would keep the house neat. I would not let things devolve into stained carpets and grimy floors and cluttered horizontal spaces.

Most every time I have moved, this resolve lasts about a week and then the mess reappears. Then I get depressed and my wife gets angry and we just live in a near-constant state of unkemptness. Having a six-year-old daughter makes even normal messes infinitely more likely to spread, and so the mess follows us like some sort of curse.

This time, though, I actually seem to be handling it. The house has remained nearly spotless. So to celebrate, I thought I’d share some tips I’ve learned over the years for getting messy habits under control.

5. Make a Daily and Weekly Chore List That You Actually Print Out and Check Off
Every day I print out a list of things that need to be done to maintain the house. Some of these are weirdly specific and minor, such as “wipe down counters,” and that’s on purpose. It’s so I can have little victories that cost virtually nothing in time and energy. There’s a certain joy in just checking things off the list.

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In addition, I have a weekly chore list. Things like “clean the microwave” or “wash the couch cover” or “move the kid’s mattress and pull out all the things she stuffs down the back of her bed, you weirdo.” The idea is simply to give you a guided path so that the mess isn’t some monolithic thing to overcome.

4. Learn Mess Prevention
I mentioned the microwave. Though that is on my list, I actually haven’t had to clean my microwave since I moved in. That’s because I bought, and use, microwave dish covers from my daughter’s school fundraiser. Pop them on, heat stuff up and then wash them with the dishes. Simple.

My wife came up with the idea of prepping baking projects by lining the counters in paper towels. You can do the same thing with newspapers. She even puts a towel in the sink when doing her makeup to keep grime from building up.

3. Keep Tasks Small
There is nothing I hate more in the world than putting away laundry. I hate it with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. There are surgical procedures I have gone through that I prefer to putting away laundry.

Because of that, I was in the habit of doing laundry only at the point where there was simply no way to legally go outside in clean clothes if I didn’t, and that meant a literal hour of putting away a huge load. Now, I do laundry every day, and throwing a few shirts and such on a hanger is still annoying, but no longer the endless slog it used to be.

2. Get Some Entertainment
One of the ways I made cleaning more enjoyable was that I turned it into my podcast time. The 30 minutes it takes to straighten up a reasonably clean house is perfect for listening to podcasts. Welcome to Night Vale has been great, and I’ve been loving Myths and Legends and Stuff You Missed in History Class. Plus, Big Finish finally has an iPhone app, so I can listen to Doctor Who radio plays in a much easier way.

It’s gotten so that cleaning has become one of the highlights of my day because I get to spend that time listening to new and awesome content. Cleaning isn’t a chore. It’s an escape.

1. Take Days Off
You know what the absolute best thing is about having a higher baseline clean house? Days when you can just not do a damned thing and it’s not the garbage apocalypse. I had one yesterday. It was great.

As someone who has long, bleak periods where all progress feels empty and meaningless, those days when I don’t care about cat paw prints on the dining room table are going to come. When I shake myself free of them, it’s nice to look around and see things aren’t so bad. Getting control of the mess on a daily basis allows for more days when you can just let it go. 

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