Do you feel like your house is always messy?

Imagine this: dishes piled up, laundry tossed on the bedroom floor, backpacks abandoned in the middle of the kitchen.

Do you feel like your house is always messy? If you answer yes, you are not alone!

Learn the simple habit that can keep your house cleaner with less work.

my house is always messy

(Affiliate links are present in this post.)

My house is always messy – learn to master it! 

Now back to the dishes piled up, laundry tossed on the bedroom floor, and backpacks abandoned in the middle of the kitchen.

What do these things have in common? Other than the fact that they contribute to a bit of a mess?

Well, these are all jobs half done.

Some of the dishes got washed; just not all. The backpacks were brought in the house; they just didn’t get hung up.

But Sarah, you may say, I don’t want to spend my entire day picking things up! I don’t want to be the crazy mom who runs after her kids demanding they clean their rooms!

I’m with you 100%. And I am that crazy mom too often. Please read on.

Why were all these tasks left undone?

  • Something more interesting came along.
  • Or someone needed help while you were in the middle of opening the mail.
  • Perhaps the phone rang.
  • Or there isn’t a good place to put the backpacks.

Whatever the cause, these jobs were started and then not finished.

Tip: It’s also helpful to make sure your finishing point is defined correctly.

So what’s the big deal with half-done jobs? Is housework ever done?

Actually, when you leave a job half done, you are giving yourself twice the work. Washing dishes or opening the mail only takes a couple of minutes, but if you stop it takes a bit more time to restart later.

I had been thinking that I was being productive by running around and picking up something here, putting away something there. But the house never felt picked up, never actually tidy.

It’s inertia – you need a little push to get started.

If you stop a chore or a household task, you have to give yourself another push to start again. Or maybe you don’t come back and finish up and the tasks (and laundry) start to pile up.

I only recently noticed this phenomenon while I was watching an online course by a friend of mine.

Erin and Holly were talking about how doing laundry from beginning to end is a cycle. When you start the second load of laundry before you complete the first one, you’ve broken the laundry cycle. Then it gets harder to complete the cycle (i.e. put away the first load of laundry).

dishes piled up in messy house
This made a lot of sense for me.

So I’ve been paying attention and trying to finish what I start.

Plus, as I’ve been telling my kids, it’s just as easy to drop a shirt into the laundry basket as it is to drop it on the floor. Laundry is one of those crucial life skills for kids that make my life so much easier.

Really and truly – if you train yourself to finish what you started, you can have a tidier home with the same amount of work! Doesn’t that sound great?

So how does this work?

It’s 4 simple things:

  1. The less stuff you have, the easier it is to clean up what you do have.
  2. Train yourself (and your kids) to finish what you started.
  3. If you can’t finish, don’t start.
  4. If you must start and you get interrupted or you can’t finish a task, make sure you finish it when you can.

Let’s break this down.

1. The less stuff you have, the easier it is to clean up what you do have.

This is so simple, but it bears repeating – the time you spend decluttering pays off every day in less “stuff” to maintain. Less laundry, fewer toys underfoot, fewer dishes to wash, etc.

I’d estimate that every hour you spend decluttering saves you an hour a month on housework that you no longer need to do. That’s an investment that will keep paying off for years!

2. Train yourself to finish what you started.

This takes some work, but it’s not rocket science. Oh, the bad habits I need to work on!

The kitchen is the main trouble area in my house. So I’ve been working on doing one task completely before I start another one. Wash all the dishes and put them away. Then clear off the counter and table. Then tackle any school papers.

Don’t flit around doing random things in the kitchen without completing anything.

If you enlist your kids to help, they’ll be glad to “remind” you. “Mom, finish what you started!” Kids can be extra helpful like that (wink).

But when they do, they’ll be reminding themselves of the lesson as well.

3. If you can’t finish, don’t start.

Yep – I’m telling you it’s better to leave the dishes in the sink (assuming you’ll get back to them later) rather than wasting half of them. You might as well tackle them all at once.

This principle is not always realistic. You may choose to do part of a job, but at least you’ll still be thinking about how you can finish up later.

4. If you get interrupted or you can’t finish a task, make sure to finish it when you can.

This might just be the hardest “rule” of all. If you’ve got small kids (or any kids or a dog…), interruptions are probably happening every 5 minutes.

toys on the floor in messy home

Teach your kids to learn to wait.

  • “Yes, I can get you a drink after we put away this laundry.”
  • “We’ll find your book as soon as I finish loading the dishwasher.”
  • “I’ll go outside with you when I finish reading my book.”

(Side note: according to this book, French parents think waiting is a critical skill for kids and make sure they get lots of practice! In case you needed any permission…)

And when your interruption cannot wait (crying baby, a toddler with Sharpie, the carpool is about to leave), just make a mental note to come back and finish up.

We both know it’s going to happen, so don’t get frustrated. Instead, do your best to finish up when you can.

To make all of your household tasks easier, make sure you have systems in place.

Systems help you work faster and with less attention to detail. Systems let you work on autopilot. Autopilot is a  useful setting for a busy mom!

Moms need systems like these:

“Finish what you started” isn’t meant to give you a guilt trip or to create extra work for you.

That is exactly the opposite of what I’m encouraging. I’m merely hoping to help you notice if you have this habit (like I do) of not finishing up. Once you notice the source of a problem, it’s easier to do something about it.

Don’t hope for miracles!

I’m not promising that your house will always be clean if you stick to this rule (although it will hopefully be neater!). Instead, what I’m saying is that you can have a cleaner house with less work if you start to pay attention to jobs left undone.

And that’s a beautiful thing!

If your house is really messy, decluttering might be a lifesaver!

Lots of people crash and burn when they try to declutter because they’re making a few key mistakes. My book, Step-by-Step Decluttering, takes you by the hand and gives you a quick, manageable plan to declutter, even if you’ve failed in the past.

Plus, it’s free! Yep – just pay shipping.

sbs decluttering print book rescue mission

But until then, tell me what are your biggest obstacles to finishing what you started?



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153 thoughts on “Do you feel like your house is always messy?”

  1. THANK YOU for this great post. My house is constantly “ALMOST together.” I always have half undone tasks around, mostly because I get sidetracked with my son. There are times I feel guilty in the midst of folding laundry… so I’ll play a game with him or go outside. I need to get better at actually finishing tasks, even if that means spending a little time at the end of each night doing so.
    Have a great weekend!
    “The Busy Brunette”

    • Awesome! Hey, no guilt allowed 🙂 We are a culture that gets easily sidetracked 🙂

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. I definitely agree with you that re-starting takes more effort and time than finishing a task in the first place. Thanks for the reminder to try to focus on one task and complete it before hopping to another.

  3. Thank you for sharing this.

    I think it’s a struggle for just about everyone. There’s always so much to do in a home. In our home everyone has jobs to do. We all contribute, and even that doesn’t keep our home in tip-top shape.
    I watched the (laundry) video… Now I just need to implement it.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  4. I’m trying to get better at this! Laundry is the hardest area for me. I wash it, dry it, fold it and leave it on top of the dryer! I can never seem to get it all put away but if I just stop and got it done I would!! Getting my middle daughter on board with this sort of thinking is really hard too!

    • You’re 95% of the way there! My kids are never as excited about these things as I am 🙂

  5. I can’t tell you how many times I have put laundry in the washer and forgotten about it, and then it gets smelly and has to be washed again. How embarrassing!
    I am definitely going to put the laundry tips to work!

  6. My obstacle is getting distracted. I wish I could say it was because I homeschool and have young kids at home all day, but really it’s my ADD-like tendencies. I start so many things, remember something else I wanted to do, and then leave the first thing to start the next.

    I love your 3 simple tips. They are practical and something I can remember. My favorite is, Don’t start if you can’t finish. I’ve started practicing that one already. Thanks for these tips!

    • Thanks, Roz. I do that, too, sometimes. Bad habits die hard but I believe we can train ourselves 🙂

  7. Once again, Sarah, I think you were speaking directly to me! This is exactly the post I needed, especially right now when school is out and it seems like my work load has quadrupled. Thank you!!

    • I’m inside your head! lol Glad it helped. Life is supposed to be EASIER when school’s out – hope you get a chance to unwind 🙂

  8. what helped me is to time each job and you would be surprised how little time it takes. Works for kids even better. Great movitational tool. Thanks for the incouragement.
    Marilyn Lefler

    • Absolutely! I think we can sometimes spend more time “not” doing a job than the job itself takes. Thanks for your thought!

  9. Very helpful tips thanks! 🙂 one of my biggest problems with keeping the house tidy is after I finished one task then on to the next..halfway there, I need to do the first one again because it is already a mess..again! Upon reading your post, I guess the solution to my problem is to train my kids (harder!) on what to do with the stuff after they finished, to put everything in their proper places.

  10. Thanks for the great advice. My biggest problem is chronic back pain. I can only do chores for a short amount of time (ie. 5 mins) before I have to stop as a result of the pain. Once I do stop & rest it is sometimes very difficult to get motivated again to get up & finish the job, or I simply get sidetracked with something else. Any practical ideas would be very much appreciated.

    • Hi Carolyn,

      If you’re limited in the amount of time you can spend doing chores, you’ll need to delegate as much as possible. After that, you’ll need to prioritize the most important things (dusting probably isn’t as important as loading the dishwasher).

      And also find ways to make your work more efficient. Use simple recipes where you can just dump the ingredients into a crock pot. Clear off the counter completely before wiping up, etc. Fold laundry sitting down (and make sure other family members are doing their own if at all possible!)

      If you have a hard time getting restarted, maybe you can set a timer to work for 5 minutes, then stop (even if you’re not in pain yet), then set the timer again for 10 minutes of rest or some kind of work you can do while sitting. Then you can restart the process again. If you do 3 or 4 blocks of focused work, you might be amazed at how much you can get done. Use music or diffuse essential oils to help keep up your energy.

      I hope that was a little helpful. You definitely have a challenge with your back pain. Give yourself grace for the times when you can’t do all you’d like to do.

      • I have chronic back pain and it does make cleaning and laundry is hard. When I had back surgery I would put in a load of laundry then when it was dry I would sit at the dryer door on a chair and fold it, sort it in stacks of where it should be put away, then make my way to each room where it belonged. This way it got finished and I felt liked I’d accomplished something.

  11. Doing one load of laundry doesn’t work for me. I do three loads at a time. I have mesh clothes baskets with three sections. I fold as I go and place the clothes in the baskets. When I am done my children take their baskets and put their clothes away. My oldest does her own laundry and my middle child is learning to do his reluctantly. He recently ran out of underwear because he had not washed his clothes. I hated he had to do without but was glad he learned a lesson. Thanks for the awesome tips!

    • Awesome! I’ll bet your son won’t run out of underwear again soon 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your system!

  12. These are great tips, BUT to a chronic procrastinator, the don’t start one is not going to work! LOL! I am a perfectionist at heart, and found that I wouldn’t start if I couldn’t finish, which led to piles of undone things, including my art work. So now I try my best to dive in and get as much done as possible, knowing I may not get it all done. And yes I really get distracted easily. Think I must have ADD sometimes! Well maybe all the time! I say go for it anyway! You can only get done if you start!

  13. Ha! My attention span for any given task is only as long as my youngest child. She’s two. I appreciate these tips, I really do. The laundry one especially. I recently read a tip about completing one load of laundry every day from washing to putting away and that is a great perspective. However, it is a constant battle of two steps forward and one step back when the two year old is awake and exploring while inevitably making more messes. So, for this time, this season, things will look a little messier than they should and like you said I will not take the guilt. I only get to enjoy the little years for a short time, and that’s what I’ll do. Housework can wait.

    • Oh this would be a great time to start teaching her. She is a little sponge for knowledge. Never to young or old to learn good habits.

  14. Thank you for this. I recently very nearly employed the services of a cleaner, even though I couldn’t afford it. I then looked at my house and realised, it wasn’t cleaning I needed but tidying. I’m really going to try this and see how it goes and you’ve inspired me to just get off my bottom and put away the washing!

    • That’s the old joke, right? “I’ve got to clean because the cleaning lady is coming!” Good luck with your tidying!

  15. Ah, yes. I am so guilty if this! I get sidetracked by something else and then end up wishing I had just finished what I started. I really do need to be more mindful of all that. Maybe that will be my personal goal for July! Never leave a job halfway finished 🙂

  16. My kids were great when they were little about helping but now that they are 11, 15 and 17, ummmm not so much 🙁 I am at my wits end! They know what is expected of them they just won’t help 🙁

    • Hey Stephanie,

      I have 2 suggestions for you: cut off cell phones and mom being chauffeur until you get better attitudes and they start following house policy. It may sound harsh, but you can do it very pleasantly. It works beautifully – you are the mom – you get to make the rules. Good luck!

  17. Oh geez, I think I’m the world’s worst at this. My scattered brain is like a squirrel on loads of caffeine. However, when I stick to this is get so much more accomplished! I plan on starting my own blog soon and was hoping I could use this link.

  18. I am a big believer in finishing what you start before moving on to the next task. However, I disagree with your method of doing laundry.I have 7 children. I would never get laundry finished if I used that method. For me a cycle is washing a load, taking it out and putting it in the dryer, starting a new load, then folding the load that just came out of the dryer and putting it in the right laundry baskets (because my kids ages 4and up put away their own laundry). It’s the only way to do laundry for 9 people every day.

    • I agree completely, Sarah! I live alone, but even I organize my laundry cycles like this, in succession. It’s a waste of my mental energy and my time if I don’t. I’m standing right there anyway, why not throw a load in right then?

    • Hey Herchel, Once you know the problem, you can work on fixing it. And there’s always grace, right? 🙂

  19. My problems areas are the ENTIRE house! I try on a daily basis and never succeed to actually accomplish anything! I keep telling myself that if i could get the entire house clean and settled at one time then i could activate a schedule! ! Problem with this is im doing it all alone in a house of 5 plus a dozen friends of my kids! I totally feel like finding a match and starting over!

    • Oh, Misty, I feel for you! Three thoughts for you –

      1. Give yourself grace. If you’ve got 5 people in your house, that’s a lot of work. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

      2. If there are 5 people, then you’re not doing it alone. Everyone over the age of 5 or 6 should be pitching in. It’s awesome that your kids want their friends over; but that doesn’t mean that anyone gets a free pass from helping keep the house picked up and cleaned. So start taking away those phones or change the WIFI password until the kids do some chores. (At least, that’s what we do and it really motivates them.

      3. If you’re waiting until the whole house is clean, you’ll probably wait forever. Just pick one area and get started. Your house is lived in and it’s not going to be perfect or spotless. Don’t let that stop you from making progress and cleaning up.

      OK? Pep talk over – you can do this! 🙂 Thanks for your comment.

  20. I’m a senior and quite tired of cleaning–but, it has to be done. The longer the wait, the nastier the job.
    I do know I can not spend the rest of my life cleaning, but I CAN have one room a day straightened, dusted, and neat.
    One room today, and I cleaned/organized ‘a’ kitchen drawer. Not much, but a little each day sets all straight/straighter in the end.
    I also maintain all the yard, keep the garage and shed organized.
    It’s a lot, but I just do a little each day.

    We seniors with no children have another worry. We won’t be able to do what we do now in maybe 5 years…so, 8 shrubs got cut to the ground last week.
    Neighbor complained, but, hey, she doesn’t weedeat and mow my yard!!!

    • Love your attitude, JJ! And how silly of your neighbor to complain about what you do in your yard. As if it were any of her business. Thanks for commenting and God bless you!

    • Boy, do I ever hear you! I’m 70, my husband is 80 and neither of us is in good health – but I’m the one who at least tries. All of that outdoor stuff, plumbing leaks (been without running water except 125′ of garden hose from way out in the yard, for months) roof leaking in the bathroom, breeding Miniature Schnauzers for the money to hire someone to do some of this. I don’t even have “5 years”. I’ve had Fibromyalgia (inherited) all my life and now apparently the other “Gilmore Curse”, Parkinson’s. I bought my husband a fancy electric (battery) lawn mower last time I had the money but even on the slowest speed he can’t keep up with it and we have the better part of an acre – well, my doctor tells me to walk (is he nuts?) so I guess that will have to satisfy him! We just have to decide which jobs are the most important to us and not feel guilty when we can’t get to everything. I get as much done as I can when I feel good enough even when I know I’ll pay for it with 3 days in bed.

      • I have different health issues, but the same result when I go too far. Including “just walking”. I feel for you!

    • JJ and JoAnn, nave neither of you considered downsizing? My husband and I are a bit younger than you but we’ve started to notice things getting harder too. My husband especially is beginning to find stairs hard on his knees, so we recently moved from a 4-bed 2-storey house with a huge garden to a 2-bed bungalow with a smaller garden, which is nearer to the shops and bus routes. Obviously, it can be hard to leave somewhere with many years of memories, but we’ve seen how difficult my MIL’s life is now – rattling around in a huge house that’s/far too big for her to maintain (even though her kids pay for a cleaner & gardener – they all live too far away to do it themselves), and we were determined not to be in the same position. We see our move as part of a natural progression through life, and we’re very happy we took the plunge – the new house is much more manageable so we have more free time, and as the move’s released some equity, we’ve also got money to allow us to do things we enjoy while we still can.

  21. Sarah thank you. I honestly thought this was another waste of my time blog. came here from pinterest and i figured it was another pick as you go. that never works. i never here the mind to randomly put bunches of things away all day! i have a 9 mo and two other kids under 7, it’s crazy and it could be worse but this is a handful for me. thank you for finish what you start, don’t start until you have time. i’m following to see what else you have.

  22. OK I am a homemaker, my kids are 24 years and 19 years and everyone works! My job is the home. My daughter is getting married October 2, 2015 so one less body! But with two German Shepherds and a Golden retriever this house is almost impossible to keep up with! The one dog is a police dog and goes to work with my husband! I need to organize and clean all at once, HELP PLEASE LOL!

    • Hi Jessie,

      Sounds like a busy house you’ve got there! I would suggest priorities (probably clean the kitchen and feed everyone first), making sure everyone helps and does their share, not letting the laundry get out of control and then knowing when to call it quits.

      Three dogs must do a number on your floors! You could probably mop every day and not notice the difference. So figure out what you can live with and don’t worry about the rest.

      I just published a whole house cleaning checklist that might help you organize what you want to do. https://declutteringschool.com/2015/09/house-cleaning-checklist/

      By the way, my husband is so impressed with police dogs. We just got a Vizsla puppy and training him is so much fun.

      Thanks for your comment!

    • Also practicing “full hands in–full hands out” (meaning pick up what doesn’t belong as you leave a room…especially if it belongs in the room you’re going to) makes for a more fewer chores altogether.

    • Put your foot down and everybody straightens up, cleans and organizes for so-many hours that it takes every weekend. The house might be your “job” but everyone has to be responsible for their own space. Then every Mon – Fri you go through each community room and tidy up as you go. One thing I insisted upon when I had more than one adult in the house – clean the tub/shower after you use it!!! Hang up your towel, even if it’s just to dry before it goes in the laundry basket. Wring out your own washcloth and do the same. If the “kids” don’t keep their own private spaces clean and neat, shut the door! As for dog hair – boy, do I know about that! – you’ve heard of Swiffer? For furniture (and all my dogs are the actual owners of the furniture) a damp paper towel does a good job and so does a close-tined metal flea comb. Also daily combing (especially that Golden) and whoever owns the dog does it, or everyone can just pick up the comb while they are cuddling with the dog (I have one beside every chair/couch). There are some food additives that cut down on shedding, found in pet supply catalogs and animal oriented stores.

  23. I have found that reducing the no. of items you have helps a great deal. For example, towels, I allow per person. This keeps my daily loads to a minimum. If there aren’t any towels, family members have to pitch in. The same for dishes. There is a secret ‘stash’ of these items, but I don’t tell anyone where they are unless it is an emergency, someone is sick etc.

  24. I’m 56 years of age and retired for medical reasons. No children but married and a small dog. I can’t go out to walk the dog regularly so he has an area in the wash room to do his business. No matter what I use to freshen it still smells. Living room and dining table is full of papers and books from my husband. Kitchen stays messed up from his late night eating. And my closet is full of clutter that I can’t control because of back pain. What can I do? Help!!!

    • I think that you sould do 2 importants tips:
      – the sink must be ALWAYS clean
      – create one space for your husband stuff

    • I agree – get a box or a bin for your husband’s things. My husband has an “inbox” where I put all his mail, his phone charger, etc. It’s a bit messy but at least he knows where to find things.

      As to the kitchen, you’ve got to talk to him. It’s not fair for him to leave a mess for you to clean up. I say you need to put your foot down and insist he clean up after himself.

      As to the clutter, you just have to do as much as you can. I recently read a great book that really motivated me to get rid of a lot of clutter. It’s called the Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up and it helps you see how to get rid of things. Perhaps if you read this, you could whittle away at the closet with help from your husband.

      Good luck!

    • I don’t get it. If I start a load of wash and cannot start a second load while the first one is in the drier (because that is multi tasking), then what am I supposed to do while the first load washes and dries? According to your rule, I cannot move on to another task. So, what, I twiddle my thumbs? Seriously, please explain this because I know you have the best of intentions in imparting what works for you.

      • Hi Ginny! Actually the advice to fully complete one load before starting the next is Erin Odom’s not mine, but here’s my understanding. The idea is that if you do one load completely before starting the next, you’ll be motivated to put that load away and you won’t end up with piles and piles of clean laundry.

        Of course, if you need to do several loads a day, this probably isn’t practical and you’d have to come up with a different process.

        Hope that helps!

    • When you find out, let me know!! As to the dog smells, I have heard Nature’s Miracle works wonders but it’s expensive. I use bleach in water or white vinegar in water. I don’t remember the amounts of each, I just pour. What is probably happening is pee traveling – under furniture or appliances. Or if it’s a male (I already forgot if you said) he is very likely lifting his leg to mark his territory even if he is the only dog/male in the house. A hand-held black light will show up urine you can’t see.

  25. My biggest problem is either we have too much stuff and we (I) don’t know where to put things, or it’s both. No matter how many times I clean off the kitchen peninsula it becomes a dumping ground. And if it’s too cluttered things start moving to the dining table or the dresser I use for storage. I remember as a kid we had to make our beds and keep our rooms clean. We always did the dishes which included washing, drying, and putting away before we could do anything else. I don’t understand why I don’t adhere to that now. Is it a form of rebellion or laziness? All I feel like doing is giving up.

    • Oh, my goodness! I feel the same way! I remember doing the dishes with my mom after dinners. Why does it seem impossible to get my own daughters to do the same thing? And I’m pretty sure it’s not them! They would do it if I asked them to. What is wrong with me? Where is the discipline that I need? Or the time?

    • It’s called Passive-Aggressive Behavior. And it’s me to a “T”. But now I’m passive-aggressive against myself! My mother was a drill seargent and there was no sleeping in on Saturday – that was cleaning day. The men went into the living room and visited while we “women” washed, dried, put away the dishes and cleaned the stove and counters. I deliberately stopped that as soon as I was out of the house! (except putting food away, of course)

  26. I commented earlier this morning but after reading some of the comments I have a sidebar. Like many families out there mine is blended. My question or delima is how do i get my step-daughter, who is 13, to start contributing more? It’s hard to instill good habits when you only get them every other weekend. Plus I don’t believe they are being implemented at her mother’s home. I’m sure there are other moms struggling with this as well.

    • I found myself in that situation for a while years ago. The man I was seeing actually got mad that his girls listened to me better than him. The secret? Don’t tell them what to do, ask them “would you please. . .” and “thanks” when they do it. Worked every time. The relationship didn’t, LOL.

  27. I had my kids, now grown & gone, do what we called a Chinese Fire Drill. In the time it takes for the commercials to run during a favorite TV show, everyone had to run to a separate room in the house & tidy up for as long as the commercial break lasted. We got 3 rooms straightened up in 5 or 6 minutes flat!

  28. This is brilliant advice, but easier said than done. When I was younger, it always amazed me to watch my own mother go through the house like a crazed person picking up a little here and a little there, but she never actually got anything cleaned up. Now I find myself doing the same and it is infuriating. Good advice.

    • When walking from one spot to another, take something with you to out where it belongs; toys or laundry one way dishes on the way back to the kitchen area.

      • My mother taught me that – “don’t go anywhere with empty hands”, especially running upstairs for something. There were baskets at the bottom of both staircases (and at the top) and things put in them rather than run up and down stairs all the time. But don’t go up or come down with nothing.

  29. I have found that if you do start a job, never do more than you can clear away and always clear as you go. If you only have 10 mins, open the post even if you don’t have time to read it but recycle all the envelopes and rubbish. Only keep the importance stuff. At least half the job is done. Half an hour later in the day, after school or work etc, can be applied to reading and dealing with the post. Small bites, 10 mins here or there or half an hour all help but clear as you go.

  30. Actually this is applicable to more tasks then just tidying and cleaning. Eg. doing one’s make up. Also when I connect it to other tasks in bathroom, it takes less time then running to make coffee, returning to dry my hair, back to pour coffee, make-up… searching for something my dearest can’t find… You see what I mean 🙂
    I know what my quickest morning routine is, but sometimes I keep to leaving it for one thing or the other… and then I forget to brush my teeth or apply mascara only to one eye (funny, I know) and have to do it at work 😀

  31. One thing my sister does, is she times herself. So she knows she can load the dishwasher in say 6 minutes or put a load of laundry or fold a load in a certain amount of time. I know this because when I visit she will say we have so much time before we go somewhere so we can do this or that. She looks on it as a challenge and a motivational tool. Her house always looks nice.

    • That is a really good idea – I always think it only takes a couple minutes to do something, but squeezing those little jobs into a short amount of time is something I don’t do nearly enough. Thanks for the tip!

    • I don’t agree with this at all. If there is still laundry in the dryer I put a new load in the washer and while it’s washing I empty, fold and stack as I go, and the dryer is empty when the new load is ready to go in. As soon as a wet load is going in the dryer I start another load in the washer, do a short simple job while the dryer is going, like maybe wipe down the bathroom surfaces with Lysol Wipes (right next to the washer & dryer). I’m much more likely to empty and fold that dryer load when there is a wet load waiting for the dryer. When all the laundry is finished, folded and stacked according to people, linens, towels, dog blankets then I carry the stacks around and put them where they belong.

  32. This is an inspiring post! Love it! I noticed a few comments about the laundry idea. Here’s mine: I have always done laundry in one day. We have enough clothing for a week and on Monday, I gather all clothing and towels and wash cloths and bedding from around the house and pile it in one huge pile in the family room in front of the tv. All sorting, washing, drying, folding, ironing, and putting away gets done that day. That’s my day to watch movies or tv shows that I don’t have time for the rest of the week. All appointments and other tasks other than the basic tidying of the house gets done on other days. Monday is my favorite day of the week and I have always loved doing laundry! Isn’t that weird? But I do! This works for me. Side note, when I still had all 5 of my kids at home and before some of them started doing their own laundry, it took two days to do. That lasted for a year or two and it wasn’t as fun then… probably because it was impossible to finish in the time allotted. See? You’re so right about finishing!

  33. My Mother always said ‘For now is forever”. Meaning don’t plop something on a table and leave it there just for now. It will remain there forever. Put items where the belong. She also said, “Never leave a room empty-handed”. There is always something you can take with you such as a glass for the kitchen, a tissue for the garbage etc. Our house was immaculate.

    • It wasn’t until I had kids. Now with a messy husband, toddler and infant – all the high needs, plus I have severe health problems, it’s the thing that makes me cry in frustration. I’m in the middle of a big purge right now. All tips like like this are welcome!

      • Take it slow and steady. If you’re dealing with all these stresses, you need to give yourself grace and do what you can. I hope your big purge helps out a lot! Toddlers can sure make a mess, but they don’t need a lot of toys so hopefully you can make a big dent in your clutter. And ask your husband for help!

    • Hey, JanB, if you’ve got five kids eight and under, are expecting baby number 6, live in an 1100 square foot house with no garage and tiny closets, and you manage to keep a neat house, please, by all means–share! Your tips would be appreciated! Otherwise, don’t judge. Everyone’s situation is different and some really do have it a lot harder than others and have to work a lot harder to keep things running well.

      • I live in a tiny house built in 1923. It is 1,000 square feet with teeny, tiny closets. Our answer was to buy a large wooden storage unit 16 X 20 with a loft. We put inexpensive flooring, lighting, electrical outlets and a air conditioner. We live in North Central Texas, so wanted it climate controlled in the summer to keep the items in there preserved. Then, we put two large IKEA clothing units on the back wall. Went to Home Depot to buy large stainless steel shelving on all the side walls. Then organized all the things that most houses have room for, i.e. Out of season clothing, holiday decorations. We bought see through storage bins to preserve bedding. extra comforters, you name it – we stored everything we don’t normally use daily in that barn. It is a few feet outside the back door, so if there is something I need that is out there, it’s under lock and key just outside in the back door. It made such a difference, rather than struggling every day to try and find a place to put these items. It has been an answer to prayer and resolved a lot of stress in our house. It has been well worth the money, time and expense of energy to do it. Hope this helps the tiny house people. It gave us the square footage of storage we desperately needed.

    • Sometimes. Long story short, I did the bare minimum while pregnant and the early years of my 3 year old, then pregnant again. Now, I’m having to play catch up on clutter. Once I get a room back from the clutter, it’s easy, but if you ever let it get away from you, it’s hard to get back. I’ll get it back, and it will be easy again. Be careful not to judge, everyone has their own struggles, for some it’s keeping a tidy house.

    • Yes. And there’s always the one person who thinks they are superior simply because they don’t struggle with it….

      Without fail, cleaning blog posts always have someone who just has to be rate others for not living up to their standards. It must sucks to be a perfectionist.

    • One of my biggest mess makers is my husband! Have severe arthritis in my legs and a heart condition. It takes be quite some time just to do normal tasks. But we live on

  34. We live with my mother-in-law. She and I have completely different ways of cleaning as well as different views as to what is “clean”. In my childhood looking cluttered was okay as long as it wasn’t messy. Our biggest issues here are stuff that doesn’t have a place, laundry, and dishes. Between the 7 of us, in a 3 bedroom house, everything always seems to be a mess. We have 4 boys (ranging 3-13) so the amount of stuff that just they have in the room 3 of them share, even when straightened up, overwhelms my mother-in-law and she then consider it junk. We share the washer and dryer making it hard to do a load at a time. We have made laundry schedules but they never work. I try checking with her every morning to see what she will be working on, but most times she doesn’t know yet. At mealtimes, we end up with multiple meals, since most of the household is picky. This creates a lot of time spent in a 1-person kitchen (this also being where the washer/dryer are which makes accessing them more difficult when someone is cooking or cleaning there) and a lot of dishes. After spending so much time cooking diferent foods, sometimes I just want out of the kitchen to eat and sit down before going back in to tackle the dishes or will only do half of them real quick because someone else needs in there to finish what they started, mealtime having interrupted. We also have problems because there is very little space and once cleaned, not all of the laundry, dishes, or stuff has a place. We have tried many shelving, drawer, and cabinet combinations, but nothing has worked out. It is a never ending shuffle and the messy look never seems to go away. It is discouraging which makes it that much harder to start or finish a task.

    • I used to cook different meals for my oldest daughter before I realized that she was only a picky eater because I let her be. This was a huge mistake to start with and a hard habit to break. Its akin to closing Pandora’s Box but now that I am a little older and have other children I realize what a disadvantage I put her at by allowing this behavior. She was difficult at dinner which made the occasion a chore, travel was a pain and it was embarrassing in social situations. I finally realized that kids will eat what is in front of them if they do not have a choice. Its basic survival instinct and I promise they wont starve… I am not advocating forcing your kids to eat liver but a whole separate meal is not doing them any favors in the long run. Take charge and let them know that you are not a servant nor a doormat. Good luck to you. BE STRONG!!!

    • I’ve been thinking a lot about your comment. Living with your mother-in-law must be stretching your communication skills! My boys are almost exactly the ages of yours and I know my MIL would probably go bonkers if she spent a week with us (she lives in Germany so she only hears the chaos over the phone).

      Maybe you could sit down with your MIL and ask her if there’s one thing you could fix or change for her, what would it be? She might surprise you with her answer. If you can make progress on one small thing, maybe she’ll see you’re interested in solving some of the unhappiness and be more willing to compromise with you. Also, maybe it would help if your husband does the negotiating unless you have a very good relationship with her.

      Beyond that, look into decluttering extra things. If space is tight, you’ll want to cut out whatever you can.

      Blessings to you!

    • My grandmother lived with us for seven years, and the first was the most difficult. However, it soon became apparent that she was an early bird. So we discussed the laundry, and hers was always finished by 7am so I could hop on mine when the older kids left for school. She also liked to eat earlier than we did, so she was generally finished in the kitchen by 4:30, and that was when I’d start dinner. (Or later. We usually eat 6-6:30. I just wish I’d kept my own schedule. I started going to bed late so I could have some Me time or do some uninterrupted cleaning time. This was not wise, as I had to still get up at the same time. My grandmother was easier to live with once she found her own friends and the Senior Center. Maybe your ML isn’t that old yet. Lol but finding a niche outside the house is critical for both of you. Good luck. Hang in there. It did definitely get easier, and I greatly miss her now that she’s passed on.

      • PS. She liked to make her own food. She ate with us on Sundays or special occasions, or when I made lasagna.

      • Such sweet advice, Cynthia! You must have had a very special relationship with your grandmother. Thank you for writing!

  35. I am a procrastinator. If I stopped following blogs like this one I would have the cleanest, tidiest house in town. I need the discipline to turn the computer off!

  36. I so need to try doing this. Part of my new years resolution is to cut the chaos in my life, I have anxiety and seeing my house always in (what I view as) disasters state. The dishes are never put away we just use the dishes out of the drying rack, the dishes get washed then stay in a hamper fro a week and our toys are everywhere. I am going to talk to my husband tonight about trying to always finish the cycle. Thanks for this post.

  37. For sure I need to reorganize my cleaning schedule, because right now the home is a total mess. There is no time to do anything at all. Thanks for the recommendations!!

  38. My resolution for 2016 was one word. FINISH. Finish the dishes, finish the laundry, finish the workout program, finish the grocery list, finish whatever it is I start. This falls in exactly with what I’m working on! Thanks for the encouragement!

    Btw: My resolution for 2915 was disciplin. I not only read the entire Bible through in a year, I also ran my first half marathon! And people say resolutions don’t work…

  39. I just wanted to tell you that I’ve been trying harder to finish things. I’m still constantly interrupted with two little ones, but there is visible progress. Thank you for helping me with what SHOULD BE obvious but isn’t.

    • Those little people can create massive interruptions! Thanks for your comment and congrats on your progress.

  40. I read this article about a month ago, and I had to come back and comment. I have to tell you this article has been truly changing of my behavior. You’re so right! Stop leaving stuff half done. I used to pick up, and find stuff that belonged in the bathroom for example, so I’d go through the effort of picking it up, walking it to the bathroom, and I’d just drop it on the countertop to “deal with later” but hey, it’s in the right room at least, right?! This article shifted my brain to think, if it’s already in your hand, and you’re already in the bathroom, just put it in the right spot!

    I felt I had to come back and say, in the sea of very repetitive articles on Pinterest, etc, thank you for a truly great article!

    • Hooray! I’m so glad it was helpful to you! It’s really a mindset that we have to train ourselves in. Especially with all the distractions around us, you have to be intentional. Thanks for coming back 🙂

    • This makes sense. I was taught a very long time ago when I was about to go to work(as a waitress)work with your head instead of your feet. Sage advice and I hear myself repeating that mantra many times. I see other people who I would love to offer this advice to, but it’s not my place. I do believe this advice and ‘completing a job’ could go hand in hand.

  41. Wow! I hadn’t really thought about “Finishing” things until I read this, and now I realise that, just this morning, I’ve done half a load of washing, half made my bed, done half a sink of dishes, wiped half the benches, built and cleaned up after building a Kallax/Expedit (yay I finished something!!!!), and half started putting the new quilt cover on. I half-heartedly thought about doing my next blog post, then got lost on Pinterest, which is where I found you. You’ve been added to my favourites! Thanks for the simple and sage advice.

  42. Ugh, YES! So, so true. We are all guilty of this at some time. I easily get side tracked and start chores that I don’t finish right away. And you’re right, it makes sense! No wonder it never feels like my house is ‘tidy’!

    Now to teach my children (AND MY HUSBAND!) to *finish* what they start! 😉

    Thanks for the tips! 🙂

  43. This sounds great….absolutely NOT realistic at all. I have 5 small children and I homeschool the oldest (the rest are still too young). This would be very poor advice for me. Sorry but it’s just not reality.

    • Yeah…same here! if I only started what I could finish I would never do ANYTHING ???? Might work for someone with different ages of kids or in different stages of life or lifestyles though ????

    • I disagree, I homeschool 4 and this is exactly how we successfully accomplish tasks. When I don’t finish what we start, it doesn’t work well. One example is, we don’t go to bed until the bedrooms are picked up. Also, in the morning, we don’t go downstairs until we are dressed, rooms picked up, all beds made, and bathrooms tidied. We don’t start school until breakfast is cleaned up. These tasks don’t take as long as we think and many hands make light work. Also, I think of all of this training as part of my homeschooling efforts…I’m teaching them good life-long habits. Yes, it was harder when they were all under 5 years old, but it is a good habit to do as often as possible and to make a future goal.

  44. I’ll tell you, I keep this in the back of my mind, and it’s actually helping! I still leave plenty undone, which happens with little kids around, but making it a conscience effort is paying off. I’ve had two people notice the difference in the past month! Woo hoo! Thank you.

  45. This is one of those wonderful posts that seems so obvious now I’ve read ispbut never realised I was doing it before.
    Like all good ideas, it might not be 100% applicable exactly as presented but recognising it is the biggest part. I too would grind to a halt if I waited till I had a load of washing away before starting another. But this is also the same perfectionist trap that means I have one half dried load, one waiting and one sat in the washing machine wet; just finishing the first load on a bad day would have seen success instead of 3 failed loads. Great on a better day to keep going, but I mustn’t write things off without trying them, as there are a kit of bad days.
    My big eye opener was realising I live in a permanent perfectionist-procastinate-paralysis cycle. I have a high ideal of what my home should be like that is basically unachievable. I therefore put off working on anything to avoid the disappointment in myself, till everything gets so desperate I need to plough on regardless, by which point I’m paralysed not knowing where to start. Eventually a mad spree results and the whole cycle starts again.
    The sneaky perfectionist thought of one finished load of washing not being good enough is the fatal one that sends me around again.
    Another famous procrastinator speaks of the born organised. I’m daughter and sister to some, and think a couple have already commented here; and whilst I think some are made by circumstances as well as naturally inclined – they really cannot fathom my difficulties.
    My sister is yet to start a family, but my Mum does conceed that she wasn’t always this in charge.
    Thanks again, now off to actually finish something instead of procrastinating on pinterest!

  46. Paper clutter is my problem. I have a good idea of what to do . But when it comes to what to keep or get rid of it drives me nuts.

    • This is my advice. Unsubscribe from any mail you don’t need – credit card offers, magazines, etc. When you pick up the mail, automatically purge – things that need shredded and things you need to tackle, get as many bills as possible via email and use electronic banking to pay your bills. I live in an area where we can bring anything that needs to be recycled all in one place. I keep a shoe box in my front closet for papers that need to be shredded, when the box is full I put them in a garbage bag, when the garbage bag is full I take to the recycling center. I don’t even open the mail anymore, any credit card offers or confidential mail goes directly in the shoe box. I used own shredders, they were always broken or I was wasting time fixing them from the way I tried to shred too many things at once. I gave up on them too. This has helped me. Piles of paper were really stressing me out!

  47. My dad had a small card taped above his desk at home. It is now on my end table by where I always sit. “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” That thought often keeps me going on my tasks and actually putting things away instead of thinking “at least it is in the right room. That saying is so very true!

    • Me too. I tend to let coupons and receipts and notes pile up. I never get to use them, because when I need them they are in some pile somewhere. I am sitting at my desk with a huge leaf bag and my shredder near by. I am attempting to at least clear some of the clutter on my desk. Good luck to you! Sincerely, Elaine (maybe it is an Elaine thing). 🙂

    • Yay for your dad, Elaine! I’m putting this up, too. 😀

      Sarah, wonderful article. I appreciated the most recent one about lists, too: What’s the Next Thing?

      I’m coming off of ten years of caregiving three different parents. When the first of them, my dad, started to have strokes and I devoted much of my spare time to help Mom, that’s when the downward spiral began in my home. Now I’m overwhelmed at the stacks of papers and clutter, partly from assimilating their estates into ours.

      My paper problem is not bills… it’s articles, stories, tons of music (I teach, write and compose), ideas, projects… yikes! If I can take your suggestion and focus on just the next thing, eventually all will be well! 🙂 Thanks!

  48. I think for me, this would be a helpful goal to keep in mind, but definitely not as a blanket rule. I already delay starting many chores if I don’t have time to do it right. I presuppose the inertia too– better to do it when there’s enough to justify getting started (or the hassles/costs of the activity). But once I started doing what I can when I can, I found it makes the full chore a little less problematic when the time comes. I might not have time to wash the dishes, but I can do a quick 10 second rinse and brush when I bring it to the sink, or at LEAST fill with water. That way when it’s time to wash, no stuck on food. Or a I can quickly wipe the stovetop or counter now, and then when I have to do a full clean later, it’s not a Herculean scrubbing ordeal. Or I can bring this item to the right room on my way past, and then maybe later when I am in that room, I can spend an extra 30 seconds then and put that item away. I think it’s a matter of balancing the two rules.

  49. I was only thinking this today. I’m terrible at starting things and not finishing them. Half done jobs stress me out more than jobs not done at all!

    I’m going to make a concerted effort at finishing off. The worst thing I do is not put the laundry away then it gets squashed and I have to iron it again ????

  50. I’m forgetful, so I have to make myself a list for the day. The List holds me accountable. If it says laundry, then I have to finish the laundry. Sometimes that means only a couple of loads get done, but those loads are COMPLETE at the end of the day. I also made myself a Plan for Living and I put everything on it that I want to get done on that day. If I can do extra I will, but the basics must be done. And the very best thing I do everyday? Leave the kitchen clean before going to bed. Makes a world of difference in the morning!

  51. Great suggestions! Recently we rented a tiny house and stayed there as a family of six. The house had one bathroom and no dishwasher AND no clutter. It was so easy to clean!

    Our family was less stressed in that environment and I’ve made some new decluttering goals as a result.

  52. Getting sidetracked HAS to be my number ONE reason for my messy house. Multi-tasking is no excuse if nothing gets completed 🙂
    Excellent article. I am Stumbling this one!
    SInea ♥

  53. Great points made by all, which goes to show us that #1- nobody is perfect and we all have room for improvement (whatever “improvement” means to an individual), #2- we cannot judge our homes by comparing them to interior decorating magazines any more than you should be judging your body by photoshopped fashion magazines, #3- my “baby” is now 20 and my two older children are 22 and 24 years old. Where did that time go? I used to stress over “all of the mess” throughout the house. Life is WAY too short. The alternative would be to have NO family and live in a perfectly clean home. I guess I’m trying to say, as an experienced Mom, to not stress the small stuff. All of a sudden your kids are off to college, moved out, and only visit instead of live with you. When my youngest son is home from school, I love seeing his stuff here. All too soon he’ll be on his own.
    Yes, finishing a job once started is a great life skill. Cooperation is a great life skill. Communication, empathy, and compromise are great skills. These are the lessons that should be focused on while tidying up the house with your family. The children will remember “pick-up” time as something positive and not a drudgery.
    Thank you for this terrific article about life!

  54. This is a good idea but as we get older we run out of steam to do the WHOLE chore. So an idea that was given to me from an older man a long time ago was “clean as you go.” For example, when your finished with your own plate or glass, instead of putting it in the sink for it to stack up, just rinse it an put it in the dishwasher right then. And train everyone to be responsible for their own, it’s easy. As you cook, clean up the messes as you go. Then a few pans to clean later isn’t much to do. Yaaayyy!!! Instead of waiting to make the bed, make it when you get up, WITH THE PERSON YOUR SLEEPING WITH. It’s easier and twice as fast to make a bed with two people too. As far as clothes are concerned, train everyone to put their light or dark clothes in the washer and then a load is already sorted, ready to go. As far as papers go, try to go through the mail right then and pitch those magazine ads. Boy, they sure can stack up. If there’s one ir two you like, keep them for night while watching tv then throw them out. Clean your bathroom mirror as you brush your teeth, just keeps it clean so you don’t have that chore to stack up later to DO. Also have some wipes near by to clean the counter, it’s so much easier to do this, just takes a second. Have everyone clean their own counters. Its an easy clean if they clean as they go. It just takes a wipe and done. Great rule of thumb for many jobs so you’ll have a ton less stacks and chores later to do. Teaches the kids and husbands too that we’re all responsible for our own messes. And it keeps the house tidy with a lot less effort. Hope that helps!

  55. What do you do when due to work and health issues in the past, you have out off doing hardly anything? The house is so cluttered and in need of deep, deep cleaning and organizing everywhere, but I get so depressed just looking at all that needs to be done. I’m so embarrassed to admit how much cleaning needs to be done. It seems overwhelming when I try to get started and then I just get discouraged and quit again. How can I get past this (please don’t be mean)?? I didn’t used to be this way, but the last 4-5 years I have gotten bad at finishing almost anything.

    Thanks for any help.

    • I’ve been in this situation and I found that picking one spot to do and only focusing on that works. One day, I commit to making the beds. The next, maybe washing a floor. Anything small to give myself a sense of accomplishment. The more I accomplish, the better I feel and the depression starts to lift. I also don’t beat myself up if one day I do less than another…I just try to accomplish something each day

      • I find that if I make a list (for the whole weekend, not just Saturday) that I feel much better when I look back and see all that I have accomplished. If I do something that isn’t on the list you can bet that I am sure to write it down & cross it off- may seem silly to some, but when the day is done, I feel much better seeing the things that did get done- even when there isn’t a line through every task-

    • I am also on disability and suffer from back problems ,migraine,as well as depression,angxiety disorder,. I get so overwhelmed with everything. I’m learning to take one task at a time. Rather than everything at once. I used to clean houses for 23years raised two children on my own . When cleaning I had a routine. I would July task. I no longer do that,i get overwhelmed and not do and not do anything! I have learned to make a list. Trash,pick up clothes,pick up living room, do kitchen,etc. I can do one thing at a time,then go to next. After I finish each task I keep the area that I cleaned I pick up real quick. In kitchen I rinse what ever and put in dish washer or wash it and put it on drainer. But before. I tackle anything I turn on my favorite music,then kick ass!!!! I hoped this helps,it has helped me to know that I’m not the only person with this problem and I’m not just a lazy slob, take care and God bless,

    • When I feel overwhelmed with anything, not just housework and organizing, I set a timer. I alternate doing something I have been dreading for something enjoyable like watching part of a tv show or reading. This works really well for me. Start with 5 minutes. In 5 minutes you can carry around a large garbage bag and empty all the small waste paper baskets for example. Or fill a 13 gallon garbage bag with junk that you don’t want and isn’t good enough for charity. Small time goals really help me. Sometimes I’ll catch myself going over the time just so I can finish that last little bit.

    • Two ideas. (1) Do you have a good friend (one whom you’re comfortable allowing into the house and seeing your ‘before’ state) who could invest some time helping you attack a few areas? My friend has a health issue and two cats, and became overwhelmed at one point. I went over on a weekend and spent the day deep cleaning her kitchen and bathroom and cat litter area, while she focused only on getting the laundry loads done. Then I helped fold the laundry and put away. Another idea would be to (2) contact an agency like Merry Maids or a similar agency and request a one-time deep cleaning service.

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Welcome. I’m Sarah!


I’m the creator of Decluttering School (formerly known as Early Bird Mom), lover of organized spaces, encourager to women and mom to four boys. Click here to read more!

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