There is something empowering about having an organized space where it is clean and calm and beautiful, and you can find things.
Being organized and keeping your space neat and clean makes you feel happier. And if you tend toward melancholy, it can help you feel less depressed and anxious.
Most of the stuff we keep around but never use is an attachment to the past. Getting rid of things helps us to move forward and stay in the present.
I love vintage things, but I try to be selective and keep just a few extraordinary items. If you collect too many beautiful things, it can bog your energy down. It can make you tired to have all that stuff around that needs to be sorted, dusted, cared for, stored, and moved from place to place.
Cleanliness is next to godliness
But not in the stuffy puritanical way of judgmental religious circles.
Being organized means not having to buy yet another expensive something you need because you don’t know where you put the last three you purchased. A month later, you find them all crumpled up and damaged under something they have no relation to.
Being organized means being able to get out of the house with what you need quickly and easily without any painful searching.
Being organized means making hard choices and being willing to get rid of extraneous stuff that is just weighing you down energetically and taking up space.
If I can turn into a neat freak, anyone can!
Being organized is something you can learn. I know this because I come from the most disorganized, dirty, cluttered background anyone could ever come from. I learned to simplify and clean up as I go, so everything remains fairly-neat and organized, and I can always find what I need.
I don’t have a lot of extraneous belongings anymore. I got rid of extra clothes and shoes. I don’t want to be bothered with keeping a lot of stuff sorted and organized.
The more stuff you have, the more time it takes to take care of that stuff. You spend a lot of wasted time searching for things.
Streamlining feels good.
But I didn’t start out knowing how to do this. It wasn’t until my 30s that I began to distinguish between the beautiful and the nasty stuff.
I grew up in a home where the dishes were only washed when one needed to eat again. Everything was strewn around haphazardly.
We had the clutter of my mom’s books crowding dusty shelves and music manuscripts piled on top of her piano.
My toys were crowding the shelves of my room without any logical order. My art supplies everywhere, and everything was filthy.
If you opened our kitchen drawers or turned on the lights in the kitchen in the middle of the night, roaches went swarming. Ugh! It was disgusting. I did not know anything about cleaning as a kid. I just thought it had to be that way at my house.
Mom was an Artiste with a capital A. A composer. Her classical music manuscripts were written out in a flawless hand in ink. She had perfect handwriting even though we are both left-handed, and her spelling and punctuation were impeccable.
She could argue anyone into a corner with her precise knowledge of politics and history, her two favorite special subjects. But that is where her impeccability ended.
Mom never brushed her teeth after her mid-20s, after she used a toothbrush that was too hard that made her gums bleed one time. So, she decided that brushing her teeth made her gums bleed.
She developed Pyorrhea mostly as a defense mechanism to keep people away. (Why not just get a softer toothbrush?) She gained a bunch of weight, so she looked like a little old babushka from Russia, far older than her age of 40 when this babushka phase started.
I suspect mom was on the spectrum for autism with her quirky ways. She began to dress in the same two or three sack-like dresses as she aged with a black shawl, and her hair was always pulled back in a messy ponytail.
She considered herself to be a genius like Einstein, whom she claimed never tied his shoes or memorized the time’s tables because he had more important things to do. I am just glad mom was cute and thin enough at one time, with clean enough breath to mate and get pregnant with me!
Mom focused only on things she thought were important. We ate well because she was a good cook. But the idea of cleaning up the kitchen as she went along was a mystery she never delved into.
She was raised in the south in an era where even middle-class whites could afford a maid. So mom never had to do chores.
Everything was always magically done for her. Dishes and clothes washed, carpets and surfaces were magically clean all the time. I suspect that was part of why she was so mindlessly messy.
If you learn to manage your belongings and home when you are growing up, it is a great skill to have.
We went to the homes of wealthy friends and museums and the opera and ballet. I knew that other worlds existed where things were neatly put away and cared for and beautiful.
I knew how to act in homes with bone China and many forks and spoons on the table. I had a similar blind spot as people who watch TV for hours every day and are exposed to newscaster annunciation but still speak with a thick regional accent.
I visited beautiful homes and traveled all over the world as a kid, staying in hotels and with wealthy dignitaries, but this did not transfer to me seeing it as something I could have or aspire to.
I didn’t start picking up my own stuff until I was 11 and met two cool sisters who became my best friends when we moved to Albuquerque New Mexico for three years. They cleaned up their various houses and apartments that they moved to and helped with everything by doing actual chores around the house, not once in a while but every day.
Their mom was always cleaning and straightening. It was the one thing she was good at and felt confident about. The many homes they moved into in the slums of Albuquerque were always beautiful and artistically decorated with hippy wall hangings, little pieces of lace, and amazing posters found at thrift stores and in the trash.
Everything was always clean and neat in a bohemian style with feathers, and Indian bedspreads artistically draped over couches and on walls.
The girls had cute lacy curtains, and everything looked sort of shabby-sheek Victorian. They would find antique furniture on the sidewalk, drag it home and paint it, so it looked amazing.
In stark contrast, our cockroach-ridden house was being remodeled a tiny bit so my bedroom would become the kitchen, and the nasty old kitchen would become my room. There was no way I was going to live in that greasy bug-infested room.
So instead I went out to the glassed-in porch that was full of old construction rubbish and cleaned out all the debris and made it into a sunny clean room for myself.
The sunporch was the only cheerful place in the house with eight windows going across one wall. This was the one room that had windows I could put curtains on. I made muslin curtains and hung them on the windows and made a beautiful bohemian shabby-sheek room for myself.
Mom had glued wrapping paper to all the windows in the rest of the house so no one could look in. She wasn’t about to waste good money on curtains. It looked kind of cool from the inside when the sun shone into the dingy rooms, like stained glass windows. But from the outside, you could see the messy swirls of Elmer’s glue she had used to tack up the paper.
I tell you all these gruesome details to inspire you if I could turn into a neat, clean-cockroach free person you can too.
My immaculate hippy friends could not believe I had cleaned up the porch room all by myself having seen the rest of the house with old dirty mattresses on the floor that we had found in the basement. Mom had unearthed two giant cable spools we used as tables. When I think back, our place looked like a crack house.
The house had come with tons of old furniture and wood in the basement, so I had dragged up an old door and some cinder blocks from the cellar and created a platform for my mattress.
I had put up shelves and found a table and made everything look surprisingly neat and orderly. I still had a lot to learn, but it was a start.
Tweenaged girls made me a neat freak
Another big kick in the pants for my cleaning and organizing skills was when the two cool hippy sisters took care of our pets while we were out of town going to museums, staying with people who had normal homes, and giving puppetry workshops.
The girls, our two new wealthy friends from school to see the roaches swarm when you opened the kitchen drawers. Then they told me about it afterward. “Why did you show them around my house?” I gasped in utter mortification.
“They just happened to be with us and had never seen or heard of anything like it. They wanted to see what roaches looked like.” The girls shrugged prettily as if it was no big deal.
It was ok for my two best friends to see the place because they knew me well and accepted me as part of the family.
They had helped us move into the house and had seen it progress into the mess that it was.
We had played house together in the dirt-floor basement dodging the black widow spiders that lived in the dark corners. I felt safe about my best friends seeing my home. After all, they came over just about every day.
But for strangers from school to see our home was beyond embarrassing!
After that, I realized how barbaric our home was.
Ever since we had moved to New Orleans for a year, the roach’s eggs had always gone with us when we moved to Los Angeles and then Berkeley and finally to Albuquerque, packed in with the kitchen stuff because mom and I never really cleaned anything.
My first job taught me the strange concept of ownership pride
When we dragged ourselves and our roachy stuff to Maine, I got my first job as a dishwasher at 15.
My friend, who had moved up to the short order cook position when I took over her job showed me the ropes of her old dishwashing job.
She told me to polish and dry “my” stainless steel sink at the end of the night to impress the manager. “You always want to polish your sink.” She said with pride. I had never polished anything in my life.
But it is easy to get into the habit of rinsing out the sink after doing the dishes and just drying it with the towel when I was done. It just looked good.
I was puzzled the way she talked about “my” sink or “my” nice clean floor when she washed the industrial kitchen floor at the end of the night. She took so much pride and ownership in this thing that wasn’t even hers.
One of my first jobs upon leaving home was house cleaning, but I did not know anything about it. I just needed work, and it paid better than a lot of other minimum wage jobs. I was terrible at it, and I hated it because it was boring and I felt inept.
I was going to be a dancer or painter or both. What did I want with lowly things like cleaning?
Gradually I learned to appreciate order and cleanliness as I lived with various housemates who were even worse slobs than me. I began cleaning up after them because I could not stand the filth.
Then I became the housekeeper for an immaculate woman who was an interior designer in Boston. Her home had to look like a showcase at all times for clients.
She was kind and taught me all kinds of little tricks to keeping things clean; wiping the bottoms of the containers before you put them back in the refrigerator and other methods. But she was a bit too extreme.
She was successful and driven, but she did not seem very happy. I once spent an entire afternoon switching out her hundreds of winter sweaters for spring sweaters in her orderly attic full of plastic bins. Even someone as fashionable as she was didn’t need 100 sweaters for each season.
She was always tired and got several kinds of cancer and had breasts and labia removed. (Not that it was related though I sometimes wonder if all that stress caused her body’s immune system to be impaired.) You can go too far with keeping things under control.
I moved back to California from Boston and finally had my own place instead of sharing with housemates. This taught me about ownership, and I kept my home immaculate.
Ever since then, I have become more and more streamlined. I finally got rid of most of my books, and everything I own can be easily crammed into my Toyota if I have to move. It is an amazing feeling to have so few things to worry over.
I even helped people as a professional organizer for a while. It can be a frustrating job if a person is not willing to get rid of things. You just end up moving things around from pile to pile. A lot of clients just try to have you take responsibility for their mess instead of learning to deal with it themselves.
It isn’t that hard to learn to keep your clutter down
Learn to put things away as you go.
Take off shoes and put them away when you get home, so you don’t track toxins from the street around indoors.
Hang up clothes as you undress or put them in the laundry bin.
In the kitchen instead of stacking dirty dishes with stuff hardening on them, in the sink scrape them and soak them in a container hot water or wash them right away by hand or put them in the dishwasher as you go.
Make it habit to wipe down counters as you go along each night.
Make a habit of emptying the dishwasher or dish drainer once the dishes are dry as you talk over your day with your family or housemates. This encourages you to rinse the dishes and put them in the dishwasher right after a meal if the clean dishes are always put away asap.
In the bathroom keep a sponge by the sink so that when you spit out toothpaste, you take 2 seconds to rinse out the sink instead of letting disgusting bits of toothpaste harden on the sink for three weeks straight.
When you poop, take half a minute use a toilet brush to scrub out the shitty scoot marks instead of just leaving them there. Little details like this just make life nicer for the next person or for yourself when you use the bathroom again.
These are things housemates had to tell me when I was 18 and moved into my first shared apartment. I thought the toilet brush was only used once a month when you maybe took a swipe at cleaning the bathroom. (Poo Pourri is an excellent product to cut back on embarrassing smells too).
In the refrigerator wipe the bottoms of containers if they are drippy before you put them back, so you don’t have big messes to clean up later. Just get into the habit because it saves time later.
Paper clutter can be cut down by throwing out or shredding every piece that is irrelevant right away instead of keeping it in envelopes in piles to look at later. Open the mail right away and take it out of the envelope. If it is a bill throw away the envelope it came in, put the part you need to pay in the envelope sent for that purpose or pay for everything online and stop getting those bills in the mail.
Throw out all the cool flyers you have by getting the websites for those cool events or teachers or whatever instead in a folder on your computer on in the cloud if you are worried about losing them.
Evaluate clothing and get rid of stuff you never wear or if you have 20 of the same type of thing that you never wear choose one or two to keep and get rid of the rest.
Getting rid of my books and getting kindle versions has been a huge space saver. When I was a kid, we moved every couple of years and had to drag 20 boxes of books everywhere with us.
Getting Rid of Car Clutter
If you have a car, keep a trash bag next to you and take your trash in with you at the end of the day and throw it out.
Keep a little dustpan and hand broom to wipe up dirt and leaves every week or two even if you don’t have time to vacuum the car or get it detailed.
Keep rags and a spray cleaner in the trunk. It only takes a few minutes to wipe down the interior. I have even cleaned the whole outside of the car with just a spray bottle and some rags, and it looks ok and cheers you up a little even if you don’t have the time or money to go to the car wash, and it saves water.
You don’t have to change overnight but maybe add one or two neatening tasks per month until you are really into it and it just starts to come naturally. Then you can add a few more things.
You might even find that you have more energy once there is less clutter.
Ideas to guide you in your quest for calm, beautiful surroundings
· Group like with like
· Get rid of duplicates or put them in storage until needed on a high shelf in the closet
· Get rid of stuff that you don’t wear, or “archive” it if you must keep it
· Think about scanning old photos and then throw them out
· Get books on kindle
· Pay bills online instead of using paper
· Get Japanese about nicknacks: keep one beautiful item out and store the rest, rotate them by season.