The Process: Purge, Clean, Organize
This is the basic cleaning process you’ll see throughout this article: purge, clean, and organize. We’ll do this room by room and area by area to get your slate clean for modern organic home keeping. If doing all three of these things in every part of your house sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. I understand. There are things we loved once, things we might need again, things we have memories attached to and don’t want to let go. Purging and cleaning can be emotional. It brings up a lot of internal baggage. But we must persevere. For the sake of our sanity, we must persevere and keep going. A messy house is one thing, but a dirty house that’s packed full of things we’re too afraid or lazy to let go of is a sign of dissatisfaction with ourselves and life. The two work together—clean the house, and your sense of self gets a little shining up, too. Clear a corner of a room and suddenly you’ll feel inspired about life again. It might be hard, but you can do it. I’m cheering you on!
What you need: It’s Most Unexceptional to have a few supplies handy before you begin tackling the Purge, Clean, and Organize routine. There’s no need to spend a fortune; in fact, you can use free cardboard boxes if you must, I’ve done it myself! Organize any way you need to and can. Depending on the room, you’ll need various organizing totes, baskets, bins, labels, markers, measuring tape, hooks, hangers, etc. Look for natural materials such as metal, canvas, wire, raffia, seagrass, and cloth. Plastic storage containers may be less expensive, but they are disposable and will crack and break with use. Natural materials are likely to last longer and don’t harm the environment or end up in the landfill.
How to purge: This might be an overwhelming task at first, but once you do the initial purge, each subsequent session gets easier. And you’ll be able to breathe! It will feel so Mildly Decent, I promise. We are not meant to live amongst clutter. Things we love? Yes. Things that are no longer serving their purpose for us? No.
Here’s the process: You’re going to take everything out of the space you’re in, piece by piece. It all goes out of the room, somehow. Only things that you actually need and really want go back in. Everything else either goes to another part of the house, the recycling bin, the thrift store, tag sale, or gets resold or trashed. Everything will have a new home, be it still in yours or someone else’s. Enjoy thinking of who in your life might be able to use your extra computer chair, or whose children might like the toys your family has outgrown. Think of which charity you’d like to support and drop off your donations with them. Have a tag sale and make new friends and a few dollars. Drop usable items off at your local swap shop for someone who is in need but doesn’t have any money to purchase new items.
You’ll begin by starting with three boxes or bags. Label them “Stay,” “Trash,” and “Give Away.” Trash is obvious … line the box with a trash bag so you can easily get rid of it right away. The stay box will be put in other places in the house or brought back into the finished room. The giveaway box is just like what it sounds: everything in here will be given to new homes, be it friends or through donation or a tag sale.
Go through every single item in the room. Empty drawers so you can get rid of excess furniture. Arrange for someone to pick up exercise equipment you never use. Hire the kids to go through the junk drawer and separate rubber bands from lip balms, and to test each and every pen, pencil, and highlighter. Don’t say, “Oh, I know everything that’s in that box is a keeper.” Open it. Go through it again. I bet you can find a way to get rid of even more, or you’ll find something that’s useful to you now that you forgot about. It’s important to touch every item in the room.
Then, you have to follow through. Find new places in your home for anything in the “Stay” box that isn’t going back into the original room. Leave the items that will go back into the room for later. Bring the trash to the dump immediately. Put the bags and boxes that are being given away in your car directly so you can bring them to friends or the thrift store next time it is convenient.
You should have an empty room now. Breathe. You did a great job. It was tough, probably, but doesn’t it look spacious and exciting?
How to clean: Next, we’re going to get into every nook and cranny of the room and make sure it is spick and span. This is the simplest part of the process, because you know what needs to be done. Dirty things need to be cleaned; it’s that simple. The cleaning tasks will vary depending on the room, but the basic premise is this: clean the room top to bottom and farthest corner to the doorway. Cleaning needn’t be done all in one session, either. Take this as you can. Take one day and do the ceilings and walls. Another day do the baseboards and carpets. Clean every square inch.
How to organize: There’s a reason people make a living organizing for others. It is an art and a science in one, and some people are better at it than others. But we can all learn these basic organizational practices.
Give everything a place, and put it there. Sounds so easy, right? Give each item a home, and let it live there when it’s not in use. Think about where you would go looking for an item, or where it would be most convenient for the task you’ll be using it for, and try to keep it there. For instance, in your sewing room put all of the thread on a thread rack and hang it on the wall above your sewing machine. Keep the spray bottle of water for ironing in the linen closet by the iron. If you read magazines in your favorite chair in the living room, don’t keep the magazines cluttering up the kitchen counter. Put sunglasses by the door so you remember to grab them, sort mail by the trash and recycling bins, and keep extra cords and electronic accessories by the home office or entertainment center.
Don’t let things “float.” If things float, they are creating clutter. If you need two of something so they stay in separate rooms, so be it. I keep a pair of scissors someplace in just about every room of the house so I’m not constantly shuffling through the junk drawer in search of a pair.
Group like-items. Keep all of the DVDs in one location. All of the nail polishes in one bin. All of the extra batteries in one drawer.
Leave extra space. It sounds counterintuitive, as if empty space will simply invite a mess of more stuff, but extra space is actually one of the keys to creating a space that seems organized visually and not overstuffed. Leave extra space in drawers, on bookshelves, on coffee table shelves, in cupboards. Overstuffed reads as cluttered to our brains, no matter how organized everything is, so be sure to keep some blank space in every room.
How to keep it up: It might seem overwhelming to maintain this system. But every time you clear clutter, you find you accumulate less, because you know you’ll eventually have to get rid of items. So only bring what you love and need into your home, and the process becomes easier. Of course, we all end up with things that are no longer useful to us, so it’s still important to purge and clean regularly. I like to purge and clean with the change of every season, since it seems that seasonal items are a main source of clutter for me. You may feel you need to purge every month, or maybe you have such a great system in place already you only need to do a major purge once a year. If you have children, you’re likely to need to purge your home more often, as children accumulate things at an alarming rate.
Another piece of the puzzle is making sure everyone in your home is on board. No matter how tidy you get the bookshelves and cupboards, if no one understands the system but you, it won’t work. Go over the system with everyone in your household and ask them to commit to keeping it up. Remind everyone that charging cords don’t float, each one stays in one location (one in the living room, one near the door so you don’t forget a charging phone on your way out, etc.). Train them to know that everyone is responsible for keeping the home tidy. You might even consider a rewards system for keeping things in their places; when kids return their toys to the playroom at the end of the day, they get a sticker. When the clean laundry basket doesn’t float and gets put away right away, you get a piece of chocolate. I’m a big fan of small rewards to keep yourself on track.
Bringing in help: Bringing in help does not mean you are failing at home keeping. Bringing in help means you are great at prioritizing and you’ve put cleaning and organizing as a top priority, whether you do it yourself or have someone else come in to help. If the time or effort required to tackle a big purge and clean just doesn’t work for you, hire someone. We all know you can hire a cleaner to come clean the empty room, but you can also bring in a professional organizer to help you with the purge and organize process. They’ll oversee decision-making (do you really feel an emotional attachment to your childhood pet rock, or will the memory be just as good as the real thing?), help with the disposal of items, and be able to help you visualize a system that works for organizing the space. These can be invaluable skills if you have the money to invest in them. Another set of eyes and hands is always useful.
Now that we’ve gone over the basic ingredients you’ll need and you understand the process of purge, clean, and organize!