I used to be really messy. I used to also be really stressed out all the time.

I’ve found that as I’ve gotten older, wiser and more organized, I really developed a real appreciation for “clean and orderly.” Why? Well, it all boils down to less stress. I find that when I come home from work and my place is messy, instead of wanting to sit back, grab a beer, a book and relax, I find I feel compelled to take care of things.

I really like to have my place be nice and tidy. Not spotless by any means, but not distracting. This means no dirty dishes in the sink or on counters. No piles of anything and no clothes left out in the open. All of these things remind me of things I need to do and intrude on what should be a space and time for me to relax.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, as I’ve recently gained a new roomate; my fiancee, Staci. She’s pretty clean, but quite a bit less organzied and we’re in a space that is simply too small. (Especially with all the wedding gifts starting to come in — argh.) It really brings to light some things I was taking for granted while living alone and it’s made me go back and think creativley about how I keep my spaces clean and organized.

h3. Some of my best tips on keeping things clean

* Be cleaning constantly. I really try my best to keep things as clean as I can and I spend at least a few minutes every night cleaning up. I try to take care of messes when they happen. For example, I clean and put away dishes as I’m making dinner and I file and sort my mail when I’m opening it. Working smarter, not necessarily harder.
* Hire a professional. I have a cleaning service come once a month to do a deep clean. It’s easy to want to let the place get out of control before they come, so I really have to exercise discipline to keep things up, which also helps quite a bit. It’s been totally worth the money.
* Do pre-vacation cleaning. I make sure and do a thorough clean (laundry, dishes, etc.) before I leave for any extended period of time. It’s soooo much nicer to come back to a clean house.
* Get good storage. This is one thing I’ve had in the past, but don’t have now. (Mainly because I have too much stuff — a story for another day) Having places to file, discard or simply remove from sight things that aren’t used every day is key.
* Throw things away. Getting rid of old, unused items can be a very liberating feeling.
* Don’t pile! I swear, piles of anything (dishes, clothes, books, mail, paperwork) are probably the most stress-causing things I can think of.
* Practice the 4 season clean. Spring cleaning isn’t enough. I try and do something similar every other month. It always amazes me at how much crap I can accumulate in such a short period of time.

All in all I’ve found that the cleaner my environment is the less stressed I am and the more I’m able to meet the challenges of the day. Now if I can only get Staci on the same page. But I’ll leave that for another day, as it’s an ongoing issue I’ve not yet sorted. For now, let’s just say I’m pulling a bit of a double duty. ;)

24 Comments on How To Keep Things Clean For Less Stress

  1. A hearty praise to your cleaning diatribe. It is a must for all things sane. I think the trick is just getting into the habit of consistently cleaning and placing things in their place immediately after using them.

    “A place for everything, and everything in its place.”

    There is a reason that we developed those cute little sayings after all. When I was young I saw them as old fashioned and part of a legacy civilization that was un-enlightened. Hah! Now I’ve started reviewing Emily Post’s book on Ettiquette. Social kindness, order, and civility just make life so much easier, IMHO.

  2. Good entry. But I’d actually be more interested in an entry about organization. I’ve been having problems with it lately as I’ve been occupied with more work.

    Do you think you could share your thoughts and experiences regarding useful organization techniques, both digital and not, to help reduce stress and achieve more in a specific time period in an upcoming entry?

  3. Yannick L. says:

    lol I have such a problem keeping my room clean. I have piles of paper, computer cables, manuals, etc.. Don’t have that problem with clothes though. They get done right away. I definitely need to start getting rid of some stuff also.

    Thanks for the tips Keith. Gonna put them to good use. And all the best with Staci. :)

  4. Nick Brawn says:

    I agree with the cleaning approach. It seems that the old phrase “cluttered desk, cluttered mind” is true. At the end of a long day, coming home to a messy room was a stressful event as was starting a day with a messy workspace. I had to spend a lot of emotional energy ignoring the mess to focus on whatever I was working on.

    On the few times that I actually cleaned up, I noticed an immediate improvement in several areas. Workwise, I enjoyed the cleaner desk because it gave me room to work, and I never had to scrabble around for things through piles of paper when someone came over. It also gave a professional appearance and subconsciously said “this guy is on top of things”.

    I enjoyed coming home and relaxing in my room (without having to step over crap on the floor), I could focus more on computing tasks (without having dirty mugs and piles of junk distracting me away from the monitor).

    Being clean for me, means less stress and higher productivity.

  5. Keith says:

    Adam — I’ll see what I can do. I’m pretty organized and think I’ve got a few tips I can share. I think I’ll touch on that with my next post, but it may take me a bit to formulate a more in-depth post on organization.

    Yannick — Your welcome for the tips! I hope they help.

    Nick — Totally. Funny thing is I don’t always equate “uncluttered” to clean. It depends on the clutter for me. I mean my desk at work is cluttered with toys. I’ve worked that way for years. Having things to play with helps get my creativity going. I think the key is clutter that doesn’t make you feel like you need to do something with it.

    Crap on the floor is the worst…and piles of paper, while at times unavoidable, are very stress inducing.

  6. VERiON says:

    “Get good storage” – this is essential. I can only stop clutter when there is a place for every single item. Then I can simple put things where they belong.

    Just as David quoted:
    “A place for everything,
    and everything in its place.”

    Keith – That would be great if we could hear your organization tips.

  7. Britt says:

    I love you, Keith. I’m printing this out and hanging it on our refrigerator at home, with the hopes that a certain someone will take heed. And I totally agree with “crap on the floor is the worst.” I especially find it funny when person who puts crap on floor ends up tripping over it and getting mad.

    I like a nice lived-in look, but not a messy look. It’s difficult to explain that subtle difference to a piler.

  8. I definitely agree with putting stuff away (or throwing it away) right after you use it. I used to just leave stuff lying around (including dishes in the livingroom). Putting it away immediately is no more work than waiting until later, and it maximizes the amount of time that your space is clean and nice-looking.

    My worst problem is what to do with clothes that I’ve worn once but that are still clean enough to wear again. I don’t want to put them back in the closet or drawers, because I’ll confuse them with clean clothes, so I just end up piling them in a big heap, and then the ones on the bottom get wrinkled. It would help if I had more closet space, but good luck finding large closets in Boston.

  9. Keith says:

    Jennifer – I know what you mean about space…That’s my biggest problem. I’ve actually got a laundry related post coming up, proably tomorrow. One thing I do with some stuff — jackets, some shirts — is hang them back up even if I’ve worn them. Sometimes they’re just not dirty enough to warrant a wash.

  10. Britt says:

    Another area that I find helps is to clean while you cook. I hate when someone cooks a big meal but leaves an even bigger mess. When I’m cooking, I toss veggie peels and waste into a bucket for the composter, rinse and discard containers, and keep the counter and stove wiped down while I’m cooking. It doesn’t take much time and removes the stress of facing a messy kitchen after enjoyig a nice meal.

    I also try to rinse and maybe wash any dishes or utensils I use while cooking (when things are simmering/baking), so the pile of dishes isn’t as large once the meal dishes are brought to the sink.

  11. ratsoringo says:

    Clean == Less Stress?

    ToDone says that personal organization and cleanliness is a direct reliever of stress:

    "I used to be really messy. I used to also be really stressed out all the time."

  12. Ken says:

    I think what would REALLY help is specific items that have helped or maybe stores that sell things that work.

    For example, I’m a bit skeptical of the Container Store but others rave about it.

    I think a Mythbusters type of post would be great, does it work or not?

    A lot of know we need to get organized but either don’t know how, where to start, or are looking for actual items that could help this out.

    Thanks for another great post Keith! =)

  13. Dan says:

    Great! I see ther are other people who keep things tidy as a way of not getting stressed. I can relate to the cooking scenario too. One word of advice if I may? It is difficult enough to change your own behaviors, if you desire the relaxed feeling you get from being tidy just do it quietly because trying to conform your mate to your habits can be quite unRelaxing ;)

  14. Keith says:

    Dan — Totally…I’m taking a, erm, “gentle” approach with Staci. She’s getting more organized as time goes by and she knows how it stresses me out, so I’m content to wait. Plus, there is no use getting all worked up over something I ultimately can’t control.

    It’s about influence — I’ve learned that trying to control things (and people) usually ends up in frustration.

  15. JAKAL says:

    I dont know… I tried doing stuff like that couple of times before nad ended up being stressed! I have so much stuff thaT after a feww weeks I cant remember where my suff is.. i rather thave them in a pile. Guess some people are like that! But good luck to everyone who is going to clean up.

  16. Sandra says:

    Add to that list: clean house before you go into labor. I spent the 3 hours of at-home labor, as ridiculous as it sounds, alternating between panting for breath from the pain and doing dishes, tidying up the house. We ended up spending 4 nights at the hospital and believe me, what’s nicer than post-vacation return to a clean home is postpartum return.
    PS It has taken my “Staci”/husband about 9 years to catch on, 6 months of which was AFTEr the baby arrived (no, even pregnancy raging hormones didn’t scare him into submission). He came around eventually though, so hang in there.

  17. Holy Shmoly! says:

    How To Keep Things Clean For Less Stress

    How To Keep Things Clean For Less Stress – on my desk: radio, headphones, lamp. speakers, cameras, flash, lens, candle burner, peace plant, magazines, oh and Panasonic and Canon battery chargers.

  18. Chris says:

    To Jennifer Grucza regarding where to put worn but clean clothes. I have a small space on a shelf in my closet for “drawer” items that can be worn again. For things that can hang, they are buttoned differently. I had read many eons ago that clothes last longer if you button all of the buttons and turn them inside out, and it seems to work for me (supposedly the buttoning keeps to keep free buttons from snagging, and distributes stress from being pulled around in the dryer). So when my clothes come from being laundered, they have all of the buttons buttoned. For items that have been worn, but can be worn again, they don’t have all of the buttons buttoned (e.g. shirts will only have the neck button buttoned, pants will have the waist button unbuttoned, etc.)

    I’m a guy, so some of this may not be able to apply to you, but hopefully is some food for thought.

  19. Utter Doul says:

    I can 100% relate to your post and the reader’s comments. Espically about the cooking, I like to clean as I go along so that when I am done cooking, I am done cleaning as well.

    I like to think about what I am doing so as to “build cleanliness into the process”. Simple things like positioning a small waste paper basket close to the dining table, since that is where all the mail gets opened and kids’ Friday folders get signed.

    11 years! And my wife still hasn’t bought into the whole cleanliness concept. Good luck ;-)

  20. Life Hut says:

    How to keep your environment clean

    Ok, you have stuff. No, you have A LOT of stuff. You have stuff everywhere. In your closets, in you family room, in your kitchen, in your bedroom, and many other places we probably shouldn’t even mention.

  21. Ed says:

    After a couple years living with my partner, I’m *slowly* beginning to wake up and *see* things causing a mess. I honestly didn’t notice piles as a problem, and dishes in the sink were just out of mind until they blocked the fawcet.

    Perception seems a big part of the problem — the difference between clutter and collage comes down to how you experience your living space. It’s still a slow change, but I’m finding it much easier to keep things neat when I notice the problem.

  22. pablo says:


  23. Excellent post! I can see that I’ve found yet another blog that I must follow!

    Another way to deal with the “worn once” clothing is hang them from hooks rather than hangars. It gets them off the floor while differentiating clearly between them and the “really clean” stuff on the hangars.

  24. Sergey says:

    Interesting post. The only thing i do not understand is why you make a parallel between relaxation and a clean place.
    I think the causes of stress are inside us.

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