Although organization comes naturally to me, I have always struggled to keep a maintained room or home. And doing a deep spring cleaning? HA. That was just an exercise in futility for me.
I mean, it’s great to do a massive get-out-all-the-winter-funk cleaning. Wiping baseboards and cleaning window screens are wonderful things to do. But clutter kept getting in the way.
How could I possibly think about deep cleaning when my time was consumed with picking up and trying to beat back the chaos??
That’s when a dear friend introduced me to one of the most amazing books in the world: The House That Cleans Itself.
Now there’s something you should know about me. I’ve read way too many books on cleaning and organizing – each promising to give me the a breakthrough system to keep the house clean. I’ve started more organizing systems than I can (embarrassingly) count. So when my friend encouraged me to read this book, I sighed inwardly – fully expecting more of the same-old-same-old.
But this book was radically different.
The whole philosophy of the book is brilliant: It’s a really hard challenge to change human behavior. Instead, change your house to fit the behavior. Become a student of your house, your habits, and your clutter. And make changes to your house to set yourself up for success.
Let me give you two examples.
Messy Problem #1: Books
My kids are avid readers, just like me. But the book nook in our house always looked like a disastrous tornado tore into the house. I mean, books were just piled all over the floor… and it was rare for books to be on the wooden bookshelf. (And if they were on the shelf, they were stacked like a giant falling Tower of Pisa.
Getting my kids to put their books BACK on the shelf was like pulling teeth. It took soooooo looooooooong and as soon as they sat down to read, books just spilled everywhere again. It was so bad, visitors would come to our house and compulsively start picking up the books and organizing them. (And inwardly I really wanted to say, “don’t waste your time… it’ll be back to awful in ten seconds.”)
But thanks to the ideas in The House That Cleans Itself, we changed the house to fit the behavior. My kids were ploppers (dropping the books on the ground) and not filers (putting them back on the shelf). So we removed the wooden bookshelf and replaced it with fabric bins. And suddenly, the book nook was always clean and tidy. Always.
Let me repeat this in case you missed it. THE BOOK NOOK WAS ALWAYS CLEAN. Below is a picture of the book nook after three weeks of this box system, with zero clean up from me the entire time.
Messy Problem #2: Worn Clothes
Oh, clothes. You bane of my existence. I have struggled with The Dreaded Pile Of Clothes in my bedroom since forever. And I’m not referring to clean laundry (which is its own animal). I’m referring to clothes that have been worn and aren’t dirty enough to be washed, but not quite clean enough to be put back.
Or worse – you can’t put them away because you might decide to wear them tomorrow. And why bother putting away clothes you are going to wear again the next day?! (I re-wear a lot of my clothes before washing.)
Simply convincing myself to put away those clothes right then and there just wasn’t happening.
And have you noticed? Laundry has a way of multiplying while you sleep. I am convinced of this. And suddenly you go from having one pair of pants laying out to a massive volcano of clothing. And it just keeps erupting.
Once again, The House That Cleans Itself gave me ideas to save the day. Rather than guilting myself over not immediately dealing with my clothes at the end of the day, I changed the house to fit my behavior. I put a pretty basket under my nightstand and tossed in the clothes I had worn that day. I could pull out clothes from the basket when needed. When the basket got full, that was my cue to sort and organize.
Boom. Now the floor was perfectly clean at all times. I didn’t struggle with a clothes pile again.
When we moved, we gained the blessing of having a master bathroom for the first time ever (so nice!!). But this meant things changed. Suddenly, piles of clothes started showing up alllllllllllll over the bathroom counter. No problem. I just put my fancy baskets on the counter. BAM. Instantly there were no more unsightly clothes piles.
Baby Steps to Clean
I’ve learned that baskets and boxes work great for my family. But they might not work for yours. And that’s totally okay. That’s why the first chapter of The House That Cleans Itself is dedicated to helping you be a detective of your house, looking for messy areas and analyzing WHY those messes are there. Other cleaning books really only addressed the what of the problem – the mess laying around. But suddenly I was looking at my heart issues and the layers behind why the messes happened. It was pretty revealing, but also freeing.
There are a total of 8 steps she walks you through, including:
- Create A First Impression of Clean: the power of sight-lines and why creating the illusion of clean is a powerful tool
- Think Like A Hotel: the power of aesthetics and the importance of keeping everything in one spot to save time and messes (ie – keep your envelopes and stamps in the same place so you aren’t going between rooms)
- Put God at the Center: taking a prayer walk through your home; asking for wisdom and inspiration – and praying blessing on your home and the people in it
Hiccups to Decluttering: But What About All That Stuff That Has Potential?
To any creative person, stuff can become a minefield and a trap. I have always hated those questions of “is it useful” or “is it beautiful.” Because my answers were always, “well… it could be!!!!”
When I read this in the chapter on Simplicity, I felt like jumping up on top of a mountain and shouting for joy.
“If you have a problem with clutter, chances are you have spent a lifetime hearing different methods for clearing away your stuff. Most experts suggest asking yourself several key questions, such as “Do I really need this?” and “Have I used it in the last year?”
I say that if you were capable of answering those sorts of questions, the clutter would never have built up in the first place. You don’t need better answers. You need better questions. If you really want to get rid of clutter, in my opinion the place to start is in understanding and embracing this single truth:
EVERY POSSESSION YOU HAVE, FROM THE TINIEST BUTTON TO THE BIGGEST PIECE OF FURNITURE, CONSUMES A PIECE OF TIME.
Think about it. You spend time on your stuff when you acquire it, when you clean it, when you move it, when you shove it into a box and put it into the basement, when you kick it out of the way because you stepped on it, when you leave it out and the kids mess with it, when you get it dirty and have to wash it, when you fish it out from under the bed, when you hold it in your hand and try to decide what to do with it, when you sort it again, when you store it again, when you decorate with it, when you think about how much you love it, when you feel guilty about how much it cost, when you try it on and it no longer fits, when you dust it… and so on.
[…] The questions to ask yourself about your stuff as you attempt to weed things out are not value judgments about when you used it last or when you might need it again. To clutterers, there are too many shades of gray in those questions. Instead, face the black-and-white reality of the trade-off you’re making. When you are de-cluttering, with every single item you own ask yourself these three questions:
- Is this worth my time?
- Does what I get from this item provide a fair trade-off considering the time I’ll have to spend cleaning and storing it?
- Do I want to spend another second in the future fooling with it, or do I want to get rid of it now so it will no longer cost me a single moment of time?
[…] Stuff eats time.” (The House That Cleans Itself, pp. 80-81)
The Freedom of Life Change
The House That Cleans Itself is one of those books I plan on reading annually, because I know I will learn new insights each time I read it – whether it be on cleaning routines, decluttering tricks, ideas on how to change the house to fit human behavior, or just soul-nourishing encouragement. There are so many nuggets and helpful ideas inside, I can’t even begin to describe them.
If you’ve made it this far in the post, the last thing I want you to do is to walk away from this post and think, “psh… that gal was just trying to get me to buy that book.”
Rather, I’m telling everyone I know about this book because I’ve seen the life change it’s brought to my life and my family — deep joy, relief, and freedom!! I’ve read so many different books — but this is seriously the BEST book on this subject I have ever read. I struggled and churned for YEARS to keep my spaces clean and maintained. And I always felt frustrated by my own inabilities and short-comings. That failure etched at my soul and suffocated my joy.
As the author relates her own experience:
She went on to explain her embarrassment and frustration at hiring a cleaning crew to come clean the house … only to have it fall apart 24 hours later (sometimes worse than before!). But all that is different for her now — because she stopped trying to change human behavior and started working WITH her family’s habits, instead of against them.
Why do I share all this? Because there is hope. And there is freedom. We are all tasked with being stewards of our home and nothing is worse than feeling “beaten” by your possessions. By understanding the heart behind the problem (and changing the house to fit human behavior), it’s my hope that you can experience the same level of freedom that my family has.
If this method isn’t for you, you can also check out how site editor Helen used The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to help beat back the clutter in her own home.
Editor’s note: Links to The House That Cleans Itself are Amazon affiliate links. Bethany purchased this book on her own. Being frugal stewards here at KS we always recommend the library or borrowing from friends if you can’t buy at this time.