I have always kept a clean house. Everything in it’s place. Yes, I’m one of those people.
Contrary to what others might assume, I don’t keep a clean house to impress my guests. If I lived as a hermit in the mountains, I wouldn’t change my habits. If visitors show up when my house happens to be in disarray, I’m not the least bit embarrassed. You’ll never hear me say, “Sorry about the mess.”
Instead, my tidiness is driven by my high need for order. I feel happier and more peaceful in a clutter-free environment. If I plan to do anything relaxing, I always tidy the house first (or at least the room in which I plan to relax).
For the first dozen years of my adult life, this was not a challenge. I lived in small spaces that I could clean top-to-bottom in just a few hours a week. I only had to pick up after myself, and everything stayed where I put it.
My friends and family said I would never be able to keep up with these standards after I had children. But they were wrong… Sort of.
With two little kids and a three-bedroom house, I continued to keep a tidy home. I did lower my standards a little bit—somewhat out of necessity and somewhat to avoid squashing my kids’ ability to enjoy themselves. But for the most part, my house continued to look the way it did pre-children.
Oh, I can let it go for a few hours or maybe even a day or two. I do let my kids have fun and make messes. But those messes get cleaned up promptly when the fun is over.
Sometimes people would come over, take a look around, and ask me how I managed to keep my house so tidy in this stage of motherhood.
I’m not one to let others think I have some magic formula, so I always told the truth.
“Honestly? It’s exhausting. I never sit down. Cleaning takes the place of many other things I would like to do, but when my home gets out of order, I get anxious and cranky.”
What’s a high-strung mother to do?
As I learned about the concept of minimalism, I realized that my desire to live in a tidy space wasn’t about extreme cleanliness fueled by OCD (as some people had suggested). Rather, it reflected a desire for simplicity.
As a busy-minded person, I need a simple environment to help me silence my inner noise.
Unfortunately, the circumstances of my life no longer allowed me to keep the tidy surroundings I needed. And my attempts to create that environment kept my body and mind in a constant state of busyness, which is exactly what I was trying to avoid.
So I asked myself: Instead of working tirelessly to create a simple appearance, what if I created a truly simple life?
That moment changed the way I looked at my possessions. I started purging items left and right. I walked through my house with a garbage bag, grabbing items that didn’t serve a practical purpose until the bag was full. Then I grabbed another bag. And another one. Then I separated everything into piles to sell, to donate, and to trash.
By the way, I did run this by my husband before I started tossing our stuff. He was supportive, as always. But he did request a few exceptions, and since marriage is all about compromise, the extensive collection of baseball caps remains.
The whole purging process took several months. I went through every drawer, closet, and cabinet. I went though our storage areas, all of my clothes, and keepsakes from my childhood. My kids and I went through their toys (my biggest challenge in the quest for less), and I even took a hard look at every decoration and each piece of furniture.
If I wasn’t ready to let something go, then I let it stay. I didn’t force myself to part with anything.
I did ask myself some hard questions, though. Questions like:
Why do I feel the need to keep this item?
What purpose does this item serve?
Will I regret getting rid of this item in a year? Ten years?
When was the last time I used this item? When do I anticipate using it again?
Will the quality of my life be affected if I no longer have this item?
Sometimes I didn’t have answers. I don’t know, I would tell myself. I just want to keep it. And that was fine.
Over time, I’ve come back to many of those things and asked myself the same round of questions. Each time, I part with more of the things I had previously chosen to keep. Still, there are some things I’m keeping, despite my inability to articulate a reason. Maybe someday I’ll be ready to make a different choice. Or maybe I’ll discover a reason and I’ll be glad it’s still around.
As I hauled items out to the garbage can, shoved bags of clothes in donation bins, and filled boxes for a garage sale, I felt a lightness I had never experienced.
I had removed a burden I didn’t even know I carried—one that required me to store and manage a bunch of stuff I didn’t use or need.
Now that I see the benefits of having a healthy detachment from material things, I regularly challenge myself to get rid of excess stuff. Every item in my home is eligible for purging at any given moment. Whenever I pick something up to put it away, I pause to question its value before I find a place for it.
I do the same thing when I’m out shopping as a way to prevent unnecessary items from entering my home in the first place. Before it goes in my cart, I pause to think about how often I’ll really use it or whether those few dollars would be better spent elsewhere.
The decision to live with less inadvertently improved every other area of my life. It’s easier to save money. It’s easier to eat healthy. There’s no fuss over what to wear. For the first time ever, I have real answers to questions about what I’m pursuing in life, and why.
And it’s so, so much easier to keep a clean house.
These days, my house is tidier than ever, but it no longer takes hours of my day to keep it that way. I spend only a few minutes each day putting things back in order. My kids can clean and organize their toys in less than 15 minutes. And when I look around my house, I only see things that add quality to our lives and not quantity to our closets.
I’m not suggesting that everyone throw every possession away. We all need to allow our definition of “enough” to evolve, and the end result looks different for each of us. However, if you find yourself constantly scrambling to keep your life in order, maybe you’re not just a neat freak.
Maybe your soul is trying to tell you something… that your quest for order is really a quest for simplicity; and a few laps around the house with a garbage bag just might open up a door to a lighter, more peaceful way of life.