Six steps to establishing order in your home after an inevitable dip into chaos

This week has been one of those weeks where I never found my rhythm. You’ll notice that Tuesday’s post ran on Wednesday and then there wasn’t a Unitasker Wednesday post. I forgot my son’s weekly swimming lesson, which has been at the same date and time this entire year. All day yesterday, I kept making plans for today as if it were Sunday. There are a handful of other examples, all proving that my head has not been attached to my shoulders this week.

As is the case for most people, as my mental space has become chaotic, so has my physical space. Mt. Laundry has erupted in my laundry room. I’ve been rushed, so things haven’t been put away as I’ve used them. It has also affected my kids, since I’m not giving them time to clean up before we run to the next activity. TMZ could do an expose with intense music and tell-all photographs with the headline “And she calls herself the Unclutterer!”

In the professional organizing industry, we refer to these times as “falling off the wagon.” It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I have to find a way to chase down the wagon and get back on. The following steps are what I do to keep the chaos short lived:

  1. Cut yourself a break. Everyone, even professional organizers, find themselves in a cluttered state occasionally. It’s inevitable because life isn’t predictable. Don’t beat yourself up over the chaotic times or feel guilty about them. Rather, simply recognize you’re off course and then reroute yourself at the first possible opportunity.
  2. Invite people over. When things are in disarray, my usual response is to invite people to my house. This gives me a set deadline for when things need to be back together. Fewer things get me as motivated to clean, organize, and unclutter as knowing my friends will be stepping foot in my house.
  3. Tackle one room at a time. I like checklists, and the floor plan of my house often operates as one. (I do this mentally, I don’t have an actual printed floor plan, but you could if you like.) Kitchen, dining room, living room, office … I work through each room and mark it off as I go. I always start with the common places, where guests will certainly see, and then finish with my bedroom. This is convenient, too, because I’m usually ready for a nap after a whole-house reordering project.
  4. Get rid of stuff. One of the reasons I can do a whole-house reordering project in a couple hours is because I don’t have a lot of stuff and our house is relatively small (<1,300 sq ft). Less stuff equals less mess. As I clean and organize, I also get rid of stuff. If it's out of place, it might be because it doesn't have a permanent storage place. Things without permanent storage places are usually purged (recycled, donated, trashed, etc.) so they don't keep making a mess. If I don't purge it, I find a permanent home for it, no exceptions. A place for everything, and everything in its place.
  5. Take a picture. My eyes tend to gloss over things that have been out of place for awhile. I call this clutter numbness. If I take a picture of a room and study the image, however, all that clutter catches my attention. I do this after I’ve had my nap and I almost always find entire patches of stuff I missed on the first pass.
  6. Call in reinforcements. Whenever things get chaotic, I call in a professional cleaning service to scrub my floors, counters, and bathrooms. They also dust and do any other deep-cleaning work that needs to get done. I schedule them for after I’ve done the whole-house reordering project but before my friends’ arrival. This is my reward to myself for razing Mt. Laundry and getting the house back on track. It’s not an everyday thing, but a couple times a year it’s nice to have someone else clean the toilets.

After these six steps are complete, it’s a lot easier to get my head back on my shoulders. Similar to how mental chaos can lead to physical chaos, physical order can encourage mental order. What do you do to establish order in your home after you’ve fallen off the proverbial organizing wagon? Feel welcome to share your process in the comments so others in our community can get even more ideas.

15 Comments for “Six steps to establishing order in your home after an inevitable dip into chaos”

  1. posted by Kim on

    As for your taking a photo tip, here is a similar one: I recently was lying down on the floor in a room where I had never sat down low. Suddenly I was seeing the room from a whole different angle. I realized that some areas were messier than they appeared when I was standing.
    So if you really want to see a room, try lying down on the floor and looking around from that low angle. Also good for spotting dust and dirt on furniture.

  2. posted by Claire on

    I love the tip about inviting guests over. That’ definitely motivation to get things neat and tidy if there ever was one! Great post!

  3. posted by [email protected] on

    I’ve done the floor plan method of cleaning in the past and it was fun. My husband drew the plan for me and I highlighted each room as I cleaned it.

    I love the idea of taking a photo of the room. That is a great idea. I occasionally take photos of my house for my blog and I am surprised sometimes at what I see. I hadn’t thought about it for de-cluttering a room.

  4. posted by Mary on

    I loved your sharing of your own chaos and the fun comment about a possible Expose! I took a picture of a room in my house once to send to my sister and was shocked. Pictures are real eye openers. I am addicted to your website. Thank you for all that you write and share!

  5. posted by Adele on

    It’s good to know that even well organized people can fall of the wagon. Hope your chaos settles soon ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. posted by Sandy on

    My mom, whose house was always tidy, shared her secret that she always started cleaning with the least seen rooms – such as her bedroom and ended with the common areas. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend this if you are under a time crunch and have invited guests over. But this is a good tip when you have more time to dedicate to cleaning. I find I shove stuff into my bedroom and it never gets completely cleaned because I’ve run out of time or I’m too exhausted. This method gets the problem areas first.

  7. posted by LLH on

    It’s so reassuring to know that everyone else has this problem, too. Sometimes I’m amazed at how quickly chaos can reign, but sooner or later I find a way to regain order. I like your tips. I might have to try that picture one. I feel like I glance over the clutter sometimes, so that might be a way to “see” it. Thanks for the ideas!

  8. posted by Evan Asher on

    These are all great. The one about getting rid of stuff really hit home for me.

  9. posted by Tina on

    I love the advice to invite people over if your house is a mess. Works every time! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. posted by Marie on

    I’d love to know how people find good cleaning help. I have not talked to a single person who hired a cleaner and was happy with them. The person either was lazy and sloppy, broke something, or stole something.

  11. posted by Colleen on

    I’ve used two cleaning services on Groupon. One was fine and one was great (sorry, I forget their names now)! I trust large, established cleaning companies who usually have an insurance/guarantee policy.

  12. posted by Michelle on

    This isn’t a comment on this post but I have an idea for an article……we are in the process of the final emptying out my mother in law’s house. How would you recommend tackling it? Not enough valuables for a yard sale. Tons of cookbooks. Several sets of dishes and lots of kitchenware (serving dishes etc.) There are even too many cleaning chemicals to take to my house. Tons of books. You can address it with your suggestions but here is how I am tackling it since I don’t have time to look for a reply. I kind of got thrown into it.
    My approach: I had to have a plan so #1 Since warmer weather is coming, I emptied the attic first. I came out coughing and looking for a Benedryl and my jeans were covered in dirt. Why would people keep the racks only to 2 different dishwashers in the attic? Anyway. Then I picked a topic and went around the house gathering and wrapping a) duck decor til I’d wrapped them all b) angels c) candles d) candlesticks and holders. Books were next and I needed lots of liquor boxes for them. I decided to try to sell all I could at a yard sale for 2 Saturdays before giving the items to thrift shops. I had to think of a neighbor’s yard since my mother in law did not have the best location for a fast sale. I decided to call it “Everything’s $1” except for furniture or better pieces. We had to take the jewelry to a jeweler for appraisal since we couldn’t tell the difference between the real items and the costume jewelry. I wasn’t dealing with heirlooms at this point, just setting them aside. The better furniture, master bedroom set, dining room set was not wanted by any of the children and will be put on Craigs list. Any suggestions will be helpful. I expect it to take at least 3 weeks with me working on it as I can. Thanks!

  13. posted by Michelle on

    Oh I meant “Not enough valuables for an ESTATE sale”. Sorry!

  14. posted by Pol Bishop on

    Calling professional cleaners for the weekend while you spend the day on the pool – priceless. ๐Ÿ™‚ The first time I barely recognized my own house when I came back. I am from London and I always call Fantastic Cleaners.

  15. posted by glammy bee on

    @Michelle We used curb alerts thru Craigslist when my dad passed away to get rid of stuff that just wasn’t worth it to take the time to sell. We posted pictures with physical directions to the house (We didn’t want to post the actial address). People just showed up and took what they wanted and we didn’t have to keep answering emails or calls. When things were taken we updated the post to let people know whst was left. Hope this helps!

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