Spring is here folks. You can tell by how flooded your Facebook feed is with dyed chicken eggs. We really do have some weird traditions; Jesus rose again, therefore a bunny delivers plastic chicken eggs full of cheap chocolate to children? I'm not even going to bother researching how that tradition came to be. We're here for a different reason: Spring Cleaning! Wait, you don't harness the same excitement about it as I do? Well that's okay; I'll be your cheerleader through all of this. Or drill sergeant. Whatever floats your boat.
1. Turn off Distractions
Distractions are my single worst deterrent from a successful cleaning. This includes opened laptops, televisions, and anything else that could capture your attention for more than a moment. I suggest turning all of these off and putting your phone on silent. There have been too many times where I'll try to start cleaning only to sit back down at my laptop for another hour accidentally. Don't do it!
2. Don't Eat!
Alright, you can eat little quick snacks, but don't have a meal! As with distractions, meals slow you way down. If you're like me, you might turn on some entertainment while eating, thus causing a 'quick meal' to turn into an hour of relaxing. On top of that, you'll be full and slow when you finish eating. This is obviously counterproductive. If you get hungry, munch on some nuts or a little veggie snack. These will give you some energy without weighing you down.
3. But Do Take a 5-Hour Energy
This may sound a bit intense, but hear me out. I know 5-Hour Energy shots are not at all the most healthy form of energy, but dang do they work (at least for me). If I know I want to fly through a laundry list of work and chores in the afternoon, I'll pop one of these bad boys and be well on my way. Just make sure to take it at least five hours before you want to go to sleep; they'll definitely keep you up in bed if you wait too long.
4. Turn on Upbeat Music
If Tom Cruise taught us anything, it's that turning the music to 11 while home alone is a surefire way to boost productivity. Or at least sing into a candlestick. So when you are getting ready for your cleaning mission, pick a solid album or three and turn it up to 99% of a noise complaint. If your cleaning tasks are more mindless, put on any upbeat music. If you're doing something more mentally intense like taxes or deep organization, instrumental music is preferred so you don't get caught up in the lyrics. Gramatik (Spotify link) is my go-to for energetic and fun background electronic jazz.
5. Choose a Zone
Now that we're finally ready, let's get to it! To start, we want to pick a small, manageable zone to clean and organize. This may be an entire bathroom or just your bedroom closet. Or just a couple kitchen drawers at a time. The key is to pick an area that should have a lot of related items. I like to start with the quickest rooms to get them done fast; it helps build up that inertia to tackle the rest of the house.
6. Empty the Zone
Take everything out of the zone you chose. Throw it on the floor, your bed, or wherever. You just need to get it out of the closet/drawers/cabinets/boxes. Now stare into that empty closet. Mmm. So minimal. Okay, snap out of it! We're not even to the hard part yet. The reason we want to completely purge the area of stuff is so that we can thoroughly go through all our junk to make the coming decisions stick.
7. Make Your Piles
You ready? Take a deep breath. This is the meat and potatoes of this whole operation. Now that everything is out in the open, we need to organize. Look at that pile of stuff for a minute and decode what's there. Electronics? Clothes? The contents of a 'junk drawer'....? Whatever it may be, you must now separate everything into five piles. Keep. Sell. Donate. Recycle. Trash. That's KSDRT or 'Kiss Dirt' if you're into acronyms. Each of these piles should be self explanatory. Keep is what you just can't let go of. Sell is all the things you might be able to squeeze a penny out of on Craigslist. Donate will be full of used clothes that wouldn't fare great on Craigslist but are still nice enough to donate to Goodwill or a Thrift Shop (Value Village, Red Light, etc). Recycle is trash that doesn't need to go into landfills. Cardboard product boxes, instruction manuals, glass, etc. Finally, the Trash pile is the last resort where items head off to the landfill.
8. Reduce the Keep Pile Even More
Once you go through and make all these piles, look again at your Keep pile and try to reduce it even further. Don't let your sentiments cloud your logic! If you hold some sort of intangible connection to an object, there are a few ways we can get around it:
- Think of the object as a lifelong burden. It will be with you forever, until you get rid of it. Every time you move, you have to pack it and unpack it. Every time you clean, you have to deal with it.
- Take a photo of the object if you want to hold on to the memory forever. Photos take up no physical space and can easily be accessed.
- Thank the object as you discard it. This sounds silly, but it's cathartic. Thanking the object (and the person who gave it to you, silently) gives yourself a sense of permission and relief. There should never be guilt attached to material possessions.
9. Wash the Empty Zone
Phew! We've made it through the trenches. The rest is smooth sailing. Now that you have this empty, gaping zone at the ready, we want to give it a quick scrub down before reintroducing all our stuff. Depending on the container, this could be a simple sweep, an intensive bleaching, or a 409 wipedown. Whatever it may be, this will be the last chance you'll have to truly clean it until the next time you go through this whole process, so make it count!
10. Return the Items
Take your Keep pile and put items back in place, but while doing so, build out an organizational structure. Cluster items based on usage. I like to use plastic bins to store things in closets and under my bed. It's easy to see what's inside and they last much longer than cardboard boxes. These are a great set. Now put things in their clusters. The tape dispenser goes near the stapler. The juggling balls go next to the deck of cards. The toilet paper goes near the air freshener spray. As you do this throughout the house, every zone will have a more and more concise purpose.
11. Repeat Ad Nauseum
Hooray! Now return to Step 5 and pick a new zone and do this all over again. As your home gets more and more organized over time, these zones will grow to be entire rooms or your entire house! For me it's easy because I live in a small apartment with few belongings; I can pull everything out, organize, and put it all back in no time.
12. Craigslist the Sell Pile
Now that you're well on your way to a clean home, we have this sell pile to take care of. I recently wrote a nice article on how to successfully post things on Craigslist. But most importantly, you just need to take a ton of photos with the best camera you have access to and then post them up! Posting ads on Craigslist is free, so there is no reason not to have your stuff on there. If your stuff doesn't sell in the first 7 days, you can easily renew the post without having to create it again. Quick and painless.
Your house is clean. Your junk is gone. Now crack open a beer and relax. You've done excellent work. But don't get too comfortable; you will accumulate more junk. But thankfully now that you have a system in place, your place should stay cleaner. And when the time does come, the cleaning will go much faster.