School is back in session and for a lot of kids that means virtually. So you have this new sense of routine with the old pandemic-cloud of being stuck in a cage. But that cage is your house. And you live there too. By now you’ve spent enough time in your home to feel like you could have decluttered and organized it four times over. And you still haven’t found time to sort the mail or keep the shoes put away. You want to organize your house and you want to do it fast because nobody has time for that.
We all fall into this trap of starting some new system and saying, “I’m fixing this problem. This is the official start of me doing everything this way from now on!” It sets us up for failure because it is difficult to maintain and unnecessary. I didn’t magically wake up one day and become organized. And I wasn’t always like this – I was a very messy child despite my mother’s best efforts.
What I’m about to tell you is nothing revolutionary: new habits start small and grow with consistency. We all have the things we do before bed. For you it might be brushing your teeth, washing your face, putting on a night cream or lip balm. You do this almost every night but sometimes you’re too exhausted to even do the tiny little thing (yup, even brushing your teeth). Getting organized is just like that: you do it most days but you don’t abandon it because you missed one night. So here are some simple things that I do before bed (almost) every night that you can do in 5 minutes.
Sort the Mail
This is at the top of my list because it’s the easiest thing to do and the easiest thing to avoid doing. Plenty of people have a mail bin or designated spot in their house where the mail just piles up. And many professional organizers recommend sorting it as you bring it into your house. That’s great if you can do it but I’m usually bring my mail in with two kids, a dog, 15 bags, and who knows what else. I sort my mail at night when the kids are in bed and the house is quiet. Junk gets tossed, bills go into our mail bin, and important stuff that requires a response goes in a designated spot next to my daily task list.
Put away shoes, jackets, and backpacks
I always remind my kids to take their shoes off and put them away as we go into the house but it doesn’t always happen. We have a small mudroom and all it takes to fill up the floor is return home from school and work. Throw in some coats, gloves, and hats in the winter and it looks like an explosion in a tiny room. I do a quick sweep of the room to hang up any stray bags and return wandering shoes to their home as I’m heading upstairs for the night. It makes the morning chaos a little more bearable when we’re not scrambling for misplaced shoes.
Clear the Kitchen Island or Counter
If you can keep your kitchen counters clutter free, send me your card because I need your help! My counters are a magnet for life’s details despite being a highly organized household. We eat breakfast at our kitchen island (well the kids eat while the parents make lunches and empty dishwashers). So I make sure it is cleared off every night for a fresh start in the morning. Sometimes the items end up in their proper home. Sometimes they end up on the other counters with sticky notes. But the island is always a clean slate ready to welcome sleepy eyes with bedhead, even if it’s just cold cereal.
Empty the Dishwasher
Okay, admittedly I don’t personally do this at night. I hate emptying the dishwasher and try to avoid it at all costs so I usually end up
doing it leaving it for my husband to do in the morning. Most families have a full load after dinner. You can easily run it and have it ready to empty before you go to bed. This way you’re not leaving the house the next morning with a sink full of dishes. Even if you leave the dishes that didn’t fit in the sink overnight, you still only have to load those dishes and the stuff from breakfast in the morning. Bam! Loading dishwasher is so much easier when you’re not emptying them first.
Organize the Family Room
Our family room gets used the most and is impossible to keep tidy all day even if we are gone for 8 hours. There are always blankets, toys, pillows, books, and water bottles on every surface no matter how many times we clean up throughout the day. I don’t allow myself to sit down until I’ve picked up the room. We have some cleverly placed bins for toys and blankets that make it easy to clear the space quickly. The water bottles may not make it into the dishwasher but at least they’re not on the end table (or the kitchen island).
Return Items to the Bedroom
The best way to keep your kids room clean (and yours) is to limit what is allowed to be stored in there. But that’s a different post. Their stuff has a tendency to migrate to the rest of the house no matter how minimal you live. I wait until they are in bed and return any stray items to the floor outside of their door. It sits in a little pile until the morning when they return the items to the appropriate storage place. I usually only have to remind them a
thousand few times.
Put Away Clean Clothes and Pick Up the Dirty Ones
My husband says it looks like I melted and all that is left is a little pile of my clothing. All over our bedroom. We live in the Midwest so every season means starting the day in one set of clothes and ending in another. Or in my case, doing that five times over. I have a nasty habit of changing my clothes and leaving them where they sit. It quickly adds up to an explosion of clothes that make it hard to identify clean from dirty. I made a deal with him: he can’t complain if I get it cleaned up before I go to bed. So every night I cast a spell and banish the wicked witch of the Midwest and put away my clothes too.
Return Books to the Shelf
The thing I can’t seem to limit in my home are books. I discovered the joy of reading later in life. I’ve shared it with my kids and our bookshelves reflect that. And so do our night stands, end tables, counters, couches, floors, and every other surface. I don’t want to discourage them from reading so I like having books spread around the house. So to limit the mess they all go back to their homes each night. We have several bookcases around our home and I don’t worry about keeping them organized. Our kids are free to pull as many books as they want and then return a big stack when they are done. The only exception are the few they keep on their nightstand.
Corral the Bath Toys
We do bath every night. My son had pretty bad eczema as a baby so our pediatrician recommended a nightly baths to reduce flare ups. My kids are old enough to bathe by themselves now but that means pretty much anything becomes a bath toy. I love a good bath toy bucket that suctions to the wall of the tub or even a small plastic shower caddy to contain the toys. The trick is making sure the toys get back in the bucket. My kids tend to pull the plug and run screaming (towel optional). So I usually end up cleaning up the toys well after the water has drained from the tub. It beats cleaning up before you step in to take a shower the next morning.
Empty the Garbage
Here is another example of things I HATE doing. I’ve been on expert level of Garbage Tetris for close to two decades now. The kitchen garbage tends to get emptied frequently but bathroom and other garbage containers are often ignored. I thought keeping the container small would prevent us from letting it pile up. Instead it just it overflows sooner. Now I keep a box of large trash bags stored by the garbage the farthest from my kitchen – in my house, that’s are master bathroom. I start there and work my way to the kitchen and usually end up with a full bag.
Start with the easiest one for you and do it every night for a month. Then add a second thing the following month and keep going. I know some of you have done the math and said “Ten things that take 5 minutes each. that’s close to an hour I’m adding to my night routine by the end of the year!” Well this will give you a chance to add a facemask while you’re doing it – just kidding. Nobody has time for that. Once you start doing one thing consistently, you’ll spend less time on each task because the clutter and mess will not pile up. Ten task will take you 20 minutes – and that may even be enough time for a facemask.