adhd · Organization

How I Clean (When I Clean)

organizing my life

So I woke up this beautiful Saturday morning to once again tear maniacally through my house because it is, once again, a trainwreck. This is not a new cycle, nor one that I feel like rehashing here yet again. I do go through long stretches – though, to be honest, they have become shorter and shorter since having a kid – of being very much on top of things and keeping with a routine, and then equally long stretches where trying to keep the mess at bay is like trying to direct the tide (i.e., just as impossible, and with just as high a likelihood of (metaphorically, in my case) drowning).

So what I’ve opted to do instead is to be mindful of my productive days – when my brain seems to be firing on all cylinders, when the fog is cleared, when I can feel myself working well – to be mindful of how I clean. Not only what motivates me and keeps my going, but the actual system of how I clean a room.

Because on my bad days, the tasks feel overwhelming because I have no innate sense of what I should do first – it’s hard to perform triage when everything looks like a crisis to you, you know? So I would, at best, jump around and wind up with a series of half-completed tasks or rooms, or at best, stall out completely.

Instead of continuing to beat myself up about my lack of innate organization, I took the time out to really consider how I work when I work well.

So here are my notes. This is a system to be used in each room of the house, in a hierarchical order, and yes – this is how I’m cleaning my house this fine morning.

Happy Saturday, everyone. Hope it’s pleasant and productive.

The Three C’s: Clear Out, Control Clutter, and Clean

CLEAR OUT: Remove things from the room, in this order.

  1. Trash: I hate to admit it, but full-on legit trash has a tendency to pile up in my house. Wrappers from Bear’s snacks, empty juice box cartons, Amazon boxes and packaging, paper towels from forgotten spills, broken pencils and crayons, etc. The first thing I do is grab a bag and gather up all the trash in the room. PLEASE, ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE KIDS (but really, everyones hould remember): check between couch cushion, under beds, behind furniture, etc. You would be amazed (and horrified) at what I regularly find between the love seat cushions.
  2. Dishes: Neither my husband nor I grew up in a family where we ate all our meals together; everyone was on a different schedule, so we ate at different times and – often – in different rooms of the house. I would like to establish a family dinnertime routine in my house, but we aren’t there yet. Plates – often with food residue – are sometimes left in places where, uh, they really shouldn’t be.
  3. Clothing: Yeah, with a pre-schooler especially, clothing (all clothing, but especially socks and pants) tend to get discarded more or less wherever. I’m also not innocent; shoes come off as a matter of routine as soon as I enter the house, and sometimes so do socks, shawls, over-shirts, hoodies, etc. Meaning when I get around to cleaning, there’s often a decent pile of clothing coming out of my living room, or sometimes even kitchen.
  4. Items That Don’t Belong: As I stated in a previous post, I have a basket/bag on hand that I can load up with whatever ephemera happened to find it’s way into the room as a stop-gap before returning it to it’s rightful place. This consolidates all the misplaced items, making them easier to deal with (It generally take ten or fifteen minutes to just wander through the house returning everything afterwards) and gives me a clear picture of what the actual damage is in that particular room, once all extraneous clutter has been cleared away.

CONTROL CLUTTER: Gather items, sort, and put away, in this order.

  1. Clear off: This is part of the “top to bottom” method. Clear off your surfaces – counter tops, desks, tables, etc., and take care of tasks which can be comfortably performed immediately (i.e., if you’re cleaning off the kitchen counter, load dirty dishes immediately into the sink or dishwasher; if you are cleaning off your desk, immediately put important mail in a prominent place and discard the junk, etc.) All other items can get piled in designated spot (on a sofa, on the floor, on the bed, etc.)
  2. Collect: Collect all out-of-place items (that belong in that room) and add them to the pile of items you’ve begun in the previous step.
  3. Sort: Group items in a way that makes sense to you – by type or purpose (all books together, all DVDs, all toys) or by where they belong (everything going on the bookcase, everything that goes on the side-table, everything that goes in the ottoman, etc.) The actual groupings don’t matter, just that they make sense to you.
  4. Put away: Return the items to where they belong, group by group.

CLEAN: Remove actual dust and dirt, in this order.

  1. Dust: Start with the ceiling, ceiling fan (if you have one – I bet it needs it), top of the windows, walls/wall hanging, , tables/side tables, etc. A quick pass with some Windex on windows and mirrors would come at this step, too.
  2. Clean/polish: As needed; my tub and toilets generally need to be fairly scrubbed, but my coffee table usually needs a good pass with a damp cloth, as does our desk, and occasionally one of our two side tables. You don’t need to go crazy, literally a couple of wipes with a damp cloth to remove sticky residue (especially if it’s a room you eat in), and you’re good.
  3. Vacuum/sweep: Floors and carpets last. Shake out area rugs outside if the weather permits, but inside is fine as well, if you have the space (just do it before general vacuuming).


  1. Always make your bed first. Yes, before anything else. As I said before, it hugely reduces visual clutter and will make your room look better instantly, but also it is the prime place for the “gather and sort” phase, and it’s hard to do when it’s already covered with trash and a mess.
  2. Always do dishes first, for the same reasons you would do the bed first: reduces visual clutter, clears off table and counter space, and makes room to gather and sort.
  3. For you, the clean step may follow directly after the Control Clutter step in each room; for me, as someone who hates lugging around my clean equipment and then having to work around it, I do the first two steps (Clear Out and Control Clutter) in each room and then backtrack and do all the Cleaning through the whole house – that way I can just pack everything up when I’m done and forget about it.

Hope this is helpful to someone. Off to actually get it done.

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