5 steps to quickly get on top of an untidy house


No matter how hard any of us try, our houses get untidy from time to time – and that’s totally ok. But when the mess becomes overwhelming and feels stressful, it can be difficult to know where to begin with getting back on top of things, and this is where a strategic approach to tidying your home can help.

KC Davis, a licensed professional counsellor in the USA and author of the bestselling book ‘How to Keep House While Drowning’, has devised a 5-step framework, called the ‘Five Things Tidying Method’, to tackle a home that has slipped out of control. But first of all, there’s an important message that Davis wants us all to hear.

In her book, Davis emphasises that a messy home is not a moral failing. So many of us feel shame and anxiety around our homes becoming untidy and cluttered, when the reality is that our houses are for living in, and your home exists to serve you – not the other way around. So what we should really strive for is our homes being practical, and not perfect.

The ‘Five Things Tidying Method’: 5 steps to get on top of the mess

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Whether you’ve had an unusually hectic weekend, have been hosting guests, you’re recovering from a period of illness, or are simply existing in a house with children – there are so many reasons why your home can become messy, really quickly, and they’re all valid. But then, you try to start cleaning up and find yourself frantically running from room to room, jumping between tasks and never feeling like you’re making any progress.

When you feel ready to tackle the tidying, Davis’ ‘Five Things Tidying Method’ provides you with a logical and effective process to follow so that you stay focused on the task in hand.

Step 1: Pick up the litter

Davis says that the first thing you should do is get a bin bag, an empty bin, or another suitable container and collect up any rubbish lying around your home, one room at a time.

Don’t throw it out yet, or even separate the recycling – just pick everything up that needs to be disposed of and place it to one side, as you’ll be dealing with it later.

Step 2: Gather up dishes


The next step is to focus on dirty dishes, and getting them all to the sink or dishwasher. As with the rubbish, go around your home, one room at a time, and collect up everything that needs to be washed.

Don’t go back and forth to the kitchen, as you’ll risk getting sidetracked – Davis recommends using a washing-up bowl or other large container that will allow you to pick up all the dishes and take them to where they will be washed. Again, don’t wash the dishes or put them into the dishwasher, just leave them in the kitchen for now and move onto the third step.

Step 3: Collect the laundry

Step three is to go around and pick up dirty clothes, or clothes that need to be put away. At this stage, it’s easier if you don’t discriminate between ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’ (or anything in between), and instead just concentrate on getting the clothes off the floors and surfaces, and into a laundry bag, hamper, or box so they can be placed aside for the time being.

Step 4: Put things back in their place

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Once you’ve cleared your spaces of rubbish, dishes and clothing, you should already feel like you’re making some great progress and can now begin putting things back in their place – if they have one.

For example, throw cushions back onto the sofa, put books back onto the bookshelf, hang coats on the hanger, and toss toys back into the toybox. Do this one room at a time, and at this stage, only concern yourself with items that do already have a specific place that they belong.

Step 5: Find a place for everything else

Finally, you should be left with only random items and pieces of clutter that don’t have a set place that they’re stored, so it’s time for you to find one. As with the previous steps, go into each room that needs to be tidied in your home, and place these objects into a box as you go.

If you don’t have the time or capacity to find homes for them right now, just place the box to one side and come back to it later. When you’re ready, Davis suggests thinking of related ‘sister objects’ for each item to help you put them away in a sensible location so you can easily find them again later – for example, rolls of parcel tape might live with scissors, or lightbulbs can be stored with cleaning or DIY products. If you already have a ‘junk drawer’, you might just put it all in there for now.

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Once you’ve completed these five steps, you can throw out the rubbish, wash the dishes or start the dishwasher, or do a load of laundry – while the rest of your home is back in order, and your mind feels much clearer too.

For more inspiration on tackling your home when you’re short on time, read our quick tips to clean your house in 30 minutes, and discover 10 ways you can improve your home in under one hour.

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