Forget mindfulness: tidying up is all the rage for mental wellness and all-round happiness these days. As one of those people who looks longingly at interior design websites filled with cool, uncluttered apartments, but can't stop herself from buying cushions in the shape of biscuits, this is the sort of thing I desperately require. Like most messy people, I let things get to a truly ridiculous point — unable-to-reach-the-bed, no-clean-forks, I-haven't-worn-that-since-2006 levels — and then do a frenzied clear-out where chances are high that I'll dispose of something expensive by accident.
Add to this the fact that my husband also never saw a strange decorative thing he didn't like (he just brought home a life-size pug made out of cardboard), and we've got a recipe for being squashed by our own mess. Surely there's a way to love objects — lots of them, thousands of postcards, hundreds of books, daft knick-knacks we pick up on journeys and want to keep and love — without going insane, right? Right.
The new big name in tidy? Marie Kondo, whose rigorous Japanese method of being a tidy person in your soul, called Konmari, is credited with changing peoples' lives. Her radical method is pretty hardcore: she advocates throwing out or donating everything in your life that doesn't "spark joy" — but if you're unprepared for that sheer level of commitment, which I am not, then don't worry. There are easier methods we can learn from the tidy among us.
Here are 11 habits us messy people can actually learn from neat freaks. (They might be the only 11 habits, by the way.)
1. Tie up your cables.
This is a big one. Giant cable-knots that look like a spider had a spasm are a continual problem in my house; storing them by rolling them neatly and fastening them with tape will likely drive you less crazy the next time you just want to fish out the connector cable for your camera, damn it.
2. Throw out duplicates, broken things, and anything you will genuinely never use again.
Be honest. Are you ever really going to fix that lamp you picked up for five bucks that hasn't worked since the FDR administration? Is that belly tee that says JONAS BROTHERS 4EVA going to see the light of day? If not, get rid of 'em. This is a big undertaking, so know where things will go: find the nearest recycling facilities and places for clothes donation, assess the viability of every item brutally, and then get it out of your house.
3. Try to place stuff purposefully.
This is my biggest problem: I will put things down absent-mindedly and then completely forget where they ended up. It's such a trait, and results in such bizarre situations (why is the hairbrush on the toaster? Why are the keys in that book?) that my dude has termed it JEntropy. It's getting a bit better now that I make an effort, every time I am about to put something down, to think "Yes. This is where this is going. I will remember this. Is this a sensible place to put this? Shall I put it somewhere else?" (Usually, no, and yes.)
4. Have enough stuff for storing your stuff.
Having overflowing drawers and shelves is a classic problem for anti-tidy-ists. If you've pared back as much as you dare, and you're still not getting the doors of your cupboard shut and have clothes all over your floor, go drastic. Make sure you have enough clothes hangers, clips, tapes for aforementioned cables, and hooks for keys and hanging things. Use your wall space rather than the floor — make a picture frame into a necklace hanger, for instance — to take up less room.
5. Give everything a home.
This is a) sensible and b) helps you find stuff when it seems to have gone walkabout. (That's an Aussie term for wilfully going missing that I think needs to go global.) The good thing about designated areas for objects is that they always have a place to gravitate back towards, rather than simply sitting there staring balefully at you. Dirty laundry in the hamper; socks in the drawer; books on erotic art into the special locked cabinet. Done.
6. Develop a love of suction storage bags.
If you live in a climate with seasons and don't use half of your wardrobe for six months, you're in a tidiness time bomb. The solution? Suction storage bags. Get some of these, fill them with non-seasonal clothes, attach a vacuum cleaner, and presto: instead of bundles of cashmere and winter socks, you have neat flat packs waiting to be placed in an available out-of-the-way place. Genius.
7. Keep the stuff you use regularly easily accessible.
This seems ridiculously simple, but it isn't. Things that you need all the time should be easy to reach; otherwise you'll make a mess getting to them, and have to put it all back afterwards (or leave it in a giant pile, more likely). Popular spices to the front of the cupboard, popular socks to the front of the drawer, and everything else out of the way.
8. Try to put things away as you go.
I hate this one. It's so commonly recommended by neat freaks it's basically bored its way into my skull. And yet it's completely true. Think about baking: if you put ingredients back into your pantry as you progress through the recipe, you're faced with only a teeny amount of mess at the end, as opposed to an insurmountable mountain. Same with life. Use something, put it away. Take off your coat, put it on the rack — not some halfway point where you'll "do it later." (Because you won't.)
9. Keep a regular laundry schedule.
OK, this is more targeted at people whose chief problem, like mine, is piles of clothes on every available surface. Making it a routine — doing the wash every two days, filling the hamper every night before you go to bed — makes life a lot easier than doing it in a massive rush because your landlord's coming over and you don't want to look like a crazed Rachel Zoe.
This applies to whatever your Achilles heel is, whether it's books, dust, papers, whatever. Set yourself up to clean it regularly and it'll become less of an issue.
10. Think of tidiness as key to your mental health.
Peaks and troughs of cleaning — the relaxation while everything slowly covers in crap and month-old receipts, the manic cleaning party where you throw out one shoe and never find it again — are not healthy. At all. So this is an expansion on "do it as you go," but healthier. Being an adult does mean that you have to do the dishes every day, and that does suck, but hey, nobody's stopping you putting on Mighty Ducks while you do it.
11. Learn how to fold things properly.
A massive space-saver? Correctly folding all your materials. Things that need to be hung should be (no excuses, hangers cost less than a donut for a dozen) but knowing how to fold everything from soft clothing to linens and towels will save you both time and space like whoa.
You will also feel strangely like a ninja while doing it. I have no explanation why, but you will.