How a Lifelong Messy Person Can Learn to Become Neat
Experts in habit formation are adamant that no one’s a hopeless case
It’s been a tradition of mine for years now: Every summer, my house has gone through a wild roller-coaster ride of a makeover, from total mess to sparkling and back again.
Most of the time, my living room looked like a keg party had gotten out of hand at the Apple store, every surface is strewn with pizza boxes, empty beverage cans, coffee-stained newspapers, and enough USB cables to charge a small, iPhone-wielding battalion. Summer meant weeks of staying in home exchanges and renting to Airbnb guests, and I’d clean the place top to bottom before departing. Reliably, though, soon after the season ended and we returned home for good, the mess would find its way back in.
But this past year, a strange thing happened: Months and months after our Airbnb guests departed, our house was still, against all odds… not that messy. Tidy, even. What madness was this?
If it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t believe it. But it turns out that this transformation wasn’t quite as miraculous as I thought. According to home organizers and experts in habit formation, anyone can learn to be neat, even if they’ve spent a lifetime doing the opposite. Over the years, without even knowing it, I’d been absorbing lessons from my intensive, time-concentrated clean-outs about how to be less of a mess — and while it took a while, it seemed that eventually, I’d started putting those lessons to use.
The trick isn’t just in learning to clean up; it’s developing a routine to keep your momentum going. Here’s how.
Set your intention
Before you start cleaning, you should be able to visualize your end point. “Know what your picture of tidy is,” says Anne Blumer, a professional organizer and the author of Master the Business of Organizing. “Go on Pinterest, or if you see a room that looks tidy to you, take a picture.” It’s easier to stay motivated if you know exactly what you’re working toward.
That could also mean tackling one small space at a time. “If you have a room that’s become a dumping place, have a goal for what you want that dumping space to be,” advises consumer…