A friend recently lamented that she’d dreamed working from home would allow her to finally be the domestic goddess she felt a 40-hour office job prevented her from being. And, oh, how wrong she was.
Chaos isn’t a state of mind, it’s a state of house, for some people. I’ve been on both sides of it.
My friend is a wife, a mother, and a successful work-at-home editor, thanks to a transition she made from a demanding life at the office. Less than a year into her domestic work-life, she finds herself observing the steady decline of her home.
Changing routines has an effect
She’s not alone in the somewhat-naïve dream that switching from a life at work to a working life means somehow you’ll magically use ALL THAT SPARE TIME to have a perfectly clean home. It’s a staggering shock to any of us who’ve made the switch.
The reality is, we’re deluding ourselves that changing from working at an office to working from home somehow means POOF, ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD is now at our disposal, when, really, we’ve actually maybe only shaved 5 to 10 hours out of our demanding week, if not less.
And, if you’re like my creative friends and I, the odds are you’re using that extra time to pursue your personal career goals, not becoming Little Miss Domesticity chasing away cobwebs in corners and organizing three decades of photos into albums.
Making the shift and staying organized
Most of the time, the shift from office to home work-life comes with a learning curve of being unable to tune out all the distractions, and that time “gained” just magically vanishes because we fail to manage it right. Fine if you’re a remote worker on the company’s dime, but self-employed means you’re caught in a cycle of catch-up every single day.
Now, because you’re THERE all the time, what happens? You’re living there, using it more, eating there one additional time, and have all the extra mess to show for it, off-setting any “additional time” you might have for cleaning. It’s a zero-sum game, really.
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Work smarter, not harder
But you know what? It’s not just a myth. You can keep house better if you work from home. The trick is, you need rules. I should know. I’m a reformed chaos-maker. It’s taken me much of my first year of working at home to get myself trained to balance it all, but it can be done.
A well-kept home means more productivity, more money, delivering better quality work, less wasted time, waking up more focused, and having a system that gives you consistently better results on a daily basis.
Work smarter, not harder. Everything is a choice. It’s that simple.
My 7 rules for organizing, cleaning, de-cluttering
Here are some of the rules I learned to put into place after I spent a few months flailing in the same chaotic mess-making that happens to some of us work-at-home types.
1. Never leave the room empty-handed. If there’s ANYTHING out of place, make sure you make every trip count, whether it’s down the hall, to the bathroom, wherever. This doesn’t mean you suddenly spend 10 minutes obsessing. It’s just a mental shift: “Always be doing something.” That cup doesn’t live on your desk, you’re off to the kitchen anyways – listen to your mother.
2. Set targets daily for home AND work. The day doesn’t start if the dishes aren’t done, period. After 90 minutes, take a 5 minute breather to put the kettle on for tea. While it’s boiling, clean something, anything. Don’t just stand there. Listen to your mother. Take out the garbage, whatever needs doing. The targets go both ways. I’ll say “When I get to X-point, I go and spend 15 minutes in the kitchen/living room/wherever.”
3. “If you got time to lean, you got time to clean.” The fast-food employee’s mantra works at home too. Simply putting things away doesn’t take much time. At least start there. Put things away. It’s amazing what a few 5-minute whirlwinds of cleaning a day can do to impact your home’s state.
4. Crazy weeks happen, and it’s okay to let things go. Sometimes we have to live on takeout, Ignore All The Things, and focus on deadlines for our clients. But when those deadlines get met, it’s time to cancel a few plans, lay down the law, and get the place to a state that a competent, successful person needs for true efficiency.
I guarantee you, every time I’ve set aside one weekend day to clean and one to work, the work day is always spent blowing past any monetary and deadline goals I’ve set. Every single time, I meet the goal then go beyond it with another 20-50% more work. It’s so productive, and I think it’s because I get so clear-headed in thinking while I get my place tidy the day before.
5. If you’re not alone, don’t do it alone. If you live with others, enlist them to help and set a block of time aside weekly where everyone throws themselves at the chaos for two or three hours. It’s amazing what happens when the whole team focuses on a goal.
6. Have a reminder of your bliss. When you finally reach that golden spot of having a beautiful, organized workspace, take a photo of it and keep the file on your computer or phone, maybe even put some text that says “Only took you four hours to do this!” so you look at it and remember the bliss of an organized place, and channel the motivation to get ‘er done.
7. Don’t just clear your space, clear your head. Use your cleaning time to empty your thoughts, recalibrate, or even strategize for achieving your daily goals. Let it be a time of recharging, and not of stressful obligation. Set a timer for 15 minutes, and spend just that organizing or cleaning, then get back to work. After a short, productive break, you’ll probably be more clear-headed and successful for the next hour or two.
Remember, chaos is a choice. Order is a choice. What choice are you making?
Believe yourself, your space, and your life is worth the time it takes to put things in order. Your mess is costing you money, whether you know it or not.
Today, it’s worth your time, and money, to take ownership of your space.