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The Messy Person’s Guide to a Tidy House

The world is divided. There are left-handed people and right-handed people, dog people and cat people, there are those who believe that purple and green should only be seen in nature and never ever as part of an outfit.

And then there are messy people and tidy people. A divide so deep and so, well, divisive, that it can drive otherwise rational people to fundamentalism.

And as with most life divisions, there is an inequality to the equation. One party is infinitely more convinced that their way is right, while the other party fails to grasp the urgency or desire to change sides.

And this is how it is with messy people. The messy people don’t really care. They love to say “sweeping the room with a glance is the only housework I do” or “I was going to clean the house but…wine!”. They purchase books such as Shannon Lush’s Speed Cleaning, hoping for the domestic equivalent of an Anthony Robbins style transformation, only to use it to prop up a wonky table on the deck.

The ability to live in a state of constant chaos and disorganisation, while not listed in many job descriptions (with the possible exception of War Correspondent), is a life skill that will prove invaluable when you become a parent.

As a messy person, imposing order against the grain of your very nature as well as against the tide of incoming stuff takes both concentration and some very clever tricks.

woman decluttering, tidy house

To get started, here are 8 mess hotspots and some simple ways to improve them:

1)     First Impressions Count

Entrance ways and front door areas are the first thing a visitor will see when they arrive at your house. Remove all evidence of family life from these areas, pop a flowering plant near the door (extra points if the flowers are fragrant), and welcome visitors with a confident smile. The image you create here will stick in their mind even if they have to climb over piles of unsorted dirty laundry as they enter the living room.

2)     Kitchens Matter

As someone’s grandmamma once said “Do the dishes, the house is done!” It sounds simplistic – and it possibly is – but it is effective. Tidy your kitchen and strive to keep it tidy and uncluttered and your whole house will feel a good 20% tidier! If you combine this tip with tip number 1, you are well on your way to tricking a picky mother-in-law into thinking you have some potential as a Tidy Person.

3)     Oh Lordy, the Laundry!

Relentless and repetitive, the load of laundry that comes with the average family is the eighth wonder of the modern world. It is possible that the invention of the front loader washing machine is largely to blame. With the capacity to wash so many items with the press of a button, there is no limit to the number of clothing items allowed into a house. If you unplug the machine and hand-wash the clothes, it only takes a single bucket load to realise that one outfit per person is sufficient. Everything else can go to charity.

woman sitting on laundry floor with piles of clothes

4)     Shooo Shoes

Like a small army of fire ants, shoes will overpower you. The curse of shoes is more than sheer numbers. It is also related to the speed a child’s foot will grow, the speed at which they will lose one of the shoes that do fit at any given moment, and the force of will a three year old will display over the colour of a pair of shoes. Remove all odd shoes. Sort remaining shoes into winter or summer. Place each season into a shoe basket. Each child is then left to find a shoe that a) they like, and b) fits them.

5)     Pet or Pest, What do you Have?

If it smells, requires packaged food, a litter tray and sheds hair, it’s a pest. You may love your dog with even more intensity than it loves you but the facts are right there – when it comes to a tidy house, they only animal that is not a pest is a stuffed one. Pets, children, a tidy house; choose two. You can never have all three.

6)     Toy Wrangling 101

Not unlike shoes, toys are prone to radical reproduction. They have a built-in redundancy and loom large in the eyes of the owners – even if the toy is broken and it hasn’t been thought about for several months. Don’t try to organise the toys in a rational adult kind of way. Acquire a large basket, put all toys into the basket. When it overflows, remove the bottom 3rd of the items. Smuggle them out in the dead of night.

declutter toys

7)     Spousal Support

You have 3 children but you are picking up after 4? A charity basket could solve all your problems. At the end of each day place all flotsam and jetsam into the basket. Car keys, discarded ties, small plastic Angry Birds, a jar of glitter, and books. Explain to everyone that whatever is in the basket will go to charity at the end of each week.  Most families can be trained in under 5 days.

8)     Rinse and Repeat

There is no easy way to say this.  You will have to do this again and again. Your house will never actually be completely tidy. The best you can hope for is small pockets of clear space amongst the chaos. Blink, and the space will be gone, moved on mysteriously to another part of your house.

What to Read Next

Avatar of Camille Blyth

Camille Blyth is a 100% Messy Person. She is the author of The Wilderness Years – a parent’s survival guide, available from Amazon, iTunes and all good online bookshops. She is also the creator of www.thefamilybeast.com


  1. Avatar of Courtney

    I am appalled that you would refer to pets as “pests”. Pets should be a welcomed part of family life – not only are they proven to be nature’s own anti-depressants (the love of an animal is unparallelled), but a dog encourages families to be active! What nonsense to be discouraging people from having pets in their home and lives. Shame on you.

    If you can’t keep a home clean and have pets and kids – yes all 3 of your criteria – there’s something wrong with how you clean. I am not yet a parent but I have more pets than your average homeowner, and many friends with both kids and pets, and their homes are always beautifully presented and clean.

  2. Avatar of Megan

    I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that the author of this trash believes that you can’t have kids and indoor pets, or the fact that she dishes out parenting advice. Growing up, we always pitied the kids whose parents wouldn’t allow them to enjoy their pets in the house. I agree with the above comment, if you can’t keep pets inside and keep the house clean and tidy, you have bigger problems. Then again, if you need to take this kind of rubbish “advice” about how to keep your house tidy, then it’s probably best that you don’t own pets full stop!!

  3. Avatar of Zana Alexandra Moss
    Zana Alexandra Moss Reply

    Whoever wrote this tripe, I’m glad I don’t know her.
    I pity the people that live with this woman.

    If you value a sterile home over the joy of children and pets, then you’re a pretty pathetic excuse for a human being.

  4. Avatar of lissa

    I am someone who has never been known as being neat and tidy in my life, but I have my own little order to things. I am now a mum to 2 little kids and also share my home with my partner (who isn’t very neat and tidy either), a Doberman, 2 cats and 2 fish. We have a small 3 bedroom house and it is quite often chaos. But. Our house is lived in. Our kids are loved. Our pets are loved. And they are part of our family. Mosquitoes are pests. Fleas. Flies. But not pets. We donate a lot of stuff to charity, and pass a lot on to family. But this article, it saddened me. It made me ashamed. It made me feel guilty for having toys on the floor. And under the kitchen table. A special blanket for our dog that goes on our old worn leather lounge for him to sleep on. Our cats sleep with the kids. Our dog sometimes does too. The way their faces light up when they see any of our pets, it’s priceless. It is only comparable to how happy our pets are to see us.

    Just one final note. I’m not perfect at grammar or spelling, and I’m only writing a comment, not the article, but it should say “the only” instead of “they only”. And, we have tons of stuffed animals too, that share the kids beds 🙂

  5. Avatar of D

    What a looser who thi is that by keeping a tidy house is everything in life!! It’s proven that children who live with pets grow up to have more compassion and resistances to germs!! Stuff having a display home!!

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