Of all the habits you can incorporate into your daily routine to make cleaning up around the house easier, "Don't put it down, put it away" seems like the most obvious. Because, yeah, if you put things away, your home stays cleaner. Couldn't get more straightforward than that, right? Well, obviously it's not that simple, or we'd all have immaculate homes already.
We end up putting things down and not away over and over throughout the day, and all of those little things can add up to one big mess.
So, how do you retrain yourself to put things back in their proper homes the first time? First, it's worth taking a look at what you're already doing. When you come home from the store, do you put everything in the bags away right away, or do you still have purchases in bags sitting on the counter a day or a week later? When you kick off those shoes after a long day, do they end up back in the closet, or do they just stay where they landed? After using the scissors or can opener or nail file, do you just set them down on whatever surface is closest to you, or do you take the time to put them back where they belong? We end up putting things down and not away over and over throughout the day, and all of those little things can add up to one big mess.
Next, try to be more mindful throughout your day and consciously make an effort to catch yourself putting things down instead of away. It can be a bit of a challenge to try to force yourself to return everything to its rightful home. When you're trying on seven outfits in the morning before work, the absolute last thing you want to do is hang outfits 1-6 back up and put them back in the closet, when there's a perfectly serviceable (and, I hope, made!) bed right there to just toss everything onto. But those discarded clothes pile up, and you soon find yourself with a week's worth of not-quite-right outfits to deal with, rather than just one day's. Multiply that all across your home, and that's how messes and clutter happen.
It can be a bit of a challenge to try to force yourself to return everything to its rightful home.
When you're first trying to develop the habit of putting things away, it'll probably be a little awkward to be conscious of where you're putting every item you interact with. "Away, not down" is a really helpful mantra, which is good, because your inner voice is going to be basically chanting it until the habit is settled. As you're done using something, or as you bring something into your home, try to be aware of where you're putting it. You may have a moment when you need to give yourself a metaphorical smack upside the head and an immediate pep talk to take a few extra seconds and steps to actually put that item back where it belongs. Rest assured, though, you'll quickly reach the point where you don't have that moment of disconnect, because you'll have gotten yourself into the habit of skipping that intermediate "put it down" stage and going right to "put it away." Once you're regularly returning things to their rightful homes, I guarantee you'll find the overall mess level of your home a lot easier to deal with.
What more advice for decluttering your life? Check out Unf*ck Your Habitat: You're Better Than Your Mess by Rachel Hoffman (St. Martin's Griffin), $13, amazon.com.