How to Stay Organized: a Stupid-Easy Tip from My Coworker

Unfortunately, I am not a neat freak. My clothes pile up as the week goes on, obscuring furniture and usually, the floor. Papers are “organized” in stacks. The laundry hamper becomes a cruel joke, and possessions—even important ones—are regularly lost in the disarray. The mess gets very hard to live with even for a messy person, so eventually I inevitably break. And then a whole day needs to be set aside to sort, purge, and deep clean. I’ve sworn many times to change my ways, dabbling in KonMari and spending an offensive amount of money on plastic containers at MUJI, but it always comes back to the same extreme swings. Until, that is, I listened to my coworker (let’s call her Fran) rant about her extremely messy roommates.

For context, Fran is tidy beyond belief—a self-declared neat freak. Her desk looks like it could be in a cool book shop in the West Village. So the mess crimes her roomies have apparently been committing sounded pretty forgivable to an ordinary slob like me: leaving coffee mugs on the coffee table until the next morning (why the hell not), leaving a suitcase in the hallway for days after you’ve returned home from a trip (all the easier to get to it for the next trip), et cetera. Small things that come from being lazy in the moment, but which quickly add up to a certified mess. In other words, me things! Besides realizing that Fran and I should never ever be roomies, I had another small epiphany: It’s this Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll-think-about-it-tomorrow mentality that drives her nuts about her roommates that makes me a messy person.

“Why would you not just put the mug in the dishwasher as soon as you stand up from the table?,” she asked, wide-eyed, the inefficiency of it all baffling her neat-freak brain. And: “The place we keep our suitcases is literally on the way to our front door!” (See why I didn’t want to reveal her name?) Despite my quiet protesting that leaving a dish out till the next day is not a criminal offense, her point flipped a switch. Why not clean up as you go? I cook this way, so I don’t have to do a sink full of dishes immediately following dinner. The same could go for everything else I own and use throughout the week: Clothes go on the hanger as soon as you take them off; junk mail goes in the trash as soon as you realize it’s junk mail; the bed gets made as soon as you get out of it. You have to shake the little devil on your shoulder crying out, “You’ll get to that later!” But the result, hypothetically, is that everything ends up in its place.

The next weekend, I did my usual purge-and-clean so that the closet was actually in working condition. This is an important starting place; your umbrella needs a designated location so that it’s all but brainless to put it back there and not on a random square of floor where you’ll never find it when you need it. Then, as the week began, I talked myself past every lazy inclination. I put my shoes up in my shoe rack as soon as I removed them. I unloaded the dishwasher the morning after I ran it. My fiancé, the poor fellow who lives with me, followed suit, and as the week inched on a really weird thing happened. The apartment stayed tidy.

Neat freaks, Fran included, will be shaking their head by now. This is not rocket science, or a “hack,” or surprising information—it’s how people have kept their homes clean for all of time. And yeah, I may have been 31 years slow on the upkeep—and will definitely have some lapses in the coming months, probably even days—but the grass is greener, i.e. my room is SO much cleaner, now that I know.