Make Household Organization a Habit

Being organized will supercharge your house cleaning, meal preparation and more.

Imagine the television pitch: “Special offer! The amazing Household Wonder Worker will take your house from chaos to castle in only 21 days. It’ll speed your cleaning, calm your chaos and cut your clutter. Backed by scientific research, our product is guaranteed to bring order and serenity to your disorganized home.”

You say you have the phone in one hand and a credit card in the other? Sounds that good, does it? Sorry, television viewers. The Amazing Household Wonder Worker is the most powerful secret weapon in the war against disorganization and clutter, but you can’t buy it, not in stores or anywhere. You have to build your own, but it’s free for the making. Put it to work for you, and it’ll lead you, step-by-step, out of the darkness of disorganization and into the light. What is it? Habit.

Let the Force of Habit Be With You

Habit is a small word for such a powerful force. It may start small, but habit works like a snowball, perched at the top of a snow-covered mountain. It takes a tiny little effort to push the snowball over the edge, but look out! By the time it reaches the bottom, that little snowball has gained the power of an avalanche.

So, too, with the habits we build into our daily life. Small steps forward, barely noticed, have a powerful effect on our homes and our lives. What’s the secret? Momentum. It takes energy and thought to form a good habit, much like it takes energy and intention to push that little snowball over the edge. Once in place, however, a habit gains in strength and effect with each repetition, building strength and power behind it and you don’t even have to think about it.

Anatomy of a Habit

Habits are powerful, but they’re not mysterious. We all have a brace of them, for good or bad. Does each day begin with two cups of coffee and the newspaper? Habit! Do you sweeten weekly grocery shopping trips with a maple bar from the supermarket bakery? Habit! Do you always place your handbag or briefcase on the floor of the car, behind the driver’s seat? There’s that habit again!

If habits are familiar creatures, why are they so very difficult to start or to change? Go back to the snowball. Yes, it’s a bit of a nuisance to make it, isn’t it? You have to get your hands wet, cold and numb, and pack the snow tightly. You must perch the snowball on its ledge just so, and then give the silly thing a push. Once you do, though, look out!

The analogy explains why good habits can be so difficult to start, and bad habits so difficult to end. Setting up good habits means creating conscious, intentional change. Ending bad ones means countering the tremendous, built-up force of a thousand repetitions.

21 Days to Success

How do you form a good habit? The concept is simple: Decide what you want to do, and do it each day for 21 days. By the time you’ve repeated the habit daily for three weeks, you own it or rather, it owns you. Put it in place and your habit will carry on without further thought.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz, author of the book Psycho-Cybernetics, first noted the significance of this 21-day time period. A plastic surgeon, Dr. Maltz knew that it took 21 days for amputees to stop feeling phantom sensations in the amputated limb. When he began working to help patients change their attitudes, not their appearance, he found that this time period applied to changes of thinking, too. It’s a hard-wired interval needed to grow any change to fruition.

If the idea is simple (do it for 21 days!) the devil is in the details. Establishing a new habit is hard work. Each new habit must turn aside the formidable energy of an entrenched old habit in order to survive and thrive.

Old habits are not so easily dislodged. In practical terms, fresh new habits must be tended carefully and guarded from intruders. During their infancy and youth, good habits can be extinguished by a single episode of “Mañana, mañana — I don’t wanna!” You have to cherish the new, good habit and fight the old bad one at the same time.

On the Trail of Good Habits

Ready to bring the power of habit to your side in the war against domestic chaos? Try these three tips to help you form new habits:

One habit at a time. Tempting as it is to decide that today, you’ll change your entire life from top to bottom, resist the urge. It’s better to build a single helpful habit than try for a total overhaul of life and fail. Changing a habit takes undivided energy and commitment. To succeed, focus on a single habit. Only after you’ve established a new habit should you move on to another. Take heart, though. With 52 weeks in each year, you can build 17 new habits and still take two weeks vacation in a single year.

Hitch your habit to a star. A new habit stands a better chance of survival if it has a friend. Think of a habit you have now as a locomotive engine, and add the new one to the train. By building new habits in concert with established ones, you make the change easier to adopt. Do you put your toddler down for a nap at 2 p.m. each afternoon? That’s a perfect “prompt” to build your new habit — 30 minutes of daily inspirational reading — into your schedule at 2:05 p.m.

Seek out support. When it comes to building new habits, a support network is worth a thousand words. Agree to trade “nags” with a good friend: You hold him or her accountable, he or she holds you accountable as you work to build new habits together. Look for habit buddies to conquer tough habits side-by-side. Have you decided to walk for 45 minutes each day? Walking with a friend, a neighbor or your spouse will double the motivation (and the fun!).

Habits: Where to Start?

You’re sold on the power of habit, but where to begin? While every family’s climb out of chaos will be different, focus on building these first habits for an orderly home:

Check your lists. Review each day’s checklists and to-do lists each morning and evening. They’ll keep you on-track and organized each day.

Make the bed. Invest 45 seconds to straighten sheets and tuck the covers to start the day on an organized note.

Take time for self-care. Morning or evening, no matter how busy, take 20 minutes for grooming and self-care. Care for yourself first; it’ll give you confidence throughout the day.

Welcome each morning. The night before, check clothing for the next day. Set the table for breakfast, and set out items needed to prepare morning beverages.

Keep meals in their place. Clean kitchen counters and wash dirty dishes after each meal. Don’t let cleanup chores from one meal invade cooking energy needed for the next one.

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