Minimizing Housework: Why Minimalists Spend Way Less Time Cleaning Than You Do
The way that I accidentally stumbled upon minimalism didn't have anything to do with the environment. I wasn't trying to be more eco-friendly, spend less money, be more present, or curate a certain aesthetic in my home. It was far less romantic than that--I had hit a rock bottom place of disorganization and my clutter was driving me insane. I was often stressed and frazzled, overwhelmed by a constant stream of housework that was never done, and always looking for some thing I needed and couldn't find. I didn't know at the time that this had anything to do with how much stuff I owned, I just thought I wasn't a clean and organized person. I thought that clean and organized people spent all of their time cleaning and organizing, and since I had way more important things to do, that I'd never have a tidy house. I have since learned from experience and the application of minimalism how to drastically reduce the amount of time I spend on housework, while still having a house that is cleaner than it ever used to be. Basically, I've discovered the secret of life! Because who doesn't want to spend less time cleaning and more time on the million and one things that matter more? I want to share some concrete examples of what that looks like in practice in my home. Obviously, these examples reflect my family, space, and lifestyle, and I'd encourage you to come up with your own rules and ask yourself not just the question 'how can I stay on top of housework?', but 'how can I minimize my housework', which will automatically make it easier to stay on top of.
If you really take a basic look at it, what is housework? It's taking care of the things you own. Moving them around, putting them away, cleaning them, organizing them, etc. So by very definition, the more stuff you own, the more housework will be necessary to keep your space clean. Think about what it would feel like for everything in your home to all of a sudden double. Or triple. There wouldn't be room for anything, right? Your closets and drawers would be bursting, surfaces cluttered, and storage space crammed. But a doubling or tripling of our possessions can very easily happen without us even noticing, and create a lot of pointless housework for ourselves. How often do you move things out of the way that are sitting in front of or on top of something you need? Or spend time rifling through a drawer looking for your favorite t-shirt because there are 100 other shirts in the drawer with it? How long does it take to organize the garage or storage closet, and how long would it take if you kept far fewer possessions in there--only the ones you actually use and need? Minimalists make the choice to keep, purchase, and own fewer things, and therefore make the choice to take care of and clean fewer things--less housework!
Laundry --if it ain't dirty, don't wash it!
This is the area that can likely show the most drastic change with minimalism. Ever since I purged my closet (ahem, 6 different times. . . ) and adopted a capsule wardrobe, my laundry load has decreased significantly. You might think this doesn't make sense, because I still wear the same amount of clothes right? Everyone in my home still gets dressed once a day, and the towels need washing every week, but this really makes a huge difference, stick with me! When there are tons of clothes everywhere, I am much more likely to throw things in the hamper that don't actually need to be cleaned. When I have a minimal amount of clothing and everything has a space, I am much more likely to fold up a pair of jeans and put it back in the drawer, and hang up my cardigan, so I can wear both again, instead of just throwing them in the hamper (or on the floor, and then later the hamper) I've started consciously avoiding putting anything in the hamper that isn't actually dirty and needs to be cleaned. That means I wear the same pajamas every day for at least a week and so do my kids--having only one or two sets of pj's for each person in the house makes me stick to this. If I do a light workout, or don't sweat too much, I'll put aside my workout clothes to wear again. For my family of four, I currently do laundry one day a week and do three loads maximum (not counting cloth diapers)--usually two loads clothes, and then one of sheets & towels--sometimes I can get away with two total. Every housekeeping chart or blog I've ever seen has told me to do one load of laundry every day to keep up on it, but that seems like a total waste of time to me! Doing it all the same day minimizes the chore of folding and putting away--I'm only putting away each "pile" once, instead of seven times. And I'm much more likely to get it all done and put away, whereas if I do loads throughout the week, there are always piles of laundry sitting around unfolded and rogue items that I can't find. Now, if I'm looking for a tank top, it's either folded clean in the drawer where it belongs, or it's in my hamper. I'm not also searching the washer, dryer, floor, and different baskets in the laundry room trying to remember the last time I washed it.
Do you ever take a shower and realize your towel is missing or you can't remember which is yours, so you grab clean one? Since we no longer own spare towels (except two for guests, stored in the garage) I don't do that anymore. I have one towel, my husband has one, and the kids share a third. They get washed once a week, ensuring they are being used all week instead of just once or twice before being thrown in the wash. With towels as well as sheets, having one set means I wash, dry, and return them to the rack and beds all in one go, entirely skipping the folding, putting away, and trying to keep a linen closet organized. (I do keep spares for the kids sheets in case they wet the bed or something, but avoid pulling them out.)
I do far fewer dishes now that I'm a minimalist. Even if every single dish I own right now was dirty, it probably wouldn't be a pile-up equal to the ones that used to grace my kitchen counter on the daily. Similar to laundry, it's really easy to throw dishes in the sink after one use, and get a new one over and over throughout the day, but this makes way more work for us! Particularly if you have a large family, the difference between everyone using the same glass all day, or going through four (or more!) can make a big difference in your dishes load. My decision to own fewer dishes makes me more conscious about how I use them. I have a spot where I put my glass and use the same one throughout the day, and try to keep my kids to one sippy cup each. I used to go through cutting boards like crazy, but now that I only own three, I try and use the same one throughout my cooking process, or if I cut something like an apple or bread on it, I'll hurry and wipe it off and put it back on the shelf since it's really not dirty and can be used again. Just like clothes, you very likely have a few items that are your go-to's. You really aren't going to ever use that crappy dull knife when you have a better one you always use (same goes with pots, mixing bowls, cutting boards, measuring spoons), so get rid of all the extras to make it easier to find, access, and put away the items you use most. I have extra incentive to stay on top of the dishes because I own just about enough plates, cups, bowls, and utensils to make it through one day. At night, those shelves and drawers are empty and if I don't load the dishwasher we won't have clean ones the next day!
I used to have piles of paper everywhere--the end of the counter, stuck to the fridge, stuffed in drawers. Junk mail was mixed in with important papers I needed to access and as a result I spent a lot of time looking through those piles and moving them from place to place as I was cleaning. No more! After a huge purge that involved going through every piece of paper in my home, I realized there are very few papers that need to be kept longer than a month or so, and even fewer that need to be kept past a year. I now keep those papers saved and organized in a small file box. All other paper --any incoming mail or school papers from my kid, goes in a lidded box I keep right by the door so it never makes it to clutter a surface. I go through that once it gets full--95% of it can usually go in the recycling bin, and I'll file a few papers I need to keep. I've tried hard to minimize the incoming papers by unsubscribing to unwanted junk mail and immediately chucking junk mail that does come, so the chore of sorting out the mail box is now even less frequent.
Keeping my kids toys to a minimum has been a game changer! I have lots of tips for doing this that will get their own post, but can I just get a collective amen from parents everywhere when I say that keeping toys organized can be the bane of our existence? Particularly toys with lots of pieces or small pieces that show up everywhere. I've donated a lot of toys my kids no longer played with, and keep one large box in the garage of toys we're keeping but don't currently have out. This leaves a selection of my kids best toys in our house--the ones they actually play with regularly, and I make sure only a few of those have a lot of pieces. (i.e. things like puzzles, tool sets, magnet sets, get rotated out and mostly live in the garage) That prevents massive pile ups of small items needing sorting. I think that kids of any age should mostly be able to clean up their own toys. If the system and quantity is so complicated and overwhelming that they can't, it likely means there are too many.
Lower Turnover means fewer homeless items
A place for everything and everything in its place has not come naturally to me in life. Start paying attention while you clean, and notice how many items you own do not have a designated specific place where they go. When I first started to learn organizing in earnest, I was shocked how many things in my home didn't! As I've purged repeatedly, minimizing even more each time, and consciously assigned everything a place, I've gotten to a place where usually if something doesn't have an assigned home, it's because it's new. It's something I've just purchased or been gifted. Since becoming a minimalist I purchase fewer things, therefore, there are fewer items just kicking around my home that don't have a place yet. I purchase fewer things because I realize I need less, because I purchase quality items that will need to be replaced less often, and because I've replaced disposable items with reusables. Because the inflow and turnover of stuff is much lower, I spend less time dealing with floating, wandering things.
I'm putting this last because I think that what and how much we choose to fill our house with can affect cleaning more than the actual size. I know people with large homes that are relatively quick and painless to clean because of their organization and minimal possessions, and admittedly, having too little space can sometimes cause more of a clutter problem if you really don't have sufficient space for you things. That said, the actual size of our house can have a huge effect on how much time we spend cleaning. Consider carefully whether the size or number of rooms in your house are necessary and add value to your life, or whether they have become junk magnets. Do you use the spare rooms to dump boxes full of stuff you don't know what to do with? Or are you happy to vacuum and dust occasionally if it means you have space for you best friend or mom to sleep when they come to visit? Do you need a kitchen and a dining room? A family room and a living room? Maybe, maybe not. But for us, the money savings and reduced housework are so worth going the smaller route. I can vacuum all 750 square feet of our house from one outlet. I only clean one toilet & tub, and I don't trek up and down multiple flights of stairs when putting away laundry or other things. I like it that way.
Having minimal possessions makes it easier to have an assigned place for everything. Getting rid of physical and visual excess clutter makes housework a simple process of putting everything you used that day away where it goes, and then wiping down surfaces. I've found that much of the mental and physical exhaustion of housework comes from having to constantly think about and decide where to put things. If the only things out are things you use frequently and have a designated place for (where there is plenty of room for it) it's very easy to put it back. It's when there is lots of extra junk lying around, getting moved around, and getting shoved in places it doesn't fit and doesn't belong--that's when cleaning becomes more stressful and time consuming. Now go purge, simplify, and start enjoying whatever it is you do when you're not cleaning all the time!