Author Dana K. White shares why “getting organized” isn’t always the best way to keep an organized house.
by Jesse Darland
Dana K. White is a blogger, podcaster, speaker and decluttering expert. In an attempt to get her home under control, Dana started blogging at ASlobComesClean.com. Her book “How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind” was released by Thomas Nelson in 2016. I sat down with Dana to talk about her book, washing the dishes and the downward spiral of clutter.
One of the big ideas in your book is that a clean home is a routine, rather than a destination. How did you arrive at that understanding?
I have a project mentality. I love projects. That served me very well in other areas of my life, but treating my home like a project wasn’t doing me any good. I would clean like crazy and then wait for it to need cleaning again. It was such a bad cycle.
Out of desperation I said, “I’m just going to do my dishes and keep my kitchen clean.” I knew that my kitchen was always the place where I needed to start whenever I cleaned my house. I was really shocked that just that one simple routine made such a big impact on my entire home.
A big part of my problem was that I didn’t truly understand the time needed to do the small things, like doing my dishes or sweeping the kitchen, because I’d always waited for them to become a project in order to justify stopping everything to do them. As a project, they took hours, but when done as a routine they took me 10 minutes.
The book calls these routines “pre-made decisions.” Why is that?
If I let myself make the decision every night about whether I should do the dishes, I would talk myself out of it every night. Now the time required to do the dishes doesn’t include time spent deciding whether I should do the dishes. I don’t have to make a decision. I just have to do the dishes.
Taking those decisions away also frees up brain space. When I make myself figure out whether I should do something over and over again every single day it exhausts me. If it’s a pre-made decision, that mental stress is removed.
So is doing the dishes really so important?
There’s something about dirty dishes that makes people think, “I’ll do that eventually, but right now while I’m inspired to clean my house I should do something more important.” But when you feel inspired to clean, focus your effort on a space that’s visible. You’ll be inspired to keep going because you’ll see the improvement in your home.
For most of us, we have a drawer or closet – or room – that’s filled with stuff that we want to organize but never do. How can we get started organizing?
First of all, know that there’s a difference between decluttering and organizing, and it’s OK to just declutter. Organizing is problem solving, and problem solving can be overwhelming. Therefore, a lot of people put it off. The natural tendency is to [try to] figure out how a space needs to be organized for the rest of eternity. That often keeps us from getting started.
When I realized it was OK to just declutter without having a plan for organizing the space, it was a huge weight off me. I could just go in and get started.
When I declutter, I pull out the things we don’t need, and the space becomes functional. Now my family is able to live better with that space, because we don’t have to dig around to find the things we need.
Before, if I said I’d “get organized,” I’d go out and buy a bunch of containers. But by the time I got home my drive to get organized was gone and I had a bunch of containers that created more clutter.
How can readers make the changes stick?
Decluttering momentum is a real thing. If you get stuck, I say go through your house and throw away trash. Instead of focusing on the thing that’s slowing your progress, go back and get rid of things that obviously need to go. Do what’s easy first and that will build momentum.
As long as you don’t quit, you’re making progress.