I Can’t Keep My House Clean, What’s Wrong With Me?

updated Nov 1, 2022
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(Image credit: Emily Billings)

We all have different standards of how we wish to maintain our homes. But sometimes, no matter how good our intentions and how hard we try, we just cannot keep on top of our spaces the way we’d like to. Here are some reasons you might be having trouble keeping your home clean and some fixes to help hoist you out of the rut.

1. You actually have too much stuff

If you always feel like you’re busting at the seams and like there isn’t anywhere to put all the stuff, well, you’re probably right. But the problem isn’t your place; it’s that you need to get rid of things in order to live within the parameters of the physical space you inhabit.

You might recognize this issue by the fact that you spend lots and lots of time organizing, but things always seem to come undone. If you feel like nothing ever stays as it should, you might be expending your (finite) energy organizing when what you really need to be doing is de-cluttering.

Another clue that you have too much stuff is that your things are too hard to put back in the spaces you’ve eked out for them, so you (and others) too often just leave them out.

Shedding the excess will give you breathing space, peace of mind, and a home that is capable of staying in order. And it will feel so good.


2. You don’t know where to begin

When things are out of control or too far gone, it’s such a mental hurdle to even just start. The inertia compounds the problem; clutter begets clutter, and the problem worsens before your eyes.

One of my favorite tactics when everything seems like a disaster is to pick one room, even just one corner. Then work your way around the room clockwise, clearing every space and putting each item away. Don’t get distracted! Don’t start working on the laundry room when you take the errant sock there.

Remain focused. Eventually, you’ll reach the tipping point, gain momentum, and one clean room will lead to another. The key to maintenance here is to clear very thoroughly, to the point where one thing out of place is so obvious that you’ll want to put it away immediately.


3. You don’t have enough time

Sometimes you truly do not have the time to keep up with housework — and that’s fine. Whether you need to hire a house cleaner for a routine cleaning or a professional organizer to jump-start an organizational system, face your situation head-on, don’t feel guilty, and get the help you need!

You may be able to enlist the help of a trusted friend or relative in these areas as well. Just make sure you have good working chemistry (for instance, don’t pick a cousin who will want you to toss everything without consideration and stress you out).


(Image credit: Hayley Kessner)

4. Other things are more important right now

I don’t mean this in an even remotely sarcastic way. There are certain times in life when our routines are disrupted, and we cannot keep order in our homes the way we otherwise would. Maybe there’s a newborn in the house, or a family member is in the hospital.

In cases like this, things are out of order in your environment because there is both outward and inward upheaval, whether good or bad. In these kinds of situations, if you can handle the disorder, accept it. If it’s having a negative impact, reach out for help. Sometimes in-order surroundings help anchor a tumultuous soul. In fact, sometimes, the act of putting things in order is therapeutic.

No matter the particular circumstance, consider the effect of your home’s condition on you and your family and purposefully decide how to relate to it, even if it’s a dismissal. This keeps you in the driver’s seat.


  • Universal Truths of People Who Have Their Priorities Straight

5. Your system is broken

If you keep having to address the same trouble spots, that’s a pretty clear indication that your current system isn’t working. For instance, if you have a paper inbox that’s constantly overflowing, you can’t find the papers you need, and you miss deadlines for turning things in, you need to meticulously think through your workflow of dealing with papers. Where is the system breaking down?

Maybe you need to be more diligent about going through the mail every time you pick it up and recycling junk right away; maybe you need a tray system for various types of papers (bills, information you need to scan into Evernote, papers to sign for the kids’ school). Whatever the case, time spent considering your actual situation and addressing the sticking points could banish trouble spots for good.


6. Your standard is unrealistic

If you find yourself perpetually disappointed with the state of your home, it might be time for a healthy dose of introspection. What’s really bothering you? Is it that you don’t possess your Pinterest wishlist of decor? Is it that you think your home should be “magazine” (or even Apartment Therapy House Tour) ready at any given moment?

No one lives like that. And if they do, guess what? They aren’t you. If you find that you’re holding yourself to an unrealistic standard, let that go. Define your own standard and find contentment there.


7. Others in your household aren’t in it with you

Now this involves some give and take. Don’t expect everyone in your household to do things exactly as you would do them or as you wish they would do them. Certainly communicate your wishes, but be open to their point of view and have a mindset of compromise going into the conversation.

If you have children, yes, help them learn to clean up after themselves, but remember that they are learning. Whatever the situation, try to build cooperative routines of picking up into daily life, whether through a schedule, checklist, or daily habits. Make sure roles and expectations are clearly defined and do your best to go with the flow, so you don’t sacrifice the peace of the household for its orderliness.

Rather than giving up on the way you want your space to be, find out why it isn’t the way you picture it in your mind’s eye. You might be able to fix it, or you might find freedom in acceptance. Either way, you’ll be able to attain the singular joy of feeling at home.