The Best Cleaning & Organizing Rules I Learned from My Mother

updated May 4, 2019
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(Image credit: Justice Darragh)

Now that I have my own home and family to care for, the things my mother taught me about cleaning are not only valuable because they came from her, but because they are nuggets of wisdom probably passed down through more than two generations. They’ve stood the test of time and they sure make my life easier and my home cleaner. From my home and family to yours, here are the best cleaning and organizing rules I learned from my mother.

Only touch it once.

If you have something in your hand, whether it’s something you need to put away, clean, or make a decision about, do it right then if at all possible. This saves to-dos from adding up and clutter from accumulating.

Don’t put off ’til tomorrow what can be done today.

So many times, the last 20 percent of a project is the worst, mentally and time-wise, and this applies to organizing and cleaning projects especially. My mother taught me to push through and get ‘er done — and enjoy the fruits of a job well-finished, down to the last detail. I’ve found that if I excuse myself at the end, those last dregs of a project can stick around for a lot longer than I think and I grow a mental block against finishing it.

Clean as you go.

I learned this as a principle in the kitchen. As we cooked, my mother always showed me that cleaning things like knives, measuring cups, and other tools made for a much easier clean-up after cooking was done. I’m a stickler about this to this day, and I apply the idea when I’m sewing or crafting as well. Who wants to finish a creative endeavor only to face a giant mess at the end? Not me! I’m passing this practice on to my daughter and sons, who are making it a habit to clean up one thing before playing with the next. (They are 6, 4, and 2.)

Start with an empty space.

When tackling decluttering or organizing projects, my mother (who is a professional organizer, by the way) always insists on starting with a clean slate. For instance, if we’re going to organize the pantry, we’ll take everything out, purge, sort, clean the items and their “home,” and then put everything back. A modified version of this is to clear a shelf at a time. The point is, seeing the empty space and what you have to put in it gives you the visual space to arrange your things strategically.

Think hard to make your organizational systems maintainable.

When implementing a system or arranging a functional space, sustainability is paramount. Whether it’s a filing system or the entryway, care should be taken so that those who use the system or space can easily maintain order there. This requires thorough thought, an investment of time that my mom always makes. It certainly pays off.

All about that kitchen sink.

Mom drilled it into us to wash dishes when the food is still wet and to make sure dishes don’t go into the dishwasher with food that won’t wash off. She is all about not wasting time with cleaning chores that are easiest when done right away and done right the first time. This practice made for a sink that was rarely full of dirty dishes, a standard that was instilled in me as a young person. We were also required to scrub the sink with cleanser every night after doing the dishes. Very Fly Lady and a practice that not only makes you feel great but that keeps bacteria in check and helps keep the sink clean and empty.

What did your mom teach you about cleaning and organizing?