Wouldn’t it be nice? Never having to look at a pile of messy clothes, stacks of papers, dirty trash, or dozens of emails ever again? It’s definitely possible; and a lot easier than you might think.

I used to be a messy person. That’s just who I thought I was. I didn’t place enough value on cleanliness, so I never had any motivation to change. Growing up, I never made my bed, never folded my clothes in my dresser, and never got organized in general. It was all I knew, because it was my default, so I didn’t realize how much better the alternative was. I was in for a rude awakening when I went to study abroad in Switzerland for the first semester of my sophomore year of high school.

The teachers and staff were very strict and formal there, which was basically the opposite of the environment that I had grown up in leading up to that semester. They forced us to make our beds, had frequent room cleanliness inspections, and a multitude of rules. At the time, I couldn’t adjust. I was so ingrained in my habits that it took getting in trouble multiple times for me to shape up.

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I was forced into all of these habits — which I somewhat resented at the time because it wasn’t “me” —  but looking back, I’m very grateful for what they did. Ever since, I have always made my bed in the morning, folded all my clothes, and kept my room, desk, car, and homework perfectly clean and organized. What had happened, as I later found out, was not so much adopting a new set of rules, but rather a mindset shift having to do with my spaces.

You have a mindset, whether you are aware of it or not, about the default acceptable state of the spaces that you live in. As a rule, your spaces will begin to accumulate clutter and messes more and more up to the minimum acceptable state of your spaces. After that point, you will clean your spaces until it is acceptable to you. The thing is, what is acceptable to you is usually not what is acceptable to others. This can cause conflict — especially when you live with another person. Nobody likes to be in a messy or cluttered space, so it’s always good to break out of these negative habits.

Adopt this simple way of thinking: Make your default minimum acceptable state for your spaces perfectly clean. Insist on that. Of course, right now, it’s probably not that way. Fixing this could take a few hours of focused, intense cleaning, but it will be worth it.

For example, after attending college for a year, I came back home for the summer to find that my parents had begun using my room as a storage space. I could have ignored it and lived for a few months in that mess, but I decided to take an hour to clear out everything I didn’t want. Once it was clean and organized exactly the way I wanted it, I didn’t want my room to look any other way. If there was a paper on my desk that didn’t need to be there, I dealt with it and put it where it needed to be.

This can apply to any space — even the desktop on your computer. I know some people who have files all over; but after a mindset shift, they could put every file where it needs to be so that they can find things quickly and easily. To maintain this, whenever they create a new file, they put it where it needs to be. The same thing applies to a clean car. The maintenance of this cleanliness requires consistent awareness of the spaces you’re in. So if there’s a piece of trash in your car, you have to get rid of it when you notice it.

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This will take a bit of work initially, but once you get into this habit, you will live in clean and organized spaces for the rest of your life, which will save you and anyone you live with lots of time.  Not to mention, it just looks and feels better to live in a cleaner environment. Let me know how this goes for you in the comments below!

This post was written by Lars King, a college student in Boston with a passion for self-development. Check out his blog at Holistic Improvement, and follow him on Twitter @larstheking.


Image: Alex Gaylon