My family's 5 house rules – passed down through generations – help me keep a tidy house

Passed down through my family, my dad's five house rules now help to keep my home in order

A cottage with a green lawn and tree border
(Image credit: Clive Nichols)

Given that I was a very active child, my dad quickly learned that laying out some basic ground rules for the house was the best way of maintaining some type of order. Despite being an only child I quickly managed to make the house look chaotic (and I still sometimes do when I visit), so he turned to the rules he had to learn to keep the house looking its best.

While I am sure my family probably borrowed many of these tips from somebody else, these 'house laws' allowed for fun while also ensuring the house was returned to the way it was afterwards – which wasn't exactly fun in itself, but it certainly made me tidy up.

I wanted to share five of these rules with you so that you can pass them on to your children (or even set yourself some new rules) and keep your home more orderly. 

1. If you use it, you put it back

Toy Storage, Bed, Bunk, Shelf

(Image credit: Painted Furniture Company)

This is one of the best and easiest home organization ideas out there, even if it can be tiresome occasionally. While this mainly applied to my never-ending toy collection growing up, this rule has become no less useful now. 

Having had this rule instilled in me as a child, with the threat of my left-out toys being donated, I find putting more mundane things such as scissors and charger leads away after I have used them far easier. 

I must admit that I am still not perfect at this, after all, we are all prone to that 'CBA' feeling occasionally, there are ways around this that still help prevent clutter from building up on tables, such as my friend's bin system organization method that helps to make this left out stuff more manageable. 

2. If you open it, you close it 

Now, this is one I need to teach my partner. 'If you open it, you close it' was an important rule in my house growing up after I kept leaving doors open when running through the house with my friends. I was also guilty of leaving packets of half-eaten food open in the cupboard (when I did not finish everything to myself, that is), rendering them basically tasteless and stale when someone else came to have a snack. 

Now that I am older and paying for my own food and heating bills while also trying to save money at home, I am certainly more understanding of why my dad would shout 'shut that door!' at me from across the house in the middle of October. 

3. Get it over with, and relax for the rest of the day

'Just get it over with and you don't have to do anything for the rest of the day,' my dad always used to go on at me. 

While this used to annoy me as a child, I hate to admit that, once again, he was right. My approach of simply sitting down for just a few minutes first almost always led to the task never being done or, in a slightly better scenario, getting done but being rushed when I was already tired. 

When I was younger this would usually mean getting on with making my bed, cleaning the living room, and practicing my violin, but as an adult, it has translated to cleaning a kitchen sink or taking out the trash – you know, all of those exciting adult responsibilities. I really should not have complained so much. 

4. Never hide a broken thing, mend it

Although I certainly do not break as many things nowadays as I once did, I quickly learned that trying to hide or forget about something I had broken would never end well. As an adult, I find myself still trying to fix anything I break (within reason, that side plate I smashed the other week was definitely beyond repair – whoops!).

Not only does this help to reduce waste, making it one of many ways to be sustainable at home, but makes me more careful with my belongings, knowing that mistreating something like that poor side plate will ultimately just add another task to my to-do list in the end. 

5. If you empty it, you get rid of it 

Back to those half-eaten, open food packets. 

After being found guilty of finishing off all of the smaller packets of chips in the variety bag and shoving the big wrapper back in the cupboard, the rule of 'if you empty it, you get rid of it' was quickly added to the family rota. 

As an adult, I didn't see this as big a deal. I didn't have anybody to tell me off for doing this anymore, but I quickly discovered that putting an empty packet or box back in my cupboard means I forget to buy more when I next head to the grocery store. Given that I only try to go once a week, this is punishment in and of itself as I often make myself live without my favorite snack until my next shop. 

Let's just say I am far better at organizing kitchen cabinets nowadays and, once again, my dad was right. 

What are good house rules?

'Good' house rules will look different for everybody, depending on who you have in your household and your tolerance for mess or chaos. In general, a good house rule is one that helps to build useful habits either for yourself or your family members, allowing basic tasks such as tidying up or making a bed an automatic process that you do not have to think about. 

How can I set house rules?

The best way to set house rules is to frame them in the context of habit building. Setting unachievable rules will only make it easier to break them and make them more difficult to explain. 

It may be a good idea to start smaller, introducing just a few house rules at a time as each one becomes more of a habit. Identify the rules and explain them clearly, setting yourself or your family consequences if they are not done by a certain time. These should not be severe punishments, as this is not likely to be the right incentive for completing the task, but something that may be mundane or on the boring side. Always set a reward for completed tasks. 

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.