The messy person’s guide to being tidy – according to professional cleaners

Even the messiest of us can create order at home – this is how

A light blue kitchen with a double stacked oven and broiler drawer
(Image credit: Searle & Taylor)

When you are naturally ‘messy’ or feel disorganized, it can be hard to see yourself with a truly organized home free from clutter. Whether you are simply too busy or have ADHD, trying to keep things in order can feel like an uphill battle. 

Luckily, professional cleaners and organizers have plenty of experience helping even the most scatterbrained of us establish control over our clutter. 

These are the five cleaning tips and decluttering tricks they always recommend to naturally messy people, and why they work so well – even when trying to clean your house when you’re too busy.  

The messy person’s guide to being tidy

Naturally messy people may find it more challenging to put home organizing ideas into practice around their homes, even if they start with good intentions. As such, experts say it’s important to start at the basics again to find systems that will work more effectively for your household. 

1. Get "Back to One"

Allison Babcock neutral living room with white sofa, white curtains and deep pile white rug

(Image credit: Allison Babcock, photograph Tria Giovan)

When trying to get your life in order, it can be helpful to ‘get back to one’, says Nicole Gabai, certified virtual organizer, member of NAPO, and founder of B-Organized. This usually means decluttering a home room by room, putting in one big surge of effort to reestablish order and start your organization journey on the right foot, she explains:

‘Take a few minutes every night to organize things and return them to their original positions. This process is called getting "Back to One." Once you have everything back in order, it becomes easier to maintain by removing unnecessary items and promptly putting things back where they belong.’

Nicole Gabai

Nicole founded B. Organized over 20 years ago and is a Golden Circle member of NAPO – the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals. She's also the author of the best-selling book The Art of Organization, available at Amazon.

2. Try a dropbox

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(Image credit: Sharps)

We are all a little guilty of leaving items on surfaces or stairs and saying we will put them away later – only for them to stay there for over a week. If you are a serial offender of this type of ‘tidying’, then you might like a drop box – especially if you have issues around organizing a closet, says Catherine Hamilton-Cooper, professional declutterer, and organizer at Declutterbird:

‘Are floordrobes a regular sight in your bedroom? Do you struggle to organize your clothes, and everything becomes a jumbled mess? Do you hate folding? The Drop Box Method will be your best friend,’ she assures.

‘Initially separate your clothes into broad categories e.g. trousers, sweaters, etc. Now declutter everything you don’t need or love, weed out all those ripped or stained items past their best or anything that doesn’t fit well.

‘Next, hang any categories that you know you will routinely hang. You can place all other categories into separate storage containers, aka ‘drop boxes’. Choose suitable-sized containers for your space and the quantity of each item. Label each container to easily identify where to get and put away a particular type of item. Now, you can easily ‘drop’ items into their ‘home’ contained. No folding, no faffing, and no mess in your room.’

Consider also placing one of these boxes at the bottom of your stairs (out of the way of foot traffic, of course) to allow yourself somewhere a little neater to drop items to go up. You can then grab the whole box and do it in one fell swoop when it is full. 

Catherine Hamilton-Cooper
Catherine Hamilton-Cooper

Catherine is a decluttering expert who loves mess and disorganization, but loves seeing the transformation to order even more. She is an expert declutterer and member of the association for decluttering and organizing professionals. 

3. Use a halfway book

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(Image credit: Emily Followill)

When deciding what to declutter, paper clutter is usually forgotten despite it being one of the biggest causes of mess around our homes, bags, and drawers. This is not only bad to look at but makes it difficult to keep track of everything, says Nicole Gabai, certified virtual organizer. Her solution is to use a ‘halfway book’:

‘This notebook should have tabbed sections labeled according to the category of info you tend to collect,’ she explains. ‘It's a place to gather information that is halfway between very important and random bits of information you might never need. Sometimes, little notes taken down on the fly become important and need to be stored in a more permanent file or notebook; at other times, you don't need them again. Since you don't always know at first, having a designated place to store these bits of information in a retrievable and organized way can be very helpful. ‘You can use this system either digitally or in a paper notebook. I still use this system today, after nearly 30 years,’ she shares. 

4. Break tasks into more manageable bites

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(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you are naturally a messy person, you likely find yourself trying to clean when feeling overwhelmed as clutter piles up and gets on top of you. The remedy, Viviana Pedroza, cleaning expert and owner of Clean by Vivi, suggests, is to break the tasks into more manageable chunks that your attention span can easily accommodate.

‘One of my favorite quotes is How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!’ she begins. ‘Much of life can seem daunting and overwhelming, but by breaking your chores into smaller, easier-to-achieve bites, you'll be less stressed, and your home will be tidy almost effortlessly.’

For instance, you have to make time to clean, but you’ll want to find a way to manage tasks so you can have a chore-free weekend, Viviana continues. ‘Why wait to clean all your bathrooms for one day? If you can get one cleaned one day and one cleaned another, you've lessened your weekend workload, made pushing through it easier, and left yourself with more time to enjoy your weekend. (Pro-Tip: If you have older children, enlist their help to free up more weekend time).’ 

Viviana Pedroza
Viviana Pedroza

Viviana is the owner and operator at Clean by Vivi LLC. Her goal is to ensure all her customers feel relaxed and refreshed when they come home to their freshly cleaned homes.

All-in-One Declutter Planner | $3.92 at Etsy

All-in-One Declutter Planner | $3.92 at Etsy
This printable decluttering planner is all you need to help tackle your home's mess without missing a step. It is perfect for both keeping on top of your belongings and starting on your first big clearout.

5. Stick to an end-of-day reset

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(Image credit: JARED KUZIA)

If trying to maintain your home throughout the day gets in the way of your schedule, consider setting a closing shift routine to help reset your space and wind down for bed each day, Catherine Hamilton-Cooper, professional declutterer, recommends. 'You can even set an alarm on your phone as a prompt to complete your reset,' she adds. 

‘Aim to go around all the main areas in your home and tidy up things, put items back in their proper place, wipe down surfaces, lift anything lying on the ground, etc. This means that even if things have slipped during the day, you are implementing this daily routine to ensure you start each day well.’ 


Can an untidy person become tidy?

A messy person can become tidy with some effort by developing and reinforcing positive habits. Picking one new habit to work on at a time and rewarding yourself when you complete a successful streak of them is a great way to change your lifestyle, only adding another habit when you have cemented the first one. It can sometimes help to work with a professional declutterer or life coach at first to help get you started on your journey.  

What is messiness a symptom of?

Being messy at home can be a symptom of a few things. Most simply, it may be that you haven’t quite perfected your work-life balance, and feel too busy to keep on top of clutter. More seriously, being messy can be a sign of an underlying mental health disorder, such as ADHD or even depression, where tidying up can feel impossible even when you want to clean up, being blocked by executive dysfunction. If this feels like you, it can help to seek advice from a professional to help manage your condition and find sustainable solutions.  

Sometimes, when you are naturally messy and busy, it can help to call in professional help, concludes Katie Lambert, cleaning expert with Clean Queen Maid Service. This can encourage you to declutter and tidy so that they can do their job, taking half the workload off of your shoulders, she explains:

‘Most cleaning services do not organize and need the house to be picked up so they can clean,’ she explains. ‘For instance, I have my cleaning service come to my house every two weeks, and it greatly helps because even if I fall behind on tidying, I always get it cleaned up before the cleaners come, so it never gets more than two weeks out of hand.’

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.