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Post Series: A Month Without a Dirty House
Interview With Evan Zislis - Quicken Loans Zing Blog

If you’re anything like me, finding the desire to clean is much harder than actually cleaning. Organizational and strategies consultant Evan Zislis, author of “ClutterFree Revolution,” provided us with some tips about this subject for the Month Without a Dirty House challenge. Take a look at these useful insights for cleaning up your home and your life.

PC: To start things off – what exactly does an organizational and strategies consultant do?

EZ: I help people to SIMPLIFY so they can focus on what matters most, and that is: who we love, what we do, how, and why we live … because everything else is just stuff. My professional practice is focused in five areas:

  • Organization (both the physical things in your space and informational organization)
  • Operational Systems (how we do what we do)
  • Time & Task Management (user-friendly and reliable systems to ensure nothing slips through the cracks)
  • Content Creation (any time you take an idea and turn it into some practical application)
  • Professional Networking (facilitating meaningfully collaborative relationships)

PC: After a long day at work, I never feel like cleaning my house or staying organized. On some nights, I just want to crawl to the fridge, crawl to the table and crawl into bed. What should we do when we’re not feeling motivated?

EZ: I have a theory about that; I call this the “inspiration triangle.” Picture three points of a triangle. The top point is feeling inspired to do a great job. But that requires two prerequisites (the bottom points of the triangle): ownership and accountability. When we know something is important, we might have ownership – but no accountability, and we blow it off. When someone is holding our feet to the fire, we might feel accountable to them, but without ownership, we’re simply not going to feel inspired to do a good job. Getting inspired requires us to fundamentally choose getting organized and creating mechanisms of accountability to make sure we follow through with heart and integrity.

These are five good examples of how to follow through when we’re not feeling motivated:

  • Schedule a block of time allocated to complete specific action items associated with the goal. Here’s an example: 8:00 – 8:30 p.m., Thursday – go through linen closet and purge old sheets, blankets and towels. Bag things up for thrift and/or consignment. Load those bags into the car.
  • Collaborate with a partner. When we work together as a team, the project becomes bigger than us; the effort and the results are shared among members of the “we.” It also helps motivate us to get going or keep going when we’re feeling too tired.
  • Turn on some music and drink a glass of water. Whatever wakes us up and fires us up will help turn the chore into a stimulating activity. With a little practice, the strategic steps become second nature, and it goes by quickly.
  • A clean kitchen is easier to keep clean. There’s something sacred about walking into an immaculate space that inspires us to maintain its pristine condition. When we take small steps with each use, it makes the work less overwhelming.
  • Need less stuff. With any mathematical equation, fewer variables make the problem easier to solve. When there’s a ton of stuff in the way, it will make the work exponentially more challenging. With less stuff, cleaning up and keeping things organized is infinitely easier.

PC: I feel like it takes hours to completely clean my house. Am I doing it wrong? How long should it take?

EZ: Here’s the short answer: My friend, you have too much stuff. Purge the stuff that no longer serves 1) who you want to be and 2) what you want to do. Those things are in your way; they’re just liabilities. Pass them along to people who really need that stuff. Most people make one key mistake: They try to organize before they purge. When we do this, we’re just moving things around, digging holes and filling them up. It’s exhausting, and we really never get anywhere. Follow my three-step method, and you will succeed:

  1. Purge (trash, recycle, thrift, consign)
  2. Organize (put like things together, so things are easy to find and easy to reach, but out of the way)
  3. Design (stay inspired to do the maintenance with the aesthetic, function, flexibility and your lifestyle)

If you get stuck, there are more things to purge, so go back to step one. Start with everything on the floor, and work your way around the room, purging first, then organizing like things together, etc. Then, design the space to inspire your aesthetic sensibilities – get it just the way you want it so you’re more inspired to maintain the space as you want it.

How long it takes depends on what I call “the tipping point,” the point at which you decide, “This is ridiculous! I don’t need this and I can let it go.” The sooner you get there, the faster it will go – and the easier it will be to maintain. This shouldn’t be something you do every once in a while. The process should be something you do weekly: Circulate a laundry basket around your home and fill it weekly with stuff you can move along. Make these three steps part of the culture of your household and regularly look for opportunities to purge. It’s a game changer.

PC: Do you make your bed? Should I be making my bed? Are there perks to something as simple as this?

EZ: Yes. Brush your teeth and make your bed every morning. It sends an important message to your brain that says, “I’m not a kid any more. I’m taking myself seriously. I’m being intentional about how I live because I know it has an important impact on other areas of my life.”

Walking into a messy house, messy bedroom, messy kitchen, messy living room, home office, etc. doesn’t inspire romance. Wash your dishes. Pick up the dog crap in the backyard. Keep your garage organized so you can pull the car in at the end of the day. Maintain a sacred space for fitness and daily meditation. Make your bed. Relationships across the country would benefit if people simply connected the dots between their clutter and the impact it has on their love lives.

PC: What should be my biggest priority when cleaning the house? Should I be focusing on a certain room first? Should I have a strategy?

EZ: It’s really hard to “clean the house” when there’s stuff in the way. Purge, purge, purge. Need less stuff in the first place. Buy less stuff at the store. Get rid of things that are in the way – things you don’t really love. That makes room to clean – and makes cleaning up easier and take less time. Running a vacuum cleaner or wiping down the table is infinitely easier when there’s less in the way. Make that your priority.

When prioritizing which room to work in first, consider this: Most of the time, you’re never working on just one area at a time. Usually, we’re working on multiple spaces simultaneously because we need to deliver items to other areas of the house. Have a laundry basket handy for “items in transit.” When that laundry basket is full, deliver those items to the locations where they ought to be. Try to focus on one primary area at a time, but know that you’ll likely be repeating the process (purge, organize, design) in more than one room. Once one space feels reasonably purged and organized, move on to the next space. Design the aesthetic last. When doing interior design on the cheap, consider which items from other rooms may work better in other areas. Moving things around once a year gives us a fresh perspective and keeps our stuff from stagnating.

PC: My wife and I have a single closet where we put all of our junk. It’s not really hurting anybody, but are there reasons we should be cleaning it out? Sure, it’s a mess, but where else are we supposed to put our old board games, our extra coats, a lamp and the air mattress?

EZ: Look, I don’t live in a glass jar either. Our home has clutter, too! If your junk closet is still working for you, don’t sweat it. Go live your life. Don’t obsess over maintaining some unrealistic standard of organization according to someone else’s idea of what works. The point of this is not to fixate and spend your life trying to be immaculate in every area of the house. This is about being more responsible with how we pass things along and being more philanthropic with matching our stuff to people who need those things the most. My work is about helping people to remember what matters most: who we love, what we do, and how and why we live ­– because everything else truly is just stuff.

If you’d like to learn more about Evan and his work, take a look at his best-selling book, “ClutterFree Revolution.”


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