Small Steps for Keeping Your Housekeeping Resolutions

Take a different approach this year, making simple, positive changes that add up before you know it

By Alison Hodgson  /  Courtesy of

It’s January. Oh, the humanity. Perhaps you live in the Southern Hemisphere or some other warm and sunny place where those two words don’t bring a sense of doom so profound it propels one back into bed with a plate of cookies.

Maybe you are Naturally Organized and, now that all the holiday decor is put away, you just can’t wait to get the place cleaned up! You’ve dusted the lightbulbs and — honestly, I don’t have the strength to try to imagine what else you’re doing. 

For some of us, the mere thought of the new year opens up a 55-gallon drum of worry and stress. How can it even be January again? Last year we were going to simplify and declutter. We were going to lose a bunch of weight and become profoundly spiritual or flat-out profound. We were going to meditate and plant an organic garden and read a ton of books, become more grateful and get super in shape — which is not the same thing as losing weight, let me tell you — and we were going to give up gluten, or was it sugar? We were going to go paleo! That’s it, except we couldn’t figure out how to make noodles out of squash. Were we going to give up meat? Dairy? 

I know we were going to entertain more, practice hospitality and open our homes, make deeper connections and all that — you know, build community; but before we could have anyone over, we absolutely had to clean the place up and get totally organized! It was going to be the best, most productive, spiritually aware year ever, and here it is January again and we’re having a spot of trouble getting out of bed with or without the cookies. 

Do you feel me?

What if we did something different this year? What if we didn’t fall into despair and self-loathing so acute that we are compelled to make grandiose and impossible resolutions? What if we made things simple and took them slowly? Doesn’t that sound wise and good? 

Most of us would agree that’s the way to go and yet, if we’re perfectly honest, what we truly want is to work superhard for, like, a week and get everything clean and in shape, and have it stay that way forever with no substantive change on our part, other than that one incredibly hard week. Regrettably, that doesn’t seem to be the way we operate. Rats.

Remember when we talked about building your housekeeping muscle? The solution to so many of our impossible situations is to simply make a series of tiny, positive changes. Permanent ones. 

The key is figuring out where to start. At the beginning of the year, fresh off the holidays, this can be challenging, if not completely overwhelming. Here are a few suggestions.

Remember that you’re not the only one. It may feel like it, but you’re not the only one who ate too many sweets and didn’t exercise quite enough and has no idea how you’re going to tackle the postholiday mess, let alone what’s been there all along. It helps to remember that you’re not alone. 

Determine your fitness level. Regarding building the housekeeping muscle, Houzzer Jean Mombourquette commented, “We are all at different “fitness” levels, and knowledge really has little to do with it. A little nudge, with a bit of momentum, and you’re on your way!” 

This is so true. It’s easy to compare ourselves and our homes to others and their homes, but that’s not really helpful. Figuring out your level of fitness is just another way of facing reality. And it’s important to do so without judgment. The goal is to become stronger and move to the next level, rather than bemoan what is. This applies to every sort of fitness, whether it’s physical, emotional, relational, organizational — you name it.

Target a muscle group. Where are you particularly flabby? What’s frustrating you the most? The temptation can be to think your entire life needs a makeover, and maybe it does, but trying to do everything at once (see the absurd string of resolutions above) is setting yourself up for failure. If you want to organize your home, you need to start with one room, and even then you’ll want to narrow your focus.

Choose an exercise. What’s the small habit you’re going to make? If you decided the kitchen is the place to start, you get to decide what to do first. Choose one small thing you can do every day and then just do it. 

Look around. Start with what’s visible. What messes do you see? Are the counters cluttered? Clear them off and then make keeping them clear and wiping them down every night a commitment. Once that’s a habit, move to another area. You’ll be amazed by how effortlessly you’re able to do it. And even by how soon you find you can’t not do it. That’s when things get exciting.

Don’t worry about the rest. The impulse is to go all-out, but you need to ignore this. You’ve lived with this mess (figurative or actual) for some time; you can let it go a little longer. Once you’ve tackled your one small thing, you’ll know what you want to work on next. Often the good habits radiate out, moving from room to room, but you get to decide; it’s up to you.