Top 10 Tips for a Tidy House (From a Self-Confessed Neat Freak)


I came across an article the other day called “Dirty Little Secrets of Tidy Families”, a cute set of observations from a non-tidy person about habits that seemed common to tidy people.

When I dissolved in tears of laughter at point #2 -“They surf the internet less” – I knew it was my sworn duty as a tidy-person (with borderline-internet addiction) to set the record straight.

Here are my top 10 tidy-person tips. I promise you that not one of them is “have less stuff”, and you can still indulge your online addiction. We might be neat freaks but we’re not freaking Amish.

  1. Pimp your house with pretty things.

The day I decided to pimp my house was the day I finally had an incentive to keep it tidy. It wasn’t always that way. I’ve lived in houses full of mismatching furniture and ugly blue sofas that – frankly – looked better when they were covered with piles of unfolded laundry. Once I filled my house with cool and beautiful things I wanted to keep it clean so I could admire all of it. My tidy house is a form of self-congratulatory pretension. I’m owning that.

  1. Everything has its place. Put it there.

We live by a few simple rules here. Shoes don’t get dumped wherever, laundry doesn’t get piled on the dining table and random crap is not allowed to accumulate on the breakfast bar because it sends out clutter-spores at a terrifying rate. We have places for things, and that’s where they go. Preferably “immediately”, but “eventually” is cool too.

If a particular item doesn’t have anywhere to live I do one of two things:

1) I find somewhere for it to live


2) I find somewhere ELSE for it to live. (It’s brutal, but effective).

living 1

  1. Hidden storage conceals a multitude of sins.

I used to live in a tiny 3 x 1 house with two kids, no garage and zero storage. We had to store so much stuff in the roof that I often went to bed wondering if our Christmas tree was going to come crashing through the ceiling. I’m exaggerating of course, but the principle is the same: hidden storage is the best. There is nothing more satisfying to me than neatly-stacked wardrobes. Or messy ones. Whatever. I can’t see it, so I don’t give a crap. You don’t want to see my linen cupboard.

  1. No hidden storage? If it’s visible make it pretty.

I have a rule that I like to call “Pretty or Practical”, which means that the things in my house need to be aesthetically-pleasing or useful in some way. The application of this principle goes something like this: If items are useless they need to be pretty. If items are practical they ALSO need to be pretty. I have no time for ugly things. So if I’m going to have visible storage it needs to look good – think baskets, trinket boxes or colour-coordinated options.

  1. Neutralise known dumping grounds.

Our kitchen is a notorious dumping ground for unsightly crap. Keys, wallets, sunglasses, junk mail and an assortment of used phillips-head screws that my husband is holding onto because I don’t know. Out of frustration I came up with the ingenious solution of using a bread box as an all-purpose dumping ground. He still mocks me to this day (Where’s the BREAD? Hur, hur, hur…) but it works. The clutter is invisible, contained and stylishly-integrated with my kitchen decor.

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 9.36.32 pm

  1. Make morning and evening “quickies” a habit.

Quickies are a fantastic way to start and end the day. A twenty minute whip-around in the bedroom (and beyond) will work wonders. I can generally take my house from “Oh no!” to “showroom” in less than half an hour, as long as I make a habit of it. I have no stamina for longer sessions anyway. I’m not that turned-on by cleaning that I want to spend several hours doing it every day. That would cut into large swathes of my precious internet-surfing time.

  1. Clear surfaces are your friend.

This one is my favourite, because it’s a TOTAL CON. I make people swoon at the state of my totally unclean house by keeping surfaces clear of clutter. I literally TRICK people into thinking my house is clean. I’ve cultivated lots of little habits like removing shampoo bottles from the shower, storing toothbrushes in the vanity and making sure the dining table is clear. People think I’m some sort of cleaning genius, but they could actually write their name in the dust on the hall table. It’s magic.


  1. Hi ho, hi ho, we tidy as we go.

If I can’t take a step without impaling myself on a piece of Star Wars Lego (SHITTHATSTUFFHURTS!!!) then I know it’s time for a tidy-up.

  1. Use the kids. If they can walk, they can work.

I know it depends on the kid. I ask my 5 year-old to put his shoes away and it can take him 40 minutes, because he gets side-tracked making Lego, eating cherry tomatoes and chasing butterflies around the backyard en-route to another completely irrelevant task. Conversely, I can issue my 3 year-old a list of six separate instructions and he will conscientiously do all of them in order before putting his older brother’s shoes away and making me a pretend cup of tea.

living 4

  1. Banish toys from existence living areas.

I love my kids but I don’t want their toys in every damn room of the house. Don’t get me wrong, they can make a mess and play wherever they want but toys ultimately live in the bedroom and everything gets packed away at the end of the day. I want to settle in and enjoy the latest episode of Mind-Numbing Reality-TV without being menaced by the looming spectre of monster trucks, Mega Bloks and the entire cast of The Avengers. It’s a house. Not a small regional franchise of Toys R Us.


Are you a tidy or a non-tidy person?

Anyone got any more hot tidy-tips for me?



92 thoughts on “Top 10 Tips for a Tidy House (From a Self-Confessed Neat Freak)

  1. Ooooooo I love this post for so many reasons.
    1. I have a hard on for your house decor so getting an op to check it out again while I sigh is always a pleasure.
    2. I am a person who so desperately wants a tidy house. It gets messy and I seem to lose control of it and then I have to spend a mammoth session making it work so these tips are super useful.

    I must say that ever since I created a toy room in part of the half converted to a room garage (it has a sealed floor and a big window – converted!) it has been much easier to achieve although I do have those spores accumulating constantly on my kitchen bench. If only I could sort that out. Incidentally since I put all the toys in the toy room the suckers hardly ever get played with. I’m confused about whether or not I see this as a good thing or a bad thing. lol

    Great post!

    • *puts on best Shakespearian accent* OUT, DAMNED SPORES!!! I reckon getting on top of the toy issue is half the battle won. All this stuff has always been habitual for me, which helps – I am the child of two Virgoan clean freaks who could never sit still, so doing a lot of this stuff is second nature to me. I’m like a walking Roomba.

  2. Your toy sprawl sounds like the same as my toy sprawl.
    I actually just had a crack down. The lounge had more toys in it then the toy room! A disadvantage to breast feeding. Locked down by one child so the other runs riot.
    Our house needs a massive clean out which I have started and can’t wait to really get stuck into it in the small pockets I am allowed.

    • Yep, I had an epiphany moment when my second came along too. I think it’s natural to go a bit crazy on the toys with your first because everyone is so excited. But I read a brilliant viral post on The Minimalist (?) about having fewer toys and I got cracking on that straight away. Made a massive difference in so many ways.

  3. I love this post so much!!
    Having furniture you love and decor that you want to show off make such a huge difference to how you feel about keeping your house clean. I feel so much better about things when the house is tidy so I try to keep it that way. The putting things away is something my husband struggles with. He has a tendency to carry his cricket bat around the house swinging at imaginary balls so it ends up propped against the wall in the bedroom/lounge room/kitchen or wherever. Drives me insane!
    With kids toys I’m planning (so feel free to check back and see if there is any follow through once she’s here!!) to have a big box in our playroom wardrobe with most of the toys, and only have a couple out at a time but keep them on rotation so she is always playing with something new. Stops the house being overtaken with toy clutter and it will keep her thinking that there is lots of new toys, when really it’s just old toys I haven’t let her play with yet!! But, she isn’t here yet so we’ll see how that plays out.

    • LOLing at your hubby practising his cricket swing around the house with an imaginary ball!! I found the rotation system to be a lifesaver. Less mess and they get less overwhelmed by the volume of choice. You will get showered with stuff though – wait and see. The first baby comes in a such a flurry of excited gift-giving. It’s really sweet.

  4. Oh dear, I’m ashamed to say I’m most definitely in Team Messy… we’ve just got too much stuff! We moved into our current house 6 months ago & started off so well – a place for everything & everything in its place, toys only in the kids’ bedrooms… but gradually the mess has taken over and I’m now sitting on the lounge next to a talking Peppa Pig doll with the wing of a toy plane digging into my arse… help me!

    • I think what really helped me was being forced to downsize! We went from a 2-storey townhouse to the tiniest little 3 x 1 and I had to donate so much stuff, including all my beloved books and records. And because we had no garage I had to be really careful with new acquisitions. I do have WAY too many pretty things stuffed in my back-up goodies cupboard though. I like to rotate the pretties!

  5. This is super timely as I have just asked the Au Pair to do a tidy and cull while we have the Tiny Dictator tomorrow and she won’t have the kids underfoot. I agree with the quickies. I hate my house looking like the Toys R Us iceberg melted in my loungeroom.

  6. This all makes perfect sense but I will confess that I was TOTALLY distracted by the photos of all of your beautiful rooms and decor and have now forgotten most of the words. Except ‘clutter-spores.’ I will never forget ‘clutter-spores.’

  7. On my god this is me! Love it, I am the butt of friends jokes or envy, depending on their mood…tidy as I go, clean services, lots of white space, and a shoe shelf with doors…just don’t look in my garage! X

  8. I’m in team neat and I find myself doing pretty much everything you’ve listed here and it works for me too. The most important for me is “everything has a place” – it means things can be put away quickly and less time is spent searching for things when you need them. Your styling looks amazing too!

  9. Impressive stuff Zilla – I can see you doing a guest spot on Better Homes and Gardens with this advice! I desperately want to be a tidy person but our haul of “stuff” is currently winning. Think I need to move house just too sort through it all. Please please please tell me how to get a 3 year old to work through a to-do list. My 5 year old does do an excellent tidy-up – for a fee (20c – she thinks she’s rich because it’s the biggest coin. Not expecting this to last long). I’m with you on the linen cupboard. I think it was Em from Have a Laugh on Me who likened putting things into her linen cupboard to a game of tetris. Brilliant and spot on analogy! Love your house, especially the awesome concert posters. Reminds me to get mine out from the “junk room”. My poor REM signed blockmount is not getting the attention it deserves.

    • LOL I have ZERO control over my kids’ respective abilities to do this kind of thing. My 3 year old is a MARVEL. He was just born competent and resourceful. My 5 year old… Not so much… Let’s just say he is a bit of a dreamer… And you so have to dust off the REM blockmount! I just bought myself a Beastie Boys one. My Mother’s Day tradition is to spoil myself with a new blockmount poster every year. ‘COS I’M WORTH IT.

  10. Oh we are messy, but you should see how quickly I can turn the house around when someone’s coming over 😉 I achieve more in that half an hours notice than I do all week! People always comment on how clean and tidy my house is. If only they knew.

  11. Love the bread box idea! I dedicate a whole drawer in my kitchen for loose random crap but I need to steal that space back and buy me a cute bread box. I’m hi-5ing your clean surfaces trickery. It’s my secret too. Everybody likes some clean space for their eyes to fall xo

  12. Great article.

    I have a few tips.

    1. Kitchen timer on for 20 minutes – run around like a lunatic and tidy and wipe as quickly as possible. Everyone loves a challenge. Works well with little kids too!

    2. Laundry basket is your friend – when you only have 5 minutes – grab one of these babies and chuck everything in that doesn’t belong in the kitchen/family room. Put back in laundry and empty later when you have time. Great when someone is calling in and your place looks like a tip.

    3. When you have a spare hour – grab a roll of garbage bags and choose a room. Empty drawers or cupboards of clutter or rubbish in one bag, stuff for charity in another. One room at a time. It may take you a week to get through your house but if you only do one room – you can leave it for a day or so – get rid of those bags the day you do said room and the whole house is not upended. Do this regularly to keep clutter at bay (esp. kids stuff).

    4. Always keep a spray bottle of something to clean with under every vanity in house and a cloth. And a bottle of disinfectant. When kids bath is running, clean their bathroom. If you have tools there at the ready, you can do a 3 minute whip around at any time. Little dustpan and broom handy too to clean up stray hairs.

    Over and out…

    • Oh these are absolutely brilliant. I love the spray bottle idea. I’ve just moved from a tiny one bedroom house to a two story house with three toilets (!) and I need to get onto that. I’m always running up and down stairs for the ONE bottle of cleaning spray I have. LOL. We’ve been here less than two months so I have some new habits to learn! The basket one is a great one to that will hopefully stop a lot of running up and down stairs for one thing at a time. Thank you!!

  13. When we bought our apartment we had no money and have just started renovating. Now it has begun! After spending money we are more inclined to keep it cleaner but sadly I have married a hoarder/ internet surfer. He is getting better but when he goes away for work I make the house a hygenic bubble and enjoy organized bliss for a week… These creative types. Your house looks like a showroom! My mum used to throw anything I left on the floor in the bin. That worked.

    • Ouch! Brutal but effective indeed. I think my mum actually did that once as well. Once was all it took! Thankfully my other house is messy but other than his bloody tools and dirty socks doesn’t have much lying around. I can live with that.

  14. I want to come live with you – you win the tidiest house award today.
    yeah #2 -“They surf the internet less (my husband would agree 1000%.
    He also keeps a huge collection of assorted screws everywhere and I am still waiitng months for him to hang some pictures. His cordless screw driver is never at hand.

    • Hahhahaha! That’s so funny! I am always nagging the hubby to hang pictures. If he doesn’t do it I’ll go rummaging for his hammer and do it myself. I always here my husband from the other room saying “Oh, no. Mummy’s making more holes in the wall”. It usually gets him to come over and see what I’m up to… He’s a measurer. I’m a guesser. He knows that if he does it he will have less holes to patch up. You should have seen the place we just moved out of. LOL. Even I was impressed with myself 😉

  15. I love your irreverent approach to being a clean-freak – not freakish at all and content with faking it. Malinda from Brown Paper Packages blogged today about ‘boring women have immaculate homes’. You of course are far from boring. My home is far from immaculate and I am bored by cleaning but I do subscribe to your theory of ‘make it pretty’. Just got to train those darn kids.

  16. I am tidier than I used to be but yeah…not tidy. I am so very guilty of dumping stuff and not picking it up again. Your kids sound better trained than me.

  17. Your amazing home has just guilted me into doing some cleaning. Thanks a lot Hugzilla.
    Great tips by the way – now time to open my regional toys r us up for business and get rid of some of these bloody toys!

  18. I want so badly to be tidy but it is not in my nature and never has been. I am organised and can tell my husband exactly what spot in the closet or fridge he can find x or y items via telephone. But I take out things and leave the, out all the time and I have twenty in progress things as well so my bedside table fills with books and bits, the kitchen counter has clutter spore disease and the coffee table is an official drop zone from hell, I need some special pack it away vitamin!!!

    • I have to say, I think it’s maybe an Earth sign thing? My mum and dad were both Virgo, so they were super-clean to the point of neurosis. I’m a Capricorn, and I think I was always going to have a bit of that fastidious organisation thing anyway. I had no hope of being messy!

  19. It’s so nice to read a post from you! I am NOT a neat person. I only clean when other people come over because I fear judgement. Then I fear them opening up my cupboards and drawers and discovering all my dirty little secrets.

    • Thank you – it was so nice to finally get one out! Visitors are a great incentive aren’t they? Even I kick into a slightly more manic cleaning gear when I’m expecting company. It’s unavoidable!

  20. You’re right, it must be in the stars. So glad to find a fellow tidy-not-clean person. I too trick everyone into thinking my house is clean when really it is just tidy. Well, at least I like to think I am tricking them, they never actually admit to noticing the dirt. :/
    And hubby is horrendous at putting things away. I create special spots for everything but he is just hopeless at it. Which means I end up doing it, because yes, everything has its place.

    • I love that you get me! Sometimes I feel like a bit of a sham collecting praise from people when my house isn’t really that clean. I’d make a terrible con-artist. LOL.

  21. Is now a bad time to tell you that there’s laundry on my dining table beside me while I’m typing this? I have an excuse tonight though because I’m not well. Our dining room table and kitchen benches definitely are dumping grounds. I love your breadbox idea. I’m going to get my husband to create something similar. I am generally a tidy person, but I could do better. Thanks for the pep talk!

  22. i am so untidy – if you saw what is around me at the moment – I cleaned out my car, and now its all in the office, spread over the floor and I have all the folding in piles all across the lounge room. If someone entered the house, Im sure they would think we had been ransacked! I desperately want to be tidy, but I really don’t think it will ever happen consistently 😦 Great tips – one thing I have been doing lately is the Sunday box – my son knows he has to clean his toys from the living area before he goes to bed, anything that is left out goes in the Sunday box and can’t be played with until Sunday. Quite effective at the moment!

    Hello from #teamIBOT

  23. Loved your post! Some great tips here.

    This was one of those posts where I nodded my head all the way through. You see, I have good intentions and high expectations in my mind but the reality is much different.

    We’re in a small house but lucky to have a ridiculous amount of storage. There is so much storage that we procrastinate too much on an item’s ‘forever’ home.

    So, I’ll start small.

    My first step – I’ll be buying a bread bin tomorrow. GOLD.

  24. The BREAD BIN……of course!! We currently use the FRUIT BOWL to store all our junk in the kitchen and as you can imagine, it looks shit!!! There is actually no room for fruit!!! I am scouting for a bread bin starting now!!!! Love the look of your place.

  25. Love this post. I’m a bit of a neat freak but I think my husband is the host of the clutter spores. I also have nightmares of the Christmas tree coming through the roof but given our impending move I’m on a massive de-clutter campaign can not wait for clear surfaces again! Clear space = clear mind!

  26. I told Paul I’m going to throw out all of the toys in D room and just move the ones from the lounge room back into his room. He thinks I’m joking. Some of those toys haven’t been played with in months :/

  27. I swear to god we are twins (and yes I’m reading all your most recent posts and commenting on them as an excellent form of procrastination over an article I don’t want to write). The only thing I don’t have is that breadbox. I need one. I’m totally on board with every thing else.

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