How to clean a room

My husband knows a lot of tricks. He knows how to say just the right thing to make me boiling mad. He knows how to make me purr like a cat with a surprise shoulder massage. He knows how to jack up houses and make the car run when it’s broken. He knows how to bake an apple pie. He knows how to fold a shirt (and soon after meeting my mother, he liberated her from the bondage of wrong shirt folding).

Which is another trick he knows: how to think he always know how to do something better than other people.

Problem is, he’s often right.

I don’t know about you, but I was raised to clean a room in the most traditional of ways.

1. Generalized pick-up.
2. Dust, from high to low.
3. Floors.

My husband doesn’t do dusting (he thinks it’s unnecessary, instead preferring to better insulate the crawl space so dust doesn’t keep blowing up through the floorboards—I guess you could call it Big Picture Dusting?), and when he vacuums, furniture gets tosses helter skelter in his attack on the linty floor crumbs.

However, it’s his pick-up skilz that I want to talk about. They’re tricky smooth. He can clean a room more thoroughly, more efficiently, and more quickly than anyone I know.

Here’s how he does it.

Step One: He enters a child’s pigsty—I mean, bedroom.

Step Two: He looks about him, at the mountains of clothes, bits of paper, scissors, pens, needles, cups of water, books, feathers, pillow stuffing, string, plastic toys, stuffed animals, empty boxes, decapitated glass figurines, Sunday school art projects, scarves, games, puzzle pieces, and underwear, and…

Step Three: He roars loudly, angrily, frustratedly because getting emotional and angry is key to good deep clean—you must HATE the mess. He shouts: THIS IS A DISASTER! YOUR ROOM IS FULL OF CRAP! THIS IS COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE!

Step Four: And then—here we go, people, it’s Trick Time!—he throws everything that is out of place into a pile in the middle of the room. It’s brutal. It’s swift. It’s— Hey! The room is clean! (All except that mountain there in the middle of the floor. Shall we name it? How about… Crap Mountain?)

Step Five: With the meek owner of the messy room at his side, he begins to methodically dismantle the pile. Some of the things he might say while wading through:

“Do you NEED this?”
“Will you ever actually USE this?”
“Where does THIS go?”
“Fold up these clothes and put them in your drawer—good grief, you’d think you were born in a barn.”
“These papers are trash, right? Please tell me they’re trash. Your room will look so much nicer if they’re gone. Yes? They’re trash? Good! RIIIIP. If they weren’t trash before, they’re trash now!”

And that, my friends, is how to clean a room using The Pile Method.

I’ve taken his method and adapted it to suit my needs. I call it The Wash Basket Method. When a bedroom needs to be cleaned, I send the child upstairs with a wash basket and orders to fill it with all the junk on the floor. Once filled, the wash basket gets hauled, thumpity-thump, down the stairs to the kitchen where I help sort and organize and the child runs hither and yon putting everything away.

The genius of this method is that…
*it cleans up large sections of room in mere seconds
*it centralizes the mess in a neutral location
*it removes distractions (like, I wonder how high I can stack these seashells)
*it provides a clear ending, i.e., an empty basket

Of course, all this would be much easier if the kids would just put the freakin’ stuff away to begin with. But they don’t and I’m not going to go around banging my head against the wall for the next ten years over it. I’d rather save myself the headache and hand them a wash basket.

Actually, that’s a lie. I still get headaches over their messy rooms, but a wash basket and an Aleve do make a killer team.

And if all else fails, I can always send my husband in to work his magic.

This same time, years previous: almond cream pear tart


  • Anonymous

    I also use this method throughout the whole house to get it cleaned quickly. The pile/basket method works wonders for everyone. Adults and kids. Also use the Pomodoro Method along with it or use the Fly Lady Crisis Cleaning Room to Room Method that will make t fun and easy. And just to let you know I am a guy who loves to clean the house every day.

  • Margo

    Revisiting this post – it's so genius and my kids are definitely now at the stage where I NEED THESE METHODS.

    It dawned on me that my mother had a related method: she would warn us to clean up our stuff in a given time frame, and then she would march around after the deadline collecting any of our crap still cluttering up the house. She would keep it in a box and charge us a quarter an item if we wanted it back. I hated losing my money, so this was very effective for me.

  • Anonymous

    janet said…
    This IS the way to clean a room. I did this with my kids. As they get older, you can add, "whatever is left in the pile by x o'clock will be trashed." It works pretty good. They get to appreciate a clean room quickly, the pile can actually remain for some time in an otherwise clean room, and it is not me who is responsible for throwing things away.

  • Anonymous


    I've actually used a rake to clean up toys in the kitchen when all of Mr. Handsome and his brothers were growing up. Just another option.

    Mr. H's mother

  • teekaroo

    I'm a big fan of the pile method. Otherwise, the corners manage to hide things. My problem with the laundry basket method is that sometimes it doesn't all get put away and then I'm laundry basket-less and grumpy about the crap that is still taking up space. It's usually my own fault too, like after cleaning out the car.

  • Marie M.

    Exactly the same tactic I used with my son, eons ago. Here's another tactic. Keep your wallet in your purse, buy less, much, much less. I'm on the side of kids will be happy with less junk toys. Give them a box, some empty tin cans, string. Collect empty egg crates, empty anything — put in all in a box. Let their creativity flow.

  • Anonymous

    Already use the "pile" method–it truly is genius–but really like your variation on it with the laundry baskets and distraction-free sorting! The only obstacle for me is finding some EMPTY baskets to begin with! 🙂 –JDM

  • the domestic fringe

    This made me laugh pretty much all the way through. Have you been to my house? My children's room? I recently spent an entire day (AN ENTIRE DAY) in my son's room. I hauled out 3 crates, six full trash bags, and 2 loads of laundry. Bless my worn-out soul. I could've killed him.

    I think I'll try your husbands cleaning tactic. Sounds much speedier than my own.

  • Anonymous

    I will have to introduce my husband to this method. He just blows up at the mess and does nothing to help remedy this situation. It may be a useful tool for him! Thanks!

  • Karen

    I love it! My husband has a very similar style, except his involves using a broom to push everything into said pile. This is very motivating to the children because they see they broom and they think 'Oh no. The broom is what we use to collect stuff off the floor that is going into the TRASH.' Helps them get moving.

  • You Can Call Me Jane

    Okay, maybe it's because they share birthdays, but Jamey uses the pile method, too! When he finds things that don't belong OR have been put away improperly, he throws them into the center of the room on the floor and makes the kids tackle the pile until it's gone. Where did we find these husbands of ours?!

  • Margo

    hey, this is genius!!! And how satisfying would it be to be the adult creating the crap mountain?! I almost (ALMOST!) want a messy room to try it out on.

    plus, now I want to know about the right way to fold a shirt. My husband and I do it differently.

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