Clutter Maintenance Mode: Do the 15 Minute Boogie

Being in clutter maintenance mode is different than being in the midsts of a giant clutter purge. One of the things I’ve discovered in the years since I dumped my clutter is that small actions make a biiiiig difference.

It’s like before I felt so overwhelmed by the amount of stuff and projects I was facing that I had a hard time getting anything started. If someone told me to just pick up for 15 minutes I would have rolled my eyes, knowing that there was noooo way 15 minutes could begin to make a dent in my house madness.

Now I realize just how important those little, teeny 15 minute choices are. I mean, everybody has 15 minutes in their day, right?

What I do now is set small 15 minute challenges for myself. I try to do at least one a day, but I don’t beat myself up. If I’m feeling too busy in the middle of my work week I skip out on it. This lack of pressure makes it really easy to keep up with. I’m never like, “Oh no, I have to do my 15 minute pick up challenge and I’m just dreading it!”  Instead it’s like, “Yeah I really don’t want to but let’s get it over with.”

All I do is set my timer. I vary the time depending on how I’m feeling. Sometimes I’ve done ten minute pickups, or when I’m feeling energized I’ll set the timer for 20 minutes. I don’t ever go longer than 20 though, because it starts to feel like work!

Once I’ve got my timer going I just look around my apartment and start working on the most glaring issue. If there are dishes in the sink I often start with them.

I make it a game to see how much I can accomplish before the timer goes off, so I bust my booty going fast, whirling around picking up socks, emptying the bathroom trash can, wiping down the kitchen counter, or hanging up clothes from the laundry.

I let myself be completely open-ended in what I choose to do. No rules! And when the timer goes off I get to chill out completely.

One day a week (which happens to be today for me) I do a few of these 15 minute pick-ups. Between Patrick helping out and me doing these mini-cleaning/clutter sessions I get all the housework done in around two hours a week, but since it’s split up into mini-sessions it never feels too intense.

What I like about this method of cleaning/clutter control is:

* Because I do it in short bursts of time I never feel stressed out.

* I can let things slide a bit during my work week, but I still do enough daily to never have to devote a whole weekend day to cleaning.

* It’s flexible so it works with my energy levels and my time commitments.

* My place stays pretty decent most of the time! I wouldn’t be mortified if the maintenance man knocked on our door unexpectedly.

* Because I go fast during my 15 minute pick-ups I pretend like I’m getting good exercise out of the deal. :)

Best of all I don’t feel overwhelmed about keeping up with my home anymore! I’ve been doing these fast pick-up sessions for a few years now and I’ve discovered that it only takes about five minutes to vacuum a room and three minutes to clean the toilet. Sometimes tasks can feel daunting but when you break it down into bite sized pieces you realize maintaining your home can be like a blip of time in the journey through your day.

Until next time, Cheers!


Minimalist Packrat




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13 Responses to “Clutter Maintenance Mode: Do the 15 Minute Boogie”

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  1. Kathleen Casey says:

    This is so great! I’ve been told something like this before, but the way you put it, especially also breaking down the big day of cleaning into 15-minute increments throughout the day, really makes it sound almost fun (once you get started).

  2. Jill Foley says:

    I do something similar twice a day. I don’t actually set a timer, but when clutter and possessions are under control, the house doesn’t get more than “15 minutes messy” (usually). I do a 5 – 15 minute cleanup before my husband gets home from work and another one before bed. I also do a couple 5 minutes sweeps throughout the day. My girls help out on most of these (since much of the mess is theirs), and have learned to be quite efficient when picking up!
    Jill Foley recently posted..Spring Fever

  3. Mel says:

    Super happy to hear from you again!! I’ve been implementing these small few-minute pick-ups in my life too and have applied it to other aspects of my life as well. Not feeling up to exercising? Just do 30 seconds… cool, how about 1 minute? … same with my challenge as an artist to draw everyday. Bite size = the yummiest size!

    On a random note, have you heard of Unfilth Your Habitat? (They actually go by a more, err, swearing title, but that’s their friendly name.) They always encourage what they call 20/10s in maintaining the space. 20 minute pick-up, 10 minute break. I’ve been following their blog for a while and it’s always inspiring to see what other people can do in 1 or a couple 20/10s!
    Mel recently posted..The Lists of Like and Have

  4. MH says:

    Hi, I just discovered your blog and love it. You have a great writing style and lots of insight and inspiration for me. I am on the journey to become a minimalist. I have come a long way, but really struggle with the sentimental stuff. Namely, the art work that my children have made and other things like that. You are the first blogger I have found that really seems to address the emotional part of things. I have read dozens of organizing/declutter books and they all say the same thing. (get three boxes and label them toss, donate, keep etc.) I really do have enough space for the stuff I am keeping but mentally I feel cluttered, and want to have a handle on all the stuff I have in boxes. I don’t know if that makes sense. I have a question, I would have sent it to you instead of commenting here but I can’t find a contact email for you. Does your bootcamp book address these emotional issues? Somewhere I saw you mention that you are working on a second book that will and is to be out in 6 months, but honestly I can’t figure out a time line on this blog because there are no DATES on posts or comments, only TIME. (?) Sooo, I don’t know if this is a recent post or not but I hope to hear an answer! thanks so much.

  5. HI ! i always set a timer but today i read your blog which inspire me so now i’ll try to grow up from it. Thanks.

  6. Marina says:

    Hi Tanja!

    I´m a light minimalist and i write my own blog in portuguese. I came here because i´ve been dealing with a situation and i just don´t know what to do. Usually i would ask advice or help to other brazilian or portuguese bloggers but my problem can´t be exposed on a blog that´s written in portuguese because it involves a person that could possibly read my comment and be ofended by it! So, i chose your blog, because it´s in english – and because i love your posts.

    Well, the thing is my mother in law is staying in my house for two weeks and she brought a bag full of gifts for us (couple with no kids). There were 53 gifts… We just moved to this new house and we´ve been decorating and organizing it for the past 2 months. Part of the gifts are nice quality knick knacks, but not really our style (she´s romantic and classic; we are rustic and coloful) or stuff that we like and it´s our style but we don´t want or have no space to display, because we already have enough. There´s also a lot of cloth stuff such as dish towells, pot holders, tiny cutesy cloths (don´t know what they´re for) and even big stuff such as a statue (she´s already given us 5 very similar to this one – maybe she´s going for a full collection?) and a huge decorated wooden box. Every time she visits, she brings a lot of stuff and i already have a stockpile of every type of cloth that i can possibibly think of. On her defense, she does get us stuff that is really useful (the dishcloths are a good example) and i know she wants to please us and only gets high quality products.

    This situation makes me nervous because not only she buys us all this stuff but she tells us where to put it and how to display it and she expects me to do it while she´s still staying with us. The reasons she asks ME to do it is because i´m good at DIY. Some of this stuff, in order to be installed, requires drilling into walls and even making holes on my perfect new kitchen tiles! I always keep the stuff we´ll actually use but there´s just too much that just wont do! Sometimes she gets us stuff she already gave us as gifts – yes, she gifts the exact same thing in a diferent color or pattern. The reason she does it, is she forgets most of what she gave us before and then goes on and buys it all again… Eventually she remembers some gifts and asks us where it is…

    I love my uncluttered new home. I´ve already compromised with my partner who´s not minimalist and we are both happy with the amount of stuff we have – that compromise was hard for both of us and was achieved recently. I ask you: how can i deal with that flow of stuff coming in to my home? Most of it is clutter for us. Sometimes i feel like she does it to control us… i give her lots of hints and she wont stop or lower the amount of gifts. She´s a person who´s used to getting things her way and has a pretty clear idea of what she wants.

    Do you have some advice for me??

    Sorry for my mistakes.. haven´t practiced english in a long time.


  7. Free Check says:

    Appreciation to my father who informed me about this webpage,
    this weblog is actually amazing.
    Free Check recently posted..Free Check

  8. Felix Erude says:

    Picking up after ourselves as we go makes the job of de-cluttering much easier.
    Felix Erude recently posted..Pay It Forward True Story

  9. Freedom says:

    Maintenance mode is so much easier than purge mode. Now that we have purged and downsized from a huge house to a small apartment, it’s much easier to maintain. My daughter and I do a 30 minute cleanup every night. I set a timer and we clean until the timer goes off. Usually there are some things in the living room and dining table that need to get picked up. My daughter helps with that and then tackles her room. We also do dishes and take out the trash. Some days there isn’t much clutter so we do a little cleaning in the bathrooms or vacuum the floors. It’s amazing how much you can get done in 30 minutes.
    Freedom recently posted..Clutter Coaching and Life Coaching

  10. Karen says:

    Delightful website. Would you tell me which font you are using for you webpage title and so on? Would be nice for my business card. Thanks!

  11. L. Tinsley says:

    You are so right! I am very busy with my work and the family like everybody, so I usually try to keep it a clean and tidy as possible during the week and then clean like a crazy woman all day long on Saturday… I realize how much easier it will be if I just use this 15 minutes per day and have a better weekend but I am still not having the habit! Thanks for the lovely post! Greets!

  12. Laura says:

    Hi Tanya

    Laura here from Enjoy Life Slowly.

    Mark and I are doing a series of interviews with inspirational authorities in their field and people with a motivating story of how they have taken control of their lives by swapping complexity for simplicity. We’ll be talking about slowing down,simplifying including of course minimalism and declutteringl.

    The aim is to give people who are looking to make a change, concrete actionable tips and inspiration to help them slow down, simplify and increase their quality of life.

    I know this is something you are passionate about from your blog, so I wondered, would you be up for the idea of a quick 30 minute interview any time that suits you over the next couple of weeks? As it’s pre-recorded, we can fit in with you – I appreciate how busy you are.

    Best wishes


  13. Clearwing says:

    My husband and I were probably doing our best to maintain the house when we each logged a 20-minute session every day. It is true that you can accomplish waaay more than you’d expect in such a short time, but I also remember crying after a few of those sessions when it didn’t make a big difference and I needed to address some larger issues. I need to get back in the habit so it’s not so overwhelming.

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