Organizing Theory & Artistry

Cleaning Up for Company: Suggestions for Three Messy Living Rooms

"Ringing our doorbell." Photo by Heather Greene. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

One of the biggest organizational challenges related to the holidays is getting your house clean for entertaining or hosting guests. While ideally people would understand and accept us exactly as we are, slovenly or neat, the truth is that most guests expect a pretty tidy space.

Most of us (including organizational consultants!) struggle with keeping our living spaces tidy. When you have a lot of demands on your time–whether from a job that has you working 60 hours a week or constantly on the road or as a stay-at-home mom with small children who make a disaster in seconds of whatever you have just cleaned up—cleaning up is often at the bottom of the priority list for daily living.

When the holidays (and company) come around, however, cleaning ratchets up from lowest priority to high priority. It is the quick shift in priorities that makes most of us a little stressed. In order to make the priority switch, we have to adjust a lot of other things in our lives too. Cleaning up isn’t a small, quick task. It takes time and energy. If we spending our time cleaning, it means we are not spending our time doing other things we need or want to do.

Are there any quick cleaning tips? Scads of them all over the internet. Most of them involve some variation of “Stuff everything into a bag, box, closet, your car or an unused room” and “wipe down all surfaces with a velocity impossible for most humans to achieve.”

Are these tips realistic? Honestly, no. Just like diet and exercise, cleaning is a slow process over time that requires constant vigilance and maintenance. You also need to start with a good organizational design that balances both your need to create mess in the space with ease of cleaning for company.

It is one of the cardinal rules of organizing that it is easier to clean up someone else’s mess than your own. We are so emotionally invested in our own stuff and mess it is hard to deal with it objectively.

Let’s try a little exercise now with some messy room photos from the Flickr Creative Commons. Assume all of these people have come to you requesting advice to get their home in shape for company for the holidays.

We’ll start off with three chaotic living rooms.

"uh oh, handbuilding takes over the living room." Photo by bptakoma. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

In this first living room, it looks like the resident has some sort of home improvement task or craft project going on. This stuff is probably here either because a) there is no other place in the house to put it or b) the living room is the resident’s favorite place to work on this project.

We’ll assume that b) applies and that the owner wants to work on this in the living room while watching TV. I would suggest that the resident consider adding some sort of table or bookcase to store all of these supplies. A large table with storage underneath, like the NORDEN table from IKEA, would be great idea. When company comes over, just put whatever is on top of the table on the shelves underneath and throw a long tablecloth over the top to hide everything. Put some hors d’oeuvres or a vase of flowers on top and voila, you look polished. You could also use something like the BILLY bookcase with glass doors or a large EDLAND wardrobe to tuck all this stuff away with style.

IKEA NORDEN occasional table. Image © Inter IKEA Systems B.V. Used with permission.

BILLY/ BILLY MOREBO Bookcase with glass-door. Image © Inter IKEA Systems B.V. Used with permission.

IKEA EDLAND Wardrobe with 2 doors.  Image © Inter IKEA Systems B.V. Used with permission.
IKEA EDLAND Wardrobe with 2 doors. Image © Inter IKEA Systems B.V. Used with permission.

In living room #2, the resident is also using the living room for “dirty work” refinishing guns.

“Messy Apartment.” Photo by Ryo Chijiiwa. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

While the solutions for the first living room would also apply here, the layout of this room seems to scream out for a large coffee table with storage. For safety purposes, the guns should be stored in a locked cabinet or gun safe.

First, let’s take care of the guns with a locking gun safe along the wall to the hallway to the right of the couch. And we’ll add a large coffee table with as much storage space as we can find to tuck away all that sandpaper and other woodfinishing supplies.

SentrySafe G0135 Black Safe 5 Long Gun Maximum Capacity Safe, 3.5 Cubic Feet, Black. At amazon.com.

Contemporary Espresso Finish Coffee / Cocktail Table. At amazon.com.

We’ll give the resident a little extra storage space by adding a matching end table, filling the open space on the bottom with a tool box, basket or other storage container to easily tuck away more clutter when needed.

Contemporary Espresso Finish End / Side Table. At amazon.com.

Excel TB131-Black 18-Inch Portable Steel Tool Box, Black. At amazon.com.

To add a touch of class, consider painting the futon frame black, add a new futon cover in a neutral shade, a lamp for the new side table and display some of the pictures taken with that tripod in black frames on the wall above the futon.

LumiSource AD-ELEMENT3W Element Touch Table Lamp, Silver. At amazon.com.

Royal Heritage Home Full Size Futon Cover. At amazon.com.

10 Wood Frames in a Box Set, Black. At amazon.com.

Finally, we have a typical family living room. This space truly isn’t that messy but it looks more cluttered than it is. There is also a sort of dark and depressing look to this room.

"Living Room." Photo by Elizabeth/Table4Five. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

First thing, the owners should see if there is anything on all these shelves that they can get rid of. Once they are down to the basics, they could invest in a new corner entertainment center that would condense their multiple furniture pieces into one cohesive unit.  They could also purchase some basket storage to fit into the lower shelves of the entertainment center to quickly toss toys into.

B-Cubed Corner Entertainment Center. At amazon.com.

Set of 3 Espresso Finish Storage Wicker Rattan Baskets. At amazon.com.

If a new entertainment center is too expensive for their budget, it would make a huge difference to paint all that dark wood furniture white to match the walls so it looks more like built-in storage. That would take the attention away from the lines of the bookcases (which aren’t that interesting) and put the focus on the things inside, which could be creatively displayed.

There is also too much furniture in this room. I would consider eliminating some of the smaller cabinetry pieces if possible, one or both of the side chairs and the existing side table beside the sofa.

Ideally, if you could free up enough space in the room, you could put the playpen against the wall where the TV is now (removing the shelves and movies and putting up a cute display of family photos). You could also angle the sofa slightly toward the TV and add a small console table behind the sofa for snacks, a reading lamp and additional storage. Since this husband is handy, perhaps he could build a console table to match the existing coffee table and computer stand. I would reposition the computer table where the existing end table is for storage when it is not in use.

Finally, for style points, the window is one of the best features of this room. I am not sure what the view is like but those maroon curtains are not doing anything for the décor. White plantation shutters or blinds would be a cleaner/sleeker look and would add more light to the space. I would also slipcover the couch into something more neutral.

Bali White Faux Wood Blinds - 31x64. At amazon.com.

Soft Suede Sofa Slipcover - Taupe. At amazon.com.

So, that is my take on how these messy living rooms could be transformed in a way that lets the owners live the way they want to but also allows them to clean up in a hurry when company comes.

Now it’s your turn. What changes would you make to these rooms? Are you getting any ideas for transforming your own space? Please share in the comments.