With four in five office staff wanting to keep working from home (i Weekend 26th July), it’s more important than ever for us to manage our mess stress for long term wellbeing.

Like no other time, worklife and homelife have merged. A bit like the mullet: business at the front, party at the back. Except that party is probably your kids ‘learning’ in the background while you attempt the team meeting. And even if you don’t have kids, who doesn’t have their kitchen table reconditioned into a workstation?  The news that this is now set to continue into the medium or even long term has made my mission to rid people of Mess Stress an even bigger goal.

With 20+ years in efficiency/systems and workflow roles, I now help mess stressed people find solutions to keep sorted with less effort.  I was inspired to address the ‘Mess Stress’ in my life after working from home meant I couldn’t get away from the piles. I’m a naturally messy person who hates tidying…but also hates mess. I realised that it wasn’t the ‘stuff’ that was the problem, it was how I was behaving around it, and using my business skills I built up a system to address it – for good.

Through some seemingly simple but highly effective behaviour and mindset adjustments, anyone can reduce time they need to spend tidying and in many cases eliminate mess completely.  In lockdown and beyond, these mess stresses are magnified by the additional activities undertaken at home.  It’s more important than ever to look for ways of reducing stress, and the elimination of Mess Stress can provide one totally practical way of giving you a simple lift and respite from ‘It All’. It’s much easier to unwind at the end of the day if you are not staring at all that mess!

Five tips to keep the work/life merge less messy:

1. If you have to work in the main living area, pack up your stuff at the end of the day

If you don’t have a designated working space and need to use the kitchen table, but don’t clear it at the end of the day, it’s very difficult to switch off from work.  I use a large tote bag for my work stuff – it fits laptop, notebooks, chargers etc.  It’s very easy and quick then to get this out and put it back in the bag at the end of the day.  What I call the ‘Use-in-one-move’ approach.  This avoids the endless moving of piles from one place to another, or the temptation to just leave everything out.

2. Think about the flow of activities in your living space (and how they change) and react to that

Piles build up when we don’t know what to do with that stuff.  Be aware of new things coming in or new activities and set up your space for them.  Right now with schools open/closed, Summer holidays, etc, our activities done in the home is changing regularly.  For example, my son just went back to school but now comes home with a little plastic wallet of his work everyday (due to Covid) – perfect tinder for creating a nice pile!  Because I recognised this new flow of potential pile coming in, I sorted it.  I’ve now got a magazine file in the utility room where they go – a quick check for actionable items like a note from the teacher, certificate but then otherwise file it immediately without the need to think about whether to keep/chuck it – I can batch that task at the end of term.

3. If you have kids, think mindfully about where the toys live

With the kids around, they obviously need to play.  I choose 2-3 of their most popular toy ‘categories’ to keep in the lounge or kitchen area and then all the rest live in the bedroom.  We’re not saying that they can’t play with those, but at the end of the day they know that any that have crept down should be back on the stairs to go up at bedtime.  The 2-3 categories that live in the lounge/kitchen should have designated End Homes – that’s a place that they live e.g. a basket and always go back to at the end of the day.  For example, we have a lego basket, a shelf for games/jigsaws and a craft cupboard in the kitchen, but all other toys go back upstairs.

4. Start to create End Homes for your top 3 mess makers

Working from home means that you can’t get away from the mess – mess stress!  I always had that nagging voice reminding me of the piles that needed sorting, and working from home it’s much more difficult to switch that off!  Start by looking at your daily use areas – the surfaces in your kitchen where the ‘Daily Debris’ builds up.  For me, having those surfaces clear is essential for me to wind down and relax – and even if you think it’s not for you – I guarantee you’ll feel much better if you try it.  So look at those surfaces – what’s on them?  Is it your bag, your keys, a pile of paper, some toys, something else?  There are two types of things on your surfaces, those that are there because you’ve done an activity right there (massive increase during lockdown) and those that you’ve plonked there when you get home.  For the things you or the kids do at home – do it, have fun, get messy! Don’t stop life to keep tidy – the key is to know exactly where those things live (those End Homes!) so that at the end, you can tidy up super-fast.  Our kitchen table was the home-school table during lockdown – covered in stuff all day – but it took me around 2 minutes to get back to tidy at end of the day because I never had to think about where things went, and was never tempted to put things in a pile or leave it out.

5. Start thinking about your behaviour around your stuff and begin to cut out the mess middleman

That’s the second type of stuff – things you tend to plonk down when you come in.  Pick just one to start with and decide that it has an End Home.  Example: Get a basket and put your handbag in it.  Next time you go out, take it from that basket and – the important bit – put it straight back there after – bypassing the kitchen worktop.  Congratulations – you have just eliminated mess from your life!

My mission is to help others who are busy and mess stressed change their habits to help them find more peace in their home via simple mindset and behaviour changes.  And as well as being living proof that it does work myself, a growing tribe people are getting rid of their mess stress too.