Quick! Pick Up Five Things—The Only Trick That (Kind of) Keeps My Home Tidy

My house is messy all the time. I feel like there are always shoes, LEGOS, and other stuff everywhere. I have several secret messy drawers, messy closets, and messy everything. I try to keep my house clean, but clean and organized are two very different achievements that I haven’t figured out how to do in tandem. I just can’t keep up with tidiness. 

The biggest challenge for me is decluttering. I’ve tried—everything. The “52 weeks to an organized home challenge,” the “have a place for everything rule,” I even tried Marie Kondo’ing my home. The thing is that these approaches work great if you’re able to keep it like that, but life with kids is just messy. The other day my husband spent the entire morning organizing our pantry (which looked as if Costco had been ransacked). After he was done, it looked beautiful, everything was in its place—perfectly organized and clean— but it didn’t last more than two days like that. 

Not to play the blame game but I can think of two boys who are the biggest culprits. The moment they come home from school, the kitchen island gets filled with papers, toys, snacks, and everything in between. And here is where the trick comes in: I call it “Five Things.” 

The trick is pretty simple. Someone yells “Five things!” (That someone is usually me, of course.) and everyone has to stop what they’re doing and pick up five things from the room to make it tidier. I can’t remember where I learned about it, but it was a few years ago, and it really makes a difference in our house. If you know who came up with this, please thank them for me!

For us, it works wonders because it doesn’t require a lot of time or effort, the kids can participate, and it requires zero planning. It’s perfect to do a quick tidy-up before dinner or after playing. Here are some of the rules and tricks that work for my family: 

  1. Everyone has to do it. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing the most wonderful game, if you’re tired, or if you just finished your homework. You have to contribute by putting things back in their place. 
  2. It has to be quick. You can’t get distracted reading a book while you’re putting away other books. (I’m looking at you, my beloved firstborn.) This is a fast-paced activity where everyone is moving and putting things away. 
  3. Groups of things count as one. Picking up five LEGO bricks from the floor doesn’t mean you’ve finished. Putting away the crayons you were using counts as one thing. Picking up the dog toys from the living room counts as another thing, etc.
  4. Do it as often as needed and in different rooms. In our house, it’s usually once a day, but if messes keep showing up in different rooms, we do this more often. When school is out, it happens multiple times a day. 
  5. Mix it up. It can be three things, it can be ten. Although we usually stick to five things, on the days it’s needed, we change it up a little bit. My personal favorite: “Five things + One,” which means we each put away our regular five things, and then we each have to do a quick chore like disinfecting the counters or wiping down the refrigerator. 

This “Five Things” approach makes an overwhelming list of chores more manageable. Sometimes I find myself doing it when I’m alone too as I’m walking into a room. I just randomly pick up five things to put away, or when I open a messy drawer I take out five things to either put away or throw away. As small as it seems, it does help keep your home organized. What I like most about “Five Things” is that everyone participates and it doesn’t take more than five minutes. The kids don’t even complain anymore because they know they’ll be done in a flash, and in a matter of minutes our messy living room can look tidy and ready for the next mess. 

Born and raised in Mexico just two hours away from San Antonio, Alejandra moved to the Alamo City in 2010 with her husband. A year later they welcomed their first son, and in 2013 she officially became a mom of two boys. She has a degree in Communications from the University of Monterrey, and has worked as a writer and editor for both print and web media. A classically trained pianist, Alejandra currently freelances as a copy writer and translator. Favorite Restaurant: Palenque Grill Favorite Landmark: The Historic Pearl Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Fiesta de las Luminarias