Getting Organized vs. Cleaning

My husband asked me how I can write a website about getting organized when I don’t even like to clean my own house. My answer to him was:

organizing is NOT the same as cleaning!

So what exactly is the difference?


To organize is to put things together in an orderly, functional, structured way, to arrange in a coherent form, to systematize. (I really like order and structure.) Getting organized consists of things like arranging closets to use the space wisely or setting up the items in your kitchen and cabinets to be most efficient, or planning out your errands to save the most time. It’s about making your home and life run smoothly and efficiently.

To clean is to remove dirt, rubbish or impurities. (I hate touching dirt, grime and yucky stuff.) Cleaning consists of things such as scrubbing toilets, mopping the floor, vacuuming, dusting, washing dishes, doing laundry, etc. It’s the nitty gritty of making things clean.

I hope that pretty much clears it up. But let’s talk about it a little more.

We All Have Our Preference

So can anyone possibly fault me for having a preference to getting organized instead of cleaning? Well, interestingly enough, there are people out there who would rather clean than organize. I guess that’s what makes us all such unique individuals. Of course I can see the crumbs on the kitchen floor that drive my husband batty. He comes home from work and MUST get the dust buster out to suck them up before he can sit down to dinner (where more crumbs will inevitably be made). What drives ME insane is the pile of magazines and mail of his that just keeps piling up that needs to be read, stored or tossed. It drives me crazy! But I try not to overstep my bounds and purge other people’s belongings. (Though I did organize his computer desk a couple times, carefully.)

Getting Organized and Cleaning Are Both Important

In actuality, organizing and cleaning should probably both be done to achieve a spotless home. But let me remind you as I mention throughout my site, that we don’t do perfect around here. We are just regular people with time constraints, jobs, family, kids, lives to live and can’t spend our entire time making our homes sparkle for a photo shoot from Better Homes and Gardens.

Which to Do First? Organize or Clean?

So, which should you do first? I guess that depends. There is definitely some overlap in the areas of organizing and cleaning. In my opinion, getting organized helps make cleaning easier. It’s impossible to clean (remove dirt and grime) if you can’t get to the surface you want to clean! If you have stacks of papers on the kitchen counter, along with extra kitchen gadgets and pans and whatever else likes to hang out there, how can you possibly clean the crumbs and splatter off the counters? You can’t! However, having your kitchen organized so that all those counter squatters now have homes of their own and are put away, making the occasional wipe down of the counters takes only a minute. Oddly enough, I would rather work for a couple hours on purging stuff from my counters and finding homes for it than to take five minutes to wipe down my counters. There is more enjoyment and feeling of satisfaction in it. You can see the difference when items are put away… you don’t always see the difference when the counters are wiped down.

Getting Organized – See the Difference!

I can tell you from experience, it hurts to actually work hard at cleaning only to have it not be noticed. For example, I cleaned our bathroom counter one day along with a detailed cleaning of my husband’s beard trimmer that was long overdue for a dusting. Do you think he noticed it? No. I spent a day vacuuming the house and my husband mentioned to me later that evening when he got home that we need to vacuum. Arrrgggghhhh!!!! But one day I spent clearing and putting things away in the kitchen that “got loose” and when he came home he asked if he was in the right house! It was noticeably “cleaner”. That is one of the reasons I enjoy organizing… the immediate visible gratification and feeling of accomplishment!

Cleaning is Necessary

Don’t get me wrong. There is definitely a need for cleaning. I do clean. It’s not good to let things get out of hand. It can invite unwanted pests into your home and make things unfit for your family’s health. No, things definitely need to be cleaned, wiped, washed, scrubbed, etc. But I don’t have to say I enjoy it or that it’s my preference. No, I would much rather sort through piles of garage clutter and organize shelves and cabinets to reveal an organized garage, that is, if given the choice.


Ah, clutter. Let’s talk a little about that as well. Is decluttering organizing or cleaning? I think that before you can clean, you need to do some organizing. And before you can get organized, you need to declutter. You simply cannot organize clutter, nor should you. You might be able to box up and store your clutter, but that’s not organizing. You really need to purge items that no longer serve you. It frees you up mentally (it does, it just might be hard at first) and frees up physical space to organize the things that you decide to keep, use and enjoy. Therefore, if you look back at the definition of cleaning, I think decluttering falls more in that category, the removal of “rubbish”. But it is essential to both organizing and cleaning your home.

Just One More Example

Is picking up all the kids’ toys and putting them away organizing or cleaning? I will have to go with cleaning on this one. Here’s why. First, I try to declutter and purge any toys that I possibly can without causing too much heartache. Then I organize the toys by giving them all a specific place to be put when they’re not being played with. And lastly, after every single toy in the house has been taken out and played with, we need to clean them up. I think cleaning includes the forever task of “cleaning up” after ourselves. Putting toys away, clothes away, dishes away, you name it. It’s not quite scrubbing grime, but it needs to be done and it’s definitely not the task of getting organized. But, if your home IS organized, these things all have a place to go and cleaning up is a much easier task.

Beyond Organizing Your Home

Getting organized goes way beyond just putting your house in order. It also means organizing your life: putting together routines, daily planning to save time and make sure things get done, tracking family to do lists and making sure everyone gets where they need to be on time, putting systems in place for efficient shopping, organizing vacations and being able to pack easily. Organizing your life can do a lot for you in the long run to reduce stress and give you more time to enjoy as you wish. Cleaning (to me) is just cleaning.

And so I’ve put it out there for the world to see… I don’t like to clean. I do it though because it’s my responsibility to my family and myself. I kind of look at it similarly to how I feel about going to the gym to exercise. I don’t want to go and sometimes I even dread going, but I go anyway. And once I’ve gone and did my exercises I NEVER regret it. I have never regretted going to the gym and I have never regretted cleaning my house. Once I’ve done it, it actually feels pretty good, even empowering. Not going to the gym or not cleaning the house can sometimes make me feel a little guilty. Who needs that?

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, I’d rather be organizing!!

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