The Everyday Spruce: Keep on top of housework using the ‘touch it once’ principle

Yes, I know, I know – this sounds like it’s going to be rude, but there’s nothing x-rated here, I promise. This post is about the principle of ‘touch it once’, much celebrated as a way to improve productivity and time management. It’s the idea that when you pick up a piece of paperwork, you deal with it there and then, instead of adding it to a pile that grows into a mountain and ultimately swallows loads more of your time to sort through. However, I want to talk about applying the ‘touch it once’ rule to housekeeping, rather than paperwork and email. It was Emily who first told me she was trying to use it at home, and if I’m completely honest, I was a pretty sceptical, and rather dismissive. My kneejerk reaction was that I was too busy to deal with things immediately, so I wrote it off as something that wouldn’t work for me. It sounded impractical, and I just couldn’t see how it would help me be more tidy and organised at home.

But the idea kept knocking around in my head, and I began to spot countless ways that I actually could incorporate the ‘touch it once’ principle into my daily life. I realised that it could actually make a positive impact on our home, and help us keep on top of clutter and save stress and frustration in the long term.

How to beat clutter using the 'touch it once' principle | Growing Spaces

How to beat clutter using the 'touch it once' principle | Growing Spaces

There are areas of our house that seem to collect clutter – the two main places being our kitchen island (piles of post, stuff the kids have made and brought home from school, etc etc), and the other is our stairs. I’ll have a good tidy downstairs, and dump everything that need to go upstairs at the bottom of the stairs, where it sits there totally ignored, sometimes for weeks. And our list of bad habits continues. When I make a cup of tea, I put the tea bag in the sink instead of taking one extra step to the bin. Dirty mugs and plates get dumped on the worksurface just above the dishwasher, instead of taking the 10 seconds to open the dishwasher door and put them inside. If a toilet roll gets finished, the new one is popped on the window sill next to the toilet, instead of being put onto the toilet roll holder (for the record I personally am not guilty of this one). Dirty washing ends up  on the floor next to the laundry basket, rather than inside it. Clean clothes get sorted, and then the pile goes on the floor by the chest of drawers, not put away.

How to beat clutter using the 'touch it once' principle | Growing Spaces

How to beat clutter using the 'touch it once' principle | Growing Spaces

This is where the ‘touch it once’ principle starts to make sense. If I pick up the dirty mug and put it by to the dishwasher, then I’m only giving myself an extra task to do later on when I’ll have to open the door and put it in. Why not do it all at once, and then it’s done and the worksurface stays clear? None of the individual tasks I seem to so fastidiously avoid would take a long time if I did them immediately, but if I don’t then suddenly the house is a mess and requires loads more effort to clear up.

How to beat clutter using the 'touch it once' principle | Growing Spaces

So here are my new ‘touch it once’-improved habits:

POST: Sort as soon as pick it up
STUFF TIDIED DOWNSTAIRS: Take things upstairs straight away (going up and down stairs is good exercise after all), or put everything in a basket which I then take up immediately after I’ve finished tidying and return everything in it to its home
TEA BAGS: Take the extra step and put them in the bin
DIRTY CROCKERY: Wash up or put in the dishwasher straight away
DIRTY CLOTHES: Do the one extra action to lift the lid and put the clothes inside the laundry basket
CLEAN CLOTHES: Return to their drawers/the wardrobe as soon as the washing’s sorted
BOOK BAGS: When I walk through the door I will not just dump them, I will carry them straight through to the kitchen and go through them immediately

This is such a simple concept and once you get into the ‘touch it once’ mindset, you find yourself applying the principle to all sorts of things. I discussed it with Ben, and he totally got onboard too, and we very quickly noticed a real difference around the house. Instead of the mad, panicked tidying I’d end up doing before a guest arrived (or that feeling of shame when a friend turns up without warning and your house is a tip), I suddenly found that I was pretty much clear most of the time.

I have to admit that there have been periods when we’ve both been frantically busy and have let our ‘touch it once’ dedication slip, but when we stick to it, it works, and I’m utterly convinced that it’s the secret to keeping our home organised.

The Everyday Spruce

‘To spruce’ in its most basic definition means to make neat… by association, it can also be used to describe the acts of fixing up, organising and beautifying.

Through this collaborative project between Lapin Blu and I – The Everyday Spruce – we use the term to describe a more general idea of shaking things out and hitting refresh. We share easy and useful tips, projects and ideas that we hope will inspire and encourage you to revitalise things a little, both around your home and in your daily routines. This isn’t about making things perfect (who needs THAT pressure?!), but is about focusing on simple things that can help to make the everyday just a little bit easier, and, perhaps, more beautiful for you, too.

We’d love for you to join us and share your own everyday spruce ideas, tips or journeys by using the hashtag #theeverydayspruce.

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  1. June 27, 2016 / 8:38 am

    Good advice thanks Heather. I’m adding it to my crusade against displaced stuff armoury. Shirley Conran once quipped ‘I make no secret of the fact that I would rather lie on a sofa than sweep beneath it. But you have to be efficient if you’re going to be lazy.’ If the one touch principle gets me any closer to a sofa, I’m in!

  2. June 27, 2016 / 10:45 am

    A thousand yes’ to this. I think Gretchen Rubin talks about it, she definitely talks about how if a task takes less than a minute, do it there and then. I’ve started adopting it and so far so good. Decided it was definitely something I needed to do after having to spend about 3 hours tidying rogue paperwork recently – eeek!

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