There is something highly romantic to me about the ‘Leave no trace’ philosophy. I’m not sure why. The idea of coming and going like a breeze, with no sign that you were ever there or in existence, other than in ways that are intangible, like in the memories of your children, or some goodness or contribution to humanity that you left in the world before you departed. However, today I’m going to put the philosophy to practical use instead of romanticize about it. I try to apply the ‘Leave no trace’ mantra in my everyday life just so I can keep my housecleaning under control. Translating the philosophy into a phrase better known, ‘A place for everything, and everything in its place’.
This habit has taken me more than a year to adopt, and I am still working on it, but it does wonders in keeping my housecleaning and other tasks to a minimum. Cultivating this habit has meant that I once again have had to slow down in life. For instance, instead of dinner taking 30 minutes to prepare, it now takes 45 minutes, because I put everything away as soon as I am done using it, rinse dishes and put them in the dishwasher as I go, and wipe the counters before I sit down to eat. I try to ‘leave no trace’ in the kitchen that I was ever there to begin with, and it has made eating dinner a much more enjoyable experience. It has also made cleanup a breeze, in that there are no crusty dishes I have to clean, no food on the floor that has somehow made it to the carpet and gotten smooshed, nothing burnt onto the stove that takes me half an hour to scrub off.
When I first started paying attention to my actions, I was so surprised at my habit of just leaving little things out here and there when I was done using them. My hairbrush on the bathroom counter, my purse on the table, keys on the counter or a piece of mail on the desk. I had always thought of myself as an organized, clean person and I guess I was for the most part, but, I had a habit of not putting things away, which eventually results in having to clean up clutter from all over the house.
When mindfulness and intentionally slowing down showed up in my life, things started to change. Even the smallest task, like making my bed as soon as I got up, has contributed to an overall peaceful start to my day. I’ve just added a couple of minutes onto each action I complete like brushing my teeth or getting dressed. I put clothes in the hamper or hang them up, wipe water droplets off the counter and mirror, refill my hand soap or sweep the floor. Slowing down and completely going through an entire task, from start to finish, without leaving any trace behind that I was there, has made a huge impact in my life. I have found that I have no BIG cleaning days. You know, the ones where you spend 3-4 hours cleaning everything and putting items away from all over the house, or finishing up little tasks that you started, but didn’t finish? In the long run, I have somehow ended up with a lot more time to do the things that are really important to me in life, instead of spending free time cleaning up and finishing tasks.
Below are just a few of the ways I ‘leave no trace’ during my days-
- Make my bed as soon as I get up.
- Put my pajamas back in my drawer when I take them off.
- Place my books back on the bookshelf instead of leaving them on my bed table.
- Respond to emails that take less than 2 minutes to complete, instead of keeping them in my inbox for later.
- Wipe off the kitchen counter as soon as I am done making snacks or meals.
- Take care of all mail immediately, either paying bills or putting it in the garbage.
- Folding and putting away laundry as soon as it comes out of the dryer.
- Bring everything out of the car with me as soon as I get home.
- Clean my hairbrush before I put it away.
- Take receipts out of my purse and put them in my file if needed.
Doing all of these things, and more, every time you start an action takes an extra minute or two, but in the long run, it saves you so much time and peace of mind. Imagine walking through your home, and not seeing anything in view that is ‘undone’. There would be nothing that needs to be put away, wiped down, filled up, cleared off, swept up, folded and put away, straightened or filed. Imagine having that feeling you get after you spend a whole day cleaning the entire house, that satisfying feeling of everything in order, imagine feeling that all day, every day. I can honestly say that is how I feel around 90% of the time, now that I have been ‘leaving no trace’. There are still days when things get more out of control, and I do still have cleaning sessions when I deep clean the floors, dust the blinds and baseboards, wipe the walls and complete more in depth housekeeping, but for the most part, my house is always clean and always in order, and I love it.
To get started, just pick one spot in your home, I initially chose my kitchen, and intentionally put Every. Single. Thing. away when you are done using it. You will start to see the benefits immediately, and also learn some things about yourself and your habits. After you have the habit down for that area, you can expand to another part of the house if you’d like. I’d love to hear your own methods for ‘leaving no trace’ or your experiences with implementing it!