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What a messy house can teach you about financial success

I woke up to a very messy house today. After being gone all last week and taking Sunday to just rest and reconnect with family, I was met with real-life this morning: unwashed dishes in the sink, dirty laundry to be done, suitcases to be unpacked, and stuff strewn about.

As I thought about how I was going to attack the piles, I realized that the same plan of attack could be applied to finances:

1. Don’t Panic!

Truthfully, I felt somewhat overwhelmed by how bad the mess was–especially with everything else I needed to accomplish today. However, I quickly realized that being overwhelmed would do nothing to fix the issue.

In the same way, if you find yourself in a huge hole financially, panicking won’t do anything to improve the situation.

2. Make a Game Plan

Once I got over being so overwhelmed, I created a game plan: I surveyed the whole house and realized that the mess really just concentrated in the kitchen and bedroom areas. So I carved out a block of time during the day when I would devote my sole attention to dealing with the mess.

If you want to achieve success in your finances, it’s imperative to have a game plan. Dreaming and wandering around in circles doesn’t accomplish anything. Consider where you want to be financially in a year, two years, or five years from now. Write those goals down onto paper and figure out what changes you’re going to make in your life to help you get where you want to go.

3. Break It Down Into Bite-sized Pieces

After I blocked out the time to focus on the messy areas of my home, I divided those areas up by sections, set the timer, and got to work. Instead of trying to tackle entire rooms, I focused on specific areas one at a time. This made it much more manageable.

A game plan is great, but if you don’t break your big idea down into bite-sized pieces you’ll probably find it’s just too hard. Simplify your game plan by breaking it down into yearly, monthly, and weekly goals. That way, you’re not trying to scale a mountain in one leap; you’re just focusing on the next few steps in front of you.

4. Keep Going–Even When It Takes Longer Than You Expected

I had hoped to knock out all of the messes in an hour or so. But it seems things always take longer than I hope. I got distracted, children needed help, and things came up. But by continuing to plod on, even when it was slower than I’d hoped, I finally finished and had almost everything cleaned up and put away by the time Jesse got home from work tonight.

When you’re working toward financial goals, you’re almost guaranteed to have unexpected things come up: job loss, extra expenses, cars that break down, medical bills, and more. It’s easy to get discouraged and want to give up when it seems like the going is so slow. But press on and remember that moving forward–even at a microscopic rate–is still moving forward!

Ah! So much better!

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  • Okay, can I just tell you I was looking at your “before” kitchen picture thinking, “Is this the after picture? No, I think it’s supposed to be before. hmm… I’m still looking for the mess here.” I should send you pictures of my kitchen’s “before” and you’d feel like the best housekeeper EVER! :)Glad you’re back and that picture of the green house for $1 a month made me want to move there and help take care of those kids. Really. Thanks for going and supporting Compassion. It’s a great program.

    • I know, once I saw the SECOND kitchen picture, I realized that the first was the “before.” Her version of before is my version of after. LOL 🙂

      Glad you made it home safely Crystal!

    • yup.. my after looks about like her before..


    • haha! I did the same thing! I looked at it and said “I think she has this labeled wrong” Then when I saw the after piture I was doing one of those things where you try to find the 10 differences! If it were my before and after there would be more than 10!!

    • Agreed! But then, we go through 10-20 large pots a day at my house, plus dishes for 8 people for three meals, and everything from scratch, so that would be an amazingly CLEAN kitchen for me!

    • Maria says:

      Yeah, Crystal’s “before” is totally my “after”. 🙂

    • Valerie says:

      Clearly I’m not the only one who thought that the “before” picture wasn’t too shabby! With all the seed starts on my counters and compost buckets for the worm bins, outside compost heap, and chickens, plus trying to train my 5-year-old (and my husband) to put dirty dishes in the dishwasher and not just set them on the counter, the “after” pictures looks pretty fabulous to me! Well done, Crystal!

      And — thanks for the posts about your trip. My daughter came in while I was reading your blogs about the DR and saw the pics, and we had a conversation about how very blessed we really are and being grateful for what we’ve been given — a talk we’ve had a few times, but seeing your photos really helped illustrate it for her. So, thanks again. 🙂

      • Stephanie says:

        Stuff that is actively being used is not a mess (like your compost bucket and seed starts)- my kitchen table full of papers to be sorted and folded dish towels to be put away is a mess.

    • Kristine says:

      I was thinking the same thing. 🙂

    • Ashley P. says:

      I looked at it too, and got confused. Sweetie, if you can still see the floor, it’s NOT a messy house! I’ve been violently ill for the past week. It took all my strength to put the dishes in the dishwasher. I would LOVE to have your “messy” house.

      But, to each his own. We all have that “thing” that irks us. Mine is dirt on the floor. I don’t mean “stuff”, I mean DIRT. If I can feel particles under my feet in the kitchen, I have to clean, right then and there.

    • Tracy says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one! I was starting to feel like a bad person… I was thinking, “THAT’S messy??” Our house gets worse than that. Every day. I do have two little children. That’s my excuse. But she has more than me! Crystal, you continue to impress. And I LOVE your bedding!

      • jessica says:

        if i had not been reading this blog forever! i too would have felt the same way after first glance.. but crystal likes things neat and tidy ALL the time:) she gives me inspiration (and when i go around with a laundry basket to have it filled by days hubbys says “you have been reading crystal again uh??:O)
        thank you crystal for ALL you do!

  • You are so brave! I don’t think I have ever seen pictures in all your blogging, of your house really messy. So, good job!!
    I know, coming home from a trip myself right now, it is hard to remember to start in little chunks and not try to apply everything all at once!

  • Okay, and that CAN’T seriously be your bedroom. C’mon, that’s a hotel, fess up. I can’t remember my bedroom being that clean… ever! You are amazing! Can you come to my house?

  • LOL.. that is a not a messy kitchen!! Even so.. the after looks better 🙂


  • Melissa says:

    Haha…come see MY house! Your “before” looks 10x cleaner than mine on most days.

  • Challice says:

    Can I have your “messy” house? 😉 I understand. What’s messy to us is not necessarily to others. My messy house is a disaster to some and a haven for others. Who knew?

    What an inspiring post.
    I think the reason behind the messy house though is one of the best ones out there. <3 🙂

    I am never going to look at cleaning my home the same. Giggle. This is good. Its very easy for me to get discouraged. A sinful habit I know. He's still working on me. 🙂

    • Crystal says:

      You’re so right. Some people will be appalled by one person’s mess, others will be amazed that it’s considered a mess at all. Isn’t it wonderful how we all are so different. The world would sure be a boring place if everyone were the same! 🙂

  • Good thing you can’t see what my room looks like right now! 😉

  • Kimberly Brock says:

    I agree about the kitchen… that is SO not a messy kitchen LOL. My messy before kitchen would consist of cookie sheets sticking halfway out of the sink, an open dishwasher, a messy stove and at least two toys on the floor lol. Not to mention all of the things I took off of the kids in the last few days piled on top of my microwave/refridgerator! :-p I’m glad you are home and have what I like to call “clean peace” restored to your home! 🙂

  • NatPatBen says:

    Love that you included the pictures with the post; definitely helped the reader visualize.

    I had to laugh at this part: “When you’re working toward financial goals, you’re almost guaranteed to have unexpected things come up: job loss, extra expenses, cars that break down, medical bills, and more.” Sometimes (in our case very recently) ALL of those happen at the same time, but as you said, you must keep going.

  • Wendy Jahns says:

    Way to go Crystal! I’m so glad you are back safe and sound 😀
    Missed you!

  • Jamie says:

    Thanks for the honesty and the analogy. Love it. Two things….

    First: If you don’t have thousands of Legos all over the floor, then you don’t have a true mess on your hands in my book. 😉

    Second: How about that white sink? Do you find it’s too much work to keep clean? I have one too (picked it out I might add) and it drives me nuts! I constantly battle stains. If I wash a spaghetti pan, it’s all over. Two things that help…baking soda or the Shakley cherry scrub is good too. But dang, next time I’m going stainless steel….the pretty white is so not worth the work!

    You have a lovely home, mess or no mess!

    • Your Lego comment made me laugh–hard!!! I understand.

      I use bleach to keep my sink white. A little bit poured in and swished with a dish brush (plus sinks have more germs than toliet bowls, supposedly, so I don’t mind using bleach! I always wear and apron so spills aren’t a problem. My dish brush gets sanitized, too. I use the Target brand bleach (.64 after a target cleaning item coupon) about 3-4 times a month.

    • Kim says:

      Plain ol’ Comet works best for my almond colored sink. HTH! (:

    • sam says:

      Barkeeper’s Friend works great on white sinks. It seems like my pots and pans always leave black streaks and it takes them right off. And any other stains as well.

    • Emily says:

      I’m with you on the white sink. My current kitchen has one (not picked out by me). We thought it was so pretty when we bought the house……fast forward 3 years and I can’t stand it. I feel like I could literally clean it every day with Soft Scrub (though I don’t – it’s more like weekly). I would give anything to have my old stainless steel sink back. My neighbor’s have a black sink…..I think I kind of like it.

    • Lana says:

      I have a stainless steel and a white sink and they both get nasty to tell the truth. The stainless steel one looks grimy and greasy if it is not just cleaned and the white one has black marks from pots most of the time.

    • Jamie says:

      I appreciate all the “white sink” info…thanks guys. I now have lots of tricks to try!

  • Wow, Crystal! Your house is looking so nice. I’ve followed your blog since Biblical Womanhood, and you’ve shared many times that decorating is not your gift. Your new house looks beautiful!

    • Crystal says:

      I’m *trying* — with lots of help from people who have more of an eye than me for that sort of stuff. And I’m learning that I actually maybe like some things on the walls. Can you believe it?! 😉

      • Isn’t it neat when we realize that we can change our likes?

      • beth b says:

        Ha, ha! I’m getting to the point where I don’t like any superfluous decorative stuff. My Mom’s house makes me twitch with all her knock knacks. To me it just seems like more stuff to dust and/or keep the kids from messing with! Now I just want stuff neat and as simple as possible.

        I do think simple things like accent colors on the walls, curtains, and a throw pillow or two make things look put together without being cluttered. Our house has a lot of woodwork and stained glass windows on the first floor so we simply coordinated paint colors and we’re done. Nothing else needed.

        The upstairs, on the other hand, is a decorator’s nightmare. Ah well. Some day. 🙂

      • I’m glad you are learning to put things on the walls. 🙂 That’s how we decorate, esp. since we rent. It definitely makes it feel more like home!Personally, I can’t imagine living in a place with bare walls!

  • Terry says:


  • Amanda F says:

    It is so great that you made your journey and are home safely! I can’t wait to hear more from your experiences and the profound impact I am sure they had!

    Question though, how in the world do you keep nothing, not one thing on your kitchen countertops? Where are your appliances and how do you make room in your cupboards? That is my goal, an empty kitchen countertop (singular term)!

    I can’t wait to get organized enough for my house to look like yours!

      • beth b says:

        I remember that post because it helped me quite a bit. Looking at your empty counter tops I noticed you have 3-4 times the counter and cupboard space I do. So I needed to Let Go of the expectations I had for my kitchen. Even a remodel wouldn’t solve the “problem” because of how my house is set up. But it also helped me figure out what I *can* do in terms of cutting the kitchen clutter that drives me batty. Kind of like when the kind of house I’ve always dreamed about was for sale two blocks over. The price was so high I realized we could never afford it so I was able to more fully accept and appreciate the house I do have.

  • I see no pots or pans, but I do see a large tupperware looking bowl. Did you just eat leftovers today?

  • Christina says:

    Where do you put all your stuff to keep your counters spotless?

  • Sara says:

    I would have felt the same way as you did. I wouldn’t have been able to think or move on with my day until everything was cleaned and back in it’s usual order. Unlike most of the other commenters I saw what you were talking about in the before picture right away…sometimes I wish I could function with it like it is in the before Picture though… How much easier would that be?!

  • andrea says:

    It gets better when your kids grow up -but even so- I am not a good enough housekeeper to have a kitchen like that. Where is the coffee maker, toaster oven, microwave- mine are all on my counters!

  • SMS says:

    I would be happy with the before photo too. My kitchen isn’t horrible but we do 95% of everything cooked from scratch. (Husband insists on Prego spaghetti sauce and I don’t have time to make pasta or ravioli.) So Lots of pots and pans and cookie sheets and storage/freezer containers. Dishwasher is not a want, but runs usually twice a day. Not as many pots as The Prudent Homemaker though, but we’re currently feeding only 4.

    • Crystal says:

      My kitchen used to be overwhelmed with dishes on a daily basis. Getting a working dishwasher and freezer cooking have made it much, much more manageable! Well, that and simple meals much of the time. 🙂

  • Shirley Wood says:

    I love your juxtaposition between cleaning the house and financial planning! Your comments about breaking it down into bite size pieces are great. Indeed goals broken into yearly, monthly and weekly time frames will lead to success. This is how we are currently working on our financial planning also. Thanks for this post. Many of us can relate.
    Great job on tackling the scatter after a trip. We can relate to that also:-)

  • minimalist says:

    “The less you own, the less that owns you.”
    I believe that, like me, Crystal is a bit of a minimalist.

  • Melissa says:

    There didn’t seem to be too much to be overwhelmed about. Those look like 10 second tidy rooms to me. 🙂

  • Maria says:

    Your before looks like my after! I am so glad you made it home safely and had a good trip. You are an inspiration to us! May God bless you richly for all you have done.

  • Thanks for being real, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed seeing your house a mess! 🙂

  • Grace Pamer says:

    Great tips Crystal. I love the way you’ve applied the idea of chunking to tidying the house! Usually I apply chunking to my daily writing and work patterns but it absolutely works in every aspect of life including clearing the mess.

    And great pics from the trip the other day. It looks like you really made a difference.

    Best wishes

  • Heather says:

    Hmmm. I’m a little worried about those children. They need mine to show them how to make a proper mess!

    • Crystal says:

      Well, if it would make you feel better, I could post a picture of how their room looks like almost every afternoon after playing with two thousand LEGOs. 🙂

      • SMS says:

        My neighbor solved the Lego scatted problem by putting down a large top sheet before they were allowed to dump them. A good idea I had to steal. When they are done you gather up the corners of the sheet and dump them back into the bucket. So much easier than picking them out of the carpet!

        • Emily says:

          Well now that’s the best idea I’ve heard of in a long time. My kids play with their legos in the family room (we have one of those lego tables). Maybe I’ll have to move them to the upstairs and use the sheet idea.

        • Lana says:

          We kept a new clean dustpan in the Lego bucket for scooping them up and putting them away. My kids are grown but the grandchildren are learning to scoop the same Legos up now.

        • Stephanie says:

          What a great idea! I would never have come up with that!

  • You have a beautiful home, Crystal, and I love your minimalist approach. My husband and I have been slowly working to declutter our home. We’ve made progress but we still have a long way to go before we reach the point where our home is easy to maintain. I’m glad you and Jesse made it home safely and I’m looking forward to hearing more about your trip.

  • Patti says:

    I like the points you made in this post. I have spent more time this year focusing on goals and it seems like I get distracted at every turn. But I plod onward… it helps to know what the goal for the day or week is so I know exactly what my priority is. Maybe by the end of the year, I can look back and see some progress! : )

  • Marlene says:

    I don’t think people should give you such a hard time about what you think is a mess. Your kitchen and bedroom would be consider a mess in my house too and would drive me nuts and I also have kids too. I like my house clean and try to keep it clean. I think if you try to stay on top of keeping things clean it’s much easier to keep clean. I must of gotten it from my mom though because she was such a clean freak and she had four kids too! To each his own though :).

  • Beth says:

    Many have said, “Crystal’s messy is my clean.” Perhaps the final cleaning/finacial goal or caveat that could be included in this list is that if that the goal is really important, you have to keep going until it’s ALL the way finished, rather than stopping at “good enough.” If you stop at 90%, that is great accomplishment, but your house won’t be perfectly clean, or in the case of finances, you might not be as satisfied with or fully able to pull your goal off as well as if you had pushed through that last 10%.

  • I love the analogy in this post, Crystal!
    And your home is lovely – I totally get how chaotic things feel when you get back from a trip and have so many added things to do, that normally wouldn’t be on your to-do list right then.

    Thanks for being so continually inspiring. I so appreciate it!

  • Nicole says:

    I appreciate your vulnerability and honesty. It is really refreshing. 🙂

  • Lisa says:

    Crystal, I can’t wait to hear more about your trip and how it has impacted your life. To some, your “before” kitchen may have looked clean but being a minimalist myself, I could see that it needed tidying. Not everyone thinks the same way and what seems messy to one, certainly won’t to another. Everyone needs to realize that we weren’t all made the same way and don’t need to measure up to someone else’s standards. We need to create a happy, comfortable home environment with the resources we have available. It’s great to strive to be a better homemaker-neater, cleaner, more organized, etc. but when it consumes you, it makes nothing better in the end. Crystal is showing “her side” and that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to strive for “her” standard. Read the advice she has to offer and see if you can/want to fit something similar into your life-but don’t try to simulate the exact situation because you aren’t her.

    I’ve felt much discontentment with my life lately. A bit of the green eyed monster has reared it’s ugly head and I’ve found that I need to stop comparing my life to someone else’s. Yes, I may not have the cleanest house, the most organized closets, the trendiest wardrobe, a room in a magazine, the garden of my dreams, etc. but I learned that if I didn’t take the time to water my own grass, I would never have anything at all. Wallowing in self pity because you aren’t like someone else, yields only more discontentment. You need to take the steps needed to end up where you want to be. Rome wasn’t built in a day! 🙂

  • Heather says:

    It’s inspiring to see how much more restful and calm rooms look without a single bit of clutter. I’ve always struggled with clutter.

  • Amy says:

    Feeling bad, my messes much worse . . . .

  • Amanda says:

    Although I would agree these rooms are not super messy, they are messier than the before pictures you posted of your closets that did not appear messy at all. LOL.

    I was wondering if you were going to pick back up on the Monthly Financial Update segments? I haven’t seen one since the fall. I was hoping to share another financial goal I met in January. I hope you bring the segment back. I think it inspires all of your readers to keep working towards their goals. I know it did for me and it is fun to share the news with other like minded people.

    • Crystal says:

      I’ve been sharing the financial updates along with the monthly goals updates at the end of each month. We’d love to have you share yours there!

  • katie says:

    I thought the kitchen before was the after, too!! I am inspired to get some of the rooms in my house at least looking like your befores 🙂

  • Alice says:

    I’m the same as you Crystal….those messes (and yes, it looks messy to me too!) would drive me nuts as well. I’m also the type of person who always does a big clean-up of the house before leaving for a trip, so that I come back to a nice clean place (for a short while, anyway!). Question…do you a dish drainer in your kitchen, or just dry everything as soon as it’s washed? I don’t like how much counter space ours takes up.

  • susie says:

    I have been reading your post for a while and have been loving your charts for monthly cleaning… just love checking it off when its done. My house yo-yos like that between messy and clean, but I have been more on top of it by learning from you! loved the post about your trip too 🙂 I would like to take our kids there someday so they can see what other live like.

  • Catherine says:

    Crystal – Thanks for this post and all the posts you’ve done on breaking cleaning into small chunks and do-able projects. I’m a new wife and cleaning (our small) apartment overwhelms me at times. I wanted to re-organize the entire place today and your post helped remind me to break in into small chunks! Thanks!

  • Lynn says:

    Oh, Crystal am I the only one with you? If I have so much as one unwashed coffee cup in the sink, I feel that my kitchen is not presentable to family and friends. I just can’t function until everything is in it’s place. Love reading your blog. It is refreshing to learn that their is young, Christian, people out there that are fiscally responsible and are an excellent example for others while being a blessing to many. Much love and blessings from a Kansas Mom…

  • Jenni says:

    Thanks for your insight. To me, cleaning a big mess in my home seems easy. Cleaning I can break down into bit sized pieces. But working on tackling our debt seems overwhelming! I guess I am opposite minded, but now I can look at it more like cleaning house! Thanks 🙂

  • You know what I like about this post? That you rested on Sunday, even though things needed picking up. My tendency is to go ahead and do the work, then I start the week off tired because I didn’t rest on Sunday. So good for you, for doing what you needed to do, and saving the work for when you had the energy to tackle it!

  • I love the financial application!

  • Rochelle says:

    Wow!!! How do you keep that kitchen “bar” area empty??? Mine always has a stack of papers, lists, etc. I would love to see it completely empty. It looks great, thanks for sharing!

  • Funke says:

    Welcome back home. By the way, I really love your “messy” kitchen. I wish I could keep mine as “messy” as yours .

  • Amy says:

    I love the drapes in your bedroom. Our bedroom is those same colors and I’ve been looking for a set like that. Where did you get them?

  • Amanda says:

    I’m doing the same thing this week after being out of town last week visiting a sick relative who passed away the day after we returned. I’ve spent the whole week trying to return my house to the state of your “before” pictures though, and I’ve still not succeeded (probably because i’m sitting here reading blogs! HA!) back to work!

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