Recently, my wife and I put our house on the market. Getting a house ready for sale is serious work. It takes a lot of cleaning; a lot of de-cluttering; a little rearranging; and, here and there, some staging. By the time you do what it takes, the house looks so good, you don’t want to sell it anymore.

In fact, it occurred to me: Why don’t we do this more often? A clean, clutter-free house creates a sense of order and space that transfers from your outward surroundings to your psyche. After I staged a little-used but comfortable chair with a book on the side table next to it, I found myself gravitating to the chair to do some reading for real.

The point is, when you prepare a house for sale, you pick up a few basics for making your home more livable.

It begins with de-cluttering. For years, I had been treating the utility room like a junk pile. When the time came to clean it, I realized most of the clutter was worthless. I filled garbage bag after garbage bag with stuff I realized I just didn’t use anymore. You know the three-second rule kids have about a piece of food that touches the ground? Well, there ought to be a three-year rule about your belongings. If three years have passed and you haven’t used it, I say throw it away unless it’s a tool you might need later or something of extraordinary sentimental value.

But remember this: Sentimentality and nostalgia are the enemies of an orderly home. That old baseball mitt? If it no longer fits, you must pitch it.

The pitch-it list includes the ugly vase your aunt gave you as a gift that you’ve kept around out of a sense of guilt. It includes souvenirs that jumble on your shelves. It even includes certain books, like how-to books that you’ll never use again. (But to be clear: I’m not advocating tossing Thoreau’s collected works into the fireplace.)

Anything you think might be worth something to someone you can give away or sell in a garage sale – in other words, account for the trash-treasure dichotomy. This might make you feel better about parting ways with such items.

Some things just need to be put away. Look at the refrigerator: Clear off the reminders, children’s art projects and personal injury lawyer magnets.

And do you really need all those appliances and cooking supplies out on your counter?

Basic maintenance habits help, too. Take the daily mail. Most of it can go straight into the recycling bin right after you walk in the door. Put the rest in a briefcase or a folder on your desk.

De-cluttering will open the way for you to properly organize. Closets are rife with possibilities for improvement. Ideally, all your hangers should be the same and all your clothes should face in the same direction. Pants go with pants, shirts with shirts, dresses with dresses and so on. Shoes should be paired and stowed.

Another high priority is the exterior. Clean up the yard, and mulch the garden. Trim the hedges, and clear off the porch.

Spend a couple hundred bucks on pressure-washing. Your deck and fence will look newly built. Your sidewalks and patio will look crisp. Your house will look freshly painted. Your windows will be halfway clean. Driving up to your sparkling new home each evening will be a pleasure.

Back inside, you’ll have to finish cleaning the other half of your windows. You’ll have to clean the thousand-and-one splatters and smudges that have built up on your doors and walls over the years. You’ll have to paint what you can’t clean. And you’ll have to spackle or seal the inevitable dings and cracks in your walls. You ignore these things while they’re there but somehow notice when they’re gone.
The recent hurricane provided us with an unexpected opportunity to clean out our refrigerator. More than just about any storage space, a clean and organized refrigerator pays dividends. If you actually know the contents, you’re more likely to eat food before it goes bad and has to be thrown out – more money in the bank.

A similar point can be made in general for keeping a clean, organized, clutter-free house. When the pots and pans pile up or the house looks like a tornado swept through, I feel less inclined to spend time at home. I’m more likely to eat out, to find entertainment out in the capitalistic world. That costs a lot more money than spending a quiet evening at home, listening to classical music, sitting in that comfortable chair and reading a book by lamplight.

A clean house is a transcendent house. When was the last time you saw a dusty, cluttered church or temple? Outward space allows for inward space.

Zen Buddhists may have taken this insight to the extreme. Their temples and monasteries, indoors and out, are renowned models of order and spaciousness. Rows of meditation cushions may be the only furniture indoors. Neatly combed rock gardens and tightly trimmed foliage make for serenity outdoors.

So clean, de-clutter and organize. It’s the first step on the path to enlightenment.