Almost every person I have befriended in Madison is a minimalist. This term used to apply to art and music, but is commonly used these days to describe people who, "own the essentials." I think this is a great idea.
You do have to ask yourself what the "essentials" are. For example, do you need another coffee mug, or are you buying it because you like the decor, and your favorite mug may be in the dishwasher? You must define what the basics are for you.
Witnessing how much easier a lifestyle of minimalism is, I have picked up on this, and the past few months, can attest that this has given me a lot more time to enjoy things I want to do. I have yet to block out several hours of cleaning. Always leave your place looking good enough, so that should a visitor drop in, it looks neat and clean. Follow these simple rules, and you will never have to worry about dealing with a huge mess.
1. Clean As You Go
If you change out of your work clothes, put your clothes away immediately. DO NOT put them on that "chest" or "chair" you always leave them on. Simply put them back. If they are dirty, put them in the washing machine right away. I put all of my dirty clothes in the washing machine. As soon as it is full, I run it on a mixed colors cycle. (Yes, I have some white things that are now pink...) If your washing machine is close by, this makes sense. If not, put them in a basket.
2. Don't Own a Large Living Space
I can't imagine ever going back to a large house. Talk about wasted space and dust collection. I currently live in a 700 square foot condominium, which is the perfect size. If I had extra space for anything, I would have extra junk, which would collect extra dust, requiring more work. This space prevents me from bringing crap into my home that I do not need. Keep your living space down to the size you need. If you can go without a Dining Room, then avoid moving into a house that has one.
3. Handle All Papers One Time
You will never see a pile of my mail anywhere. As soon as I open it, I deal with it. Here is a perfect example: Yesterday, I received a post card from my college asking me to call a 1-800 number to verify my information. As soon as I received it, I called, took care of the update, and recycled the card. That prevents a Sunday afternoon of sorting through piles. Also, if you get catalogues or magazines that you recycle immediately (I am sure nobody reading this blog puts them in the garbage, as it is 2008), call the company and ask them to stop sending it to you.
4. Make Everything Paperless
I cannot believe that I actually recently witnessed someone sitting down, writing checks out. Save the paper, save the pile of mail, and make all of your bills paperless. I have arranged for all of my bills to be paid automatically out of my bank account. This prevents extra mail, and saves paper (duh). If you don't follow any of my rules, follow this one. Arrange for all bills to be online, if you can't afford to do the automatic thing.
5. If You Don't Use it, You Don't Need it
It amazes me how many pack rats are out there. Why do you need to save birthday cards from 1987? Sorry people, but as soon as my birthday is over, that card gets canned (unless there is a really meaningful message in it). Evaluate your things. If it's valuable, but you don't use it, put it on craigslist or e-bay. If it's not, toss it, or donate it. Less things means your place will look cleaner, and your kids will have less crap to sort through when they put you in a nursing home.
These five rules have prevented me from having to take any time to work on straightening up my place. My friends and family can tell you that since moving into my 700 square foot condo, they have never heard me say "I have to clean my apartment," because it's always pretty neat.