10 audiobooks to listen to while you clean, purge, and tidy

10 audiobooks to listen to while you clean, purge, and tidy

Back in the fall, I came across my old copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I laughed, showed it to Will, and said, “Do you remember when Marie Kondo took the world by storm?” (This review-of-sorts was the most popular post on the blog for a whole year!)

We had a good laugh about how that trend had faded, at least a little bit.

How wrong we were: shortly thereafter, the Netflix series came out, and it seems like everyone is talking about tidying once again.

Kondo’s method is extreme, but it works. Her book caught me at the right time, just before a big move, and I appreciated her mix of whimsical inspiration and practical advice. She views tidying as a special event, not something you do every day. In fact, if you do the job completely, you won’t have to do it again.

Her radical approach takes serious time, but there’s a bright side: just think of how much reading you can get done while you purge, clean, and tidy!

Even if you’re not tidying the Kondo way, or moving anytime soon, many of us are looking to make good on New Year’s Resolutions to get organized, or getting a jump on spring cleaning now that we have the Polar Vortex behind us.

I always say the sign of a good audiobook is that I find myself eager to fold another load of laundry, put away every dish, wipe down the counters and maybe even the range hood. I keep working so I can keep listening.

I’ll listen to anything while I work, but these ten audiobooks are particularly well-suited to the task at hand, providing entertainment and inspiration while you purge, clean, and tidy.

10 audiobooks to listen to while you purge, clean, and tidy

Audiobooks to listen to while you clean, purge, and tidy
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

This is the audiobook that got me hooked on audiobooks. When we were first married, Will and I discovered that listening to a good story made the hours fly by while we cleaned and painted our first house, a fixer-upper that needed a lot of love. This was our first joint listen, a fascinating true story about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. The project began in 1857, and took 70 years to complete, even with the help of thousands of contributors. One of the most prolific contributors, submitting nearly ten thousand entries over the course of 20 years, was Dr. William Chester Minor, an American Civil War veteran from Connecticut, who turned out to be an inmate at one of Britain’s harshest insane asylums. The audio edition is fantastic. More info →
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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Author:
We can't have a list to tidy by without mentioning Japanese personal tidying expert (she doesn’t like to call herself an "organizer") Marie Kondo. She originally wrote her decluttering manifesto to help the clients languishing on her waiting list. It's become a global publishing phenomenon, and now, a Netflix series. I appreciated this book, and shared more detailed thoughts about it here. More info →
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Faithful Place

Faithful Place

Author:
As you're digging up hidden things from the back of closets and drawers, this addictive mystery plays with the idea of what's buried there, and what might have been. When he was 19, Frank Mackey planned to run away with his girlfriend Rosie, leaving their tired town and oppressive families to start a new life abroad. When Rosie didn't show, Frank assumed she changed her mind and left without him. But 22 years later, Rosie's suitcase is found hidden in their planned meeting spot. Frank never got over her, and he'll do whatever it takes to discover what really happened. This is the third book in her Dublin Murder Squad series, but no need to read them in order: this is a great place to jump in. The fabulous accents in the audio version bring it to life. More info →
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At Home: A Short History of Private Life

At Home: A Short History of Private Life

Author:
I love books about cities, architecture, and the way we live. We journey from room to room with Bryson in At Home, exploring a history of hygiene in the bathroom; nutrition in the kitchen; and sleep, death, and (ahem) bedroom activities in the bedroom. Bryson narrates the audiobook, turning his interest to previously mundane topics like paint and furniture and salt & pepper shakers in the way only Bill Bryson can. While this isn't typical humorous and bawdy Bryson, it was full of trivia, history, and Anglophilia. More info →
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Coming Clean: A Memoir

Coming Clean: A Memoir

If memoir makes the time fly for you, this is a moving coming-of-age story. Miller grew up on Long Island, in a home that looked ideal from the outside. But hiding behind closed doors were stacks of newspapers, broken technology, and boxes of unused products—her father's endless struggle with hoarding. As Miller grows up and leaves that life behind for a career and an apartment of her own on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, she explores her complicated relationship with her parents that has remained loving in spite of the secrets she bore as a child. A tale about hoarding, yes, but its real heart is her tender exploration of love, family, and home. The author's narration complements her beautiful writing. More info →
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Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life

Author:
This is one of my favorite engaging audiobooks read by the author. If you're in the mood for a laugh while you clean, Steve Martin's entertaining and juicy memoir about his roots and the real story behind his "overnight" success is sure to make the time tidying fly by. A great show biz biography, packed with surprising tidbits about his personal and professional life. I was extremely surprised by some of his longstanding personal connections. More info →
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At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe

At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe

As a homebody with a healthy dose of wanderlust, I've been fascinated by Tsh's around-the-world adventure since the moment I first heard about it. With her husband and three kids under ten, Tsh leaves the States behind to travel to China and Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, Croatia and Germany and England and everywhere in between, for nine solid months. If you're feeling a little wanderlust yourself as you're spending time inside your own four walls, tag along on Tsh's global adventures, which she reads you herself in the audio version. More info →
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Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

Tish Harrison Warren is a wife, mother, friend, Anglican priest and campus minister. She explores ordinary days, chapter by chapter—making the bed, checking email, eating leftovers—and frames life through a lens of liturgy, the small habits that form us. Each ordinary practice is related to a spiritual practice, dismantling the subtle notion that a life of sacrifice and service has to look like a radical life. To her way of thinking, mundane does not equal unimportant. If you're looking to elevate your quest to clean and purge, reframe it through Warren's lens: tidying is a spiritual practice. More info →
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Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive

Author Stephanie Land narrates her own story of doing more than a little tidying during her years as a maid, pulling long hours as both a housecleaner and a mother. Her tale of poverty and single parenthood is contrasted with the glimpses she catches of her wealthy clients' messy lives. Land shines a light on herself and others in her position as "nameless ghost" as she scrubbed tubs and toilets, tanged with the web of government assistance, and pursued her degree at night after tucking her daughter into bed. More info →
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The Almost Sisters

The Almost Sisters

Jackson's most recent novel is about a complicated Alabama family and the "two Souths" it inhabits. It begins when Leia is summoned home to Alabama to clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and while she's there, she has to break the news to her conventional Southern family that she's pregnant. But Leia can't share her own secret before other powerful, long-buried family secrets start to pour out—her stepsister's unraveling marriage, her grandmother's worsening dementia, and a shocking secret hidden in the family attic. Jackson always reads her own novels (and other authors' novels as well—she's that good). More info →
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Are you on a tidying kick? What do you listen to while you tidy, and what would you add to this list? 

P.S. More audiobooks to make the time fly, extra-long audiobooks to help you get the most out of your valuable credits, and a great podcast episode devoted entirely to audiobooks.

57 comments | Comment

57 comments

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  1. Bestbets says:

    The More of Less by Joshua Becker has been the kick-in-the-pants I’ve needed to get purging. I’m on my second listen-through and have been enjoying donating things we don’t really need to people who really do.

  2. Kassie Joslin says:

    I’ve recently been listening to Where’d You Go, Bernadette, which is narrated by Kathleen Wilhoite (whom I knew as Liz from Gilmore Girls), and it is so entertaining and well read. Can’t get enough!

    • Elizabeth says:

      This was the book I was going to recommend! I’ve listened to it at least three times. Dana White is my queen of ‘Progress, not perfection”

  3. I am busy with podcasts and don’t seem to figure out how to add in audiobooks! I jumped on the “kondo” train and have been successfully tidying up my drawers, especially my workout clothes! Thank you for the suggestions however!

  4. Leanne says:

    I would LOVE to be able to listen to audiobooks but I just can’t seem to listen well. My mind wanders and I end up not knowing anything about what I just read. Does anyone else have this problem?

    • Hilary says:

      Yes. Generally, I find non-fic to be more forgiving with regard to this. You can kind of zone in and out and not miss vital parts to a story. I also like light, beachy-type books too for the same reason. I feel like listening to audio books requires practice. The more you listen to them, the better you get. Good luck!

      • Leanne says:

        Thank you! That makes a lot of sense. I haven’t given up yet! There’s too many books out there that I want to get through!

      • Rebekah in SoCal says:

        Funny. Non-fiction is the hardest for me to listen to unless it is a biography with a lot of action. I find if my mind wanders in fiction I can generally figure out what I missed or decide that what I missed wasn’t important.

    • Elise says:

      I find that audiobooks can be great ways to re-read — I enjoy experiencing a familiar story again, and if my mind wanders for a bit, I’m not totally lost.

    • Katie says:

      Yep, same problem here. I can really only listen to an audiobook if it’s a book I’ve read before and *really* remember. That way when I inevitably zone out and tune back in, I still know what’s going on.

    • Carrie says:

      Yes is was like that for me at first. My husband loved listening to audiobooks while working or driving and tried for the longest time to get me into it. My mind would wander and nothing would stick. It really is something you get better at and I’m so glad …I’m good at it now ! Water for Elephants was the book that did it for me . Now I actually listen to more books than I read. I work alone in painting or cleaning jobs and my grandchildren are a three hour drive away. I’ve listened to hundreds of books. Another plus for me is that my work is physical and I have a lot of aches and pains. Listening while I work takes my mind off my pain and the time flies.

    • Dorothy bell says:

      I felt the same way at first! However, the more books I listened to the better I got. Kind of a knack to it…. I just love audiobooks now!!!

  5. Leanne says:

    “…I end up not knowing anything about what I just read.” Typo here – I end up not knowing anything about what I just heard.

  6. Melissa says:

    I’m listening to
    *Next Year in Havana
    *The Mistresses of Clivenden
    *Emma
    *Daughters of the Lake
    My daughter and I are listening to The Girl Who Drank the Moon together. She’s almost done with Code Girls: Young Readers Edition.

  7. Sarah M Schneider says:

    I always listen to my backlog of podcasts while clean/garden/drive etc. My family had great success with the “Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD: Tips and Tools to Help You Take Charge of Your Life and Get Organized” which I think you recommended. My husband has ADD, and this book really helped us get the kitchen (his domain) cleaned out and much more functional for everyone. However, it had really great practical tips for anyone that’s busy and needs a system that is easy to manage. I need to pick it up again to tackle the office.

  8. Laurie says:

    I listened to Jen Hatmaker’s “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess” while cleaning out my house. It focuses on our attachment to worldly goods and has a “just-enough” Christian perspective. It made me laugh out loud and think about my possessions as I moved through my house!

  9. Kitty Balay says:

    The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning was a big inspiration to me. It isn’t very long, but her gentle approach and the narrator’s calm voice motivated me to get rid of a tremendous amount of things out of my garage. Now that I’m thinking about it, I might listen to it again!

    • Janelle Carlson says:

      Kitty, I’ve been thinking about reading this book and hadn’t thought about listening on audio. What a great idea! I’m glad to hear that it inspired you. I guess this is yet another thing we have in common? 🙂

  10. Nina says:

    I’m going to respectfully disagree on listening to something while you purge, since purging requires decision-making and therefore concentration. In my experience, the less distraction you have, the more effective and faster the purge will be. I’ve been experimenting with less distraction in general (NY resolution: more silence). Also, I don’t naturally put things away. So when I get home, I tell myself “no distraction until everything is put away”. This has made a big improvement in things not lying around, and doesn’t take much time. For repetitive tasks like cleaning the kitchen, I definitely like distraction, such as the podcast By the Book. It’s goofy yet thoughtful and informative girlfriend fun.

  11. Terry says:

    One of the best books I read (it’s also available to listen to through Audible) was _Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things_ by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. My mother was not a hoarder, per se, but she was certainly “on the spectrum” if such a thing exists. She loved a clean house but was completely incapable of keeping one, getting lost in the minutiae of her stuff and unable to deal with it effectively. Had she not had a housekeeper for many years, it would have been worse. After she died, I had a 4 bedroom house with every closet full, a full attic, a full two car garage, and a full storage building out back. It was a nightmare. I will NOT do that to my children and grandchildren.

    This book was not a “gawk at the hoarders” book. It was a real investigation into what things MEAN to people who find themselves unable to deal. Compassionate and eye-opening. Worth the read.

    • Laura says:

      Thanks for sharing that recommendation. A lot of reality shows really bother me because they feel almost voyeuristic (in that they seem to enjoy seeing others’ pain). I have a family member who can’t pull the house together and it is a huge source of shame for her, so I’d love to read something with a compassionate take on the subject.

  12. Listening to cleaning while cleaning would not excite me (or maybe distract me from my own priorities). Lightly voiced, young YA is the best – pace and tension, esp. – for keeping up the mojo while cleaning, doing lawn work, and even running. ‘Turtles All the Way Down’ (John Green) and ‘Cress’ (Marissa Meyer) are 2 recent wins.

  13. I’ve been listening to the Harry Potter series while I tackle my Room of Doom project (the room where I put everything I didn’t know what to do with since I moved into the my house).

  14. Mary says:

    ANNE, It seems to take me so long to read your blog, but I look forward to it every time it comes. What I realized today is that I love your followers and the comments that they make and not only read them all, I have to take notes on the books they recommend as well. I have read more books since I have been following you than I have in years, I forgot how much I enjoyed reading! Thank you for reminding me!

  15. Leanne says:

    I like audiobooks for when I am driving alone. But for some reason I cannot seem to get into fiction or memoirs; for that reason Bill Brysons book sound so interesting. I have read coming clean and highly recommend it. Both Steve Martin’s book and Maid are on my TBR list, maybe I’ll try the audio versions.

  16. Julie says:

    I’m currently inspired to move the stuck energy that comes with clutter as I listen to Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston (audiobook 2012 edition).
    I really enjoyed Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller and would like to listen to it again. Other favourites (in addition to Marie Kondo’s books) include Enough Already! and It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh, Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy, The Joy of Less by Francine Jay, Organizing from the Inside Out and SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life by Julie Morgenstern, Stuffology 101 by Brenda Avadian and Eric Riddle, Unstuff Your Life! by Andrew J Mellen, A Year to Clear and Your Spacious Self by Stephanie Bennett Vogt. I should stop now… but it’s all so motivating! ?

  17. Karen says:

    I’ve listened to a few audiobooks, but prefer to do my reading with real books. I don’t own a Kindle for the same reason, though I recognize that they would be great for traveling, and for those who don’t have the room for a lot of books. But I want a book I can hold in my hands. I suppose that makes me a Luddite! When I’m cleaning I prefer to listen to music, or write things in my head. Regarding de-cluttering, I agree with the respondent who said she needed to keep her wits about her for that. Deciding what to keep and what to purge requires thought, and listening to audio books or music with lyrics would be a distraction for me. I was finally diagnosed with ADD in my late 50’s – wow! everything I do and have trouble doing makes much more sense now! And, unfortunately pack-rat syndrome (if there isn’t such a thing there should be!) is found in both my family and my husband’s family. So we have a lot of Stuff of our own, and a lot of Stuff we’ve inherited, and trying to come to a consensus on what to discard is too often well-nigh impossible. “That was my mother’s!” “My Dad made those!” “We might need that someday!” You get the picture. I’ve read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Organizing Your Life, Throw Out 50 Things, Clutter Control Room by Room, Spiritual Housecleaning, most of Marie Kondo. I spent a beautiful summer afternoon a few years ago folding my cotton shirts the Marie Kondo Way, only to discover several days later that my shirts had more wrinkles than ever before folded into them. Three adults, two cats, 21 plants, and several thousand books (a steadily rising number) live in my cramped little house. Abandon hope all ye who enter here?

  18. I don’t quite understand why, but even though I love audiobooks and proselytize about them constantly, I never seem to *actually* listen to them. I’m a podcast fanatic, and that’s what I listen to while I’m cleaning, walking, shopping, eating, napping, and doing any other task that doesn’t require my ears. The problem with podcasts is that there is ALWAYS.SOMETHING.NEW. so even though I tell myself “Oh, I’ll just binge listen to all of these, and once I’m done, *then* I’ll start an audiobook”, it never ends. Gah!

  19. Jane Allison says:

    I love listening to Happier podcasts with Gretchen Rubin and Liz Craft. Grethen is author of The Happiness Project and several related books. Soon to be released is Outer Order/Inner Calm, which should be a great listening material while cleaning.

    • Katie says:

      I love that podcast too! I’ve gotten so many good tidbits from her, her sister, and her books. Better than Before is probably my favorite book so far, though I do love The Four Tendencies. One of my favorite quotes is “The days are long, but the years are short.”

  20. Kolleen says:

    Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle (nonfiction); Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kreuger; An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor are all excellent listens. Provided lots of tidying time!

  21. Hannah Beth Reid says:

    While refinishing the wood floors in my grandparents’ house I listened to James Herriot’s books about his veterinary practice in England and always associate those stories with that experience!

  22. Clare says:

    Two books I’ve listened to recently while cleaning (we’ve been having lots of building work done) are 1) Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, which I LOVED, didn’t know much about the book, just knew I’d seen it around a lot, and I’m glad I listened to the audio version as the narrator did a fantastic job. The time sped by. And 2) Decluttering at the Speed of Life by Dana White – I really appreciate her approach as the Konmarie method does not work at all for me (it might when I don’t have 5 young kids around!).

  23. Abigail says:

    I loved Born Standing Up, it definitely kept me cleaning so I could listen! Also recommend any of Gretchen Rubin’s audiobooks, especiallu Better Than Before. The Happiness Project is better to read in print.

  24. Ann says:

    I love Lisa Woodruff of Organize 365. She has two audiobooks/paperbacks: The Mindset of Clutter and one about organizing with ADHD. She’s a fantastic narrator! She also has a great podcast, Organize365

  25. Kristin says:

    This is a wonderful post. It is exactly what I am looking for. I have read both Coming Clean and Maid and thought they were both fantastic. Both women were in very different situations, but I found them both to be incredibly resilient.

  26. Amy J says:

    I’ve been listening to “Educated” by Tara Westover while I clean and do routine mundane tasks. What a great listen!

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