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Help me become Ms. Clean(er).
March 17, 2012 2:32 PM   Subscribe

CleanPersonFilter: I'm driving my mother crazy.

I'm the single mom of an 18 month old. We're living in my mother's (rather large) house with my stepfather and sister. She is generously taking care of rent and utilities while I finish school. Expected graduation is December 2013.

My mother and I have different "grunge levels." She would prefer the house to be perfectly neat all the time, and spends a lot of her free time cleaning. I literally do not see messes unless I am actively looking for them. I try not to be a grossly messy person, but sometimes I am. I just don't care about messes. This, combined with my being a full-time student with a part-time job, parenting, beginning an internship, and my active involvement in a student organization, means that cleaning is the last thing on my long list of things to do.

So this situation is driving my mom crazy. Sometimes I get the opportunity to go out and have fun, and this seems to annoy her because I'm not spending enough time cleaning the house. I am at my wit's end because I can't seem to train my brain to make this a priority and we're going around in a shame spiral where she gets madder and I clean less. How can I make myself clean? How can I make myself care about cleaning and actively want to do it? I'd hire a cleaning person, but money is tight.
posted by woodvine to Human Relations (40 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Can you confine your mess to one room? My husband is like you, and giving him his own space to keep in permanent disaster area status has reduced our conflict on this issue to close to zero. That said, he has also trained himself to see the house through my eyes (or the eyes of some other person who is able to notice messes) and actively works to clean up after himself outside of his own space. Your mother probably doesn't expect you to keep things dusted and shiny, but just making an effort to be tidy will go a long way toward reducing her stress over this. You're going to have to at least try to meet her halfway; it may not be natural for you, but, well, you're living rent-free. So try.
posted by something something at 2:39 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can you ask her to not-passive-aggressively point out the messes where she sees them and ask you to clean them? And then you clean them. I know you're going through a lot right now, but you are living in her home, and are a part of her daily family so you need act accordingly. She's helping you a lot, so help her back.
posted by greta simone at 2:40 PM on March 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


You probably need to schedule cleaning as an appointment until you get into the habit. Find out from your mother what she wants you to prioritize as far as cleaning goes and then schedule time to chip away at those things for 15 minutes every day or 30 minutes every couple of days (set a timer and see how much you can do in that time). It really doesn't get bad if you work on it every day or nearly every day, and if you actually schedule time on your calendar to address what's important to your mom and look for those messes you will find the time to do it.

Bonus: I bet by making an effort every day, your mom will be less stressed about it and more lenient about the little things. It's a small price to pay for free rent and utilities.
posted by Kimberly at 2:41 PM on March 17, 2012 [15 favorites]


Think of it less as cleaning, and more as doing a job in exchange for free rent. Your room should be however you want it as long it's not attracting bugs, but if you are leaving messes in common areas, it's really not fair to the other family members that are living with you. Talk to your mom and ask her to make a list of what she expects from you as far as cleanliness (feel free to negotiate), and then treat it like your job.
posted by MegoSteve at 2:43 PM on March 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


Be proactive. Set up a weekly/daily/whatever fits your schedule reminder on your phone/calendar. When it goes off, ask her what she'd like to have cleaned, and then clean it. This will tell her two things: 1) you care about her preferences and 2) you will act on those preferences in a predictable way. She can now relax about the messes because they will get cleaned up on a weekly basis.
posted by millions of peaches at 2:44 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's hard to tell based on your question how messy you and how neat your mom is. Is your mom a total neat freak? Are you a slob? We don't really know.

I think you should make up a chore schedule for yourself. Some people will let a mess go and go until it's a Mess with a capital M. But if you clean a little every day, it won't get so bad. Try setting aside thirty minutes a day (two fifteen minute blocks?) to clean every day - dusting, sweeping, taking out the trash, etc. - and see if that helps with the cleanliness of your house and your relationship with your mother.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:44 PM on March 17, 2012


You two need to compromise. Create some sort of 'expectation list' from both sides. For instance, you will expect her not to complain and to tell you when she feels like there is a mess rather than (insert whatever she does here). You will expect her not to clean the mess for you.

She will expect you to listen and clean up the mess on the day when you are told that it needs to be done. You will remind yourself to wipe down the counters if you create a trail of crumbs in the kitchen (or any other 3 things that your mom finds annoying). You will leave the mess to only one room, your bedroom which is your personal space and should be maintained as you see fit.

...

You can make your place clean by doing the minimal effort which will take less than 30 minutes a day. Seriously.

Make your bed daily, put away your clothes daily, wipe down counters and the stovetop after being in the kitchen (Lysol wipes are very handy, seriously), wash your dishes after using them (easier than spending 30-40 minutes washing SEVERAL dishes that have piled up), dry dishes after using them, windex the bathroom mirror(s), clean the sink and clean the shower too. It sounds like a lot, but you can get this down to 20 minutes a day.

You can also do many of these things while doing other things like cooking dinner or whatever. Help your mom out while she's in the kitchen because it's not fair to be relaxing when she's trying to prepare dinner (if that's how your family does things).

...

I'm also a student and live with two roommates; I like a clean house because it just FEELS better and is faster to maintain regularly rather than rarely.
posted by livinglearning at 2:53 PM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


My husband is you. I am your mother. What has helped:
Asking him to do something specific, like take out the garbage, empty the dishwasher, put away the laundry
Getting him to put stuff away as he goes. Done soldering? Put away the iron, the wire bits, etc.
Saying that we are both going to clean something for the next 15 minutes. This could be his desk, it could be vacuuming, doesn't matter
What doesn't help
Expecting him to be psychic about what needs to be cleaned
Trying to change him into a clean person
Hoping the stupid lists look better on post than preview!
posted by kellyblah at 2:53 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good advice up-thread.

Do you have your 'own area'? If so, maybe you could keep your area to your standards, but given the free rent situation, in the rest of the house, it's your mom's rules. If the rules are too overbearing, you can always get your own place, for everybody's peace of mind.
posted by carter at 2:57 PM on March 17, 2012


I literally do not see messes unless I am actively looking for them.

Make this a Thing You Do. It doesn't have to be a "see all the messes everywhere!" because that's too amorphous and general to really do anything about. Instead, start with maybe two or three things: 1) Is there a pile of your stuff on the coffee table? Clean it up or move it elsewhere. 2) Are those dirty dishes in the sink? Wash them. Like that. Start small and quick and basic, and once you get in the habit of noticing the stuff on the table/dishes in the sink, you can add more things to notice. Whenever you're about to walk out of a room, take half a second to look, really look, and notice your hoodie left on a chair or the pile of junk mail that needs recycling on the couch or the schoolbooks stacked somewhere, and carry them off to be dealt with where they won't bug your mom.
posted by rtha at 3:05 PM on March 17, 2012


Hi. This sounds like me, all my life. (First my mother, then a succession of neat roommates, where my natural state is that of a pig in slop.)

First need: a junk drawer. This is sort of a don't-ask-don't-tell situation: it looks clean from the outside, but only you know the horrors within.

Second need: laundry hamper if you don't have one already. The difference is TREMENDOUS. I was a skeptic until I got one, and yeah, absolutely necessary.

Third: Let the Internet help you! Unfuck Your Habitat is made for this. If you need a more MAJOR cleanup, this guide is fantastic too. (I know because I used it and now my room is... um, well, it could be clean in 5 minutes if I wanted to.)
posted by dekathelon at 3:08 PM on March 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


For 1 day, try doing something REALLY SMALL every time you get up. A long list of chores to do and messes to look for staring you down is intimidating.

But say you do the following: you get up and walk from the living room to the bathroom. On your way you pick up one throw blanket that is sprawled out on the sofa, and fold it.

You are sitting in the kitchen drinking orange juice and you get up to pour more orange juice. Before you sit back down you wash 1 dish.

The key is SMALL. It needs to be something that takes you 15 seconds or less. If it is taking you longer than 15 seconds leave it for the next time you pass by that way.
posted by cairdeas at 3:20 PM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Like many of the up posters, I would recommend some kind of routinized cleaning, like say allotting 15 minutes a day and having pre-determined tasks, like sweeping the floor after dinner or wiping off the bathroom counter after you brush your teeth at night.

If you don't even see the messes you might want to make a sort of house work yes/no checklist that you could keep handy. If the answer is "yes" then you have a mess that you can take care of!

For instance:

Is the coffee table overflowing with stuff?
Is the bed made?
Are there dishes in the living room/bedroom/study?
Is there clutter on the kitchen table?
Is there laundry on the floor?
Are my school books scattered all over the house?
Are there crumbs on the carpet?
Are my shoes/coats/scarves/purses in their rightful place or just thrown down by the door?

Depending on how cool you and your mom are about this, she might even be able to help you with this list. It would help you be cognizant of messes in the long run and keep them in check on a day to day basis.

Good luck!
posted by emilycardigan at 3:22 PM on March 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


My mom has always loved to clean. She cleans when she's stressed. She used to vacuum at 6am on Saturday when I was in high school. If you see the vacuum out more than usual, you know something is on her mind. That's just how she destresses. Me...I destress by sleeping. Obviously very different people there!

I'd suggest talking to your mom. She probably thinks she taught you how to clean while growing up, but maybe she thought she was teaching you by setting an example. You, on the other hand, may have needed more direct teaching. So you both are starting out at different levels but thinking that you are on the same level. If your mom is stressed about the cleaning, she may be cleaning more, and that's contributing to the spiral you two are in.

Talk about how she notices messes, and her definition of a mess. Talk to her about what is on your mind, and what you think about. You have other things taking up brain power, so you just may not see what she sees. Does she work? If not, she might be bored and filling up her time with cleaning during the day.

Talk about what expectations of cleaning she has and how much energy/time you can contribute. Talk about the times during the semester where things are more stressful for you and you may not be able to devote as much time and attention to detail. Be able to communicate that to her so she knows what's up if she sees you falling behind.

I'd start out with some type of chore list from that conversation. What is she willing to do, what are you willing to do? Growing up, I had no problem cleaning the bathrooms, but HATED mopping. My sister was the opposite, so we decided that would be our assigned chores (among others). It kept us motivated to get the work done. Have that conversation with her and your sister if that helps. I think sometimes people get overwhelmed with cleaning in a shared household because they never actually discussed what they expect from each other, and they always wonder in their heads if they are cleaning "enough".

After having the conversation and gaining clarity, take the other advice on this thread. Figure out what you can do in 15 and 30 minute chunks. Schedule those appointments with yourself. Set a reminder. Make it a point to stand in the doorway of a room and look at things with an eye to detail. And don't stress if you mess up more at the beginning. The more you do it, the better you will get at it.

Make a plan, then work the plan. But don't try to read your mom's mind...talk to her!
posted by MultiFaceted at 3:23 PM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your own mother may be overwhelmed. She is paying the bills and has her own 18-year old child and a toddler grandchild living with her. I think you have to make an effort to see the messes. Make a plan and stick to it. And for going out and having fun, I donʻt think that is much of an option until you are independent and can take care of yourself.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 3:40 PM on March 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have 2 rules that are helping me be a neater person:

1) Always try to leave a room looking nicer than it did when you came in. This means I never leave a room empty-handed, because there is ALWAYS something that needs to be put where it belongs.

2) If a task will take 10 minutes or less, I have to DO IT NOW. Rather than putting off emptying the dishwasher, I have to just do it, because I've timed myself and it only takes about 4 minutes. Same for emptying the trashcan in the bathroom, cleaning the litterbox, picking up dirty clothes from the bathroom floor, etc. If I spill something on the counter while cooking, I clean it up right away. (Letting it sit and harden/dry turns a 20-second task into something significantly longer.)

Doing just these 2 things have definitely reduced the chaos in our house.

I also bought this weekly planner, which gives you daily & weekly chores with little boxes to check off. Maybe you & your mom could set up something similar with assigned tasks for you? Then you'd have a visual reminder & you'd know exactly what she expected you to do.
posted by belladonna at 3:43 PM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks, (almost) everyone, for the great answers. (If just "making an effort to see the messes" worked, I totally would have everything cleaned by now. It's important for my mental health to occasionally be able to have fun, as I would think it is for everyone? And I'm 27, not 18.)

Mom doesn't care about the mess in my room; it is the mess overflow in the rest of the house. For example, today I mixed up some PB2 for toast and spilled some on the counter. When she asked me about it, I realized that I had made a mess, but it literally didn't even occur to me to clean it up until she said something. When she did, I cleaned it up, but she's frustrated at having to ask. This is the kind of 15-second task that I could easily do, but for some reason don't, because it doesn't register. What is wrong with me??

I like the idea of scheduling cleaning. Surely I can find 15-20 minutes per day to clean. Maybe I can set an alarm on my phone, as someone suggested. My schedule is variable as to when I'm home during the day, but I'm going to try it anyway.

I would love to have my own place, but right now that isn't in the cards due to funds. So I've got to do something to help my mom out. I agree that she's being very generous to let my son and I live here rent-free until I get on my feet. She is indeed quite stressed and works about 60 hours a week. She's spending her weekends cleaning and this is understandably frustrating her.

For some reason the "question" list doesn't set off my resistance as much as a task list would! Who knew? I'm going to try that as well.
posted by woodvine at 3:58 PM on March 17, 2012


The easiest thing, I think, is to (as much as possible) immediately undo your doings. If you drop it, pick it up, don't say "I'll come back for it." If you take it out, put it away. If you put it on, when you take it off put it where it goes right then (shoes to the closet or shoe rack or wherever instead of wherever you took them off, dirty clothes in the hamper, coat in the closet, jewelry in your jewelry place, etc.) instead of some nebulous later time, because while it takes only a moment to put it away then, it takes a lot of time to put away a lot of things that you didn't just put away right when you were done with them.

Also, for learning to see messes, try making yourself a standard list of questions that you can stand in any room and ask yourself: is there anything on the floor that doesn't belong? Are the surfaces clean and holding only those items deemed to belong there? Can I see dust, dirt, cobwebs, mildew? Can I see anything around me (scan one area at a time) that belongs somewhere else? You may not see these things through your default filter, but you can train yourself to look for them. It's sort of like one of those picture puzzles, which of these things doesn't belong? Once you see something, you know what the appropriate response is (wash the dish, put the toenail clippers in the bathroom drawer, put your project back in your room, hang up your jacket, wipe up the crumbs) and it's just a matter of choosing to follow through with it.

With a toddler in the house, some messes can actually be a lot more dangerous than they would be with just adults and/or older children, and it might be a good idea for you to crawl around a bit and see things from knee-high perspective. It sounds like you have a lot going on right now, but so does your mom and mess clearly elevates her stress level, so the onus is on you to show your appreciation for her support of you and your little one by helping to alleviate her stress rather than aggravating it. It may not be ingrained, but it can be learned with some deliberate effort on your part. If it helps, don't think of it as cleaning, think of it as gifting your mom with stress reduction and setting a good example for the next generation.
posted by notashroom at 4:07 PM on March 17, 2012


I'm the not-as-neat person in my relationship. Every day, before my husband (the neat person) goes to work, he puts ONE thing we would really like done that day (vacuum, wash the shower curtains, whatever) on the whiteboard in the kitchen, and I do it.
posted by Lucinda at 4:16 PM on March 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


As your mom is working and supporting the household and you are home a lot, can you do things above and beyond cleaning? For example, make sure that certain staples (milk? eggs? butter? salt?) are always in the fridge? Offer to cook dinner several nights a week? Make sure all the laundry cycles through washer /dryer? These are the things that my friends who have stay at home partners really appreciate as they don't have time to deal with it b/c they are working.

On cleaning, as soon as you finish with a space, stop and look back and ask, have I left it as good as I found it? Is anythign out of place? And as far as bathroom / kitchens go, I've been known to come up with little habits, like routine scrubbing out the shower before I use it. That ensures that it stays pretty clean.
posted by zia at 4:21 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aha. That makes more sense. How about post-it notes on the inside of your door, on your bathroom mirror, etc. - that say "Pick something up!" And, a photo or two on the fridge or kitchen cabinets that has a personal meaning to you, along the lines of "Remember to tidy up/clean up!" (so when you see the photo you actively look for something to pick up).
posted by carter at 4:44 PM on March 17, 2012


I'm like you, leaving a trail of destruction in my wake. Unfortunately I've never gotten the knack of cleaning as I go along, but I have gotten to be so, so, so much better at cleaning up every day with a minimum of anguish. I have all kinds of little mental tricks I use to get myself to clean.

One trick is to pick the low-hanging fruit by cleaning all the big surfaces, so it gives the house the optical illusion of tidiness. The most bang for your cleaning buck. In my house, this means make the bed, tidy the sofa, vacuum the floor (which means first picking up all the stray shoes, dog toys, and other detritus), and completely clear the largest kitchen counter and the kitchen table.

Another trick is to count things. I always feel so overwhelmed when there are seemingly thousands of little things all out of place and I don't know where to start. So I give myself a goal to deal with 20 or 30 things and just grab whichever ones seem easiest. If I'm feeling lazy I count each shoe as one thing. If I'm feeling ambitious I count all the shoes as one thing. It's up to me, but at least I'm doing something.

Another trick is to have in my head a concept of a "basic daily clean," which means doing the following:

1) Do a load of dishes and wipe the counters
2) Start a load of laundry and dry and fold the previous day's laundry
3) Wipe the bathroom mirror, sink, toilet, and floor with disposable wipes
4) Vacuum
5) Tidy the sofa
6) Make the bed

Another trick is to set a timer for 15 minutes and tackle one task, like dusting, or one area, like the front entry.
posted by HotToddy at 5:08 PM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


For example, today I mixed up some PB2 for toast and spilled some on the counter. When she asked me about it, I realized that I had made a mess, but it literally didn't even occur to me to clean it up until she said something. When she did, I cleaned it up, but she's frustrated at having to ask. This is the kind of 15-second task that I could easily do, but for some reason don't, because it doesn't register. What is wrong with me??

There's nothing wrong with you, but it might help to stop thinking of it in terms of clean/messy, and start thinking in terms of developing efficient routines.

In your example, you wipe down the counter when your mother makes you aware of a mess. So develop an efficient routine, where every time you use the counter you wipe it down. I mean, I don't know what spilled PB2 is but I can never make toast without leaving at least one crumb on the surface I use. So every use of the countertop gets a swipe. Watch bartenders at work, they are always wiping down the bar, even when there's nothing there but a bit of condensation from a chilled mug. Clean every time you use it, that way you don't have to notice a mess in order to take action.

My bathroom was always spotless when my kids were small because they took a bath most nights and I'd just do a wipe-down with baby wipes of all the surfaces in there (except the mirror, baby wipes leave a film). I wasn't cleaning a mess, I was just making efficient use of my time while I was in there.

Probably most of the things that bother your mother are things that can be worked into your regular routine.

I do think you need to consider the two other generations in the house with you. Your mom ... well, it's her house. Her house, her standards. And the other generation, your kid. Toddlers are into everything. They make big brightly colored plastic toy messes of their own all day long. They eat messy, they dress messy, they poop messy. And they learn from their parents. This is the beginning of the "clean up clean up everybody everywhere, clean up clean up everybody do your share" years. Teach him by example to care about his surroundings and his belongings and the feelings of the people he shares his life with.

As for your schedule, I don't think you should give up the occasional night out, everybody needs that. But maybe the student organization should take a back seat until you're on top of your obligations without feeling scattered & disorganized.

Lastly, things like a cycle of "she gets madder and I clean less" and comments like "Thanks, (almost) everyone, for the great answers" make me wonder if there isn't some defensiveness on your part that's contributing to the problem. Perhaps there's more to this issue than cleaning (mother/daughter relationships can be excruciatingly complicated), and the cleaning dance is a symptom. Good luck.
posted by headnsouth at 5:33 PM on March 17, 2012 [15 favorites]


This is the kind of 15-second task that I could easily do, but for some reason don't, because it doesn't register. What is wrong with me??

A lot of answers here haven't, I think, taken into account that you're parenting an 18 month old. How much sleep are you getting? It sounds like you already have a very full plate (school, motherhood, the stress of living with your parents). I know that when I'm sleep deprived, I tend to lose my ability to see these sorts of things even if they're normally pretty clear to me.

I don't really have an answer for you, except maybe "talk with your mom about how she coped with things when you were 18 months old". It is hard, sometimes, to remember what it is really like to parent a baby/toddler - and in particular how isolating it can being, and how tired you are (are you and the baby sharing a room, for example?). Part of the solution here is absolutely for you to work on seeing messes as they occur, but I think another part of it is to help remind your mom that a) you are not her, and b) you might not be firing on all cylinders right now.
posted by anastasiav at 5:33 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I see this as two issues:

My mother and I had these issues when we lived together (her: neat freak, me: oblivious). Once I made it clear to her that I really don't "see" what's messy we could work out our compromise. When she wanted something done she asked me to do it and I did it. This works for regular chores (dusting, vacuuming, etc.)

Your other issue is just cleaning up after yourself as you go. You spilled PB? You don't eat until you wipe up the mess and put the PB and bread away. Done eating? Put the plate and any utensils in the dishwasher. Doing homework at night? Can't go to bed until your books are put away and so on. Turn that into a habit for whatever you're doing.

It's going to take some time to make these habits. Tell your mother you're working on it and to please give you some slack while you do so.
posted by deborah at 5:59 PM on March 17, 2012


If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, try downloading the app Epic Win! It makes doing chores and stuff a kind of quest, and you earn points and unlock items etc by completing them. It's pretty awesome. :)
posted by spunweb at 6:07 PM on March 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


You'll learn to see messes via cleaning, by the way. I never see the dirty floor. But once I start sweeping, I notice the crumbs I'm trying to sweep up. Once I start wiping it down, I see the smudges that are on the parts I haven't yet wiped.

(Don't believe me? Polish the sink. You don't have to clean anything except the inside of the sink. Wow, look how clean that is. Now just dry the inside of the sink every time you're done using it. (This is the first step of the FlyLady cleaning method, by the way.))
posted by salvia at 6:53 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like belladonna's post. Develop the habit of cleaning as you go. As you work on that, "cleaning" won't be a separate task, but simply part of what you are doing. And develop the habit of turning around and looking at where you just left to double check that you haven't left anything astray.

Other things: for the maintenance cleaning tasks (like the weekly floor wash, the vacuuming, etc.), make a checklist. An actual checklist where you can check things off. Assign one task to each day.

Also, make sure everything has a place. Never have anything in your life that doesn't have a place where it goes. If you don't set this up and get it working, you will always be "messy" in the eyes of a neat person.
posted by gjc at 7:29 PM on March 17, 2012


Is the issue really cleaning (mopping, vacuuming, dusting, scrubbing toilets, etc) or is it failing to clean up after yourself? If it's the former, then asking your mom to give you specific tasks to do, or a list for the day or week seems like a good idea.

But if it's that you're failing to clean up after yourself, that's really not something your mom should need to remind you to do at your age. You simply need to incorporate cleaning up after yourself into your routines. Eg, wiping down the counter and putting away the bread and condiments are part of making a sandwich. The milk goes in the fridge and the bowl goes in the dishwasher after you have cereal. When you walk in the house your belongings go in specific places (coats on hook, bag in your room, shoes in the closet) rather than just dumping things on the couch or wherever. Laundry goes in the hamper, not the floor. Towel goes on the towel rack, and so on. If you're having a hard time remembering and doing these things, maybe create your own checklists to follow throughout the day: bathing and breakfast, when you get home, dinner, before bed.

One last tip: make sure you have adequate storage for your things and, if you don't, either add more or get rid of stuff. Nothing makes keeping tidy harder than not having a place to put something.
posted by 6550 at 7:46 PM on March 17, 2012


Yes. It's the cleaning up after myself that I don't do automatically that makes my mom insane. I was better about it, though not much, when I lived on my own, but I've gotten much worse about it since I came back with a baby in tow.

I do like the suggestion of wiping things down as I go, especially while the baby is in the bathtub - great idea! And it's true that our house is cluttered (my room especially so because I condensed from an apartment), and there isn't really a place for everything to go. I think I'm going to work on getting that organizational part taken care of. That's something I can do.

The suggestion seems to be to make cleaning a part of my routine, which sounds great. But for me, it doesn't sound simple. How can I make my brain add clean up to task?

PB2 is powdered peanut butter. This particular thing is really bothering me. I saw the mess, I just didn't clean it up. It didn't even occur to me that I should. I guess I just need to try harder, except I often do that for short spurts and then slack off again. Maybe, like someone suggested, I should make signs to remind myself?
posted by woodvine at 9:34 PM on March 17, 2012


I am you, my husband is your mother. What has helped me is adding a bullet point to my every activity, basically saying "what would my husband like me to do in here?" Somehow that helps me are messes I wouldn't otherwise see.
posted by KathrynT at 9:47 PM on March 17, 2012


Would it help for you to think about leaving things as you found them? For example, when you're making toast, you start with a clean, dry countertop, clear of clutter. This means that, when you're finished making toast, you should again have a clean, dry countertop, clear of clutter. Instead of "learning to see messes," you're just comparing before and after, which is really much simpler. You don't have to recognize a mess or think about whether something does or doesn't constitute a mess. All you have to do is ask yourself if the room/counter/table/surface/etc. looks like it did before you began.
posted by pecanpies at 9:53 PM on March 17, 2012


I'm a slob as well; I never had chores when I was a kid, and my family was so messy that my standrads for clean vs dirty are really... off. Two things have helped me become better about this.

The first is setting an internal schedule, using Epic Win!. Regardless of whether *I* think something should be cleaned, it's a particular daily or weekly task that's on my agenda that's gotta get ticked off.

The second was having several serious convos about cleanliness with my husband. We got to point where even though *I* don't see something as dirty, he does, and it bothers him. I asked him to give specific, regular tasks to me, and he's being patient with my lack of cleaning initiative.

Cleaning is not naturally a priority to me, but the happiness of my partner is. Apparrently they're linked!

(I also nerdily sing the "Clean Up" song while I'm doing it:

Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere!
Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share!

as a kind of cheerful cleaning brainwash joy)
posted by spunweb at 9:55 PM on March 17, 2012


This particular thing is really bothering me. I saw the mess, I just didn't clean it up. It didn't even occur to me that I should.

Just sounds like you are tired, distracted, and not in the habit of doing it. Not that anything is wrong with you. Don't be so hard on yourself. Once you do whatever you need to in order to get in that habit - signs, text reminders, whatever works - I bet it'll become much more automatic for you.
posted by cairdeas at 1:13 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hard to do with a toddler in hand, but before leaving any room, take a minute to clean up anything you've left messy.

BTW-- you'll start "seeing" the messes when your toddler is around 10 years old, because you'll start seeing their messes and you'll wonder why they don't. It's developmental.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:22 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm just like you, and my wife is just like your mom (as far as cleaning goes, anyway). My wife has trained me, over the six or so years we've been living together, to clean the apartment the way she likes it. I still feel like she's more unreasonably anal-retentive than I am slovenly, but whatever. We live together, and I'm taking it upon myself to match her way, rather than the other way around. Because all things being equal, it's obviously better to live in a clean place than a dirty place.

It's taken lots of tsk tsking on her part, lots of dirty looks, lots of hey, you didn't [do this chore], lots of hey, I want [this] to be like [this]. Like you, it's caused some strife. But I've changed. If I were still single, I'd still live like I did before.

Just listen to your Mom. If you think she's being unreasonable, just remember that you're living under her roof--end of that story. Suck it up, remind yourself that you can live however you like when you eventually move out.
posted by zardoz at 6:14 AM on March 18, 2012


It sounds like you are noticing messes as they happen, you're just not realizing you're noticing them, or they're not motivating you to do anything about them.

In terms of how to be more mindful, maybe it would be helpful to think, "what's the worst logical conclusion if I leave this here?" So, okay, some PB2 powder or flour or drops of juice on a countertop don't seem like a big deal to anyone - it's barely noticeable, the drops will dry or the powder will get swept up eventually when the floors get swapped. But the alternate reality, which not only does happen but is what motivates a lot of neat-freaks is: if that powder sits there, it will get wet if someone drips water over it the next time they use that area. Then it stops being a powder and starts being a sticky paste. THEN THE HUNGRY ANTS COME IN...! A little toy left on the stairs doesn't seem like much - it's brightly colored and the kid will grab it eventually, but if you leave it there, someone might be carrying laundry on those stairs and not see it and FALL AND BREAK THEIR NECK!!! A little pile of toys in the corner is just a little pile, but it will teach your child that that's where toys go when you're not using them, and then it becomes a big pile and OH MY GOD WE'RE GOING TO BE THE COLLYER BROTHERS AND DIE TRAPPED UNDER OUR STUFF AND THE CAT WILL EAT US.

If you need help envisioning the absolute worst-case scenarios that can logically follow tiny messes, watch an episode or two of Hoarders. Remind yourself that none of them think they have a problem either. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!
posted by Mchelly at 7:47 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Of course you 'see' the messes you make. The visual information is recorded in your brain. But it sounds like your mind is maybe elsewhere during the times where you could be immediately taking care of your messes. I have a box marked 'I WILL DO THIS LATER' on my mental desk and I just cram it full of everything I don't feel like doing right now because my mind is on something else more important (subjectively speaking).

So, saying 'Later!' basically checks the item off the list in my brain because, though I haven't actually DONE it I have kind of written out an IOU for it, and I cease to think about it. Which would be great, except I almost never make good on the IOUs because I've written too fucking many of them to ever keep track of.

But I'm getting better, and the nature of cleaning itself is actually quite helpful. When I toss a cleaning task into the 'later' bin it is usually because I'm thinking about technically more important things, like "How do I budget myself for this week?" or "How do I fit all these errands into this day" or "Why won't these women call me back" or "How the hell am I going to get my life where I want it to be," or any number of other things. Perhaps it's not the same for you, but for me the things that distract me from cleaning are often actually quite stress-inducing. Like, "I am absolutely going to ignore this small mess because I have way too much other stuff to deal with, so how could this matter?"

It turns out, though, that cleaning can sometimes be a respite from the type of thoughts that enable me to ignore cleaning in the first place. It doesn't take any strong mental exertion, and it (usually) doesn't take any strong physical exertion either. I find it satisfying that the goals when you clean are so cut and dry, and that when you are done you are done. And I find it satisfying that you can see instantaneously the results. No other part of my life has such clear objectives and solutions as, say, cleaning the kitchen does.

Long story short, rather than think "I can't clean this right now because I have too much going on in my head and in my life," you could try thinking "Man, I'm gonna clean this right now because while I'm cleaning this I don't have to think about anything else." It functions as a sort of low-level useful meditation practice.

And as a lifelong slob that is sort of mid-reformation it has been difficult, but possible, to finally admit that having a clean personal space really is quite nice.
posted by TheRedArmy at 9:44 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


- Mentally attach a cleaning job to a waiting-oriented task, so you're being more efficient. Some examples:

- When you put the kettle on to make tea, stay in the kitchen while waiting for it to boil. Wipe the counters, empty the dishrack, wash the dishes, etc. New behaviour to try: "no sitting while that kettle heats". Just that 4 minute spurt will make the kitchen look awesome.

- After brushing teeth, while swishing mouthwash, use your wet hand to swipe the sink edge and faucet clean.

- When the commericals come on, tidy up one thing. Try a guideline of "no sitting through commercials"- use that time to clear the coffee table, straighten the shoes in the front hall, put floor-clothes into the hamper, etc.

- Every day, call a fun, chatty friend to catch up, and while chatting with them (use the phone headset), stay on your feet. Tidy one room- take dishes to the sink, straighten the couches, corral the toys, wipe the counters, whatever. When the room is tidy, go to a second room, or end the phonecall. Avoid sitting while on the phone; use that time to tidy. Podcasts are also good for making the task fun. You're multitasking really well: either socializing or learning while cleaning.

- When you do decide to commit to a more intense cleaning task than just tidying (like vacuuming, mopping, taking out trash, etc), try setting a timer to see how long it takes. You'll be surprised how quick most cleaning tasks actually are. I used to DREAD scrubbing the cat litterbox until I realized it only takes 16 minutes from start to finish. 16 minutes? I can spare that! It's only 10 minutes to mop my whole apartment- also no big deal. I clean a LOT more now that I know how long it takes.

- Invite friends over. While waiting for them to arrive, tidy up the main room you'll be hanging out in, and swipe the bathroom sink, counters, toilet. Always clean a bit before they arrive.

- Do something nice when you've cleaned a room. Open a window, light a scented candle, spray a little essential oil mist, enjoy that tea you were making, etc. Give yourself a tiny reward for doing that job.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:08 AM on March 18, 2012


Three rules:

- The kitchen is returned to spotless immediately after use.
- No clothes on the floor ever.
- Spend 10 minutes everyday putting away stuff.

Those will keep the worst of it at bay. Though given that there's two of you making mess, you might need to make it 20min. I would also add a once a week "ask mum what she wants clean and do it".

Also realise that other people's mess is always more annoying than your own. If something's bugging you a tiny bit, it's probably driving your mum insane.
posted by kjs4 at 5:06 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


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