How to motivate myself to KEEP my house clean once clean?
December 29, 2014 2:22 PM   Subscribe

Ever since I was little, I have gotten a rush of pleasure from cleaning REALLY messy rooms... but keeping a clean room at a livable level of cleanliness bores me to tears. I seem to need the urgency of "This is a Disaster Zone!" to imbue routine tasks with higher meaning. I no longer want to hop from Cleaning Emergency to Cleaning Emergency. Are there tricks or routines that could appeal to my need for a little bit of adrenaline in order to make it a habit to keep things clean? Cue Mission Impossible theme song...

I've seen other AskMe threads on motivation to clean, but the suggestions of "clean for 20 minutes a day" or "make a weekly schedule and go through day by day" don't really work with my need to have an URGENT REASON to clean. I would LIKE to be a person who cleans 20 minutes a day -- but I would like a fun, time-sensitive or positive way to get into that habit, not forcing myself out of duty or punishment.

I have a really busy work schedule and I don't enjoy routine cleaning tasks, so if it's not time-sensitive I'll find reasons to procrastinate until I absolutely HAVE to clean (i.e. completely out of underwear, or friend coming over, etc.).

I don't like living like this -- I work from home and having a messy home directly impairs my professional life -- but just telling myself to suck it up and clean is not effective given my adrenaline-junkie nature. Any tips on weaning yourself out of hopping from Cleaning Emergency to Cleaning Emergency, that don't involve "Just Do It Already".
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Whenever you walk past something that shouldn't be there, pick it up and move it to its rightful place, if the rightful place is where you're headed. Just notice when things are out of order, make it part of your awareness. If you pace around like I do, this is enough to keep things roughly surface tidy.

Dust + sweep or vacuum a couple of times a week - maybe time that so you're doing laundry at the same time, or do it on garbage day.

Dishes: I try not to let a meal go by without doing the last set. I always regret ignoring this.

(Hopefully, you can think of those rules as positive or maybe treat them like games, because I don't know, I don't really feel like cleaning can be super-fun except maybe under those high-octane emergency conditions you're talking about, if you're a masochist. Not that you're a masochist, sorry! I just personally don't love it.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:30 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you enjoy racing the clock or other self-competition? I get probably 80% of my cleaning done via games like "how much of the living room can I pick up during this commercial/credit sequence/interminable time it takes the Xbox to load Netflix?"

I also have a game of never walking from one room to the next without taking something with me that needs to go. Walking from bedroom to kitchen? Scoop up some/all the glasses my husband and I leave in the back of the house, or cans for the recycling. Living room to bathroom? I've assuredly left out some nail polish or lotion or something that needs to go back where it belongs.

Longer tasks (where longer is > 2 minutes) are when I squeeze in some podcast or audiobook listening. I have found, in time, that I will go do a thing - like wash dishes - just for the time it gives me to listen to my book or show.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:34 PM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

My main motivation to clean comes from inviting guests over to our house -- Must! not! let! people! see! filth!

So that would be my advice. Invite people over somewhat regularly, especially people you care about impressing.
posted by fancyoats at 2:36 PM on December 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yeah was going to say, invite a rotating cast of friends over as frequently as possible for coffee or snakes & ladders or whatever. You'll have to clean.

Do you have a physical exercise regimen you follow? Maybe try carrying over the amped-up feeling of physical exertion into 5-10 minutes of cleaning every day.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:44 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used to be like that, before all those retail jobs that required constant cleaning/organizing/sanitizing as part of the job. I think that is where I developed the mindfulness of how to clean efficiently as I go about my day that others have described above.

Now, when I work from home, I work for 45 minutes and take a break for 10. Those 10 minute breaks are when I do some dishes, flip the laundry, take out the recycling et cetera. I also clean the kitchen while waiting for water to boil or heating something in the microwave.

On weekends, I go out for a run and come back already sweaty and grimy, so that's when I'll do some sort of grubby chore like scrubbing the sink. Man, the shower afterwards feels amazing.
posted by Schielisque at 2:50 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yup, guests every week.
posted by Quietgal at 3:00 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

What about a competition with yourself to see how long you can keep things looking nice and tidy?

Are you familiar with Don't Break The Chain? You'd probably want to pick one thing (i.e. "20 minutes of uninterrupted cleaning"). There are apps for it but you can also just use a paper calendar.
posted by radioamy at 3:08 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is it primarily tidying (putting things away), or cleaning (dusting/sweeping/mopping)? I think it's important to keep those ideas separate. It's much easier to keep a place clean if it's already tidy, but it's a lot of work to tidy up a dirty house.

Marie Kondo's Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is currently changing my life. It builds on something I've been noticing recently: I really don't need very much stuff, and most of the stuff I keep around my house just takes up space. Kondo wants you to systematically sort through everything you own and discard everything that doesn't bring you joy when you touch it. I know how impossibly naive that sounds, but she's a former Shinto nun, so she can say things like that. The other main idea seems to be finding mental strategies for discarding things. It's quirky but I was really ready to hear a lot of it, so I thought you might like it, too.
posted by sportbucket at 3:14 PM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Why bore yourself to tears, waste important downtime from work and still end up having a messy house? Hire a regular cleaning firm to come in weekly to take care of your house and save the adrenalin-based cleaning for helping friends/other people who have messes that need cleaning up. If you really enjoy it, there could be a way of doing major clean-ups as a volunteer for people who really need it. You get to do something enjoyable when you feel like it, you get time to rest, and your house stays clean.
posted by Flitcraft at 3:32 PM on December 29, 2014

My roommates and I have a tradition called 3 MINUTE CLEAN!! We'll blast a short, upbeat song and then try to tidy as much as possible in that 3 MINUTES (or however long the song happens to last)!! You can schedule in 2 or so of these a week, and I find that trying to finish my tidying as I hear the song gradually ending satisfactorily gets the adrenaline going.
posted by estlin at 3:50 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

You need FlyLady
posted by Jacqueline at 4:30 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I did chaining with for awhile and it worked OK. I use HabitRPG now and while it's definitely not for everyone (it's in the form of a cutesy RPG), I really like it and have maintained longer streaks of daily cleaning with it than I did with Chains.

I've also created a guild called Slobs Anonymous where I have challenges that I've created myself so far, though as more people join I'm sure other people will make challenges. My first challenge was 30 straight days of decluttering a particular area. My second will be to add another area and also prevent the first area from getting cluttered. Also it's the only task app I know of where I can dress as a penguin or a knight and have a pet spider or seahorse. I really like fun cute things and gamification so it's perfect for me.

Also getting into podcasts has REALLY helped me manage to get through cleaning sessions. Serial was as clean as my apartment ever got.

I think a cleaning service would make more sense for people who have more of time with getting things sanitary than for people like me who mainly have issues with clutter that a cleaning service would have no idea how to sort- bills, stacks of books, clothing, etc.
posted by melissam at 4:31 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Check out sportbucket's recommendation above. I noticed that several Mefites have recommended Marie Kondo's Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up so I bought it yesterday and am now reading through it. I'm only halfway through but am already stoked to try out her approach: Attack by category (clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous items, photographs and sentimental items) not by location. In one category such as clothes, dump all the items on the floor...everything, all the clothes you have regardless of which room, box, closet or attic you crammed them into. Go through them one by one asking in each case whether the item gives you joy. If yes, keep. If not, thank it for its previous service and discard. Stuff all the discards in trash bags, toss. Ditto for the books, etc. She says her approach eliminates "rebound" (everything getting messy again) because normal tidying just hides away a bunch of stuff you don't really want anymore whereas, with her method, wherever your eye rests you see something you truly use and value. I've done something similar in the past with old papers and documents, and it was a very liberating feeling.
posted by mono blanco at 4:38 PM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I use what I call the buddy system. While I'm waiting for the Keurig to warm up, I'll empty or load the dishwasher. While I'm waiting for the coffee to dispense, I'll wipe down the sink and the kitchen counters (and the faster the better, because unintentionally cold coffee is the pits). Just before I fold laundry straight out of the dryer, I'll spray cleaner on the toilet, dump in some bowl cleaner, and then squirt some Works Tub and Shower into the tub. You can't let that stuff sit forever, so I have to get the laundry at least folded and put on the bathroom counter, so I can clean up all the cleaner. Then the next load goes in (...this is usually the load that sits there and gets wrinkled, btw...) and I finish cleaning the bathroom (wipe, scrub, flush, rinse, done). I try not to have dead time while I'm doing tasks that I Absolutely Must Do. I have to have my coffee, and I have to have clean clothes. Good luck!
posted by coast99 at 5:10 PM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Add a sense of urgency (I'm serious) by scheduling some easy daily maintenance immediately you come home (and possibly before you go to the bathroom). Things that work for me, load of washing, dishes (though I tend to manage these mostly while cooking), sweep a room, wipe down the bathroom counter, fold some clothes, runaround and put away things that don't belong where they are. 15 minutes.
posted by b33j at 8:54 PM on December 29, 2014

I sometimes try to clean before and up until I have to leave for something, so that there's an end time, as well as some sort of urgency. You might be able to make an association between "I have to leave soon" and "I want this thing to be clean before I leave."
posted by delezzo at 1:51 PM on December 30, 2014

I've found the Unf**k Your Habitat tumblr/website/app EXTREMELY helpful for this.

Somewhat similar to FlyLady but more taking into account lifestyle/health issues that get in the way, and less geared towards traditional one parent at home families. As a bonus the tumblr shows you a bunch of other people struggling/cheering each other on to achieve non-messiness.
posted by blu_stocking at 2:12 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

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