Joy in housework?
October 23, 2006 5:23 PM   Subscribe

How do I find joy in housework?

I hate housework. My partner used to do most of it because he didn't have a job outside the home and I did, but now we've switched roles -- and he's justifiably losing patience with my inability to keep the place even reasonably tidy.

The problem is that I can't make myself do much of anything unless I find some pleasure or joy in it. Even when I was working a job that I didn't like, I managed to find some aspect of it (e.g, logical problem solving) pleasureable enough to permit me to get through the day.

I've tried everything I can think of to find even the slightest delight in housework, but nothing's worked. Grooving out to good music doesn't motivate me, it just makes me want to sit and listen to the music. Thinking about how nice it will be when it's all clean just makes me think about how much work I have to do get there. And setting up reward/denial systems just makes me resent it even more.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
posted by treepour to Grab Bag (39 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I find that listening to something that has a narrative helps a lot more than music does.
posted by interrobang at 5:25 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Drinking an enormous amount of coffee or smoking a joint (or both) puts me in the mood to clean.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:26 PM on October 23, 2006

I'm thinking of an analogy to the things I have to do taking care of my dogs. I don't always enjoy walking them. I don't always enjoy brushing them, especially when their coats get tangled. And it's really hard to get pleasure in the concept of cleaning after they've been rolling in smelly stuff and poop.

But I love my dogs, and I love taking care of them because I love them.

Similar, I love my home and I love taking care of the good things that I have in my home.

That doesn't that I enjoy vacuuming and cleaning the toilet. It doesn't mean that I'm the greatest housekeeper. But it makes me feel good about doing it, in and of itself.

And if you can't take all that syrupy BS: I do the dishes every night after dinner because I just can't cope with a sink full of dirty dishes when I'm trying to make coffee in the morning.
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:33 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Hire a maid. Seriously.
posted by kindall at 5:34 PM on October 23, 2006

Best answer: Sometimes you can't love it, but it has to be done. Somethings can reduce the pain of it, though. Remove all multi-type floor coverings so that you only have to use one kind of cleaner in a room (ie no rugs, you just need a broom). Put away as many dust collectors as possible (figurines, photos) - makes dusting quicker. Work out what good enough is and aim for that. Have a reward system so that if you get X done you can have Y (yeah, for me, I'd always skip the X and go straight to the Y because I'm a grown up and I can.)

How's your pretending muscle? Can you be an noble Egyptian slave? Cindarella? Someone out of a Barbara Taylor Bradford book?

What about a room a day and play the rest of the time? How about doing your planned chores as soon as you get up so the rest of the day is for surfing. How about posting pictures of your rooms on the internet and then feeling embarrassed enough to do something about it.

Here's my plan (eventually). Get a good paying job and pay someone to do it. Seems professional cleaners can get done in 2 hours what takes me 5 and they seem to charge a pittance.

Mood to clean - what is that?
posted by b33j at 5:36 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Can you do some work from home and hire someone to clean for you? As a consultant, I make 6x per hour what my cleaner does. I don't have her come every day or anything like that, but she comes often enough to do the chores I really hate. And I see two hours of her time as enabling me to work for two to four hours.
posted by acoutu at 5:38 PM on October 23, 2006

I second beej's suggestion of reducing the need for cleaning. I intend to do that myself once I spend some quality time with eBay.
posted by krisjohn at 5:43 PM on October 23, 2006

Headphones are key to cleaning. I'm sure you've got an mp3 player; it's a completely different experience than putting on a record or something in your home. I think most people are used to walking while using a portable device and for me it's much more motivating.
posted by shownomercy at 5:45 PM on October 23, 2006

Yeah, but the problem with Flylady is her standards are too high. However, I do agree that getting dressed and putting shoes on (Flylady standard) does help things to happen and means many less embarassing moments such as greeting the meter reader while going commando in a flannel nightie with your pendulous breasts unsupported as you put a load of washing on at 10am.
posted by b33j at 5:51 PM on October 23, 2006

Like beej, my strategy is to reduce the need for cleaning in the first place. I keep things tidy, so I never have to straighten. Dirty stuff goes directly in the laundry basket or dishwasher (or pre-dishwasher, in the dishpan in the sink with soapy water), preventing having to collect this stuff later. I spray the shower with a rinse-off product every so many uses. Just like with boring tasks at work, you can do efficiency challenges while cooking to get the ingredients and prep-stuff away before the meal is finished cooking.

That leaves dusting and vacuuming and cleaning surfaces. I vacuum once or twice a month (no pets, no kids), and dust maybe twice a year, yet people consider my home immaculate. I spot-clean the floor because I can't tell the difference between that and full mopping. I clean the toilet when it looks grotty and the improvement is its own reward.

I dread yardwork far more, and the only way I get through that is by considering it exercise, and by trying to tame the vegetation in a creative way.
posted by xo at 5:51 PM on October 23, 2006

Best answer: Do you actually know how to clean? I know that question can seem rude or condescending, but I can't tell you how many people I've known over the years who don't know how to clean efficiently. And they hate cleaning because it takes forever. Because they do it wrong. I don't know you so I don't know how likely that is, but learning to do it fast can help.

(Dame rules of thumb: The more cleaning supplies you have, the less you know how to clean. If it takes you more than ten minutes to do the bathroom, you're doing it wrong or too rarely.)
posted by dame at 5:52 PM on October 23, 2006 [2 favorites]

Another vote for coffee and a spliff - though with the caveat that you want only the tiniest buzz from the spliff to engender cleaning-frenzy.
posted by pompomtom at 6:03 PM on October 23, 2006

I'm a gamer, and I've had success with making it into a competition (an idea that evolved from the Flylady stuff). Basically make it into a race: Either how fast can you do X, or how many things can you do in Y amount of time. It's astounding how much you can get done in 10 or 20 minutes when you've got your game face on.

For bonus points: race a friend on IM and whoever of you gets more done in the allotted amount of time wins. Though of course, since both of you wind up with cleaner homes from it, everyone wins! ;)
posted by Andrhia at 6:05 PM on October 23, 2006

I've had similar motivation dillemas. What I ended up doing was making a vague Goolge search for "How to clean your house faster." That led me to the immensly helpful online version of the equally helpful Real Simple, which seeks to make your life... Real Simple.

They have articles and guides to how to tackle everday cleaning, and phrase them in terms you won't be strained to understand, like "Easy Steps for Cleaning the Bathroom." They gauge their guides based on how much time you have to spend, and give you quick steps, for example:

If You Have 15 Minutes (Bathroom):
- Start with the sink. With flushable wipe in hand, clean the sink (the room’s focal point) and its fixtures, concentrating on the grime-friendly seams where the two meet.

- Speed-sanitize. Grab another towelette to clean the edge of the bathtub, the toilet seat, and the toilet exterior. Finish up by shining the mirror with glass cleaner and a cloth.

Or maybe you have 30 minutes, then add the following:

- Deep-clean the toilet. Squirt bowl cleaner around the inside edge and let it sit for a few minutes, says Sarah Smock of the Memphis-based cleaning service Merry Maids. While it’s soaking, use a wipe or a fresh cloth and all-purpose cleaner to clean the seat around its base and hinges. Return to the bowl and give stubborn rings a scrubbing with a sponge or a brush.

- Deep-clean the toilet, part 2. If your bowl is porcelain, try rubbing a natural pumice stone (available at most hardware stores) on lime, rust, and hard-water stains. Keep the stone very moist throughout the process and it shouldn’t scratch.

They're really helpful for me since I can just print them out and follow them when I need to spruce things up a bit. Plus, there are some cleaning tips submitted by users and subscribers that have worked for them, and actually work for you as well.

But I'll admit we have a lady coming over once a week to do the real dirty work: mopping, window washing, etc. So if all else fails, get a maid.
posted by watch_alot at 6:06 PM on October 23, 2006 [2 favorites]

Also, don't wear your shoes inside. Saves on floor cleaning like the devil.
posted by dame at 6:10 PM on October 23, 2006

I second the suggestion on learning how to do it better... I learned a lot about tenacious cleaning from working in a kitchen with older, Eastern European ladies.

I clean the washrooms and all the other "real" cleaning 'cos I have exacting standards. Unfortunately, it took a lot of discipline and self-motivation to develop them; I just forced myself to to become a bit of a neat-freak. I now get a fair amount of pleasure when I have my place in some semblance of order.
posted by glip at 6:20 PM on October 23, 2006

I find joy in housework by not thinking. I find it really relaxing. It's a mechanical activity that is involved enough that my mind doesn't wander much, but simple enough that I don't have to plan and strategize to get it done. I've also found that it's really easy to just straight up dawdle when cleaning, so I make a point to try and catch myself and go faster. I also find that listening to Nirvana greatly enhances my dishwashing experience. I still put off cleaning because I'm lazy, but when the time comes, I don't mind doing it.

This is what works for me, so I recommend following these steps:

1) Turn music on, preferably loud.
2) Turn brain off.
3) Get to work.
4) Work faster.
5) (repeat 3 and 4 for each task to be completed)
6) Turn brain on.
7) Turn music off.

Then everything will be just like it was before you started, except clean, so you can forget the whole incident ever happened and go back to your life.
posted by benign at 6:28 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Seriously, just hire someone. I have someone come every other week for about 3 hours. That's enough to keep the toilets scrubbed, the floors vacuumed, all the heavy cleaning I hate to do. I use my cleaning energy for keeping the dishes done and picking up clutter. It really doesn't cost that much, and having a housekeeper has been a godsend for my marriage.
posted by gokart4xmas at 6:35 PM on October 23, 2006

Ooh yes, I invariably do a load of dishes while cooking dinner (that's by hand, we don't have a dishwasher). Sometimes I fold the clothes right off the line while waiting for the next load to finish (nice sunshine and fresh air and saves a trip upstairs which unfortunately negates this.

I use a really long extension cord on the vacuum cleaner and do the whole house in one go (including ceiling spiderwebs etc). In fact, when buying this house, one of the reasons I chose it was because of the hard wood floors - a lot easier to keep looking good than carpet.

Do you have kids? Share the load and prepare them for later life by delegating. Make it more fun by using money (real or pretend that can be exchanged for parental favours like not having to eat broccoli or extra time with game cube). I had this working so well for a while that my then-eleven year old son was doing ALL the washing. Unfortunately he grew out of it.

Wear clothes more than once to save washing, use a towel more than one night.

Is this maybe not answering your question of how do you learn to love it? I think perhaps it's possible that you never will. But in the interests of trying to find the correct answer, here's something you might like and another (scroll down to downtime or search for dishes) or this .
posted by b33j at 6:48 PM on October 23, 2006

Certain behaviours can encourage more mess. Don't put dirty crockery into the sink, it means that the sink is now mostly unavailable for other washing, and that pot you may have rinsed out now sits to the side and goes unwashed.

Get some good stuff to listen to. Audio books, podcasts etc. Something where you can turn your thoughts inwards as you clean.

Clean from one end to the other. Start at one end of the bench, work towards the other. Going around a room picking up a bit here and there can be dispiriting, you clean for an hour and it's barely changed. This way you can clean for 10 minutes, see some real results, then keep working across the area. Stuff can be moved from an area being cleaned to a non-clean area, but can't be put back there.

Also, I've started cleaning the house more thoroughly. I used to be notoriously messy, and I'm changing that by getting stuff clean and keeping it that way. Dinner's going to take 15 minutes to cook? Empty the dishwasher, or wipe down the bench, or clean the preparation utensils. This works much better than wandering off to surf the net or whatever.

I also hire a cleaner once a week. Costs about $50.00 per week, and she mops the floor, cleans surfaces, dusts, vacuums, cleans the bathroom thoroughly and more. This means I don't have to spend half my weekend doing these jobs I hate to do.

I figure if I would pay $50.00 for half a day to do whatever I want (which I would), then it's the same as paying the cleaner to do the work.
posted by tomble at 8:00 PM on October 23, 2006

I don't like cleaning, but I do it. The only thing I've found that puts me in the mood for cleaning is some other, even more onerous task that I can put off by cleaning. Like, say, preparing my taxes.

I also try to clean as I go (dishes almost never go un-washed for more than a day), and I've got a routine for weekly cleaning that isn't any more fun than anything else, but is reasonably quick. And I've got a small house without a lot of stuff in it, which makes it easier.
posted by adamrice at 8:30 PM on October 23, 2006

Best answer: I love a clean house, but still get into lazy ruts where I don't want to clean. I find these tips really help me:

1. Make your house beautiful, and surrond it with stuff you like. I know, that sounds incredibly corny but it's true. Maybe buy a new quilt for your bed, some new fluffy white towels for your bathroom, a candle or two, or some new coffee mugs. It might help get you in the mood to make things nice.

2. When my house starts to really look like a pit, I invite friends or family over for dinner. Invite some friends over a week or two from today, and get busy. It's a great motivator. Keep inviting people throughout the year, so you can keep a clean place.

3. I also agree with the idea of hiring a cleaning person. I used to have a college kid that cleaned houses on the side clean my house every two weeks. It *made* me keep my house fairly straight before she came. The tile in the showers never had a chance to grow mildew.

Think about the Holidays. If you celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. start thinking about getting the place in shape so you can have a lovely and stress-free environment.

How about sex and romance as a motivator? Set the table with candlelight. A nice clean bedroom with clean sheets and new scented get the idea. Good luck!
posted by LoriFLA at 8:50 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

I actually like cleaning -- it clears my head -- but I like it much more now that we've got rid of about 1/3 of our shit after a big move. I really think it's clutter that's the big cleaning timesuck for most people. Everything in your house, no matter how small, is something that has to be kept clean or maintained. Look at every last piece of clothing and furniture, every last book and record, every last doodad and tchochke, and unless you really need it or really love it, sell it, give it away, or donate it. Pretend you are moving. Be ruthless. You'll have much less stuff to clean and much more room to do it in.
posted by melissa may at 8:56 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Buy this book. Seriously. It will cut hours from the work and is a hugely entertaining read.
posted by Neiltupper at 8:56 PM on October 23, 2006

I find that listening to something that has a narrative helps a lot more than music does.

Seconding this - listen to something like an audiobook, or a good comedy show, or whatever your favourite non-music audio thing is. It will keep your brain entertained and occupied while your body is on autopilot doing the washing up or vacuuming or whatever.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:08 AM on October 24, 2006

Count your blessings.
I don't enjoy house cleaning either, but whenever I do it - say emptying the dishwasher or cleaning windows - I tell myself that more than half the people in this world aren't fortunate enough to enjoy the level of comfort I've reached. I wash a crusty frying pan, I don't gripe, I'm thankful I have running water, etc.
It sounds corny, but it's amazing how much more positive your worldview (even on mundane stuff like chores) becomes when you take a moment to appreciate the fact it's only the luck of the draw that aren't living in some godforsaken corner of the planet where everyone is starving, diseased or at war.
Maybe it's just a matter of putting things into a rational perspective.
posted by sixpack at 7:10 AM on October 24, 2006

Mighty Goods recommends the book Home Comforts : The Art and Science of Keeping House for learning to take pleasure in housework.
posted by Famous at 7:12 AM on October 24, 2006

ipod + podcasts. works for me. I forget I'm cleaning.
posted by tomw at 7:13 AM on October 24, 2006

I find I need to listen to my entertainment on speakers, not headphones, or I end up withdrawing into my head and not really being effective. We own several sets of little portable ipod/laptop speakers, and I spend most of my cooking and cleaning time listening to This American Life archives, which you can now stream for free.

My biggest motivator is that it is much, much easier to clean all along than to let it get really bad and have to tackle this ordeal. When we're on a roll, we're using a modified Flylady routine that gets everything done pretty painlessly.

Case in point: just before I left the house this morning I saw the two dinner plates and silverware from last night's dinner in the sink. Those were the only things in the sink. I cook, my husband does the dishes, but it was just two plates and four pieces of flatware... It took 90 seconds, and I had needed to wash my hands anyway. This is a huge accomplishment for me, and it's really satisfying to know it's done.

I do think you have to learn how to do it right (my husband used to do everything just about the hardest way possible, and so cleaning time was really unpleasant with the swearing and frustration and unhappiness), and I think you have to learn to like it clean. I can ignore some pretty substantial messes, but when I do have something tidied up just right, it does now feel really good and is becoming something I desire. It just takes time.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:42 AM on October 24, 2006

Champagne. A whole bottle of champagne during cleaning gets me going. I may be giggly when my boyfriend gets home, but the dishes are washed, the laundry is folded and put away, and we can enjoy some time together before bed.
posted by youngergirl44 at 8:49 AM on October 24, 2006

First it might be a good idea to realize that you might never enjoy housework.

I will never enjoy doing dishes, making my bed, doing my laundry...simply because they're boring to me lol.

These acts are necessary however!

Music helps me clean. Having stuff I've Tivo'd playing also helps. Thinking about things you have to do or even daydreaming helps it go by faster.
posted by PetiePal at 10:48 AM on October 24, 2006

Response by poster: So many great suggestions, all -- thanks! I'm having a hard time choosing what to mark as best answers as there are a lot of them.

The most useful suggestions seem to fall into 3 categories:

1) Listening to narratives as opposed to music.

2) Breaking things into small but intense tasks with definite limits. (E.g., the Flylady way).

3) Learning how to clean more effeciently. (It takes make an hour+ just to do half of a small room).
posted by treepour at 11:27 AM on October 24, 2006

I hate cleaning too. For years I just bumbled along, then decided to read as many cleaning books as I could find in the library. I became a student of cleaning house...without being much of a practitioner. Don Aslett's first book was the most helpful. (Aslett's toilet-cleaning method took the disgust out of this job for me.)

Now my routine is to vacuum, clean sinks and toilet, and keep up with dishes and laundry. When company is coming I put in a little more effort, including dusting.

What helped me was learning how long each job took. Running a stopwatch while I swept a floor was diverting. I was surprised to learn I can vacuum every floor in the house in 45 min--I had thought it was at least four hours. Now, knowing that it takes 8 min to vacuum the bedroom means I'm likely just to do it rather than smolder in annoyance. Also, if I have company on their way over, I know what things I can achieve in 5 min.

It's helpful if your vacuum cleaner can remain stored out of sight but plugged in. That way it's easy to pull out, use, then put away even for a short job. A long cord that lets you cover the whole downstairs without unplugging and replugging is also a boon.

Somebody in my exercise class studied cleaning house in vo-tech school. She and I are going to have a talk! She said what she liked best was finishing the job, then going out to the garden and cutting a big vase of her dad's beautiful, fragrant roses, and putting them on the table.
posted by sevenstars at 11:34 AM on October 24, 2006

For serious cleaning: show tunes or any other fast, cheerful dance music. Loud.

I do dishes and maybe some laundry every morning while I make the coffee. Just 5 or 10 minutes worth, but it makes a dent, and it's such a small amount of work, it's no big deal. Make sure you have a decent vacuum cleaner, and cleaning tools available, so you don't always have to make a production out of it. Keeping cleanser & sponges and windex & paper towels in the bathroom and kitchen makes it easier to do small cleaning tasks before they get big and ugly.
posted by theora55 at 4:11 PM on October 24, 2006

It's never going to be a joy.

You need both strategies that make cleaning small messes quick and easy, and big whole-house strategies. Some small strategies include:

- A dust-buster is easier to whip out (and put back) than some monster high-cycolonic vacuum-of-death with a HEPA filter and upholstery tool. So if you, say, kick over the cat box, bada bing, bada boom, it's gone. (Although you still need a big vacuum for the rest of the house.)

- If you keep a stash of cleaner wipes in the john and kitchen, you can (if you get the whim) wipe down the counters/sink/fixtures/floor while you're waiting for your bathtub to fill, or your coffee to make itself.

Bigger strategies:

1. Have a look at Flylady's site. Remember, cleaning is Flylady's life (at least professionally), so of course she's more into it than anyone you ever met. You're not going to want to do everything she suggests. However, she's comfortable (as you and I are not) with an immutable truth: A reasonably tidy home requires that certain things be done periodically. You don't have to follow her schedule, but see if you can come up with one of your own. If you can pay your bills or get yourself to a gym on a regular basis, you can do the same for laundry.

2. Lose the clutter. Toss as much as you can bear to part with. It's that much less to clean. Do this every couple of months.

3. That said, clutter will accumulate. Put stuff away. In my opinion, this is the drudgiest aspect of housework, but I hear tell of people who manage to develop the habit of putting things away right after they finish using them. I've never met one personally, but it's something to shoot for.

4. If you don't have a dishwasher, get one if you possibly can. It makes a big difference. They're not just good for dishes--they're good for anything else that's dirty, won't dissolve in hot water and will fit inside.

5. Look into hiring someone.

6. You might want to talk to your partner about what standards of tidiness you both find reasonable. (This depends on your relationship. The idea is to have fewer arguments, not more.)
posted by MollyNYC at 6:55 PM on October 24, 2006

here's my $.02:

1) try to figure out exactly what you dislike about cleaning and try to address it. for me, i'm not experienced at cleaning and i find it overwhelming. giving myself permission to use disposables and keeping cleaning supplies nearby helped simplify things. i get squeemish about the toilet, so another breakthrough was getting a large box of disposable latex gloves. also, i really hate vacuuming, because the dust triggers my allergies and asthma. i have a pretty good (filtered) vacuum, but i've realized that it really helps if i wear a mask, or at least plan to leave the house right afterward.

2) find things you like about having cleaned. i like walking on the carpet barefoot and not feeling dog hair. that helps both with the motivation and my dislike for the vaccuming itself.

i agree with everyone that you may never like cleaning. hiring a cleaner has down sides, but if it works for you, super.

i'm still not good at cleaning, but it has gotten better. i wish you the best of luck. give yourself credit for small improvements!

i've got a question for sevenstars: what is "Aslett's toilet-cleaning method"? i hate it (and i'm a woman with my own toilet). the latex gloves help, but more help would be great...
posted by manduca at 10:53 PM on October 24, 2006

I like the fact that by taking care of the house, I'm taking care of the people that live there, those I love. Awesome!
posted by Goofyy at 3:45 AM on October 25, 2006

Aslett style toilet cleaning: spray from the bottom up, wipe clean from the top down.

First take stuff off the toilet top. Flush. Lift the seat. Using your bottle of diluted cleanser, start spraying from the bottom up--first at the base of the toilet, both sides, the rim, inside the bowl, the bottom of the seat. Lower the seat and spray the top of the seat, then the bottom of the lid. Lower the lid, spray the top of the lid and the back part of the toilet rim that the seat hides, then spray the tank with special attention to the handle (the dirtiest part of the toilet, he says).

Then you wipe down starting at the top, using paper towels. He uses a precisely folded cloth, but I'm a wastrel. Give the floor around the toilet a swipe too while you're bent down. Brush out the bowl and you're done. When I did this at work I used latex gloves but usually at home I don't, just wash my hands well when I'm finished. And now I feel like I need to go wash my hands.
posted by sevenstars at 10:15 AM on October 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Thanks sevenstars!
posted by manduca at 10:21 PM on October 25, 2006

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