How to motivate for cleaning/organizing?
July 26, 2007 12:48 PM   Subscribe

Tips for getting motivatd to clean/organize?

I desperately need help for getting motivated to clean and organize my room. This isn't a matter of laziness in general. In fact, I've been on a cleaning tear for every other part of the house (I'm taking a break from scrubbing the kitchen floor to ask this, even).

Even though my room is probably the space in most dire need of attention, I seem to have a mental block with it. Breaking up the task into smaller parts, playing music, etc, have not helped me get this job done. The room gets worse and worse, falling into a state of chaos.

Please give me any tips you have for getting motivated to do tedious organization and cleaning jobs.
posted by piratebowling to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
The mental block thing is a big one for me - I just don't know where to begin sometimes!

What's worked in the past is to identify the problem and then tackle it with small steps. Today, just the books, tomorrow, the paper, the next day my closet, etc.

Good luck!
posted by MiffyCLB at 12:52 PM on July 26, 2007

Best answer: Fun! Draw a map of your room from above. Do it to scale, use a measuring tape to measure the walls. Then add in the furniture, etc. You may find new places you want to put things, and nothing motivates cleaning and sorting like being excited to move stuff around.

On your map you can much more effectively break up your room into zones of what goes where. Plus you can add fun details like cardinal directions, and where the ghosts live.
posted by hermitosis at 1:07 PM on July 26, 2007

Set up rewards for results, perhaps? If you have something you'd like but feel requires accomplishment, this is it. My own: for cleaning out the garage, all revenue from the garage sale goes toward the frivolous item that I've been denying myself. And, as a bonus, I get a clean garage.
posted by Arch1 at 1:07 PM on July 26, 2007

What helps me is this: you're cleaning, not to achieve a metaphysical ideal of Cleanliness, but to make your room look nice. So take the two or three categories of things which contribute most to it looking bad, sort them and put them away. Then you've broken up your mental block and can continue. (I like to reward myself with booze/drugs; ymmv)

Alternatively, you can probably just set all that shit on fire. In six months you won't even notice.
posted by nasreddin at 1:11 PM on July 26, 2007

Also, what NEVER fails to work for me: invite someone over to do something that will require being in the offending room. Nothing whips me into shape faster than the dread of someone thinking that I sleep in a nest of slacks and cat hair.
posted by hermitosis at 1:12 PM on July 26, 2007 [7 favorites]

- Make a video or photographic project out of it. Construct a narrative around each task, like, "If memory serves, I used to own a hamster. His name was Sniffle. His cage should be around here somewhere....", things like that. Then make a video or photographic project out of the, if you're like me, inevitable slow decline into chaos once more.

- Get a cheap dartboard. Map our your room on a piece of paper and tape it to the board. Invite over a VERY good friend and have them throw the dart. Together you clean up the area they hit, then you take them out for pizza afterward. (Even having somebody just hold open a garbage bag and let me toss in whatever junk I want to be rid of helps me.)

- Pick a small area you want to clean like, say, your desk drawer. Get a small plastic grocery bag for castoffs. Then, call a good friend and have a chat while you throw things away, tidy up this corner, etc. I often get the whole kitchen cleaned up in about ten minutes if my Mom happens to call right after dinner.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 1:14 PM on July 26, 2007

How's this for motivation:


Don't make me get the paddle.
posted by hermitosis at 1:19 PM on July 26, 2007 [8 favorites]

For me, it's having boxes, containers, and shelves available to put all the stuff I want to keep somewhere, but not clutter rooms with. I've recently started to work through all my stuff from the bottom to the top of my house, hoping to massively distribute the clutter in my room to other parts of the (now clutter-free) house.

2nd the suggestion to have someone help, even if minimal. The last thing I want when I'm surrounded by piles of stuff is to have to unseat myself to get a trash bag, or dump a wastebasket out, or get another storage container. Keeping up the rhythm of moving/sorting/judgment/packing/tossing is essential I find. It's often very easy to guilt someone into tiny tasks like these when it's obvious you're doing the bulk of the work.
posted by cowbellemoo at 1:25 PM on July 26, 2007

Get an egg timer or something. Do 15 minutes tidying , starting at the door and moving clockwise. When the timer goes off, down tools and have a nice treat. Well done, you have made progress! Repeat until you are tired of treats. Do it again tomorrow.
posted by nowonmai at 1:32 PM on July 26, 2007

Best answer: Caffeine. Lots of it.

Commit to filling up a garbage bag full of either garbage to throw out, unnecessary stuff that can be put in storage, or clothing for Good Will.

Make a list of things that need to get done, print it out and check them off when you're done. Here is MY list:

1. Make the bed
2. Throw away all garbage
3. Put any glasses/dishes in kitchen sink
4. Hang/put away clean clothes (*if there is no room in drawers/closet, think about what you can get rid of permanently, and what can be stored until winter)
5. Throw dirty clothes in hamper
6. Straighten up tops of dressers/desk
7. Put all chochkes/papers in special decorative boxes/files respectively
8. Vacuum
9. Enjoy celebratory cocktail in newly clean room (*try your damnedest to clean it up when you're done)
posted by infinityjinx at 1:33 PM on July 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

My sister went through a phase (at 27, mind you, not a kid) of not tidying her room. It really got her down. So one day, while she was sat on the bed moaning about what a mess it was, I told her to pick up the pair of socks she had her feet on. She did, while continuing moaning. 20 minutes later, simply by making her pick up one thing and deal with it, the floor was tidy, without her even realising she's done it.

Moral - do literally one thing at a time, and do something to distract you while you do it. Maybe even just start at the doorway, and work your way in?

I'm curious - what is it about your bedroom that makes it so "special"? Perhaps when you know what that is, you can work on dealing with that issue, rather than try to fight your way to it by cleaning the room?
posted by Rabulah at 1:41 PM on July 26, 2007

Best answer: In what way is your room a disaster area? Too much stuff? No assigned places for things? Paper and books? Clothes all over the place? You've stashed stuff in there that belongs elsewhere? Maybe it would help to choose one problem and tackle it. I know you said that breaking the job down hasn't helped. Try mentally breaking iot down in various ways till you come up with something tolerable.

An idea that sounds nutty: Start at the door and proceed left-to-right (or vice-versa). When you come to something that needs to be tossed, moved elsewhere, filed, etc., take care of it as best you can. Then go back to the point in the room where you left off, and keep on. I read about this in a book by Don Aslett. A problem arises when you come to something that doesn't have a place where it belongs, or if your filing system is bad or nonexistant. I ended up with a two or three for "figure out what to do with this" things.

Sometimes when I'm really at a motivational loss, I'll try to think of some unconventional or goofy way to do whatever it is, and just give it a go. Your usual approaches aren't working, so maybe you should try to do something that doesn't seem quite so methodical or sensible.

I don't know if you've looked at, but you might find something there that will get you started. You know... like just make the bed especially neatly, and see how you feel.
posted by wryly at 1:53 PM on July 26, 2007

I make the bed first, b/c it makes my room look at least somewhat clean. Then, I pile EVERYTHING on top of the bed. That way, I can't go to bed until everything is put away.

Or I just end up sleeping on the floor.
posted by kidsleepy at 1:56 PM on July 26, 2007

Breaking it up into smaller tasks will not help because when there's too much mess there simply isn't a single task that can be started and finished without getting in the way of or being messed up by lots of other tasks. You can't commit to "just folding and organizing my clothes today" because there will be books or shoes on the way, or it will be necessary to clean up the drawers first, or whatever. It's all a big TANGLED mess. I feel ya.

In my case, what has helped is to start by just throwing stuff away. Grab a huge plastic bag, or place a large cardboard box just outside the door and just toss stuff right in there as you come upon them. It's the easier task to do because you don't need to organize the trash, don't need to fold it or store it somewhere else while you make room for it, don't need to separate it into piles or categorize it: you just toss it.

Toss everything in the same box: clothes you don't need, old work papers, receipts, whatever. Later you can sort it better if you wish, but the idea here is to just get something out of the way, simply, effectively and quickly.

You'll be amazed of how much gets cleared up just by doing this. Good luck!
posted by AnyGuelmann at 2:07 PM on July 26, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks so far for all the suggestions. I've maked a couple best answers so far and want to address a few things.

Re: inviting people over, no good for three reason. One, there is nothing particularly entertaining in my room (other than perhaps my bed, but um, things aren't so hot in that department at the moment). Two, if I invite people over for something that you don't need to be in my room to do I just close the door. Finally, three, everyone I know knows that I am a huge slob in my room, expect it to be a mess and thus avoid it.

I like AnyGuelmann's idea as well, except the "throwing everything into a box to sort later" idea doesn't work so great for me. I still have a huge box of crap I need to sort through from last time.

I know this is all part of a long-running problem I've had with my own personal space, and inability to keep it in order. I'm hoping all this will bring on longer-term change.
posted by piratebowling at 2:15 PM on July 26, 2007

Areas that I have a hard time cleaning are the ones that are cluttered with a huge assortment of different items that don't have clearly defined homes, requiring me to pick up each thing, look it over, and try to figure out how I'm going to deal with it. The time and energy required to make each of these decisions adds up and I usually end up getting discouraged by my lack of overall progress and quitting or just piling lots of disparate items into boxes/closet/back room shelves to "deal with later."

If you can't get motivated to tackle the room, first motivate yourself to organize your long-term storage so that you have a better idea of where things should go, and room enough to put them there. Then go through the whole room in passes, dealing not with on thing at a time, but with one category of thing at a time: pass 1 is collecting and disposing of all trash (and be ruthless about what constitutes "trash",) pass 2 is laundry, pass 3 is books, pass 4 is mail/documents to be filed, etc. If something doesn't obviously fit the category you're working on, ignore it. Whatever's left at the end should be a much smaller pile that can be considered individually, with an eye toward the creation of new categories for next time.

I find it much easier to treat tidying up as a room-wide sorting operation, rather than completely clearing one section at a time. The idea is to turn off your brain and let yourself do one easy task over and over. The fewer decisions you're making, the less chance you'll get sidetracked or discouraged, and the easier it is to tune out the job and listen to your music. Once you've gotten the whole room thoroughly decluttered, the vacuuming/dusting is easy.

Now I just wish I could practice what I preach.
posted by contraption at 2:23 PM on July 26, 2007

That "huge box of crap I need to sort through from last time"? How long ago was last time? If it was over a year ago, you've clearly done fine without whatever was in there so you should tape it up and get rid of it without looking inside.
posted by stopgap at 2:27 PM on July 26, 2007

Seriously - go to It is the thing that got me going from chaos (can't have anyone over syndrome) to organized. She is an advocate of setting a timer and doing something for 15 minutes. She also has very specific ways to get started, which helped me because I was feeling very overwhelmed. You could look at her list for the bedroom, for example. Just take baby steps, baby steps, baby steps...
posted by la petite marie at 2:35 PM on July 26, 2007

Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui. Don't worry about the title, most of the book has nothing to do with any kind of supernatural ideas. I have conducted a couple of massive clear outs on the strength of the motivation I got from this book.
posted by teleskiving at 3:52 PM on July 26, 2007

One more vote for the idea of having someone come work with you as you do the organizing.

This could be someone who just stays with you to keep you focused and on-task, or someone who helps in whatever way you find helpful.

And given my professon, I feel compelled to mention that a professional organizer might help. Many people hire organizers for the same reason I hired a personal trainer - without that person, nothing was happening in moving toward my goals.

And Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui is indeed a wonderful book, and flylady works really well for some people.
posted by jeri at 5:22 PM on July 26, 2007

There are a lot of TV shows on the home-oriented channels now that focus on cleaning up clutter (must be a common concern). One I like is "Neat." I watched it last night (one episode was about a women with a VERY messy bedroom, saved and made beautiful by the end of the show). After the show, I had a real urge to go clean and declutter something. Maybe something like that would inspire you!
posted by TochterAusElysium at 6:19 PM on July 26, 2007

(The before and after photos from that site might also be inspirational...)
Best of luck, piratebowling. Go do it!
posted by TochterAusElysium at 6:26 PM on July 26, 2007

I agree with Wryly: start at the door. Examine everything within 1cm of the door. If it's rubbish, bin it. If not, put it in the right place. If it's dusty, you can dust it. Then increase to 2cm and repeat.

This method has the advantage of making your partly-cleaned room look like a progress bar as clear, organised room steadily fills your field of view (when you stand at the door and look in).
posted by hAndrew at 7:36 PM on July 26, 2007

Well, I'll share what worked when my room was truly out of control (i.e., when I was a teenager):

*invite a friend over, the kind you can chat to for hours. She doesn't have to help, just sit on the bed/chair and talk while you put stuff away. (though, in my case, she would clean while I talked, and then we would reverse in her room - I don't know why it was more fun to clean someone else's room)

*to second kidsleepy: first, make the bed, then put everything that is on the floor (or, if you are not quite as bad as I was, stuff on other horizontal surfaces) on the bed. Just not having to be bent over for an hour is helpful. Plus, once you've got it all on the bed, you have to move it somewhere before bed, might as well be to the right places.

*sorting: I would gather all the empty laundry baskets in the house (~3) and fill one each with clothes, books/magazines, and everything else. Clothes go in the washing machine, books should have an obvious home, and everything else.

*Next sort level: stuff that stays in this room vs. stuff that goes in other rooms. Put away everything that has a home. Now whatever's left, you have to find a home for.
posted by timepiece at 1:34 PM on July 27, 2007

« Older What am I missing re: python/urllib2?   |   Digital voice recording Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.