I recently moved to a new apartment and in the process of cleaning out my old bedroom, I discovered what a disgusting human being I have been for the last three years.
I’ve always thought of myself as relatively clean and organised — I shower daily, launder weekly, and make it a point to never leave food wrappers or dirty dishes lying about. Impressive, no?
And yet. I found dust bunnies that had grown into mutant rabbits under my bed; a bag of dried mascara on my dresser; and crumpled-up supermarket receipts stuffed in a desk drawer.
Upon arriving at my new apartment, I vowed to myself that I would never let this happen again. That, no matter how busy and overwhelmed I felt by the demands of daily life, I would Swiffer and scrub and purge unnecessary junk on a regular basis.
So that when guests come over, I could, theoretically, invite them to peer under the bed and wipe their finger along the dresser top and marvel at my exceptional hygiene practices. In case I needed further prodding, Business Insider’s Erin Brodwin had recently written a story on the scientific benefits of tidying up.
I knew this would be easier talked about than done — housework can be boring and annoying and exhausting all at once. And so I sought research and expert opinion on ways to motivate myself to stay clean and organised (or really, to do anything).
Here’s the best of what I found:
Break it down into smaller tasks
A 2015 study suggests that breaking up a big task into smaller pieces is one way to combat procrastination. That's because simply completing a task -- even a tiny one -- can be psychologically rewarding.
So try deconstructing the cleaning job into super-simple steps: Buy cleaning supplies one day, sweep the living room floor the next day, clean the kitchen counters the third day, etc. You'll be more likely to tackle the project this way than if you expect you'll do the whole thing in a single afternoon.
Knock down the barriers to staying clean
Sometimes you're going to feel pumped to clean and sometimes you won't. It's how human motivation works.
In a 2012 presentation, psychologist BJ Fogg explained that when you do feel motivated, you should do everything you can to make it easier to clean when you're not motivated.
For example, when your motivation is high, you should buy cleaning supplies, unpack them, and put the broom and dustpan right by your bed. That way, when you come home after a long day, all you've got do is grab the cleaning supplies right in front of you to get started.
Set a 10-minute alarm
Redditors stand by this tip. One described it this way: 'I set an alarm for 10 minutes and then see how much I can get done in that time. Usually, it gets me motivated to keep going after the timer goes off, but if it doesn't at least I did something.'
As procrastination expert Timothy A. Pychyl told Psychology Today: 'Make a deal with yourself' that even though you don't like doing the task, you'll do it anyway for 10 minutes. Once you've already made some progress, it will be less tempting to quit.
So sweep half the room, or go through one pile of papers to see what's trash. You might feel so accomplished that you keep going for another hour.
Remember that you don't have to feel like cleaning
Burkeman asks: 'Who says you need to wait until you 'feel like' doing something in order to start doing it?'
In other words, Halvorson explains, you don't need to feel inspired to clean or committed to cleaning -- though that would be nice. You just need to get it done.
Know that it's ok to outsource your chores
Perhaps you feel like hiring someone else to clean for you would be lazy or not worth the money. Try it once and see how it feels.
In 2015, Business Insider's Jacqui Kenyon wrote about sending her laundry to a wash-and-fold service, because it's not that much more expensive than doing it herself and it saves a lot of time and energy.
Meanwhile, former Business Insider editor Jenna Goudreau said she pays $80 a month for a housekeeper -- and it may have been the best money she'd ever spent.
Ultimately, if you really want a tidy apartment and you know you're never going to choose cleaning over working or socialising, this may be the best option.
Use if-then planning
In that same Harvard Business Review article, Halvorson describes 'if-then planning' and why it's effective. Instead of trying to summon the willpower to sweep twice a week, you give yourself specific instructions about where and when you'll sweep.
For example: 'If it's noon on Sunday, I will get out the broom and sweep the living room.'
Ask yourself if you really need to be cleaning right now
For all the benefits of keeping a tidy home, there are other productive ways to spend your time and energy.
Dolan said: 'If I had a choice between being outside with my kids on a beautiful Saturday and staying inside to make sure my desk is tidy, I'd go for the former.'
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