A friend of mine, who is obviously much grosser than I am, wanted to know how to motivate herself to clean her home on a regular basis.
After, all cleaning and decluttering have psychological benefits — but they can also be boring and annoying.
To help out said friend who is definitely not me, I did some research on the most effective ways to trick yourself into not being a slob.
Here’s the best of what I found:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.”
7. Ask yourself if you really need to be cleaning right now
If you really don’t want to do it, maybe you don’t need to. 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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