Learning to love cleaning

Again, we welcome the phenomenal Monica Ricci as a guest author on Unclutterer. She’s the organizing adviser for Office Depot and Beazer Homes, and you may have seen her on HGTV’s Mission Organization. She’s a professional organizer hailing from Atlanta.

Creating an organized life means, among other things, taking control of your space. When did you last clean your toilets? How about your sinks? Mirrors? Floors? Whether you own or rent, live in a studio apartment or a large home, cleaning is a regular necessity. I’m willing to bet that with few exceptions you probably don’t look forward to cleaning? Yet, like it or not, housecleaning — like organizing — remains a lifelong maintenance task. In the spirit of enjoying your life as much as possible, how do you reconcile the fact that you have to do something you dislike over and over again for all of the foreseeable future? (Man, that sounds grim) The way I see it, you have only a few options…

  1. You can hire someone else to do it for you. This is a viable option for some people, but others either can’t justify the expense, or just plain can’t stomach the thought of paying someone to do something they can do for themselves.
  2. You can do it yourself and grumble and whine and dread every minute of it.
  3. You can do it yourself and enjoy it.

The first option is relatively easy. Ask for referrals from friends to find someone to clean for you who is reliable and trustworthy. The second option is the one a lot of people choose. They do clean their own homes, but only when it’s so bad they can’t stand it or when they’re expecting company. They dread thinking about it and dread doing it even more. Then when they do clean, they spend every minute wishing they were finished.

I’m all about option number three, and I want you to be too! So how do you take a task you hate and turn it around so you not only don’t dread it, but you actually begin to enjoy it? The secret is all in your mindset.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, living an organized life has a lot to do with taking control of your space. This means making sure the areas where you live and work are in a “positive state of readiness,” so they can support your life both mentally and physically. Cleanliness is part of that positive state of readiness, and here’s the secret to enjoying cleaning:

Look past the task and connect with the benefit it offers to your life.

Although housekeeping (and organizing) may seem like drudgery on the surface, if you can mentally and emotionally connect with the deeper benefit, the task becomes easier and feels more worthwhile in exchange for a larger future benefit. So, keeping your house clean and orderly is just like going to the gym, going to college, or anything with a long term benefit. You do what you must now in order to feel a certain way and have a specific result later.

Think of housekeeping as another expression of love for yourself and your family, rather than a necessary evil, and you’ll dread it less and enjoy it more.

18 Comments for “Learning to love cleaning”

  1. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    Housecleaning is an excuse to play party music REALLY loud. You can also practice your dance moves with the vacuum cleaner. Your kids will think you’ve gone nuts but that’s okay too, besides you can tell them if THEY pitch in and houseclean you will let them listen to their music instead of yours.

  2. posted by Michele on

    I’ve found that regularly keeping my place straight, neat, and clean makes it easier to deal with occasions when I have to let the upkeep slip. For instance, this past week my cat had to be put down. Since I usually immediately open and sort my postal mail every day, I didn’t fall behind on bills or miss any when I suddenly couldn’t deal with the mail for a week. Since I usually do the dishes at least once per day, I didn’t run out of dishes or pots and pans when some other obligations came up against the emergency trips to the vet.

    (The same goes for keeping my pantry regularly stocked: I didn’t have to run to a convenience store or get take-out food because I always keep staples on hand. But that’s not an uncluttering strategy, so it’s a little off-topic.)

    Cleaning the bathroom is light work (for me) if I do it weekly, and it’s not much harder to do if it’s delayed one week. But if it were one more week on top of . . . months? Really stressful, and harder work. For me, one way to think about housework is that it’s work “in the bank” for when an emergency — or just a weird week — comes up. If something stressful unexpectedly happens, then at least I don’t have the extra worry of the house being messy and dirty, too.

  3. posted by Vicki K. on

    Thank you for this Perspective. Over time I have learned to love doing laundry and keeping it orderly. One of the keys to this is being organized in the laundry process by giving everyone in our family their own “lights” and “darks” baskets. It comes to me sorted and after washing and drying, I don’t have to think about whose socks are whose – I just fold and stack and put the bundles on their beds – they put it all away.

    Now if only I can adopt your bathroom cleaning plan…

  4. posted by Another Deb on

    Cleaning may not be exactly enjoyable, but it is very satisfying.

    Also, if you are a procrastinator as I am, cleaning is a productive way to use that time. Sometimes cleaning produces the breakthrough I need to end the procrastination. I believe that was discussed in an earlier column as a sort of mindless therapy activity. Hey, it has worked for me!

  5. posted by Rose on

    I realize I am probably an outlier but if the rug doesn’t change color when I vacuum it, why bother? I like the look of a clean house but I also like to see change in what I’ve cleaned. Cleaning something that is really dirty is more satisfying to me than cleaning something that is already pretty clean.

  6. posted by gypsy packer on

    As an allergy sufferer, I had a lifelong detestation of housework. I sneezed my way through tasks reluctantly, and put off stirring up dust as long as possible. Modern medications enabled me to clean without the repercussions, and, during a period of unemployment, I started doing cleaning for others.

    A mp3 player or iPod will make the job endurable. Get the dance playlist going, load an inspirational or educational podcast. After work, get out the scented soap, bubble bath, body fragrances, and satin and pamper yourself.

  7. posted by Manja on

    For those who are interested in spirituality: a Dutch writer published a book called ‘De magie van het huishouden’ (The Magical Housekeeper) some years ago.

    Most cleaning books tell you HOW to clean, but this book tells you WHY to clean. Enjoy the translated short version at: http://www.yoeke.com/documents.....keeper.pdf

  8. posted by Sky on

    Cleaning isn’t my favorite thing to do but coming home from work or a trip to a clean, organized home is so nice.
    Also, it’s so much easier to keep it clean and organized than to let it go and start over.

    I’ve always felt my home is a reflection of me and my state of mind. Maybe it’s silly, but I’m embarrassed if someone stops by and everything is in a mess!

    Michelle, sorry about your cat :(

  9. posted by Kitty on

    I love keeping my house clean. Since I have cats I do vacuum twice a week but otherwise I find that if I only just pick up after myself and straighten and put things back in their place on a daily basis (10 – 20 minutes per day) it is never necessary to spend a full day cleaning. My only big regular cleaning job is mopping the kitchen and mudroom and I only have to do that every 2 weeks if I keep it swept and maintained between moppings. I will admit that I have the luxury of living by myself in a relatively small home (1200 sf). I find that when I have a clean and orderly home I feel at peace.

    I do judge people by the cleanliness and order of their homes because I have found that a cluttered, dirty home is almost always a reflection of a cluttered mind and soul. I give extra leeway to people with young children but still. I mean, how is it that people can prepare a healthy, nutritious, loving meal in a kitchen with a filthy fridge full of old produce and expired stuff and a sink that hasn’t been scrubbed in 6 months?

  10. posted by Michele on

    @Sky – Thank you! She was geriatric, but it was still painful. The other cat keeps looking for her, which can be a little heartbreaking. On the other hand — am I a bad person for seeing the silver lining that I no longer have to change the litter every 4-5 days, but that I can start doing it maybe every 7-8 days now?

    I hear you about coming home to a clean, organized space. I detest waking up to or coming home to a messy kitchen. I’ve come to hate that worse than I hate doing dishes! I end up doing dishes at least once a day, and usually twice. But on the other hand, it makes for a very light, quick task most of the time, because it’s just me in the household, plus my daughter for about half the week.

  11. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    @Jackie: So true. Cleaning is so much easier with some really loud George Michael happening in the background. (Did I really just admit that on the interwebs?)

  12. posted by Sara on

    I wish I could keep this mindset. I’m trying, but I find it very challenging.

    @Kitty-Don’t judge until you’ve walked a mile. I have 2 small children and a dog and I spend WAY, WAY more than 10-20 minutes per day picking up/cleaning/doing laundry/doing dishes and my house is still frequently a wreck. Your condescension may be losing you invitations to friends’ homes who know that they cannot live up to your standards.

    I know it will get easier as my kids get older, but right now, when I spend the time it takes to keep everything picked up I am forgoing the entire reason I stay home with my kids-spending time with them reading, playing, etc. I end up feeling so frustrated when advice given just is not realistic when you have kids.

  13. posted by Karolina on

    I think it’s really important to set up every room of your house with a view to make it easy to clean. So in my ideal place, there would be no moldings with a top surface that you need to dust; toilets attached to the wall so you can sweep under them easily; an easy-to-clean stove (no shiny cooking surfaces that you need to polish all the time), etc.

    I recently moved into a newly renovated apartment and it’s a breeze to keep it clean; it feels like it cleans itself. In all the older places I’ve lived in, though, it felt like I could scrub for hours and still wouldn’t get the results I wanted.

    So I guess that’s option 4: As much as possible, make cleaning easy.

  14. posted by John on

    If you do decide to pay someone else, you might want to check out assuredlabor.com as they have done most of the legwork in finding a trustworthy cleaner.

  15. posted by Sara on

    @Manja – Thank you for recommending the Magical Housekeeper and providing the link. I just read it and it is wonderful. What a much happier way to look at cleaning and life!

  16. posted by Kim Lemon on

    My mother always said that a good cook always “cleans as she/he goes along”. While I don’t think her guidance made me a good cook, it did launch a lifelong passion for cleaning.

    As I’ve grown older, preservation and maintenance have become the words I use rather than cleaning. They evoke a value that the word cleaning, alone, does not.

    I chronicle my daily journey on my blog, cleanistry.com.

  17. posted by jesser on

    We currently have a cleaning person come once every other week. It isn’t my favorite way to spend $75, but at the point we are right now (one small child, one on the way), I think it has been the right choice for us. Of course this by no means gets us entirely off the hook cleaning wise and I fall into the clean as I go/routine maintenance camp. I also find that pleasantly scented non-chemical cleaning supplies make the job much more to my liking.

  18. posted by Isabella Knightly on

    Heyy my Name is Isabella Knightly and i find cleaning VERY hard :[ its SO boring! and party music dsnt do anything but get me distracted and i just cant get into the Habit Of LOVING something i really DESPISE! but i need my house 2 be clean or else it will be messy and i CANT affford someone to do it 4 me. UGH!!! cleaning SUCKS

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