An uncluttered plunger, really

Every once in awhile, I’m truly impressed by what a product can do. The first time I used the Shazam application on my iPhone, I was in disbelief for hours (to this day, if someone told me magic is involved in its operation, I wouldn’t be surprised). I had a similar reaction when I saw a demonstration at the National Association of Professional Organizer’s conference of the new Rubbermaid Clean and Dry Plunger (yes, you just read that correctly, I was impressed by a toilet plunger … and you probably will be, too):

I didn’t over-sell that, right? The plunger has a NeverWet coating on it that prevents anything — water, bacteria, whatever else is in your toilet — from sticking to it. (NeverWet is like Rain-X on steroids, because it repels even more than water.) Which means that after you plunge your toilet, you can’t drip dirty water onto your floor or spread germs to the area where you store your plunger. Oils from your hands can destroy the NeverWet coating, so you can’t touch the plunger, but I’m not really sure that is something people usually do, anyway.

I’ll be honest, I never expected to be dazzled by a toilet plunger, but life is interesting that way. As far as uncluttered home maintenance products go, a plunger that doesn’t drip toilet water through my bathroom or spread germs is an advancement I can support.

And, once again, it should go without saying, but Rubbermaid did not pay me or give me anything to write this post. I sincerely just think it’s awesome.

The dirty truth about messy offices

For good or bad, people make assumptions about you based on the appearance of your office. If they see a framed picture on your desk of you standing on a beach with two children, they instantly assume you like going to the beach on vacation, you have two kids, and you enjoy being reminded of this vacation while you’re at work. If you have a law school diploma and a state bar association certificate framed and hanging on your office walls, people seeing these items assume you’re a lawyer, who graduated from a specific school, who is legal to practice law in your state.

The previously mentioned examples of the family photo and the diploma both resulted in positive assumptions about you and these items were likely placed in the office to elicit the exact responses they received. The bad side of assumptions based solely on appearances is that people can also come to negative conclusions about you. For example, a consistently messy desk (not one that is disrupted for a few hours each day as you plow through a project, but one that is disorganized, dirty, and cluttered over a prolonged period of time) can hurt you professionally because it gives the impression to your coworkers you’re not a good employee, even if your work product proves otherwise.

On April 13, Businessweek published the article “Clean Your Messy Desk, Lest Ye Be Judged.” The article, as you probably assume based on its title, explains the downsides of having a perpetually messy office. From the article:

… according to a survey of U.S. workers by hiring firm Adecco, 57 percent of people have judged a co-worker based on the state of his or her workspace. A clean desk sends the message that you’re organized and accomplished, while a disheveled one implies that the rest of your life is in a similar state.

Katherine Trezise, the president of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (you may know ICD by its former name, the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization) comments on the survey’s findings in the Businessweek article:

Trezise says that a little mess is OK, but that “the problem comes in when it affects other people. Can you do your job? Maintain relationships with colleagues?” If the answer is no, you might need to rethink your habits.

To keep your coworkers from making negative, and probably inaccurate, judgments about your job performance, spend five to ten minutes each day cleaning and straightening your workspace before heading home. Return dirty dishes to the break room, wipe up any spills, process the papers in your inbox, throw away trash, put away current projects to their active file boxes, and set your desk so it is ready for you to work from it immediately when you arrive to your office the next morning. Not only will these simple steps send a positive message to your coworkers, but they will also help you to be more productive. For larger projects, such as waist-high stacks of papers and towers of boxes cluttering up your office, schedule 30 minutes each day to chip away at these piles. Your coworkers will notice your efforts and start to reassess their negative assumptions.

For the rare few of you who work for bosses who believe a messy desk is proof of your competency, I recommend keeping a fake stack of papers on your desk for the purpose of looking disorganized. To create your fake mess: assemble five inches of papers from the office recycling bin and wrap a large rubber band around the stack. The bundling will make the stack of papers simple to pull out of a drawer when you need it to influence your boss, and it will also make sure you don’t get any important papers mixed in with the decoy stack. Think of the stack of papers similar to a potted plant (which, oddly enough, researchers have discovered gives the impression to your coworkers that you’re a team player, so put a single plant in your office if you don’t already have one).

Like most of you, I don’t love that assumptions about job performance are influenced by the appearance of one’s office, but feelings about assumptions aren’t important. If you want a promotion and/or raise, if you want your coworkers and boss to have positive opinions about your work, and you want to give the accurate impression that you value your job and place of employment, then keeping your office organized and clean can’t hurt you in your pursuit of these goals. My opinion is that in this economy you do what you can to keep a job you love, so it’s a good idea to spend the five or ten minutes each day helping yourself in a positive way.

Spring is here and cleaning is in the air

Around 1:15 this morning, those of us in the northern hemisphere officially started spring. The local weathermen explained to me as I sipped my coffee that because this is a leap year, spring showed up on the calendar a day early. As we did yard work and waved to our neighbors over the weekend, it was obvious — at least in our part of the country — that winter had ended.

If spring sprung up on you and took you by surprise, the following 10 tasks are what I consider to be the most valuable spring cleaning activities. These are the Firsts, the things to get to before the other activities:

  1. Check fire extinguishers, furnace filters, and batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors (if you didn’t do these tasks when you moved your clocks ahead an hour). Remember, safety first.
  2. Purge all expired food from your refrigerator and pantry. If you’re unsure of an item’s freshness, check StillTasty.com and/or the product’s website (especially good for condiments that take up near-permanent residence in the door of your refrigerator).
  3. Clean gunk out of your gutters if you have gutters.
  4. Rake the last batch of dead leaves out of your yard and pick up sticks and debris that fell during the last few months of winter.
  5. Inspect any lawn maintenance chemicals you had stored for the winter, such as pesticides or fertilizers. Make sure none of these items are leaking or expired.
  6. Have your law mower serviced so it’s ready and working when your yard is ready to mow.
  7. Dust. I like to carry a hand vacuum with me as I go to suck the grime off the cloth.
  8. Move furniture (including your bed and bookshelves) and vacuum or sweep every inch of your floors.
  9. If you have pets, bring out the Furminator and start the regular task of brushing to get rid of that heavy winter coat.
  10. Sort through your clothing and coat closets and donate to charity all items you never plan to wear again. Clean heavy sweaters you intend to keep and take steps to properly store them to prevent pest invasions over the summer. Clean and put away heavy winter boots and shoes. Finally, bring out any stored warmer weather clothes and get your wardrobe ready for the next six months.

What must-do items are on your spring cleaning list? If I don’t do the items listed above, I feel like I’m not ready for spring. How about you?

More spring cleaning tips and advice from our archives:

Stop overlooking the perpetually out-of-place stuff

Objects can easily go on walkabout and then hang out, as if on vacation, in whatever random location you left them. If this happens to you (like it does me from time-to-time), try these five strategies to help you to see and deal with the perpetually out-of-place stuff in your home and office:

  1. Take photographs of all areas of a room and then look intently at the pictures. I’m not sure how it works, but analyzing an image can often help you see clutter you’ve become blind to in person. Dust bunnies under your monitor, stray toys under your dining room buffet, junk mail on your fireplace mantel jump out in photos but blend into the woodwork in person.
  2. Invite people over to your house for a party. Again, I’m not sure how it works, but having non-immediate family in your home can often make you to see clutter you had been previously immune to in your space.
  3. Become a stray stuff collector. Grab an empty laundry basket and see how many stray objects you can find in a room. Record the number, and then repeat the process in exactly one week. Do this task weekly in a room until the number regularly falls below two stray objects. Then, repeat the process in another room.
  4. Notice repeat offenders. If you are constantly finding the same object out of place, you may have the “wrong” storage space for the object. Would you be able to store the object in a more convenient location so that it’s not constantly cluttering up a room?
  5. A place for everything. Be sure everything you own has a permanent storage space. If it doesn’t, the object will always be out of place. This means you should have a permanent home for stamps, rubber bands, paper clips, spare change, bills, gift cards, medicine, etc.

How do you deal with perpetually out-of-place stuff in your spaces? Share your strategies — and your struggles — in the comments.

Clean and organize your refrigerator

Tomorrow, November 15, is Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day in the U.S. I’m not really sure who decided to declare such a day, but my guess is a refrigerator manufacturer or food producer had something to do with it. I only know about it because of Hallmark’s Ultimate Holiday Site, which tracks the most absurd holidays. (Case in point, today is National Guacamole and Pickle Day.) Although zany, Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day makes a teensy bit of sense being so close to Thanksgiving — it is a good idea to make room in your refrigerator for all the food that will be needing space in the coming days.

When cleaning out a refrigerator that hasn’t been tended to in many months, I like to tackle it in the following manner:

  • Gather supplies. Two large trash bags nested one inside the other (food is heavy and a broken bag makes a huge mess) is a must. You’ll also want a bucket with fresh, warm (not hot) water and mild dish detergent with a sponge. Also, a roll of paper towels or a few clean hand towels are good to have with you to dry the shelves when you’re finished wiping them down, especially for the freezer. Finally, I recommend having a notepad and pen handy so you can create a shopping list as you work.
  • Purge all food past its prime. Working from top to bottom, clear out all food from your refrigerator that is expired, rotten, and not good for eating. If you don’t know if something is edible, check StillTasty.com. If a food is in a jar or bottle and you can’t find its expiration date, visit the company’s website. Many websites have sections where you can enter the item’s bar code and learn its shelf life information.
  • Wipe it down. Give all the walls and shelves of your refrigerator a firm but gentle scrubbing. Clean up all spills, leaks, and general yuckiness that can dirty up the inside of your refrigerator.
  • Organize. In addition to putting like items with like items (making it easier to retrieve foods, as well as remembering what items you have), consider employing some advanced organizing techniques. Add stackable, removable shelves or under shelf baskets to better separate items. Use shelf liners to make it easier to clean up future messes and to keep round foods from rolling. If your crisper is where foods go to mold, try removing your drawers so you won’t forget about your produce (if you’re a visual processor, this may really help you). Also, learn what the recommended cooling temperatures for your food are so you know where the best place is inside your refrigerator to store each item.
  • Clean the containers. Now is a great time to wash all the reusable food containers that may have been hiding storing rotted items.

While you’re working, it’s also nice to inspect the seals on your refrigerator. Are they letting air escape? If they are, you can likely replace them yourself for not very much money or effort. Check your manufacturer’s website for exact information on the replacement seal required for your specific refrigerator model.

If your workplace refrigerator is in need of a good cleaning, you still have time to organize a clean-up project for tomorrow. You may want to add rubber gloves to your list of supplies, though. You never know what science experiments are happening in the back of those shelves.

Random note: November 15 is also Sadie Hawkins Day, so if you are female you can ask a male to help you clean out your refrigerator and celebrate two bizarre holidays at once.

Clean your barbecue grill? Might want to wait until spring

I’m a fan of grilling all year round — even in the snow and ice of winter — but many people pack up their grills in the fall. If you’re someone who puts your grill away for the six cold months, consider the idea of not giving your grill a hardcore cleaning before putting it into storage.

The baked on crust that surrounds the metal on your grill grate will help protect the grate from rusting during the winter months. Rust can’t oxidize the metal grate if air and water aren’t able to directly come into contact with it. Instead of scrubbing the metal until it shines, take a clean, dry, cotton rag and wipe off all the large food crumbs and burned bits, but leave the black coating intact on the grate. Next spring, when you start up your grill for the first time, you can heat up the grate over the fire for 10 minutes and then scrub the grate thoroughly with a metal grill brush over the open flame (obviously wearing a really good oven mitt and using a grill brush that is up for the job). Fight the urge to do this type of deep cleaning now, though.

If you have a charcoal grill, you’ll want to empty any remaining ashes out of the bottom of your grill before storing it for the winter months. Please, be smart and only empty cold ashes from your grill so as not to hurt yourself or start a fire. Once the ashes are removed, use the same dry, cotton rag you used on the metal grate and wipe out the inside of the grill. It doesn’t need to be sparkling clean, you just want most of the ash out of the kettle of your grill. Again, the remaining ash will protect the interior of your grill from rusting during the winter months.

If you use a gas or electric grill, you can also use the dry, cotton rag to wipe down the cooking elements on the inside of your grill. Be careful not to damage them — a light touch is all you need. Gas grill owners will want to disconnect the tanks from the grill and return the empty to the rental company for a voucher. The voucher will let you start back up in the spring without having to pay another deposit for the tanks, and you won’t have to worry about storing the gas tank over the winter (something that can be dangerous if the tank isn’t completely empty).

You may want to dust off the exterior of your grill before storing it, but this step isn’t even all that important. It is important, however, that you cover your grill with a grill cover. The grill cover isn’t perfect, but it will help to keep most moisture out of your grill while it’s not in use. Moisture is the grill’s most common enemy, and you want to protect your grill from this adversary.

What you can give a good cleaning are all your grilling utensils. If any items need replacing, you may want to replace them now so you’ll be ready to go on the first warm day of spring. I like to replace the metal grill brush annually.

Routines can make even the most unsavory tasks easy

Janine Adams, owner of Peace of Mind Organizing in St. Louis, in her guest post today reminds us that the more routine a chore is, the less we have to think about it. Welcome back, Janine!

Good habits are important, but routines are golden. When you string more than one habit together to create a routine, you go on autopilot. You start getting things done without even thinking about it.

There are certain things in life we have to do even though we don’t love doing them. And, typically, the more frequently we do them, the easier they are to do. Take cleaning the bathroom, for instance. You can wipe down the bathroom surfaces (sink, faucet, toilet) every day. I do this after I floss my teeth. It’s easy and takes just seconds, because the fixtures never get disgusting since I do a little work on them every day.

It took me awhile to figure out that I could apply this principle to one of the most distasteful jobs I have to do as a pet owner. I adore my dog and my cat. But, I don’t love dealing with their waste. As a responsible pet owner, I don’t really have a choice, though.

I’ve always been diligent about cleaning up after my dogs on a walk. I never forget to take bags with me and I always pick up. I tried to be really diligent with the litter box as well. We have an automatic litter box for Joe, our orange tabby cat, but you still have to empty the container the waste is automatically raked into. And in recent years, Joe has let us know that he prefers having two litter boxes, so there are two to clean. (The second one isn’t automatic.) I’d try to do it daily, but it would sometimes slip my mind.

The back yard, though, was another matter. In my almost 20 years of dog ownership, I had a tendency to clean up the back yard after the dog only when it got so bad I couldn’t stand it anymore. It was such a loathsome task that I’d put it off as long as possible.

Then on the last day of 2010, I had an epiphany. The day got warm and the snow melted, revealing disgusting piles that had to be dealt with. As I picked up the loads of poo, I thought to myself that there must be a better way. How could I get myself to perform this distasteful task on a daily basis, when there would be only one or two piles to contend with?

I started thinking about the other routines I’d created, like the aforementioned wiping down of the bathroom surfaces. I realized that the key to my success was to link the new habit with an already engrained habit. In the case of the bathroom, I had linked wiping down the surfaces to brushing and flossing my teeth.

What else did I do every day that would logically form a routine with cleaning the cat box and scooping the back yard? Walking my standard poodle, Kirby! I decided that I’d finish my daily dog walk by scooping. It made sense, because I’d already be wearing weather-appropriate clothing and have poop bags on my person. I got really excited to try it.

I started January 1 and now do it every day. I come home from walking Kirby, make a beeline to Joe’s box, scoop it into a poop bag, proceed to the backyard and pick up there, using the same bag for the waste. I tie it up, put it in the dumpster behind my house, and the deed is done.

The great thing about this is that because it’s done so frequently, there’s little waste to deal with and it takes almost no time. Sheer quantity doesn’t make the task any more disgusting than it already is.

I really think that the key to my success here was making this daily habit part of a routine. I don’t have to remember to do it; it happens automatically after the walk. The other thing that has worked out so well is that I used logic in pairing the tasks to create a routine. When I added wiping the bathroom to my morning routine, I linked it to tasks I was already doing in the bathroom (brushing and flossing). In this case, I’ve linked two habits (walking the dog and dealing with animal waste) that are related.

It’s such a relief to have come up with a way to make this crappy, but necessary, chore less unsavory.

Seven steps to creating or revising your household routines schedule

One of the reasons my family needs to redo our household routines schedule is because who we were in June 2011 is not who we are in July 2011. Our son has started preschool and, as benign as that might seem, it has completely changed our lives. The biggest revision is that now there are parts of our day subjected to a schedule we didn’t design.

The last time anyone in our house had to commute somewhere on a regular basis was 2004. For the past six years we have followed a daily schedule, but it has been one completely of our making. Being subjected to an external schedule isn’t an inconvenience or frustrating, it’s just different. Obviously, we chose for our son to attend preschool, so it’s a change we eagerly approved. We simply didn’t realize how much it would transform the way we get things done around the house.

When creating a new household routines schedule or revising one you’ve used for years (like we are), follow these seven steps:

  1. Make a list of all the things that need to get done on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Use four columns (daily, every other day, weekly, monthly) and also identify when during the day these tasks need to be completed. For example: Daily — Assemble son’s lunch while making dinner. Weekly — Mow yard in early morning or evening when it’s not blistering hot.
  2. Keep your list of regular chores to the bare minimum. You and your housemates do not have superpowers. There is a difference between things that have to get done and things you want to get done. Cross any item off your list that isn’t essential. The would-be-nice-to-do items are more appropriate for your daily action items, not your regular routine chart.
  3. Once the list is created, decide who in the house will be responsible for each chore. If you live alone, you can probably skip this step. Assign responsibilities fairly.
  4. Using a spreadsheet or calendar, enter all of the activities that need to be completed into the appropriate time slot. (Feel welcome to download this Excel Chore Chart: Hourly template.) You may find that an hour-by-hour schedule doesn’t work best for you, so consider using a less-rigid format if it better meets your needs. (Or download this Excel Chore Chart: Blocks of Time template.)
  5. Younger family members may need additional guidance. Make a to-do list (or seven daily to-do lists, if necessary), laminate it at your local FedEx Kinkos, and put it in a place your little one can access. A washable dry erase marker can be used to check off tasks as they are completed. (Melissa and Doug also makes a nice Responsibility Chart that uses magnets.) Really little family members who can’t yet read can benefit from image chore cards displayed on a wall or magnetically to the front of the refrigerator. (Etsy has some adorable ones. Search for “chore cards.”)
  6. Practice the new routines. Research has found it takes close to three months for actions to become habits. You’ll have to make a concerted effort for 90 days for these new routines to become second nature.
  7. Adapt as necessary. Life is full of surprises and conditions in your home are constantly changing. Evaluate and revamp your regular routines when they stop meeting your needs.

Love your laundry room

Laundry rooms are often dark corners of basements or narrow closets with barely enough space to fit stacked machines or odd hallways leading to the garage. Rarely are they beautiful rooms that entice us to keep up with the tedious chore.

However, a clean, uncluttered, organized laundry room is welcoming and makes doing laundry much more enjoyable. Additionally, an organized room speeds up the process so you spend less time doing what you may not enjoy.

If your laundry space could use some attention, try these 10 steps to get it in order:

  • Clean it up. Start by removing everything from the space that isn’t attached to the walls. Ironing boards, detergent, hampers — whatever you have in this area needs to be temporarily removed. Once everything is gone, sweep and mop the floors, wipe down the walls, dust, and get the room looking like new. Paint the walls if necessary. Even clean underneath and behind your washing machine and dryer, but be careful not to disconnect your water, drainage, power, and/or gas lines.
  • Sort it. Before returning a single item to the laundry area, decide if it really belongs in the space and if the item meets your needs. You probably don’t need motor oil in your laundry room and you certainly don’t need a bottle of spray starch that is more than a decade old. Get rid of anything you haven’t touched in at least a year and only keep the things you actually use.
  • Be inspired. Head to Google images and do a search for “inspiring laundry rooms.” Pages of gorgeous rooms will appear to give you a laundry list of ideas.
  • Identify your needs. A laundry room that handles the clothes loads of just one person will have different needs than a laundry room for a family of six. Do you need room to fold clothes? Do you need cubbies for each person in the house? Do you need a bag for dry cleaning items that accidentally slipped into the dirty clothes hamper?
  • Make adjustments. If you need a shelf above your washing machine, now is the time to add these fixtures to the room. If you want an ironing board and iron holder that fits on the back of your door, install it. If you have been dreaming about having a clothesline or rolling garment rack, add them now. Make structural additions to the space that will help you on the days you do laundry.
  • Wipe it down. Now is also a good time to wipe down any items that will be returning into the laundry area. Remove the dust and gunk that builds up over time.
  • Store items where you use them. As you begin to return items to the laundry room, be sure to put things where you use them. Detergent and stain treatment products should be within an arm’s extension of the washing machine. A rolling garment rack and extra hangers should be immediately next to your folding area or the dryer. Your iron should be with your ironing board.
  • Label locations. If you aren’t the only person who uses the laundry room, label shelves and cupboards well so everyone can know where to find products and where to return them when they’re finished.
  • Don’t forget donations. Every laundry room should have a box or a bin where you can easily deposit items of clothing that are ready to be donated to charity. Make it as simple as possible to get the unwanted items out of your wardrobe and ready to be passed along to someone else.
  • Use it. Take advantage of your clean, uncluttered, and organized laundry space by keeping on top of your laundry chores. Have set days on the schedule for when you will tackle the wash.

Systems for straightening up your home

I am easily distracted, so I have to use little tricks to keep me on task when doing my 30 minutes of picking up around the house each day. If I’m straightening up a room, I’ll close the door to the room so I don’t wander off into another part of the house. If the room doesn’t have a door, I’ll set something in front of the entrance — like a trash can or a chair — as a visual cue to stay in the room until I’m finished with my work.

I also usually have a laundry basket with me where I put things that don’t belong in the room. Then, after I’m finished straightening a room, I’ll walk through the house and put the things in the basket back to their proper storage spaces.

This past weekend, I decided to embrace my distracted self and try a new method for picking up stray items around the house. I named it my “Wherever I may go” system.

I started in the bedroom and worked in there until I found one of my son’s socks under the bed. I took the sock and carried it to the laundry room. Once in the laundry room I noticed the trash needed to be emptied, so I took the laundry room bag of trash outside to the big trash can. When I came back inside, I washed my hands in the guest bathroom and noticed the toilet paper supply was getting low. I retrieved extra rolls of toilet paper from the linen closet and put them in the toilet paper holder in the bathroom. Then, I went back to the linen closet and took a quick supply inventory to evaluate if I need to buy soap or paper towels or any similar items the next time I’m at the grocery store.

I bounced from room-to-room all morning, tending to whatever caught my attention. I’ll admit that the “Wherever I may go” system took significantly longer than my usual method, but it was nice to switch things up a little and see how another style might work for me.

When straightening up around your home, what is your plan of attack? Do you go room-by-room, or are you more of a “Wherever I may go” type? If you go room-by-room, do you work in the same order of rooms each time? Do you work in the same way around each room? (I do. I move clockwise from the door, focusing from the ceiling to the floor, and then tend to the middle of the room last.) What method do you use every day for picking up around your home?

Spring cleaning in the yard

This winter has been hard on the trees in our area. The rain, wind, and ice took down a lot of twigs and branches, and many trees toppled over pulling their root systems right out of the wet ground. As a result, we have a lot of yard work to complete at our new house, and we’ve decided to take an organized approach to getting it finished.

  • Research yard debris collection options in your area. Many cities and counties will collect sticks left on your curb and turn them into mulch for parks and gardens. Some areas have trucks that suck up leaves that have been raked into street gutters. If none of these options exist, you may wish to invest in a wood chipper to create your own mulch.
  • Trim tree limbs and bushes. In addition to it being aesthetically pleasing, it’s also good to take down any limbs that might have been damaged but haven’t yet fallen to the ground. Large branches may need to be professionally trimmed and hauled away for disposal.
  • Pick up sticks. Any fallen sticks you can easily carry and small limbs you trimmed should be picked up and gathered into a pile.
  • Prune plants. If any of your plants require spring pruning, now is the time to do it. It’s also nice to prune back and edge any plants that have grown onto paths or out of their containers.
  • Rake. Dead leaves, plant prunings, and tiny twigs should be raked up and gathered into the gutter (if your area has vacuum trucks) or composted.
  • Clean outdoor furniture, hose down paths and patios, sweep stairs, etc.
  • Draw a picture and make a list. If you plan to add new plants, bushes, flowers, or trees to your yard, do what a landscaper does and create a drawing of how you want your yard to look. From this drawing, make a list of the plants you want to purchase before heading to the nursery to make purchases.
  • Plant or transplant any flowers, bushes, or trees you wish to add to your yard that have recommended spring planting dates.

I prefer to do yard work over the course of a few weekends instead of investing all of my effort into one very long, yard work-focused weekend. I’m also trying to get our new yard full of plants that are easy to maintain, so there hopefully will be less yard work come next spring. How do you tackle the work in your yard? Do you take an approach similar to mine, or do you work in sections and do everything for that section? Share your expertise in the comments so we can all benefit from your experience.

Four common obstacles to completing chores

Chores are tasks you don’t want to do. If you wanted to do them, you wouldn’t call them chores. Rather, you would refer to them as opportunities or entertainment or fun.

Even though you don’t want to do chores, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them to help your life run more smoothly. If you’re someone who lets dirty laundry and dishes pile up, avoids mowing the yard until the neighbors complain, or hasn’t cleaned out your car since 2005, maybe it’s time to learn why and overcome these obstacles:

  1. Temptation. When a comfortable couch and favorite television show are calling your name, it can be hard to ignore these temptations. You want to participate in the short-term benefits of watching tv, instead of holding out for the long-term benefits of doing chores. Find a way to reduce or delay the immediate distraction (like getting a DVR and recording your favorite show), so you can focus on the long-term benefits first and the short-term benefits when you’re done with your chores.
  2. Associated stressor. You may not be putting off a chore because you don’t want to do it, but rather because you don’t want to do something tangentially related to the chore. For instance, if you know you haven’t recently balanced your checkbook, you might put off paying your bills. Consider scheduling a regular coffee date with your friend where the two of you meet, hang out for awhile, but then vow to balance your checkbooks before you can go home. Being accountable to someone else often helps you overcome this obstacle.
  3. On the road. Working long hours can often mean you don’t have much time at home to take care of chores like laundry, dusting, and scrubbing your toilet. The upside is that you don’t have much time to mess up your home, but the downside is that some chores still need to be completed (like laundry). If this sounds like you, outsourcing some of these chores might work best for you. Take advantage of a fluff-n-fold that will do your laundry, start using a dry cleaner that picks up clothes instead of requiring drop offs, have a cleaning service come in twice a month to scrub your floors, countertops, and bathrooms, and hire a professional errand runner to do other odds and ends.
  4. Inertia. Humans are creatures of habit. If you haven’t been great at doing your chores in the past, it’s unlikely you’re going to wake up one morning a changed man. Overcome this obstacle by creating a schedule of the things you need to do and when you need to do them. Then, try your best to stick to the schedule. When your system falls to pieces, start again the next day. Consider hiring a professional nagger (there really are such things) or asking a friend to help encourage you. Simply acknowledging that inertia has the upper hand often can be all you need to get moving.

Looking at this list, I see myself in a lot of these obstacles (especially inertia). What strategies do you use to overcome these four obstacles?