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.