It’s Saturday morning. You’ve just gotten through a busy work week, and the absolute last thing you want to do is get out of bed and clean your bathroom or do the laundry. You dread household chores and put them off for as long as possible. But that only makes them even more difficult to tackle, which only increases your resistance to getting started. Before you know it, you’ve binge-watched an entire season of TV without bothering to change out of your pajamas.
If that sounds familiar, then there’s good news. You can turn your most dreaded cleaning tasks into something that you look forward to doing. It’s not magic–and it’s not just about an attitude adjustment. Here are practical, tested ways to start enjoying housework.
Learn How to Do It
How did you learn to do chores? Earlier generations would have taken home economics classes in school, where they learned all sorts of basic “adulting” skills, including housework. Since those classes were mostly phased out of public schools, most Millennials had to learn how to clean from parents, guardians, or older siblings. And if those people hated cleaning or weren’t very good at it, then you would pick up their bad habits.
Even well-intentioned housework role models might have learned odd ways of doing things. My mother, for example, still thinks that you should wash raw chicken in the sink because that’s what her mother did.
Luckily, we can now learn anything from the internet. I recently watched a YouTube video about how to clean a toilet. It turns out I’d been doing a couple of things wrong my entire life. Armed with my new knowledge, I feel more confident about my cleaning skills. I can also do a better job in less time than ever, which makes me far less likely to put off a chore I once dreaded.
Work with Your Energy Flow
The right time to clean will be different for everyone. Trying to do chores in the evening, when you’re tired from a long day, might not be the best idea. You might find that you actually have a lot more energy right before bed or first thing in the morning, so squeezing in a few chores then will work better with your natural energy flow.
If you already like to wash dishes in the middle of the night or vacuum on Sunday mornings, then you do you. Figuring out how to match your household chores to your energy levels can involve some trial and error, though, so don’t get frustrated. There’s a good chance that you’re not lazy; you’ve just been trying to do chores when your energy is at a natural ebb.
Downsize and Declutter
Want to know the easiest way to make housework less of a burden? Have less stuff to clean. I’ve always found that living spaces are a lot like purses. No matter how big they are, I still manage to fill them up. Now that I’m making a conscious effort to downsize and declutter, it’s making me question how much of this stuff I actually need.
Take a look at your wardrobe, for example. Having a lot of clothing could mean that you don’t need to do laundry as often because you won’t run out of clean outfits. The downside is your laundry pile could grow into a laundry mountain that feels impossible to tackle. Living in a smaller space or simply cutting back on the number of things you own could make cleaning a lot less unpleasant.
Don’t Clean for More than 20 Minutes
The next time you need to clean, set a timer for twenty minutes. When the timer goes off, stop! I mean it. Marathon cleaning sessions lead to burnout. At UFYH, the profanity-laden cleaning blog, Rachel Hoffman advises doing a 20/10. That’s 20 minutes of work followed by a ten-minute break. The system is similar to the “Pomodoro Method,” which uses a timer to alternate periods of work with rest. The break is essential to preventing burnout!
When you only have to clean for 20 minutes, it’s not quite as intimidating to get started. In addition, it prevents “all or nothing” thinking–the belief that you either need to clean all the things or give up before you start. You can do a few 20/10s back to back, but try not to do more than three in a single day unless it’s an emergency because your landlord/friends/in-laws are coming over tomorrow.
Engage Your Senses
When I’m cleaning, I like to put on a playlist of the cheesiest power ballads ever recorded and pretend that I’m in a movie training montage. There’s no chore that can’t be made a little better by listening to your favorite tunes. I even put together a suggested playlist for a variety of chores for Hey Pumpkin! Alternately, listening to an audiobook or podcast can make the time fly by.
Snow White’s dwarves were onto something–whistling while you work really does make it easier to be productive. However, don’t neglect your other senses. Using cleaning products that smell nice can make a big difference in whether you want to use them. My Method floor cleaner smells like almonds, and it’s such a lovely scent. You could burn scented candles or plug in an air freshener, too.
Wearing gloves can cut down on potential ickiness while you’re cleaning, but I also like to put on my favorite sneakers and stretchiest athleisure so that I feel ready to take on any task. As for taste, make sure that you have access to your favorite drink to stay hydrated. Some people swear by enjoying an adult beverage while they fold laundry or load the dishwasher, but your mileage may vary.
Turn Cleaning Into a Meditation
If bopping along to loud music isn’t your thing, that’s okay. In fact, you may find that cleaning can become an exercise in mindfulness and a welcome moment of calm in an otherwise busy day. Many chores are repetitive tasks that keep your hands busy but leave your mind free to wander.
The next time you fold laundry, wash dishes, or sweep your floors, rethink your approach. Instead of trying to distract yourself enough to get through an unpleasant task, let yourself be fully present in the moment. Focus on the sensation of the cloth in your hands or the warm, soapy water. Engage your senses as you work, not worrying about what you’ll make for dinner or whether you’ll get a raise, or what your favorite reality stars are up to.
Your only responsibility in the whole world for this moment is folding those socks or drying that dish. If you’ve never tried it, you might find this kind of mindfulness exercise to be surprisingly liberating.
Make It a Team Task
Have you heard the expression “many hands make light work”? When your entire household joins in, chores will get done so much faster. It’s not just about everyone pulling their weight at home–although that helps, too. Doing housework together helps keep everyone motivated. You could even turn it into a friendly competition or set up a reward for everyone to share.
But what if you live alone? There are a few ways you could make cleaning into a more social experience. Create a social media group or private chat where you can all encourage each other to tackle chores. If you feel comfortable with the idea, it can be surprisingly helpful just to have a loved one visit while you are cleaning. For some people with ADHD, having a “body double” (a person who is simply in the same space but not necessarily helping you complete a task) is a game-changer. Even if you are neurotypical, it could make a difference for you.
Reframe Cleaning as Self-Care
Cleaning is self-care.
I’ll say it again for the people in the back: cleaning is self-care.
You can’t properly rest in a cluttered, dirty home. Not only does it place a heavier sensory burden on your brain–which is why it’s easier to work at a tidy desk than a cluttered one–but you’ll also continue feeling the complex cocktail of guilt and overwhelm that comes with procrastinating on housework.
Keeping your home clean and organized can help you sleep better, feel less stressed, and even eat a healthier diet. Clutter and mess can all become barriers to other self-care, such as a regular sleep routine or cooking nutritious meals.
Take Pride in a Job Well Done
Once you get into the groove of keeping a clean house, I hope that you’ll find yourself legitimately looking forward to your chores. Not only will you enjoy your living space more, but you may also discover a few fringe benefits. In addition to clearing the way for other good habits, cleaning can be its own reward. Feeling proud of accomplishing a task, no matter how small or commonplace, will boost your mood.
And if certain chores just didn’t get done today… or this week… or this month? Please don’t be too hard on yourself. If you feel too overwhelmed by a task, break it down into the smallest manageable pieces. Instead of a 20/10, try cleaning for just five minutes. Start with making your bed. Trust me; you’ll feel better afterward.