I get a lot of emails asking how to get motivated to clean. Even those of us who consider ourselves “clean freaks” sometimes lose our motivation and struggle to get it back. “Clean freak” or not, if you’ve lost your cleaning mojo, here’s how to get motivated to clean — no matter how out of control your home’s become.
Why Slumps Happen
Sometimes, we lose our motivation to clean for predictable reasons. Life gets busy with school or work, for instance, and we have a temporary shift in our priorities. Once it’s over, though, we sometimes need help shifting priorities back to our homes.
There are other times when the cause is out of our control. Depression or another illness strikes, and it’s all we can do to merely survive the day. At those times, cleaning house just doesn’t seem worth the effort. We are grappling with more important, life-altering things.
How Cancer Caused my Cleaning Slump
Several years ago, my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer. If you’ve never known someone with brain tumors, it’s a form of cancer that changes everything about a person. It’s a slow thing — so slow that sometimes you think you are the one losing their mind. In our case, it affected our home and marriage for over 10 years before we knew why.
To make a long and very painful story short, between becoming my husband’s caregiver and later his widow, I lost my cleaning mojo for a while. Wouldn’t you know, that was right as this website was beginning to take off. The irony wasn’t lost on me.
All of which is to say that I get it. I understand. I’ve been there, too.
How to Get Motivated to Clean
Here’s what I learned about how to get motivated to clean. These steps helped me get my house cleaning groove back. I hope they’ll help you, as well.
1. Start small. No, smaller than that.
Start with one surface. Not one floor of the house, not one room of it, not even an entire closet or one cupboard. Start with one surface. Don’t think about the rest of the house yet, and don’t feel guilty that you’re not doing more. You are doing something and that’s the first step.
In my case, the surface I committed to cleaning and keeping clean was our kitchen island. It’s our favorite dumping ground when we walk in the door. It’s also visible from every entrance of our home, so there’s no ignoring its mess. To make matters worse, it’s the only convenient spot for food preparation. So, I decided that was the surface I’d commit to keeping clean.
2. Commit to one spot for three days.
Focus your efforts on that one surface. Clear it off. Polish it. Treat any nicks, scratches, or stains. Make a point to clean it every morning and again before bed. (No, I’m not implying that little gremlins are going to come mess it up while you’re sleeping, though if your kids or spouse stay up later than you, they might.)
The point is that you are starting a routine of giving your home attention twice a day — you’re just starting small. By picking one surface, you’ll also get past any clutter blindness. Having reclaimed a space and cared for it, you can’t help but notice how the rest of the house looks. Soon, you’ll start thinking about cleaning it, too.
3. Now, reward yourself.
You committed to cleaning an area, and you kept it clean on a schedule. You deserve recognition for that! I’m not saying you should go out and buy a new car, or even a new outfit, but plan some kind of indulgence.
For me, it was a fresh bouquet of gorgeous flowers — and not the kind that filled our home after my husband’s funeral. Seeing that cheery vase brimming with pink roses and yellow carnations made me feel good, and feeling good made me want to keep going.
4. Expand your reach.
Once you’ve regained that sense of accomplishment, it’s time to start tending the rest of your house in small, manageable chunks. Please, please resist the temptation to tackle an entire room at this point — it’s just too easy to get overwhelmed and give up, starting the whole cycle again.
Repeat that same all-out 10-minute effort in various rooms for a few days, then start working for 20-minutes at a time. By the end the week, you’ll be getting your house back under control, and that sense of control is the source of more motivation.
4. Get validated.
To some extent, we all feel ashamed when we lose our cleaning motivation. Shame makes us close up and keep to ourselves, whether by not inviting friends to visit or just not discussing with anyone how the mess is overwhelming us. The antidote to this shame is validation.
When we were kids, validation came through gold stars, Brownie points, or praise from our parents. As adults, we have to seek it out ourselves. If your spouse isn’t the type to recognize your efforts, telling a friend about your accomplishment can work.
Or join our Do Home Better group on Facebook — we celebrate each others’ accomplishments and support each other through homemaking challenges!
Once you get back into the swing of things, expand your cleaning efforts until you’re hitting each room of the house on a weekly basis. (Need checklists for the other rooms? You’ll find them here.)
Don’t panic if it takes a while the first time! If you need to, work in 10 and 20-minute bursts broken up with rewards and validation until you’re done.
7. Note the time.
The more consistent you are about cleaning on a weekly basis, the less time it will take. Don’t believe me? Time yourself the first time you work in a room, then time yourself again a week later and compare your results.
In the midst of my cleaning slump, I put off cleaning my bathroom for days because of how long I thought it would take. Timing myself proved it was doable in 20-minutes. That’s it! Now, I get motivated to clean it by remembering how much better I’ll feel in 20 minutes if I get off my rear-end and do it.
Need more structure?
You don’t have to go it alone! If you need step-by-step guidance, you’ll love the plan in my book 30 Days to a Clean and Organized House. I break it down into a manageable program of daily steps that will get your home clean and organized, while also helping you maintain your progress.
You only need to open the book, do that day’s steps, and then go on with your life. At the end of 30 days (or even longer, if you want to adjust the plan), your home will be transformed, and you’ll have learned to keep it that way all the time.