We’ve all lost the motivation to clean house or felt too overwhelmed to start. Here’s why that happens and a plan to get your home under control again.
Are You Feeling Unmotivated to Clean?
This plan is for the deeply unmotivated people who are overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin. I’m not talking about the occasional day when you don’t feel like scrubbing your counter or decide to ignore the dirty dishes. Those are basic tidying chores you can trick yourself into by inviting a friend over or distracting yourself by listening to a podcast or Netflix.
I’m talking about the bone-deep lack of motivation to clean, that feeling like you’re walking through chest-high water and barely able to get through the day. You’d like to do something about your messy house, but you can’t make yourself do it, and you don’t know why.
Why We Lose Motivation
Sometimes, we lose our motivation to clean the house for predictable reasons. Life gets busy with kids’ activities and school or work, so we have a temporary shift in our priorities. When that happens, we usually feel okay accepting that we’re too busy to worry about having a tidy home. And once it’s over, we can ease back into a cleaning routine.
It Does Not Mean You’re Lazy
There are other times when the cause is out of our control. Depression or illness strikes, and doing housework isn’t a priority. We are grappling with more critical, life-altering things. It is okay to focus on the things that matter most at the time — that is good decision-making.
You do not need to feel bad about making the right choice when you’re struggling. The mess is just stuff. You are irreplaceable, and you matter.
I’ve Lost My Cleaning Motivation Before, Too.
Several years ago, my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer. 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.
Steps to Get Back on Track
When you haven’t felt motivated to clean for a while, establishing a routine to deal with the chaos is challenging. It’s tempting to jump in and spend days Marie Kondo-ing the place and scrubbing every surface.
But that approach is not sustainable: the longer you push yourself, the more time you’ll need to recover. While you’re recovering, the house gets messy, starting the cycle again. Instead of following that doomed method, try the plan that worked to help me find my cleaning motivation again.
1. Start Small. No, Smaller than That.
Start with one spot. Not one floor of the house, not one room, not even an entire closet or cupboard. Start with one surface. Preferably, it’s one that affects you personally, not something you’re trying to clean to make a family member’s life easier. 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.
I chose our kitchen island. It’s visible from every entrance, so whenever I came home, it put me in a bad mood. It’s the only convenient spot for food preparation, so my mood worsened when it came time to cook. Cleaning it would have a dramatic impact on my day.
2. Commit to One Spot for Three Days.
Once you’ve picked a spot, clear it off. Dust it. Polish it, and scrub it. Treat any nicks, scratches, or stains. Make a point to clean it every morning and again before bed. This one spot focus gets you back in the habit of giving your home attention twice a day — you’re just starting small.
By picking one surface, you’re also unlearning your clutter blindness. Seeing the change in that spot, and solving a mess that personally affected you, is a great inspiration to keep going.
3. Now, Reward Yourself.
After three days of cleaning your chosen area on schedule, you deserve some recognition! So plan some indulgence. You’ve started a virtuous cycle, and a reward helps lock in that habit.
I rewarded myself with a fresh bouquet of my favorite flowers — and not the kind that filled our home after my husband’s funeral. Seeing that vase full of bright yellow sunflowers made me feel good about my efforts and home, making me want to keep going.
4. Expand Your Focus.
Next, it’s time to start tending the rest of your house by doing small tasks and simple steps. Keep resisting the urge to tackle entire rooms. Instead, use set a timer and clean nonstop for 10 minutes. If you don’t know where to start, grab one of my printable cleaning checklists and do just one section. Then tell yourself you’re done.
Repeat that same 10-minute total effort in various rooms for a few days, then start working for 20-minutes at a time. By the
5. Get Validated.
There is no reason to feel ashamed that you’d lost your motivation. Everyone loses theirs at some point. A messy home has nothing to do with what kind of person you are, so don’t take on that shame. It will make you shut down and keep to yourself, and then you’ll cut yourself off from the support and encouragement that can help you turn things around.
The antidote to shame is validation. Showing off your accomplishment is a great way to stay motivated, but choosing the right people is crucial. Someone judgmental or hard to please is not the person to brag to. Someone who has faced their own struggle or at least understands yours is a better choice. So invite a close friend over, share photos with them on Instagram or in a text, and bask in their praise — it’s a great motivator!
Once you’re feeling confident again, slowly add more time until you clean each room weekly. Do a little every day, or spend an entire Saturday or Sunday cleaning house — whatever works for you. Don’t panic if it takes a while at first. You’re shoveling yourself out from being buried by life, which takes time.
Work in 10 and 20-minute chunks broken up with rewards and validation. It’s okay to go at your own pace — just keep going.
7. Note the Time.
The more often you clean, the less time and effort it will take. Don’t believe me? Try this simple trick: time how long it takes to clean a room the first time you do it. Exactly one week later, clean the room again and compare your results. You’ll see how much easier it is to clean before messes have a chance t set it.
This trick helped me overcome the anxiety that kept telling me I didn’t have time, so why bother? During my slump, I’d put off cleaning my bathroom because it seemed like an enormous task. (And because depression often leads to a lack of self-care like that.) So, I timed myself, and it took only 20 minutes. I’d easily spent ten times that just telling myself I was too busy. Now, I keep a list on my phone of how little time it takes to clean things so I can short-circuit that excuse with myself.
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. You just open the book and do that day’s tasks. Yep, it’s that clear-cut. At the end of 30 days — or even longer, if you like — your home will be transformed, and you’ll have learned to keep it that way all the time.