We’ve all felt like doing something besides cleaning, but usually that feeling passes. What about those times when it doesn’t, though? I’m talking about the bone-deep lack of motivation to clean. Been there, done that.
You see, several years ago my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer. To make a long and very painful story short, I spent two years as his full-time caregiver and then became his widow. In my grief, I completely lost motivation to do anything around my home.
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. Here’s what I did.
Step 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.
Step 2: Commit to One Spot.
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.
Step 3: Celebrate.
After keeping your commitment, you deserve recognition. More than that, you need it: rewards help us lock in behaviors and turn them into habits. I rewarded myself with a fresh bouquet of my favorite flowers, and not the kind that filled our home after my husband’s funeral.
Step 4: Expand A Little.
Now move beyond your spot creating a list of small tasks you want to accomplish. Keep the list short and simple, and work at it ten minutes at a time to keep from feeling overwhelmed by cleaning.
Repeat that same 10-minute effort in for a few days, then increate it to 20-minutes. By the end of the week, you’ll start to see progress but, more importantly, you’ll know you’ve been following through with your plan. At that point, you need to lock it in again.
Step 5: Get Validated.
Telling others what you’ve accomplished and getting positive feedback is a great way to stay motivated, but choosing the right people is crucial. A cleaning perfectionist or judgmental person is not the one to brag to.
If you don’t have a friend who has been through a similar struggle, be the friend you need, literally: write a letter to yourself praising your efforts and accomplishments. Then, keep it where you can read it every day.
Step 6: Repeat.
Add more time to your new cleaning routine until you’re happy with how your home looks. Do a little eery day, or spend an entire day at it—whatever works for you.
Just make sure you spend some time each and every day telling your trusted friend about your progress, so you’re getting a daily dose of reinforcement that helps lock in your motivation to clean.