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.
I get a lot of emails asking how to get motivated to clean. Even those of us who consider ourselves “clean freaks” sometimes lose interest in dealing with the mess. I’m not talking about the occasional day when you don’t feel like scrubbing your counter after dinner, or mornings when you decide to ignore the dirty dishes. Those are chores that just amount to tidying, and you can trick yourself into doing them by inviting someone over or distracting yourself by listening to a podcast or Netflix.
Are You Feeling Unmotivated to Clean?
I’m talking about the bone-deep lack of motivation to clean that’s often accompanied by a loss of interest in other things, too: self-care, spending time with others, and engaging in fun activities. I’m talking about feeling like you’re walking through syrup or deep water, barely able to get through the day. Though you’d like to do something about your messy house, you just 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 school or work, for instance, and we have a temporary shift in our priorities. Once it’s over, though, we sometimes need help easing 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 it’s all we can do to survive each day. Finding cleaning motivation isn’t even conceivable. At those times, cleaning the house doesn’t seem worth the effort. We are grappling with more important, life-altering things. Honestly, that is okay!
I’ve Lost My Cleaning Motivation, Too
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.
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.
A Plan to Find your Cleaning Motivation
When you haven’t felt motivated to clean for a while, it may seem like the mess is overwhelming. It’s tempting to jump in, both feet first, and force yourself to clean. But that approach is not sustainable: the longer you push yourself, the more time you’ll need to recover when you’re done. Then the cycle starts 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 surface. Not one floor of the house, not one room of it, not even an entire closet or one cupboard. Start with one surface. Preferably, it’s one that affects you directly and not one you feel like you should do something about. 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 visible from every entrance of our home, so every time I walked into the house it put me in a bad mood. It’s also 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, but no one else in the house really cared about it. But that wasn’t the point: I did.
2. Commit to One Spot for Three Days.
Once you’ve picked a spot, focus your efforts on that one surface. Clear it off. Dust it. Polish it. Scrub it. Treat any nicks, scratches, or stains. Make a point to clean it every morning and again before bed. (Of course, I’m not implying that little gremlins are going to mess it up while you’re sleeping, though if your kids or spouse stay up later than you, they might.)
The point is, you are developing the habit of giving your home attention twice a day — you’re just starting small. By picking one surface, you won’t develop clutter blindness the way you would if you focused on a larger area. Seeing the change in that spot, and solving a mess that personally affected you, is a great motivator to keep going.
3. Now, Reward Yourself.
After three days of cleaning your chosen area on schedule, you deserve some recognition! Maybe don’t
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 sunny blooms made me feel good. And feeling good made me want to keep going.
4. Expand Your Focus.
Next, it’s time to start tending the rest of your house. It’s important to do this through smaller tasks and simple steps. Think you’re ready to tackle an entire room? Don’t. It’s too easy to get overwhelmed at this point. Instead, set a timer for 10 minutes and spend them cleaning in an all-out effort. 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, and those who say they haven’t aren’t being truthful with themselves. 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 it’s crucial to choose the right people. Someone who is 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. If you don’t have someone like that in your life, post it on social media and tag me (@housewifehowtos). I’ll cheer for you!
Once you’re feeling confident again, slowly add more time until you’re cleaning each room every week. Don’t panic if it takes a while at first. You’re shoveling yourself out from being buried by life, and that takes time. Work in 10 and 20-minute bursts broken up with rewards and validation. It’s okay to go at your own pace, just keep going. The more often you clean, though, the less time and effort it will take.
7. Note the Time.
The more often you clean, though, 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 voice of anxiety that kept telling me I didn’t have time, so why bother. During my cleaning slump, I’d put off cleaning my bathroom because it seemed like such an enormous task. (And because depression often leads to a lack of self-care like that.) So, I timed myself and discovered I’d been putting off something that took only 20 minutes. 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.
Sign up for My Free Daily Cleaning Series
This series focuses on small, actionable daily cleaning tasks that leave you feeling accomplished in just 10-15 minutes a day. They’re the “secret sauce” to taking your home from tidy to truly clean, or to rediscovering your cleaning motivation if you’ve lost it under all that clutter.