How to Find Motivation to Clean Your House

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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.

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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 go buy a new car, or even a new outfit, but plan some kind of indulgence. Rewarding yourself for positive efforts tells your brain those efforts are worth continuing. You’ve started a virtuous cycle, and a reward helps lock in that habit.

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 end of the week, you’ll begin seeing major progress as your home stops looking neglected and starts to look tidy. That motivation can keep you going, but first, you need to lock it in again.

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!

6. Repeat.

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?

Book by Katie Berry, \"30 Days to a Clean and Organized House\"

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.


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28 Comments

  1. Michelle Leslie says:

    Yes!!!!! It makes so much sense Katie. I’m in the “don’t feel in the mood to clean” slump and honestly, tackling one surface seems so much more doable. Thank you for that. I think I’ll start with my bedside table. The pile of books is getting out of hand and every time I go to bed I worry that they’ll come toppling down while we’re sleeping. Great post

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Starting with your bedside table is a great idea, Michelle! You’ll see a nice, uncluttered spot first thing in the morning and last thing at night — great motivation to tackle other areas when you’re ready!

  2. First I’d like to say I’m sorry for your loss. I can’t even imagine… and second, starting smaller than small? Brilliant! I am recently a stay at home mom with a toddler and I love the idea of starting smallest. I’m so glad I came across your site. I now have a better idea of how to tackle my unruly house. Thank you!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Thank you. It’s so hard juggling a toddler and cleaning tasks, but starting small can really help.

  3. Thanks for this. I’m pregnant, exhausted, and moving to a smaller home soon. So I’m a little stressed about how I’m going to manage everything when the baby comes. The second trimester is a little bit sunshinier than the first, so maybe if I start this routine now, things won’t be so difficult later. I plan to start with the kitchen table; I think seeing it clean will be a big motivating factor for me. Great advice.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Do what you can and don’t stress about the rest, Erica. You’re growing a human and that’s hard work!

  4. Amber Kelly says:

    Thank you! I’m a stay at home mom to an amazing 3 year old boy who has Autism . Motivation is key when it comes to cleaning with me! I’m going to go tackle my 1 surface while hes asleep! Thanks again

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Amber,
      I’m happy to have helped you rediscover your motivation!

  5. Thank you so much for this. My own story is honestly at this point almost laughably terrible at points and although I’m pretty resilient I definitely have serious problems simply continuing on some days. I’ve read this post several times since I found it last year. It helps immensely to know that – yes – there are people struggling with REAL things too.

    I’ve had a clean foyer table for a while now, and I’ve moved on to other areas. Your tips are well-written, well-thought-out, and actually help. Thank you so much. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Meg,
      You’re so welcome. I’m glad you’ve found it encouraging!

  6. Loved this article! Well written and it has some powerful tools for motivation.

  7. Really helpful. I have arthritis on my back and it’s very hard to try and handle housework. Plus house is being remodeled so there is so much stuff laying around which makes me lose my motivation to even try. But I am going to start small and see if I can get my motivation back. Thank you again

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Hilda,
      You’re welcome! Remember to take care of yourself first: there’s no point in having a clean house if you’re in too much agony to enjoy it.

  8. Thank you, this is exactly what I needed to read. I’ve been caring for my mother in her home, while maintaining my home, and helping my two children with school from home due to this covid pandemic. Mum passed away a couple of weeks ago and I haven’t been motivated to do ANYTHING at either house since. This feels like a very manageable plan, I feel positive now. Thanks xxx

    1. Katie Berry says:

      It sounds like you’ve had your hands full, Zoe. Glad to hear this helped you feel a bit less burdened. Take care.

  9. Thank you so much for this, I understand totally what you mean in the first paragraph or so. My dad has brain cancer and the way you describe it and how it effects loved ones is so true. It’s like a nightmare that never ends and the most horrible thing is that I know it will end, but end the most horrible way. I have been struggling with motivation for quite a long time and some days even getting out of bed is just impossible. I really have to force myself. I am actually a house proud person so my house looking a mess is actually dragging me down further. But then I have no motivation, so there is the vicious circle! I loved the idea of reward ping yourself and also of timing yourself. I am definitely going to try those, thank you.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’m so sorry you and your father are going through this. It’s a horrible form of cancer that truly affects everyone in the family. Be extra kind to yourself during this time.

  10. Wow!! I just searched and clicked on this website for some tips, my husband was diagnosed with Brain Cancer just over a year ago GBM4.
    You do know exactly what I am going through!
    Thank you

    1. Katie Berry says:

      It’s a hard road ahead. Take time to make memories together. That’s so much more important than cleaning right now. God bless.

  11. Stacey Phillips says:

    I have a weird situation, we lived with my in-laws for 5 years, in their house. Now, they somewhat have moved ( master bedroom is full of their stuff), and we rent! But, much of their stuff is still here, and we are getting such a great deal on rent, I don’t want to be pushy. But with their stuff still here, it’s hard to get organized and I lose motivation to clean now. I have no children here ( I’m older), and I work from home, but need to be ready for calls, etc. so always at my desk during work hours.
    HELP! I do love your advice about a small place, so am going to do it!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I don’t think it would be pushy to move their stuff to one room so you can set up the rest of the house with your things. You could always explain to them that you didn’t want their possessions to get damaged in any way, so you put them there for safekeeping.

  12. Sheila O'Patchen says:

    So, everyone else’s stories here sound so much harder than mine, it’s really hard to feel sorry for myself. My excuse for not cleaning? Studying for the CPA exam(s) and working about 60-80 hours a week. Any time off I can manage to spend with my husband is spent sitting in front of the TV watching movies. Or sleeping. I *think* I have passed my exams now. So…yesterday, I started with one side of the kitchen. The area with the sink and all the dishes. Today, I am going to tackle the island and maybe the other side of the kitchen. This is motivating to me to know that the idea of starting out smaller than small is not all that uncommon. It is also reassuring to know that I am not the only woman out there who feels like she has no chance in hell of ever being like Wonder Woman. Thank you for this 🙂

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Don’t dismiss your own struggle, Sheila! You’ve got a ton on your plate with school and work, and even when you’re not actively focusing on one of those they’re still probably on your mind. And it’s not like you’ve got more hours in the day than anyone else — so you are perfectly deserving of feeling stressed and of giving yourself a break, too. Starting smaller than small will help you feel accomplished but can also help you discover how to squeeze in little tasks without adding to your stress level — and also see how much those little tasks can help!

  13. I’m so sorry you lost your husband. In reading all of these posts, it seems like everyone had very good reasons. I don’t. I have to much stuff, I love deals, and instead of stopping and saying, “Where would I put this?” I just buy stuff and it’s everywhere. I don’t know where to start and I’m not at all motivated. I did unheap two of my kitchen counters, but that was a few weeks ago. It does look better and I do like it, but I haven’t kept going. I’m going to try your ten minutes advice. Thanks for the idea!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Thank you, Diana. Everyone’s struggle is different and unique to them. Just because you don’t have an obvious reason like the loss of a spouse doesn’t mean you don’t have things going on that make it hard for you to find motivation. Even shopping for new, exciting stuff brings its own challenges, as you’ve seen. Try the 10 minute approach and see if it helps. Then please check back in and let me know how you’re doing. 🙂

  14. Well, cleaned my surface- looking forward to my flowers on Friday. Been living here for over 20 years, it will be the first time I ever got anything ( even acknowledgment) for my efforts. Feeling optimistic about this. No matter how hard I’ve worked in the past, it never seemed like I was doing enough. I knew I was struggling because of everything else I had on, so I guess I’d give myself a break for it then, back in the day, but now- with so much time on my hands I struggle even more. I guess I just see it as a thankless task that never ends and just gets screwed up by people who don’t even notice me working- no wonder I’ve run out of motivation! I’m definitely interested to see if the flowers help

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Housework often feels pointless for the exact reason you mentioned. I hope your flowers help you feel better about it! I’m not nearly as patient as you, so I time my rewards immediately after to help my brain associate doing the work with getting something I enjoy. This evening, for example, I’m going to try a new bath oil as my reward for reorganizing the front closet that I’d been using to hold things that really belong in the bin.

  15. Thank you for the ideas. I have been in a depression slump and it feels like everything got so out of hand quick. Now it’s all just overwhelming and making things worst. Going to try the routine of starting with one area and so on. Sometimes a good idea is just the help you needed.

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