Finding the motivation to clean is harder for some than for others. Whether your home has gotten to a place that feels unmanageable and overwhelming or you’ve always had an aversion to tidying up, it can take a major toll on you. The fact is you do have to clean (or call in reinforcements) because living in a clean, sanitary environment is good for your physical and mental health. Here’s what to do if you’re really struggling.
Do some self-assessment about your hesitancy to clean
The first thing you need to do is some self-assessment, as Leslie Connor, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist who recently retired after 32 years in practice, puts it. Ask yourself honestly what you’re struggling with and how you can move past it. Overall, Connor is a major proponent of self-talk. You can and should challenge and support yourself, which you should do by being honest with yourself, but not too self-critical.
Instead of self-talk, she calls it “self-relating”: “It’s how you engage with yourself when you face something that’s difficult.” To assess yourself, start by asking what you know to be true about yourself, but do it in a way that is shame-free. For instance, you might know yourself to be a procrastinator or someone who just straight-up dislikes cleaning and won’t ever choose to do it in your free time. Say these things objectively because “if you bring shame and finger-wagging, you’re going to shut down self-reflection.”
Another way to do this is to ask someone else, like a trusted friend or even a therapist. Ask someone you trust to be honest with you about your qualities and self-assessment. Do they see you as a procrastinator? As a worrier? As someone who puts off doing difficult things? Knowing yourself is the first step to figuring out what’s actually preventing you from cleaning.
Do hard things (sorry!)
In conversation with Connor and Dr. Joseph Ferrari, the Vincent de Paul Distinguished Professor of Psychology at DePaul University, one theme kept cropping up, and you might not like it: To the best of your ability, do hard things. Ferrari speaks of avoiding excuses, pointing out that human beings are “good excuse makers,” but are also logical and capable of recognizing what needs to be done. Connor, too, says that at the heart of a resistance to cleaning (or anything else that needs to be done), there are life skills you simply have to develop, including doing things you don’t want to do. She adds that you can use a “yay me” approach here, focusing not necessarily on how hard it will be to tackle the task you’re avoiding, but on how good it will feel when you’re done. Don’t do this for ego, though. Do it with the knowledge you’ll eventually be able to say, “Thank goodness. I feel great. I can go put my feet up now.”
There was something else Connor and Ferrari both agree on, too, and this one might make you feel better. People can change. You can change. You may never become someone who likes cleaning, but you can absolutely become someone who gets it done. That’s basically the foundation of psychology, after all: The idea that people can change.
“The optimal environment for growth is a combination of support and challenge,” says Connor. You do have to challenge yourself while supporting yourself, but you can change. She says you have to “develop a muscle to do the things you don’t want to do.” How do you do that? “By doing it.”
Don’t overwhelm yourself
It’s one thing to say you have to do the hard things in life, even when you don’t want to. It’s another to actually do them. Dr. Linda Sapadin, a psychologist, coach, and author, says, “Don’t overwhelm yourself. Start small. Do a little bit at a time, like put away clothes in your bedroom. Then reward yourself with a pat on the back and a ‘good job.’ With a smile on your face go to the next task and start singing a tune to yourself with made-up words, like, ‘I’m going, I’m going, I’m going to get it done. Yippee!’”
Connor advises setting a goal of doing some cleaning for “10 minutes a day, period, end of sentence.” If you can go longer, do it. Just because you have to do something hard that you don’t want to do doesn’t mean you have to do it all at once. Getting overwhelmed won’t help you, but chipping away will.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
For all the self-talk, motivation, and go-getter energy you could employ, there are still situations where you might not feel like you can do it. Whatever you do, don’t be defeatist. People ask for help all the time, for all kinds of things. You can ask for help with your cleaning.
One option is enlisting a friend. Ferrari points out that experts from the Institute for Challenging Disorganization have a major piece of advice here: If you’re trying to declutter, don’t touch your items on your own. Ferrari is a critic of the popular notion that you should keep things that bring you joy, since, again, human beings are great excuse makers. You can justify keeping all sorts of things if you give yourself the chance, so “if you pick up the item and you touch it, you’re more likely to keep it.” Instead, “Have somebody else hold it up and say, ‘Do you need this? Do you want this?’” The small-scale pressure of seeing someone else hold up an item you don’t actually need can propel you to finally part ways with it.
Beyond friends, though, you can call on pros. Consider talking to a therapist for deeper self-assessment, says Connor, so you can get to the root cause of what’s keeping you from cleaning up. As for the cleaning itself, call a service if you need to. She says, “You don’t want to create a situation where there’s no win. If you solve a problem and you can make it happen, that’s a win.”
Panicking, procrastinating, or talking unkindly to yourself won’t get the house clean—and that’s not a win. A win can be overcoming your own aversion to cleaning or it can be getting over your hesitancy to call in reinforcements. A win is a win. Focus on a win. Plus, if you call a cleaning service, Connor and Sapadin both point out that you’ll have to prepare for their arrival anyway. That can kick you in gear to clean a little. In fact, it’s what works for me when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I schedule a home cleaning for the end of the week, then spend the week cleaning, fueled by the pressure that comes with knowing a stranger is about to see my home. When my apartment is dirty, I never invite friends over, so the idea of having them help me is out. But a stranger? A stranger I’m paying? That’s incentive. As Ferrari puts it, when you pay for something and have “skin in the game,” you’re more likely to use it and get something out of it, so in some cases, hiring a pro is a better route than asking a friend to help you for free.
“Outside help is always good if you can afford it,” says Sapadin, “but don’t rely on it on an everyday basis. You don’t want a week’s worth of dirty dishes in the sink when your cleaning person arrives. Many people get motivated to clean up for the cleaning person, which means to put things away, so the cleaning person can do the heavy work.”
It might take some time, a few starts and stops, and some work on yourself (and some monetary investment), but you can get it done. Psychologists have built their entire field and careers on the belief that you can change and do what needs to be done. You’re not alone, but you do have to motivate yourself and get to work.
Image Credit: Corina Ciocirlan / 500px / Westend61 / getty
The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans
Here are the cheapest plans available for Australia’s most popular NBN speed tier.