As our lives become busier and busier in the modern age, finding time to clean our living spaces is often the last thing on our minds. On top of work, family life and social life—and not least of all, “me time”—it seems almost ridiculous to think about setting aside time for cleaning.
Unless you’re already a hyper-organised person who finds bliss in doing things like alphabetising your spice cabinet, there’s no denying that cleaning is a chore. As a result, it’s perfectly normal to sometimes find that we’ve lost our motivation to clean when life gets in the way.
However, the problem with procrastination when it comes to cleaning is that it’ll get worse with time. We’ve all been there: our floors become dustier, dishes pile up and clutter accumulates. And before we know it, these small increments end up spilling over to our day-to-day lives, slowly impacting our mental and physical health in the long run.
As outlined in a previous post, this is no doomsday scenario either—scientific studies have proven that the connection between a dirty home and bad mental health is clear. Messy living spaces can also lead to bad physical health as dust and mould build up, whether it’s dirty bedsheets, pet hair or contaminated heating vents. It’s very easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when we have so many other priorities to take care of.
But there are ways to get around this. Call them “lifehacks” or simply tips to rediscover that cleaning mojo, we’ve put together six tips on how to get motivated again—no matter how out of control your living spaces have become.
Treat cleaning as exercise
Maybe you already go to the gym regularly, but what’s the harm in adding more exercise to your day? In 2017, a team of scientists from McMacster University in Canada found that household chores can provide exercise towards good mental and physical health. The study revealed that out of 130,000 people in 17 countries, more than 40 per cent of highly active participants benefited from activities such as domestic chores, especially if they had a sedentary office lifestyle. And according to lead investigator Dr. Scott Lear, “There appears to be no ceiling to the health benefits of exercise.”
Set a timer
We can trick out brain into thinking a big task is smaller than it actually is if we break it down into small parts. That’s because simply completing a task—even if it’s a minor one—can be psychologically rewarding, releasing dopamine (the “happy chemical”) to our brains.
You can choose to clean the kitchen benches for 15 minutes, then sweep for the next 15, using a timer as a guide to see how much you can complete with the allotted time. As procrastination expert and psychology professor Timothy A. Pychyl told Psychology Today, “make a deal with yourself.” The logic behind it is that it’ll be less tempting to quit once you’ve started on a task. You don’t have to put pressure on yourself into finishing the whole house in one day either.
Make cleaning fun
Sometimes, finding the motivation to clean can involve creative methods, yet another way to trick our brains that what we’re doing isn’t as daunting. For example, if you put on your favourite playlist while cleaning, it creates a better ambience and makes you focus more on the beat and less on the task at hand. Already, research has shown that our brains and bodies are hardwired for music, and that music is one of the easiest ways to manage not only our feelings, but how we function. While you’re mopping up the kitchen floor, you might find yourself singing or dancing along – soon you’ll find yourself in a clean house in no time.
Declutter and simplify
As we’ve seen in professional home organiser’s Marie Kondo’s hit Netflix TV show Tidying Up, minimising stuff can truly “spark joy”. It naturally results in more space, and less areas to dust and clean. For example, if you have fewer pots and pans, the fewer you’ll get dirty, and that means the less you have to clean. It sounds obvious, but even changing the ways you cook can minimise mess: rice cooked in a pouch instead of in a pot, one-pot pastas, or chocolate for dessert. Less clothes and books equals less dusty cabinet space. You can imagine the rest.
It’s ok to outsource your home cleaning
Maybe you think hiring a housekeeper isn’t worth the extra costs. Or you may think that it looks like you’re too lazy to do it yourself. But there are many accounts where people have sung the benefits of having a cleaner come over monthly or fortnightly, especially if they’re busy go-getters who hardly have time to be at home. The time and energy saved can lead to a better outlook on life, and knowing that someone else is coming to help you out can be a load off your shoulders.
If you think you’re someone who wants a clean house but can’t imagine choosing cleaning over socialising or watching TV, hiring a housekeeper may be the best option. A monthly expense can do wonders to your mental and physical health.
In 2018, Kaitlin Woolley, an assistant professor at Cornell University, conducted a study that discovered that giving people an immediate bonus for working on a task, rather than waiting until the end of the task to reward them, increased their interest and enjoyment in the task. “It sounds counter-intuitive,” Wooley said, “but immediate rewards can actually increase intrinsic motivation, compared to delayed or no rewards.”
Therefore, if you find yourself confronted by a huge cleaning task, rewarding yourself during and after may be the way to go. Munch on a favourite snack while doing the task, then use the time cleaning to think about how you will go about giving yourself another reward later, whether this means going for a massage or buying a new gadget. In this case, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.