The art of designing (and redesigning) a home is an act of expression available to all. The creating, designing, imagining what will be—this is the fun part. And then there’s the upkeep—the less-than-thrilling (read: dreaded) part.
The good news? Our relationship with cleaning is one thing that we can change. Take it from me: a cleaning convert who used to recoil at the sight of a dustpan. If we can start to look at our abodes as, truly, our homes—the heart of our lives—we can adjust our perspectives on cleaning. Maybe, just maybe, we can see daily upkeep not as a chore, but as a way to say thank you. Here are 10 ways to make cleaning less of a chore.
1. Start every day by making your bed.
As a lifelong rumpled-covers-leaver, reading the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg ($17.98 on Amazon) changed my life. I learned that daily bed-making is something called a keystone habit: “Those routines that, if you can identify them, spill over to other habits.” According to Duhigg, changing or cultivating keystone habits “helps other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious.” A keystone habit is essentially a catalyst for other good habits. (I’m still making my bed every day, an act typically followed by having my kids make theirs.)
2. Do it now.
Trust me, I’m a professional procrastinator—but I’ve learned: that elusive period of time we call “later” never actually arrives. We all face resistance on a daily basis: I hate cleaning out the refrigerator! Hate it! Hate it! Hate it! In the yoga world, this resistance is called tapas, which means “to hurt or cause pain.” (Remember, not all pain is bad!) If we can push through this type of pain, we’ll arrive at the other side feeling much better (and, with a clean kitchen, to boot). One thing that helps me is to notice my inner screaming, silently say tapas to myself, and carry on with the cleaning anyway. Studies show that delayed tasks take longer to complete—so save yourself the time: Do it now.
3. Invest in beautifully designed, quality cleaning products.
Good design in everyday objects makes life more beautiful, more satisfying, and more fun. Winston Churchill said, “We shape our dwellings, and afterwards, our dwellings shape us.” Invest in quality, good-looking products and let them shape your experience. See a few of our favorites in Domestic Science: How to Sweep a Floor, Perfectionist’s Edition and Gifts for the Domestic Scientist.
4. Make your home organizing a time of inner peace.
If we want to, we can choose to see homekeeping as a way to express love for our housemates, our family, and our home. As I learned from Zen and the Art of Housekeeping ($11.73 on Amazon): Slow down and take the time to clean mindfully. First, look at the living room in disarray, notice the newspapers scattered on the floor, the pillows deflated, and the blankets askew. Admire (ha!) the glory of this gone-to-hell-in-a-handbasket space. Then, slowly, start to clean it—feel the textures of pillows you fluff and the blankets you fold. When you finish, notice how much better you feel (and how great the room looks).
5. Put on music that you love.
Let it be a time to sing and move your body. As someone who truly loathed cleaning for many years, I have tried everything. One thing that always helps? Great music. Before I fold and fluff, I try to remember the value in what I am doing: creating a happy, healthy home.
6. Bring every room back to “ready” before you leave.
I learned this tip from It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys by Marilyn Paul ($12.99 from Amazon), and if I could follow just one rule of housekeeping, this would be it. It’s simple, and it works. Before you dash off to work: pause, take 10 minutes now (instead of 30-minutes-and-a-giant-mess later), and put everything back into its proper place.
7. Always be pruning.
Or, what I call: 10 minutes a day, keeps the clutter-crazies away. I’ve mentioned Gretchen Rubin’s bestselling book The Happiness Project before, as it has many pearls of wisdom about happiness and daily life at home. My copy is earmarked and note-filled, with many quotes underlined. One of my favorites reads, “What you do every day matters more than what you do every once in a while.” Most of us have an abundance of stuff, and we’re always acquiring more. But, if we prune, prune, prune throughout the day and toss any haven’t-used-in-a-year items, we can avoid the humongous pile-up and dreaded cleaning marathon.
8. Reward yourself for cleaning up.
Another thing I learned from Duhigg’s fascinating book is that we are, in fact, creatures of habit. (And we love rewards.) Habits are made up of a three-part loop: the trigger (a gorgeous dustpan), the routine (dust, dust, dust), and the reward (a trip to that new gelato place down the street, anyone?). The reward is key: It tells our brain whether we should store this habit for future use or not. (Gelato means, yes.)
9. If you can afford it, hire a housecleaner.
As the great playwright John Heywood said, “Many hands make light work.” (Nobody said you had to do it all by yourself.) If you can outsource some of your housework, I say, good for you—and go for it. An added bonus: You may find yourself tidying up before your cleaner arrives.
10. Remember that your house (your apartment, wherever you reside) is a home.
It bears repeating, as this simple attitude adjustment is the key to changing your relationship with housework. I’ve posted this quote, by Truman Capote, to remind me: “If you sweep a house, and tend its fires and fill its stove, and there is love in you all the years you are doing this, then you and that house are married, that house is yours.”
More in cleaning and domestic science:
- Domestic Science: How to Wash a Down Comforter
- Domestic Science: How to Clean a Washing Machine
- The Minimalist: The Only 4 Ingredients You Need to Clean Your Entire Home
N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on February 19, 2013.