Cleaning Is Awful -- But Here's How To Make It Suck A Little Less

by Rita Templeton
matt_benoit/Getty Images

I love a clean house, but it sucks getting it that way. Especially since most days it seems like everyone else who lives here is actively combating any effort I make. It kind of feels like I’m building a sandcastle at the edge of the water, just for a wave to come and wash it away. I look around at the dirty dishes in places where dirty dishes don’t belong, socks and shoes strewn all over the floor, pet-hair tumbleweeds gathering in corners that I swear I just swept, junk mail in a precariously high stack on the kitchen counter, and I feel defeated. Like maybe I should just give up and try not to let it bother me when it starts to look like an episode of Hoarders.

But being in grimy, cluttered surroundings sends my anxiety into overdrive, and ultimately that sucks even more than cleaning. So no matter how much I feel like doing other things (like just about anything else), I always end up tidying a few things. When I’m especially unmotivated, I rely on a few tricks to get up and moving. Like …

Brightening things up.

I know some people like their shades drawn at all times, but I’m not one of them. There’s just something about bright, fresh sunlight streaming in through the windows that inspires me to make the rest of my house sparkly (maybe it’s the way the sunbeams illuminate all the dust motes in the air?). If it’s cloudy, I just turn on all the lights. Instant energizer.

Turning on some tunes.

Everything is better when it’s accompanied by a sweet soundtrack – I mean, Marvin Gaye didn’t write “Let’s Get It On” for nothing. Pushing a mop is somehow more bearable when I can do it to a beat.

Getting some Pin-spo.

Pinterest has so many tips and tricks that almost – almost – make cleaning seem fun and effortless. I just type “cleaning hacks” into the search bar and spend a few minutes reading all the ingenious advice, then choose a few that I can try out myself (and pinning some for later that, let’s face it, I’ll never try).

Setting a time limit.

This is one of those psychological tricks, and even though I know it’s a trick, my brain falls for it every time. When I start cleaning, I tell myself I’ll just do it for ten minutes. That’s all – just ten minutes – and then I can do something more fun. But inevitably, once I’ve spent ten minutes cleaning, I’ve gotten into a groove and don’t stop there. Movement begets movement, and it’s no different with housework. Getting started is the hardest part, but once you do, it’s easy to keep going. Of course, if the time limit passes and I still want to stop, I do. At least my house is ten minutes’ worth of work cleaner.

Tackling the tough stuff first.

Part of the reason I hate to clean is that there’ll be a certain extra-dirty chore that I dread. But if I take care of it right off the bat, I feel accomplished, and like everything else is simple compared to that one horrible thing. However, this only works sometimes, depending on how I feel that day. Other times, I do the exact opposite, which is …

Practicing avoidance.

Sometimes, when there’s a specific thing I hate to do, I’ll drag my feet – doing absolutely anything else first. For example, I hate deep-cleaning my cats’ litter box (ick). So on the way to the box, I’ll accidentally-on-purpose get “sidetracked” by other things. Oh, I can’t leave this laundry here; I’d better put it in the washer. Well, now that I’m passing by these dishes, I may as well do them. By the time I (grudgingly) get around to cleaning the cat box, I’ve done a whole bunch of other stuff.

Using a new cleaning product.

You know how exciting it is when you’ve got a new conditioner or makeup you’re dying to try? (Please say it isn’t just me.) It’s kind of the same – okay, maybe to a slightly lesser degree – with cleaning products. So I fork over $3.50 for a new scent of Pledge or a fancy scrubby sponge or something. If it ups my motivation even one iota, which it almost always does, it’s worth the investment.

Dangling a carrot.

I don’t mean this literally – I’m not motivated by actual carrots, unless they happen to be baked into a cake. I mean enticing myself with a reward that I’m only allowed to have once the cleaning is done. Like catching up on my DVR’ed episodes of This Is Us or buying a new candle.

Hosting a get-together.

Almost every time I embark on a cleaning frenzy, my kids are like, “Who’s coming over?” This is because even they know there’s no better motivator than the prospect of someone seeing (all right, judging) my dirty-ass house. If I extend an invitation, and commit to having people over, then I also commit myself to cleaning up beforehand.

Keeping photographic evidence.

Once I’ve finished the job, I snap a photo of my gleaming hardwood floor or my spic-and-span sink and keep it in my phone to remind myself of just how good it looked, and how awesome it felt to have it clean.

Let’s face it: cleaning is never going to be anybody’s favorite thing to do (if it was, you probably wouldn’t have read past the first paragraph). But it’s a necessary evil, so we may as well make it easier on ourselves.

Anybody wanna come over? Just give me a couple hours’ notice.