“What separates two people most profoundly is a different sense and degree of cleanliness.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche
Many years ago a friend visited me at home for the first time. Shortly after she sat down she said: “Wow! Your home is very clean. You didn’t need to do that for me.”
I smiled and replied: “I clean for me”.
I used to enjoy cleaning and the feelings of calm and space that followed.
Over the years though, I started feeling differently—especially when some friends and acquaintances remarked jokingly that if I enjoyed cleaning I should go and clean their homes. I found the remark offensive. While I continued to clean my home, I did it begrudgingly.
Recently I’ve been rethinking my views and feelings about cleaning.
Why did I change? Why did something that was enjoyable to me become a dreaded chore? And what would it take for me to go back to the way I was?
The thoughts and observations below summarize my findings and the new approach I’ve been experimenting with.
Our perception of cleaning
Resisting cleaning starts with the idea that cleaning is a tedious, or even a demeaning, job. One has better, more interesting or more important things to do with his or her time than clean.
So, why clean when I can go out and have a drink with friends? Or watch a show I like on TV? Maybe read a book, or write a new article. Or catch up on work.
There’s always something else to do—something more meaningful and fun.
High value of cleanliness vs. low priority: a painful mismatch
If we look at our society, we value cleanliness in everyday living.
We will not pay top dollar for a hotel room that is dirty. The hotel would not get a good rating if it was dirty. The same goes for restaurants, reputable retailers, and so on.
If we want to relax somewhere away from home, I don’t think we’d want to stay at a crummy place.
Yet somehow we view cleaning as a bothersome activity and we’d rather avoid it. Or, if we can, hire someone to do it.
But what can I do if I can’t afford to hire someone, or if I don’t like the standards of cleanliness of hired help?
It seems in most cases we let cleaning slide. It is not considered urgent or important enough, like paying the bills, showing up for work and all the other daily obligations.
And because of this contrast in value and action, we suffer. I have yet to know one person who doesn’t appreciate a clean and calm space. This brings me to another question.
When it comes to cleanliness, are we like cats or dogs?
As you probably know, cats are obsessed with cleanliness, but dogs couldn’t care less.
How much do we inherently care about cleaning? Are we natural born cleaners or is it an acquired trait?
My guess is it’s a bit of both. There is part of us that likes to look and feel clean. But the environment we grow up in can either reinforce this tendency or weaken it.
And, because cleanliness is an ongoing process, we need to clean on a regular basis to make it habitual. If we don’t develop the habit or get someone to do it for us, we will suffer in one way or another.
The cost of unclean
When we value cleanliness but don’t clean our space we suffer in different ways. It starts with the nagging thoughts: I need to clean; I should clean; God the house is so dirty, it’s embarrassing.
When shame kicks in, we feel helpless and avoid more. As time goes by, the entire notion of cleaning becomes painful and overwhelming.
The lack of physical cleanliness and tidiness turns into a debilitating inner mental and emotional struggle that drains us of energy and motivation to do anything, other than torment ourselves more.
To overcome the negative feelings and inertia we need to look at things differently.
A perspective on movement
Throughout our documented history, royalty, affluent and influential people had servants to do the boring, repetitive, and physically taxing jobs of cleaning, cooking, and home maintenance.
I believe from this mentality (and sheer human laziness) came the desire to automate as much as possible. Now we have washing machines, dishwashers, and vacuum cleaners to cut down on the amount of work we have to do.
Maybe in the future we will fully automate everything. We will have robots to clear the clutter, put the dirty clothes in the washing machine and start it or do the dishes. But till that time comes we need to show up and do the work or hire someone to do it.
The thing we ignored about the reliance on others for cleaning and other chores is the side effects of inactivity—health and weight problems.
In order to overcome the side effects of delegating a basic act, like cleaning, a new industry emerged and thrived—the fitness industry.
Instead of moving in our homes, we can now go to a gym and spend an hour walking or running on a treadmill.
Why is it considered cool to run on a treadmill but uncool to clean the bathroom?
The benefits of movement cannot be overstated. We were designed to move. If we sit still, we feel the results around our waistlines. Add to this aching joints and stiff muscles and we dread movement even more.
There is nothing wrong with working out at home or at a gym if it’s something you enjoy doing. But if you’re like me and loathe the gym, then maybe moving around the house can be a good alternative. It’s free, and more importantly, it’s purposeful.
Moving on purpose: cleaning with joy
I used to do 30 minutes on a stepper as a form of cardio vascular activity. For about three weeks now I decided to replace this with movement around the house. I will spend between 20 to 30 minutes per day on cleaning activities.
This process was inspired by the ease I felt shining the kitchen sink daily for the last couple of months.
In order to keep the process flowing, I did the following steps—none of which are out of the ordinary but they work.
1. Set an intention beforehand
Early in the morning I will think of what areas I’d like to focus on that day. You want to know what you’re going to do to eliminate indecision and excuses. Over time, you will create a routine and automate this step.
The second intention is to start, no matter what. I work for 20 to 30 minutes, then get up and do the 5 to 10 minutes of cleaning.
2. Use a timer
I use a timer to track how long each activity takes. I will stop once I pass the set time. If there is more to be done, I will do it in the next interval or keep it for the next day.
I’ve noticed that repeated actions take less time than anticipated. It’s a result of getting better and refining the process (see below).
3. Work in short intervals
On average I will spend no more than 10 minutes at a time. This way I keep things light and easy to do. You will be amazed by how much you can do in 5 or 10 minutes. Consider these examples:
- Clear some clutter from one room
- Dust and wipe furniture surfaces in the living room or bedroom
- Vacuum the living room or a flight of stairs or mop the kitchen
- Vacuum a couch or two
- Clean a bathroom sink and mirror
- Scrub a couple of toilets in your home
- Empty the vacuum cleaner and get it ready for the next use
It is important to start with a very short interval (5 minutes or so) and build up over time.
Keeping the cleaning sessions short and sweet will turn them into something we look forward to doing rather than dreading.
4. Pay attention and appreciate any progress
As you clean for a few minutes, pay full attention to what you’re doing. Notice how different things look and feel after you clean. It is from this awareness that you start appreciating the visible progress you’re making.
It might not be that significant in the beginning, but over time it will add up.
If you spend 20 minutes a day for 6 days a week, and took a month off, you will clean for a total of two hours per week and 96 hours per year. This is awesome!
5. Keep at it and refine the process
The more you do something, the better you’ll get at it. And when you get better, you will be able to tweak your work so it can be more effective or efficient. You will have a routine that is personal and works for you. This is where you start having fun and doing things with more ease.
You will develop the habit of cleaning and become masterful at it. And you will have moved a lot and burned more calories. It’s a win-win-win situation: your heart and mind will feel more at peace; your body will be energized and nimble, and your physical space will be clean and neat.
This is my third week and my house looks and feels really clean. I invite you to think about the views I shared in this article and try short interval cleaning. You won’t regret it.
“Splendor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, absence of malice, and absence of pride; these are the qualities of those endowed with divine virtues.” ~From The Bhagavad Gita
Photo courtesy of Joe Wolf