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zen habits: Develop clean-house habits one at a time

Friday, February 16, 2007

Develop clean-house habits one at a time

Personal blogger Mrs. Ronk posted about trying to keep her house clean:

"I've just been frustrated (once again) by the fact that my house doesn't stay clean longer than five minutes. I don't have a system set up, and I also have bad habits such as putting my clothes in a pile by the side of my bed at night instead of hanging them up or putting them in the laundry hamper.

I'm tired of it. The clutter gets to me and I feel unsettled. And I feel like I can't start a new project or do anything fun until I get the house in order. But my house is never fully in order, so I never really get any projects done."
I totally understand where she's coming from. A messy house can be overwhelming, and the habits required not only to get it cleaned but to keep it that way can seem like too much to tackle.

But here's the key: I've found that it's best to use small steps in getting where you want to go.

Try these habits for at least two weeks each before going onto the next:
  • hang your clothes up or put them in hamper immediately
  • put all papers (including school papers, post-in notes, bills, etc) in one in basket, and process at the end of each day (use the steps in Clearing Your Desk)
  • keep you sink clean and shiny (wash dishes immediately, clean sink after)
  • pick up before you go to bed and before you leave the house
  • empty your trash daily
  • 15 minutes decluttering sessions each day (see How to Declutter)
  • clean your shower, toilet and bathroom sink after each use (only takes a couple minutes!)
  • have a place for everything, and put everything in its place immediately
  • make your bed each morning
  • keep flat surfaces (counters, tables, desks) clear of clutter
  • put away your stuff as soon as you get home
Now, these are a lot of habits, and it might seem overwhelming, but if you tackle one at a time (in whatever order you like), it won't be that hard. Give yourself several months to get there - don't expect overnight change!

Here's how to tackle each habit:
  1. Write down your goal.
  2. Post it up somewhere visible.
  3. Keep a log and make sure you write in it each day, noting whether you were successful or not for that day.
  4. Post your daily results on your blog or on an online forum, or email to family and friends.
  5. Reward yourself for each day of success.
  6. Give yourself electric shocks if you fail that day (just kidding!).
  7. Actually, if you fail that day, take a minute to see what went wrong, and how to correct it. Now forgive yourself for failing, and tell yourself that you will do better starting now!
  8. Find a way to keep yourself focused on this goal for at least 2-3 weeks.
  9. Celebrate when you're done.
If you can conquer that habit (and it may take a month or more), then move on to the next. Do not try to do them all at once! Take baby steps, and you'll get there.

See also:


Sarah Clark said...

Also, take a look at FLYlady. Her style is a little over the top and oprah-ey, but if you can get past that she's actually got some solid strategies for baby-stepping your way into a livable house cleaning routine.

Leo said...

Thanks Sarah ... Actually, I love Fly Lady ... her site needs a redesign, and it's hard to find info on the site, but she's still great. I was actually planning on doing a little write-up of her soon for this blog.

holli jo said...

Hey, Leo. Thanks for the great advice. I've started following your advice of choosing a habit to work on, and I'm already noticing a difference.

I've actually started on several habits at once. I know you (and lots of other people) might recommend against taking on too much. But for me, I had to feel like what I am doing is making a difference.

So I make my bed every morning. I put my clothing away every night. I do a quick cleanup of the living room every night. So far, it's working great!

Thanks for stopping by my blog and offereing your advice/support there.

You've really got a great site here. Thanks!

Leo said...

Hi Holli Jo: thanks for the nice comment. I only suggested taking these habits one step at a time because doing all of them at once can be overwhelming. The problem with doing too much at once, I've found, is that it's hard to keep focus. And focus is probably the most important factor in creating habits.

But if it's working for you, and you're able to keep focus on your new habits over time, then I say go for it! Each of us is different, and what works for me isn't necessarily what you should do. Keep up the great work!

Hannu said...

Hey Leo, great article! It just reminded me of something my mother used to say: "People are not slaves to habit, but rather servants." (roughly paraphrased from the original Finnish)

Her point being that we aren't bound to our habits 'til death do us part, but that we can change our "employer" if we want to. Not easily, but it can be done.

Of course, this pearl of wisdom was delivered with a certain amount of exasperation when my mother was confronting me and my brother about our indolent ways.

Funny how the things mom said seem to get wiser as the years go by..

Leo said...

Hi Hannu, thanks for the great comment. Your mom sounds like a very smart person ... the kind of person I'd like to meet. I'd probably have to learn Finnish first, but it sounds like a fascinating language.