Inside: Lost your cleaning mojo? Use these 6 easy steps to learn how to get motivated to clean your house when it’s a disgusting mess.
A cold ripped its way through our household leaving me barely able to keep my head above the enormous landmines of laundry that swallowed up our living room.
Feeling my body switch into frenzy mode, my mind began to spin and rage crept up my neck and turned my cheeks bright red.
- How was it possible for our house to become such a disgusting mess?
- Was I sure that this room was, in fact, our living room… or had I walked into Walmart after everyone had gone on their toilet paper frenzy?
- Why on earth was I having such a hard time focusing on something for more than 2.7 seconds before getting distracted?
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Tossing my hardy Norwex cleaning cloths into my cleaning bucket, I headed for the living room.
Standing in the entryway of a room that looked as inviting as walking into a lion’s den brought on feelings of frustration. I couldn’t think straight as I tried to think of a way to attack the mess.
I mutter to myself in a feeble attempt to calm my climbing temper.
I’m about to blow a fuse. I guess we’re just going to live in a pigsty for the rest of our lives.
Why Can’t I Clean My House?
It took years before I learned why I was so unmotivated to clean my house. Me, someone who loves to live in a clean home and hates messes didn’t have the motivation to clean.
It felt like suddenly, despite my previous years working as a professional cleaner, I didn’t know how to clean.
Where was I even supposed to start?
It wasn’t for a lack of knowledge that I struggled to clean my house. I had all the best secret cleaning hacks tucked up my sleeve.
I knew what needed to be done.
This is Why You Can’t “Just Do It”
The reason I couldn’t just clean my house was because I was overwhelmed by the mess.
I couldn’t get motivated to clean because I was overwhelmed by everything that needed to be done.
Which means if you are like me and felt like, “help! My house is a disgusting mess and it’s overwhelming me!” you’re going to have no motivation to clean that mess up.
This is exactly why when people tell you to “just do it”, your brain won’t let you just do it.
In a Scientific American article, Dr. Ellen Hendricksen explains that when we feel overwhelmed, our brains are incapable of functioning properly.
When drowning in our to-dos (in this case, an overwhelmingly disgusting house), more times than not, we will procrastinate in a way that makes us feel like we’re still being productive, all while putting off the task we are supposed to be completing. She goes on to say:
“When we’re overwhelmed, we can’t function. It may seem silly: why do we let our brains be hijacked by a to-do list? You[r] brain doesn’t just see a to-do list; it sees a threat.” – Dr. Ellen Hendricksen
This is exactly why when someone tells you, “c’mon, just get it done” it’s not your fault that you literally cannot do it. Your brain won’t let you.
Which brings us to the next question… how do you get motivated to clean when your brain is fighting against what you’re trying to do?
Download the Cleaning Motivation Cheat Sheet as a bonus for joining my newsletter: 8 Science-Backed Ways to Get Motivated to Clean Your House
What to do When You Have No Motivation to Clean
If you’re here, chances are you’re looking for a way to find your cleaning motivation. In fact, you probably feel much more comfortable sitting in bed eating chocolate chunk ice cream and watching re-runs of Gilmore Girls because actually picking yourself up off the dust-ridden floor and getting out there and facing the mess sends you into a tizzy.
After today, the mess won’t stress you out anymore.
Because after today, you’re going to know exactly how to face the overwhelming mess in your home.
It doesn’t matter if your house is a mess simply from your son’s 4th birthday party last weekend or it’s been accumulating junk and spaghetti sauce on the floors for the past 5 weeks.
What matters is that you’re here, and you’re determined. (Motivated? Not yet. But determined to make a change? Absolutely.)
How do I Stop Being Lazy and Clean My House?
The most important thing you can do when you’re lacking motivation to clean is to think of something small that you could clean.
Now, think of something even smaller.
Don’t just read past this part – it’s important. What is a small area of your home that you could clean in 10 minutes or less?
The first step towards getting motivated to clean your house is to find something (an area, an object, a room) that will take you 5 minutes or less to clean from start to finish.
Spending 2 – 5 minutes cleaning something microscopic will help you regain your motivation to clean your house because it offers fast results, which pumps out the dopamine and helps you feel good about yourself.
Dopamine + Quick Wins Are Your Bread and Butter
The reason why determining and accomplishing a tiny task works so well is because when we complete a task, reach a goal, or accomplish something, our brain releases dopamine.
Dopamine is the “feel good” hormone, and it’s any person’s secret weapon to achieving their goals (in this case, a clean home).
“When dopamine is released in large amounts, it creates feelings of pleasure and reward, which motivates you to repeat a specific behavior” Healthline
A Lifehack article states, “dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.”
Because of this, dopamine acts as a motivator and helps maintain attention and focus.
The reason why you want to start by picking a microscopic task to complete is because starting with something small allows you to follow through even when you have absolutely no motivation or drive.
You can tell yourself, “today, I’m going to wipe down the exterior of all our kitchen appliances.”
Or, you could make a goal to clean off the coffee table.
Whatever your goal is, make sure it’s small and doable in one go. You don’t want to get distracted and come back later. You want to complete it, start to finish, in one go.
This is your quick win.
Your quick win is exactly what is going to trigger the dopamine release in your brain and make you want more of what you just did.
In other words, making a goal to clean something tiny, then cleaning it, will make you feel good, and will make you want more of what you just did.
How to Get Motivated to Clean Your House
The 6-Step Guide that will take you from begrudgingly sweeping your kitchen floors to being excited to clean, because after you follow the steps below, you’ll have recaptured your cleaning motivation and be well on your way to the home you’ve always dreamed you would have.
1. Find Your Area
The first thing to do when trying to get motivated to clean your house is to find an area to start in.
As mentioned above, this area can’t take any more than 5 minutes to clean. In other words, it needs to be microscopic.
“There are dozens of “areas” in my home… I don’t know which one to start in.”
When picking your area, think of your entire house, or even walk through each room, and make note of the places that stress you out the most when they’re dirty, cluttered, and disorganized.
Maybe it’s the coffee table that makes you fume, or maybe you can’t stand when the entryway is a mess.
Here are 4 very important things to keep in mind when picking your starting area. You want it to be:
- Central. This area needs to be in a central place in your house, somewhere that you see and walk past often. Not some place hidden away like the guest room closet.
- Microscopic. The place you choose should take no longer than 5 minutes to clean from start to finish.
- Bothersome. This is possibly the most important thing to keep in mind while picking your area. It should be somewhere that makes your skin crawl and blood boil when you see it messy.
- Messy. Of course, this area needs to be messy/dirty right now, so that you can clean it and see an immediate difference. (Which will, in turn, stimulate the dopamine release in your body.)
Over the next couple of days, you’re going to take 5 minutes to clean this area, and then you’re going to be focusing on keeping it clean every day after today, which is exactly why the area you choose needs to meet all of the above criteria, so that you not only get motivated to clean, but you stay motivated to keep it clean.
If you don’t see the area daily, there’s a greater chance you will forget about it or put it off because it’s “not that important” (you don’t see it every day anyway, so why does it matter if it isn’t clean?).
When you pick an area that’s too big, it’s easier to lose focus and get distracted leaving the task half-done.
And, if the area you choose is neither bothersome or messy, you won’t have the drive to clean it, and it will end up staying a sloppy mess.
Some examples of a good area to start with are:
- Kitchen table
- Kitchen island/countertop
- Coffee table
- Main/master bathroom vanity
- Entryway bench
Once you’ve decided on your area, take a piece of paper and write it down. Then, move on to the next step.
* If you haven’t found your area yet, stop now and don’t move on to the next step. Simply reading this post isn’t going to help you out. You could know everything in the world, but unless you put some action behind it and put that knowledge to work, it’s useless.
2. Give Yourself a Deadline
You’ve found that one area in your house that makes your blood boil when it’s messy.
Now, it’s time to address it.
Grab a trusty timer – anything from a phone timer to a kitchen timer will work fine (I much prefer one of these super simple timers over a phone timer. I find using a phone timer is just asking to be distracted.) – and set it for 5 minutes.
Now, before starting the timer, you’ll want to get rid of anything that could pose as a distraction – cellphones, the TV, etc. Clear the distractions and get ready to get to work.
Once you’re ready, start the timer and vigorously clean that area for 5 minutes.
Start by getting rid of anything that doesn’t belong on that particular surface or in that particular area. Put these items to the side (don’t worry about putting them away right now.
We’ll do that later.
For now, you’re just focusing on getting your area neat, tidy, and clean in 5 minutes or less).
Next, remove everything else (the objects that do belong in this area) and wipe down all the surfaces. Then, wipe quickly down all the objects that will be staying in this area.
Once both the area and the items that live in that area are clean, put those items back where they belong, neatly so the area you’re working in looks prim and proper.
If there’s time before the 5 minutes is up, put away all those out-of-place items. If not, do it after.
Here are 5 things you can do to make cleaning your area quicker and easier…
- Use a catchall basket. This is a basket, box, or bag that collects all those out-of-place items and gets them out of the way while you clean. Once you’re done cleaning your area, grab the basket and walk around the house returning everything to where it belongs.
- Get ready first. Don’t start the timer then spend the next five minutes gathering your cleaning supplies. Before you start, look at the area you’re cleaning and decide what tools you’ll need. Grab them all, then start.
- Ditch the phone. (Or the TV, or any other distractions.) Turn the TV off and leave phones and laptops in different rooms so there’s no risk of them snatching your attention.
- Don’t watch the clock. If watching the timer count down makes you panic and unable to move because you can’t work under pressure, you won’t benefit from having a timer going in the same room as you. If that’s the case, grab one of these kitchen timers and place it in a different area (or in the corner of the room you’re working in, facing away from you) so that you aren’t tempted to watch the seconds count down, but you can still hear it when it goes off.
- Anticipate the reward. Research shows that spikes in dopamine (the feel-good hormone) can help regulate motivation, which leads people to persevere through hard situations to obtain something positive while avoiding something negative from happening. A good way to get that spike in dopamine that you’re after is to anticipate the reward you will get – the end result.
3. Anticipate a Reward
Anticipating the end result will motivate you to take action.
Dopamine (that feel-good hormone we love so much) is not only released when you accomplish a goal. It’s also released when you think about the reward.
When you set a goal in your mind and visualize the end goal, your body will release dopamine, and the dopamine will urge you into motion.
“Anticipating a reward activates a part of your brain that then communicates with deeper regions that control the release of dopamine, which initiates motivated behavior.” Source
When you visualize what your space will look like once it’s cleaned, it will not only get your brain ready to work, it also stimulates motivation to get to that place.
4. Ignore the Rest of the House
For the next two days, you’re going to ignore the rest of your house (besides doing everyday cleaning tasks like wiping counters, sweeping floors, washing dishes, etc.) and put all your focus on keeping your area clean and looking nice.
You may be thinking, “but once I clean a small area I’m going to be roaring to clean the rest of the house!”
The reason you want to focus on only this one area for at least two days is because even if you feel temporarily motivated to continue cleaning after tidying up your one area, more than likely what will end up happening is you will burn out and your brain will say, “see? I told you so. Keeping this house clean is way out of your ability.”
That’s the last thing you want to happen.
Because when that happens, you accept defeat. You give up. You believe you’re a failure and you get stressed out.
This is why for today, tomorrow, and the next day, you want to focus on one area.
Because when you spend no more than 5 minutes tidying your area each day, your brain says, “keeping this area clean isn’t so hard after all, and seeing it so nicely tidy every day feels good.”
(See? That’s the magic of dopamine. You tell yourself you’re going to keep this one particular area clean for three days in a row, and you do it, and your brain and body get hooked. Because when you do keep it clean, it feels good. Suddenly, you’ve gone from feeling like a failure and overwhelmed to being on top of the world and desperately longing to keep other areas of your home clean.)
5. Add More
You’ve now been caring for this particular area in your home for three whole days. Now it’s time to shift your focus to other areas of your home.
But there’s one caveat.
You aren’t allowed to neglect the first place
That’s right. This means you will be adding more to your plate, not trading one room in your house for another.
But don’t panic, because you now know that dopamine is the secret weapon to finding the motivation to clean and keep your house clean, which is exactly why you’ll be able to keep your original area clean and add more areas to your list.
I don’t recommend jumping in and cleaning your entire house after the three days are up, or you may just end up kiboshing everything you spent the last 72 hours building up.
Instead, do it slowly. Each day add 2 – 3 new areas to your home.
These areas can take longer than 5 minutes each to clean up, unlike your original area.
You’ll be able to add more areas of your home to keep clean to your plate and stay motivated because you spent the last 3 days building motivation up in your mind and learning exactly what it is that motivates you, which is exactly what you’re going to keep doing.
(Remember to always anticipate the end goal. Think ahead to what it is you’re working towards, and keep that visual in your mind. If you need to, write it down.)
“But after I’ve added another 5+ areas to my list of things to keep clean… won’t I just end up spending hours on end cleaning every day?”
The reason for this is because after you’ve done the initial clean, maintaining the area and keeping it clean daily takes a lot less time than it does to clean it initially.
Why? Because cleaning and tidying an area that’s already clean takes far less time than cleaning an area that hasn’t been cleaned (consistently) in months.
Which is why you’ll want to slowly add more areas onto your plate, because the initial clean may be lengthy.
But, you’ll be able to add more areas daily because once the initial cleaning is done, it should take no more than 2 minutes/day to tidy and quickly clean up.
Cleaning motivation is a funny thing. If you have it, you feel like you’re on top of the world. You’re the queen of the castle, and you’re definitely the queen of housekeeping.
But, when you don’t have it, you feel like a failure and you become overwhelmed at the thought of having to complete even a minuscule cleaning task and you repeatedly think “how do I stop being lazy and clean my house?” to yourself.
And there’s a catch.
Just because you have cleaning motivation right now, doesn’t mean you’ll have it next month. (Or even tomorrow.) You could have it one day, and it could be gone the next.
(Which is exactly why I suggest downloading this free 8-Step Cleaning Motivation Cheat Sheet, so you can refer back to it anytime you feel your cleaning motivation starting to slip.)
Motivation to Clean House
I Can’t Keep My House Clean What’s Wrong With Me?
If you feel like your house is always a mess, here are 8 things you can do to get motivated to clean house. Stat. The following tips will spark your cleaning inspiration and get you motivated to clean even when your house is a disaster and you don’t know where to start.
– Invite Someone Over
No one wants to invite someone over and have them step on Legos on the living room floor.
Inviting someone over for coffee is a great to learn how to clean a very messy house – because no one wants to face the embarrassment of having their guests use their nasty bathroom. (Cue the disinfectant wipes for speedy bathroom cleanups right before guests arrive.)
Even if having someone over to your house doesn’t motivate you to clean… it forces you to clean your grubby house.
– Watch Tidying Up With Marie Kondo
Marie Kondo is the face behind the famous KonMari method of decluttering. She’s also author of the best selling book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Watching an episode or two of her show “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” on Netflix is enough to take anyone from “I can’t get motivated to clean my house” to being excited to clean and organize their space.
– Follow Routines
Following a daily routine will help you tremendously when it comes to cleaning your home and keeping it tidy.
Using a weekly cleaning schedule and breaking the tasks down into daily cleaning chores will eliminate your house from becoming a pigsty, and will eliminate you from becoming overwhelmed.
Instead of doing all the house cleaning in one day and getting overwhelmed by your messy house, you’ll split the cleaning tasks up by day so that you’re spending no more than an hour cleaning each day, yet still maintaining the neat and tidy house you’re after.
An example weekly cleaning routine broken into daily tasks could be…
- Monday: Laundry, wipe kitchen appliances
- Tuesday: Dusting
- Wednesday: Clean bathrooms, wash bathroom/kitchen linens
- Thursday: Vacuum, mop floors
- Friday: Change bedding, laundry
Following a schedule allows you to know exactly what needs to be done every day and helps you keep track of what you’ve already done, ensuring you’re not wasting time trying to remember what to do, or forgetting to clean certain things, or cleaning things twice.
Download: Free Weekly/Daily Cleaning Schedule
– Declutter First
Attempting to clean a cluttered room is a thousand times more difficult than cleaning a room that’s not filled to the brim with clutter.
Not only will it be harder to clean a cluttered room, but it will also take far, far longer to clean.
Cleaning takes a lot longer when you’re wasting time moving things to clean behind, beneath, and around various objects than if you were cleaning a room that was filled with only the things that belonged there.
If you don’t know where to start decluttering, here are 20 easy things to declutter when you feel stuck.
Download: From Chaos to Calm (where to start decluttering if your house feels like a never-ending pile of stuff)
– Binge Clean
There’s something about binge cleaning in short spurts that can really motivate you to clean the rest of your house.
Setting a timer for 10 minutes or less and telling yourself, “for the next 10 minutes, I’m going to focus on getting as much of the kitchen/living room/bathroom/etc. cleaned as possible.” gives you an endpoint, and having an endpoint is exactly what will motivate you to get started when cleaning is the last thing you want to be doing.
Important note: I’ve learned that using a plain timer over a phone timer eliminates distractions substantially and helps me get far more done than I get done when I use my phone timer.
– Listen to Music
Turning on some upbeat music (that’s the secret, the music needs to encourage you to get moving) motivate you to get moving and start cleaning.
(Slow, cozy music, on the other hand, will just make you want to curl up on the couch with a good book. That’s not the effect we’re going after.)
– Purchase a New Product
It makes sense. When you buy a new shirt, you want to wear it.
When you get a new car, you’re excited to drive it.
When you get a new cleaning product, you want to try it out.
If you ever needed an excuse to purchase that mop you’ve had your eye on for months, this is your excuse.
Here are some other cleaning tools bound to get you all steamed up and ready to clean:
- The Shark. I have two mops, one is my O’cedar knock-off mop, and the other is my shark mop. I had the O’Cedar mop for years, but just recently got my shark mop, and I’ve found that in the several months I’ve had the new mop, our floors magically seem to stay cleaner for some odd reason. (Maybe it’s because instead of having to lug out the mop and bulky mop bucket, my shark mop makes mopping easier because it’s got the water tank attached right to it, and I don’t have to use any detergents with it.)
- Weiman’s Stovetop Cleaner. I used to spend hours scrubbing my stovetop (I’m not kidding. Hours of my life that I’ll never get back.). Now, when there’s something stuck on, I just squirt some Weiman’s cleaner onto it and scrub at it with the scrubby that’s included and everything that was stuck on wipes right off.
- Norwex Cloths. These microfiber cleaning cloths are fantastic. Not only do they clean exceptionally well (even without any cleaner), but they also help remove bacteria from surfaces they wipe… all without having to purchase any expensive cleaners.
- Essential Oils. I got a handful of essential oils and am always excited to put them in my homemade cleaners (vinegar + water + tea tree or lemon essential oil).
– Plan Your Reward
Give yourself something to look forward to so that not only will you be motivated to clean because you’re excited for after you’re done when you’re finally able to stuff your face with that delectable rocky road ice cream that has been calling your name from the freezer while watching reruns of Friends (or is that just me?), but you’ll also be cueing to your body to release dopamine, which will help you get motivated to clean because your body will want to do more of what released the “feel-good” hormone.
– Use a Drop Bin
One of my very favorite secrets for when I don’t know how to start cleaning a messy house is to start with the drop bin.
A drop bin (also knowns as a miscellaneous basket) is a basket or small bin that doubles as home decor (these are like the ones we use) and a place to hide clutter.
Whenever I feel overwhelmed by my messy house, I head straight for our drop bin and start by putting everything that’s in it away where it belongs.
The drop bin collects all kinds of miscellaneous stuff throughout the day from keys to glasses to books and toys.
Anything we don’t have time to put away right away, instead of leaving the item laying out in the open and making the room look messy, the item gets placed in the drop bin, and the drop bin gets emptied at the end of every day (or whenever I need a little oomph to start cleaning).
A word of caution regarding drop bins: Don’t let your drop bin become an excuse not to put things away. Your first resort should always be to put the item you’re using away where it belongs. If, however, you aren’t able to do that at the moment (read: your two-year-old just spilled grape juice on his sister’s brand new white dress and you definitely don’t have time to walk back to the office to put your pen and notepad away), you put whatever it is you’re using in the drop bin and empty it out in the evening.
How to Get Motivated to Clean When Overwhelmed By Mess
Much like a lion’s pen at the zoo, our house will never stay looking perfect. Even after all the poop is scooped toys are cleaned up and spaghetti sauce is scrubbed off the walls, I know it won’t be long before juice is spilled on the floor again and clothes are kicked under the couch.
But, I will keep cleaning.
Because I do this for my family. Not everything in life is fun, and I certainly wouldn’t put cleaning on the “fun” list. But at least with these 5 tips hidden up my sleeve for anytime I’m left wondering “how do I get motivated to clean when overwhelmed by the mess?”, I’m able to make the cleaning process easier.
Download Your Free Printable: Get Motivated to Clean Cheat Sheet
Grab your free cheat sheet to learn how to get motivated to clean your house with these 8 science-backed ways to get motivated.
- Download the cheat sheet. As a bonus for joining my newsletter, you’ll get the free science-backed cheat sheet to kick-start your cleaning motivation. You can click here to download and subscribe.
- Print it off. Print off the cheat sheet.
- Use it. Anytime you feel your motivation to clean diminishing, refer back to the cheat sheet.
Help Me Clean My House… Your Turn
I’d love to know, do you have some tips hidden up your sleeve that help you get motivated to clean a messy house? Share your tips in a comment below!