Small Habits Big Rewards

My house has gotten a bit messy over the past year or so.

Oh, who am I trying to kid? My home has always been a bit messy. I just haven’t had much strength to do anything about it recently. Alan has been doing more than his fair share of the work around here and as I try to get back into a more normal routine, I felt like I needed some kind of system. One that I could stick with.

Scheduling doesn’t really work for me. As soon as something is written in my schedule, my inner sulky 12 year old takes over and refuses to do it. Even if it’s something really good, like writing or going for a walk. So those plans that say that every day you should do these things and then every week you do this as well and don’t forget those monthly and yearly tasks were not going to do it for me. Too overwhelming and a bit strict. I mean, this is our home, the place where we live and sometimes have people over. It’s not a major corporation and I’m not trying to win the Tidy Olympics here.

So I was happy to stumble across this video by Rachel Aust. In it she suggests setting a timer and cleaning for 20 minutes every day. Twenty minutes is a pretty manageable time frame. You can do it in the morning on weekends, before heading out to have fun. Or slot it into the end of a long and lazy day if you want to end feeling a little virtuous. It can even work at the end of a busy day.

I amended it to 20 minutes almost every day because I still have days when twenty minutes is just too many minutes and I don’t need a new habit to help me feel bad about myself for that. We all have days when cleaning will not only not be a priority, but it won’t even be a possibility. And that’s fine. It’s just cleaning and sometimes you need to take those twenty minutes to remember to breathe.

I also like that there’s no list of Must Do tasks. Just set the timer and start cleaning. I just head for whatever I’m noticing on that particular day. Often, it’s sweeping up dog hair and late winter grit. I’m also using those minutes to work my way round the kitchen, scrubbing off the accumulated scuzzies. I’ll use it for some decluttering soon too.

Because 20 minutes a day adds up to 140 minutes a week, if you do it every day. And even if you take weekends off, that’s nearly two solid hours of cleaning a week, which is way more than we spend on an emergency clean when we’ve invited new friends round for dinner and we don’t want them to see how we really live.

I’ve only been running this experiment for about a week, but already my home is looking calmer and closer to what feels most comfortable for me – clean, tidy, but a little rumpled, not even close to sterile. And Alan is starting to notice a tiny bit of breathing room for himself, too.

I realize that someone with a bigger house or small children might not be able to do enough cleaning in twenty minutes to make a difference. But maybe 20 minutes in the morning and 20 at night? Or if the other humans you share a house with are able to help and not buckling under the pressures of running a bakery and looking after a sick wife, you could get them cleaning, too, while the timer ticks away?

The other half of this equation is that when that alarm goes off, you get/have to stop cleaning for the day, which is a real bonus for those of us who like to use cleaning as a means of procrastination. Guess what I was doing before I sat down to write this post?

Twenty minutes a day, every day that makes sense for your situation, and, a bit like knitting, you end up with something good.

Please let me know what you think. Is 20 minutes a day workable for you, or do you prefer to do your cleaning all at once? Do you have any small habits that bring you a big reward?

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12 Responses to Small Habits Big Rewards

  1. ~Sacha says:

    My inner recalcitrant 12 year old completely takes over when I try and schedule a task too.

  2. I LOVE this idea. So much. Cleaning is not my strongest point – tidy, I can do but actually I’ve been aware our house needs a bit of a deep, spring clean. I could do a deep, spring clean of one small bit of it in 20 minute bursts. It think that would work. That’d = totally scrubbed worksurfaces til they smelled of lemon. That’d make me feel good. The next 20 minutes would take care of the cooker hob.
    Gonna give that a try too. Thanks for the tip.

  3. Laurent says:

    We have time to clean twice our house in 20 minutes LOL

  4. Martha Holmes says:

    My housework time depends on how my breathing is going on that day and at that time. I have to work around my COPD limitations.

    • Barb says:

      I have to work around mine, too, Martha. What I love about this system is that I can miss a few days and not feel like I’ve messed up an imposed schedule. I just get back to the 20 minutes a day when I’m feeling better. There’s no need to make up for lost time.

  5. Debbi Pigeon says:

    That’s a great idea. And, my own recalcitrant twelve year old thinks that it’s manageable, as well!

  6. Monique says:

    This is a great idea! Thank you for the tip! I will try it!

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