5 Steps to Tackle the Mess Now - and Conquer It!

It's Memorial Day in the U.S., which is usually considered the beginning of summer. School's out, or nearly so, and everyone is thinking about longer, warmer days, vacations, and plenty of time to play, relax, and maybe even complete some projects we've been promising ourselves to get to "someday."

Memorial Day

Someday is here!

I know you're probably looking forward to summer days spent lounging by the pool, picnicking in the park, or hiking through the forest. You aren't imagining a marathon cleanup at home. Yet I have never met anyone who regrets having given their home a thorough clean and at least a light declutter. In fact, they value and appreciate the results. Once they actually get busy and start to see the effects, they don't want to stop. They're proud of their accomplishment and enjoy the outcome.

Now, I don't love cleaning. It's never first on my list for "what should we do for fun today?" It's certainly a grungy, tiring, endless job. But... I love a clean space and how calm, proud, and relaxed it makes me feel. Clean houses are just prettier, don't you think?

So it's worth it to find ways to make the work less daunting.

Related article: Spring Clean

A doable five-step project

I know you want those same feelings of peace and comfort in your home that I do. You want to feel proud of your space and enjoy your home's most attractive features. So how can you tap into that desire to rejuvenate your home and find the energy to tackle this project during what should be a season of fun and frolic?

Here's a five-step plan to override your excuses and help you get the job done. 

Step 1 - Choose your worst.

Never fear – the cleaning authorities aren't going to knock on your door and demand to do some sort of white glove test throughout your home. You're free to choose the areas that make the most difference to you, your family, and your house.

So figure out your "hot spots" – the places you dread looking at, that cause embarrassment or anger, or that create the most frustration on a daily basis. If you don't feel anything when you look at your entry hall chandelier or your kitchen baseboards, you can leave them alone for now. When they start to bug you, then they can be on the list.

Walk through your house with a notepad (or take notes on your phone) and look slowly around each room. Notice what sticks out and bothers you. When you have an emotional reaction to something, write it down, even if it's small.

By the time you've made a circuit of your home, you'll have your job list. Maybe it's time to clean your window shades or declutter and dust your family's game closet. Maybe your kitchen appliances need a good scrubbing or your pantry needs some reorganization. Maybe you need to get rid of a bunch of gunky half-used grooming supplies, replace your shower curtain, and wash under the bathroom sink.

When you pay this much attention, you'll also notice areas that don't need extra cleaning, either because you're already dealing with them throughout the year, or you don't care that much about them (which is your choice, and quite okay).

I recommend that you add basic maintenance tasks to your list, such as checking your smoke alarms and changing your filters. And if something's not working properly, that should be added as well.

At this point you may start to feel overwhelmed. How can you get this much done? You might feel like letting it slide until fall. But you know that you and the rest of the family will be busier then and it will be even harder to get anything done. Remind yourself that even if you don't get everything finished, you'll still be ahead of where you would be otherwise. 

Now you have a roadmap – it's time to make the trip.

Step 2 - Choose your tools.

The easiest way to get sidetracked or fail to complete your list is to be unprepared. If you don't have rags or garbage bags, the cleaning can't happen.

So think through your job list and write down the tools and supplies you'll need to complete the tasks. Then look around and see what you have. If anything's missing, like window cleaner or rubber gloves, shop for them in advance.

Also plan what to do with items you remove. If you're cleaning out old paint, for example, you need to know the hours of your local toxic waste disposal site. If you're clearing out a clothes closet or toy cabinet, decide where you'll donate or consign items.

Plan ahead to make cleaning more efficient and to prevent a pile of boxes or bags sitting in your trunk or garage for weeks (or longer).

the team

Step 3 - Choose your team.

Cleaning is a job that should be shared by everyone who lives in a space, as long as the tasks are age-appropriate and within each person's physical capabilities.

Once the job list has been established – and even that could involve all family members – get your team together and discuss timelines and who is going to do what. You don't have to be the whip-wielding tyrant here. This can be a collaborative project with shared purpose and commitment.

Let each person choose their tasks and discuss ways of dividing the work fairly. Perhaps two people need to do a job together, or you might even decide that certain areas require professional help.

Find ways to make the work more fun by rotating who gets to choose the music or which drink or snack to have during a break. Compete to offer the most extravagant and silly compliments.

Step 4 - Choose your time.

Let's be honest – very few of us are inclined to do unexciting tasks. We like novelty and fun, and I'm sorry to say that cleaning out the dryer duct or scrubbing grout don't fall into those categories.

If you want to get something done, your calendar is your best friend. Block out times when you'll complete each task, because boring or awful jobs that aren't scheduled will likely linger on your list or be "forgotten." Ask a successful person how they get so much done, and I bet they'll tell you it's because they scheduled it in.

Job by job, block out 15-, 30-, or 60-minute chunks on your calendar. Label the task and the materials you need so you can get down to business with no excuses.

Turn off the TV, your phone, and your computer. If you want to focus and conquer this task, you can't be interrupted by rings, dings, or an intriguing plot twist.

A concept called Parkinson's Law (after the British historian who wrote about it) states that "Work expands to fill the time which is available for its completion." In other words, the more time we allow for a task, the longer it takes to complete it, even if it could have been finished more quickly. If you've ever hired a building contractor, you've probably seen Parkinson's Law in operation! But it can be a problem for anyone.

So don't set deadlines that are too generous or open-ended. Set aside the time, block all distractions, and pour your energy and attention into your work. If it helps, work in 15-minute chunks, take a short break for a drink or some stretching, then take the opportunity to recommit and refocus for the next 15-minute chunk.

Put on some inspiring music and get to work. You might find that once you get started you want to put in a bit of extra time. Pat yourself on the back, because it's rare that anyone wants to spend extra time cleaning.

Step 5 - Choose your reward.

Once things are done – even small jobs – you should celebrate. This is hard work, and chores aren't exciting. So when a task is done, find a way to recognize the effort and enjoy the improvement.

If you understand your partner's or children's love languages, your celebration will mean even more. My husband's love language is words of affirmation, so I make sure to thank and compliment him when the work is done. My love language is acts of service, so if Jon simply did my chores for me I'd really be ready to celebrate! But seriously, if I do my own work, and then he puts away my supplies and fixes me a cup of tea, that feels like a reward.

Whether it's a big hug, a neck rub, a new box of crayons, a bunch of flowers, or time spent together taking a bike ride or playing a favorite game, using love languages is a way to celebrate and give thanks in a way that's meaningful to each person.

Enjoy immediate gratification.

Melissa Maker, professional cleaner and founder of Clean My Space, points out that unlike other things we might put off, such as exercise or a diet, cleaning gives you same-day results. You don't have to work for weeks to see a difference – you get immediate gratification.

So if you feel reluctant to get to those cleaning chores, this five-step plan can help you. And once they're done, you can enjoy your summer hikes and picnics even more, knowing that your home has been restored and refreshed for the season.


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