5 Healthy Ways to Think and Talk About Cleaning

published Dec 7, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

For many people, the state of their home can directly influence how they feel and play a big role in their mental state. But as beneficial as an aesthetically pleasing, tidy home can be for your well-being, that sense of calm also depends on your thoughts. For example, you won’t be able to truly relax and enjoy your space if you hold unrealistic expectations about how it should look at any given time.

Shifting how you think about your space (and how you live in it) is the first step to a healthier way of living — one that’ll ultimately motivate you to make changes you actually want to make. To learn more about what types of thinking are damaging (and how to adjust them), Apartment Therapy talked to therapist KC Davis, founder of Struggle Care. Here are five simple but important changes you can make when it comes to how you think and talk about cleaning.

Credit: Apartment Therapy

Remove the word “chores” from your vocabulary.

When you feed or walk your dog, you don’t say, “Now I’m doing my dog chores.” Instead, you’re caring for your pet. If you’re struggling with getting stuff done at home, try reframing those tasks as self-care opportunities rather than items on a to-do list. 

This simple but functional shift in thinking, Davis says, can both motivate behavior and protect your mental health. “Chores are obligations with external standards, but care tasks are acts of kindness that help you care for yourself,” she says. “This simple shift moves the motivation inward and can make completing care tasks easier.”

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Don’t get too hung up on messes.

So many people feel the need to clean a messy room because it “should” be tidy, without any thought about why. The truth is that care tasks are not moral obligations — they are simply functional tasks. The function of picking things up is so you don’t trip. The function of putting things away is so you know where to find them when you need them next. “When a room stops being functional for you it isn’t because you’ve failed — it’s simply because all care tasks are cyclical and you’ve come to the end of that functional cycle,” Davis says. “When that happens, it’s time to reset.”

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Rethink what your goals actually are.

When you have an ambiguous goal — like, say, cleaning a room — it’s difficult to know when the job is actually done. Cleaning the kitchen may start with doing the dishes and wiping the counters, but sometimes you might find yourself hours later scrubbing baseboards and cleaning out the fridge. Or perhaps you are so overwhelmed with the magnitude of the task you don’t start at all. On the contrary, resetting the space has a finite goal — to get the space to a state where it is functional again. “Resetting my kitchen to me means cleaning the dishes, wiping the counter, sweeping the floor, taking out the trash, and setting up the next morning’s coffee,” says Davis. “That is a manageable list that feels much less intimidating, and it only takes me 25 minutes!”

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Learn to ditch the need for perfection.

Letting go of perfectionism when it comes to care tasks can be difficult. Saying “good enough is good enough” feels like settling for less. What if good enough was actually perfect? This perspective shift celebrates having boundaries and reasonable expectations for yourself and your home, which will only benefit your mental health.

Credit: Apartment Therapy

Treat yourself with empathy and compassion.

There are so many reasons people struggle with everyday care tasks. Whether it’s due to mental or physical illness, neurodivergent needs, or simply feeling overwhelmed with daily life, Davis emphasizes that difficulties completing care tasks are not moral failings. “As a therapist, I can attest that every time I have seen a client who describes themselves as ‘lazy,’ I have found not a character defect, but instead a functional barrier that needs support and intervention,” she says. “At this point, I am convinced laziness does not exist.” If you are struggling to keep up with care tasks, you deserve practical help and nonjudgmental advice — not shame.