How The 20/10 Rule Will Change the Way You Clean and Help You Rise Above Your Mess

updated May 3, 2019
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A sun-inviting white living room with colorful decor accents
(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

Keeping your home clean and organized requires a lot of effort—there are a lot of tasks both big and little to keep track of that add up, taking up quite a bit of your time and energy. It can honestly get overwhelming, especially if you lead an already busy lifestyle, or deal with depression, and have to face a mess that’s piled up.

The urge to clean everything all at once in one big marathon clean can be strong—be it because you finally have the time and energy and you feel ready to take it on, or because you think that’s the only way it’ll get done—but doing everything at once isn’t necessarily the best idea. At least, that’s one of the main principles of “Unf*ck Your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess,” a book by Rachel Hoffman.

(Image credit: Amazon)

If the title sounds familiar, yes—Hoffman is also the one behind the popular website, Unfuck Your Habitat. Many people have turned to the site over the years for help dealing with an overwhelming mess (including our readers, as many of you have shared the site in your comments!), so Hoffman knows what she’s talking about.

The book offers advice for getting your most dreaded tasks done, and for changing your outlook on your mess, but perhaps the most important takeaway is to skip marathon cleanings. Why? Well, there are a few reasons that Hoffman explains in the book. For one, it leads to an all-or-nothing mentality, which just continues the cycle of letting things pile up over time. It can also be unhealthy, as “many people manifest anxiety or manic episodes with marathon cleaning” and you can start to associate cleaning with feeling sick or distressed. It’s also a temporary and unsustainable solution that doesn’t help you actually build healthy and helpful habits.

So, what should you do instead?

The solution is what Hoffman calls 20/10s—as in every time you clean, you should spend 20 minutes cleaning, then take a ten minute break before you continue. And that applies even if you’re doing a task that takes more than 20 minutes to complete. That doesn’t mean you’re limited to 20 minutes per day—just that you shouldn’t clean for more than 20 minutes straight without stopping. But why is that so important to the system?

“The break is not optional,” Hoffman writes. “Breaks are important for a number of reasons, mainly to show that you can stop when you need or want to, and also because they interrupt the part of your thought process that wants to turn a cleaning session into a marathon. So while you might still take several hours to accomplish a task or project, you’re breaking it up into workable chunks that allow you to do other, more enjoyable things in between so you don’t get lost in and overwhelmed by your task.”

This 20/10 rule also helps when you feel overwhelmed by what you need to get done, because you’re breaking tasks that feel impossible down into smaller increments that feel much more doable.

“Twenty minutes at a time, once or a few times a day, is a sustainable way of keeping your habitat unfucked,” Hoffman writes. “You can incorporate twenty minutes a day into the rest of your life without feeling like you’re spending all of your limited and precious free time cleaning your damn house.”

“Unf*ck Your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess” is available on Amazon.