I Follow My Mom’s “Fun” Cleaning Habit and It Really Works

published Apr 2, 2024
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

I have plenty of memories of my childhood weekends. There were mornings spent in front of cartoons and afternoons at the park. Others unfurled at soccer fields and baseball diamonds, birthday parties, and family barbecues. But I like that I also remember the Saturdays when nothing was happening except what had to be done, like scrubbing the sink and dusting the ceiling fans. The reason I likely recall these moments is because my mom always set her cleaning routine to a soundtrack.

First, I want to say that my dad also did his fair share of cleaning, and insisted on scrubbing the tub in my own home just a few weeks ago because it wasn’t up to his standards — that guy loves a space that sparkles. But he also cleans in silence, which frankly I never understood. My mom, on the other hand, used chores as an excuse to belt out her favorite songs. Gladys Knight and the Pips let everyone in my household know that she was leaving on a midnight train to Georgia above the pitch of the vacuum, just as the Supremes told us to stop in the name of love before we stepped on a freshly mopped floor. My mom never cleaned without music. It was the perfect time to put on Motown, disco, or whatever else she felt like listening to. 

It’s funny, the habits that get passed down from parents. I can’t leave my home with dirty dishes in the sink, as my dad does. I don’t like leaving an unmade bed, which is true of him, too. But I always think of my mom on days when I’m gearing up to do a deep clean because there’s no way I could do it without music. I also put on Gladys Knight, Diana Ross, and the songs of her childhood that inadvertently became songs of mine. I Swiffer to Spice Girls, and fold laundry to Harry Styles. One day, I asked friends if they had any rituals around cleaning to make the work pass by more enjoyably. 

“I usually listen to podcasts,” one friend said. “I call someone to catch up,” said another. Yet one more friend said that she preferred to have the television on, or sometimes accomplishes cleaning tasks in silence — that’s when her kid is napping. So I tried those suggestions, just to see how they made me feel. 

Listening to a podcast was cool, and it was nice to catch up with a friend. I ended up pausing the show I was watching while Swiffering, as I didn’t like missing a single scene. Silence only made sense for a handful of dirty dishes, as you know. But listening to music? That felt good. Honestly, that felt like home. Whatever the cleaning chore may be, it seems to go by much faster and with much more fun involved if songs are a part of the work. I couldn’t imagine cleaning any other way. 

I made a cleaning playlist not too long ago, and I highly recommend doing the same. It’s full of the songs that seasoned my childhood and more recent ones that are either just as upbeat or share that one high note that seems achievable if you’re alone in a bathroom using a bottle of soap as a microphone. 

But what about you? What do you like to have in the background as you clean? Let me know in the comments if there’s a song I should add to my list.

Looking to spring clean? Sign up for Apartment Therapy’s 10-day Spring Cleaning Cure, a free guided program that’ll bring you one step closer to a tidier home.