“I Pay Myself to Clean,” and Other Ways I Trick Myself into Cleaning Regularly

published Mar 24, 2023
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Mother and son washing dishes
Credit: Marko Geber / Getty Images

I’m naturally tidy, but it’s harder for me to get jazzed about cleaning. I would call it more of an acquired taste, hard-won through years of employing various incentives. In my earliest years of independent living, I cleaned when a guest was coming over. That still ranks as number one on my motivational scale, but I’ve found plenty of other ways to trick myself into cleaning. Here are my favorites.

Brain candy makes the time fly by.

I don’t want to clean, but I do want to listen to the latest Ann Patchett novel. By saving those audiobooks (or maybe a true crime podcast) for cleaning hours, drudgery becomes an indulgence. 

Nothing says worth it like cash.

When my spouse and I bought our house, we examined our budget and considered what we were willing to give up to pay a professional cleaner (dining out? Theater tickets? Streaming services?). That got us thinking: If we clean the house ourselves, we are technically paying ourselves to do it. So we created a budget category called “Fun Money,” and now when we’re cleaning, I pay us a reasonable hourly wage. If the mess is particularly onerous, I throw in a bonus. 

Yes, this is mostly semantics, but it feels different. I will enthusiastically clean for Hamilton tickets.

Gamify it.

This strategy is perfect for tiny pockets of time. I turn on the microwave and race to see if I can clean all the kitchen handles before the timer beeps. My daughter’s bus is running 10 minutes late — can I clean the half bath in that amount of time? Go! The adrenaline rush and dopamine hit when I beat the timer make this strategy incredibly successful. It’s low commitment, high reward. 

Call it a party.

My favorite cleaning hack is Friday Family Clean. The four of us (two adults and two kids) turn on dance music, power clean for an hour, and end with popcorn and a movie night. There’s so much to feel good about here, and it prevents any bitterness associated with solo cleaning. 

Or throw an actual party.

I’ve come a long way from only cleaning for guests, but when all else fails, I invite someone over. Works every time.

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