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Ask UfYH: Zen and the Art of Daily House Maintenance

Q: I’m no good at keeping my house clean on a daily basis, but about once a month, I get really into a zone and have the place sparkling top to bottom. I get everything deep cleaned, my laundry put away, all the dishes done, everything in one or two days, and I don’t know what’s wrong with that. You always say “no marathons,” but if it gets done, why does it matter if it’s all at once or a little at a time?

A: ¬†So, what does your house look like the other 28 or 29 days a month? Because that’s the difference between huge marathon¬†cleaning and small amounts of cleaning for daily maintenance. What it sounds like to me, and what I hear from a lot of marathon cleaners, is that you wait until your house has reached critical mess, and then you whirlwind through it in a day or two, leaving everything nice and clean, but exhausting yourself.

And if you’re waiting until things are unbearable before you reset to clean, then all of your hard work is wasted effort, because you only have a clean house about 3% of the time. The other 97% of the time, it’s in an ever-increasing state of messiness and chaos, because if you aren’t doing any maintenance, as soon as it’s clean, it immediately starts getting dirty again. It’s entropy on the household level. If you’re still living daily life, using things in your house, and not doing any maintenance on a regular basis, you’re going to get to that point of more mess than you can bear sooner rather than later.

That’s why even a few minutes a day is beneficial. If you can reset a few things to clean (wipe down the bathroom, do a bunch of dishes, get a load of laundry washed, dried, and put away) every day, you’re not going to reach a level of complete chaos and mess that needs to be dealt with all at once. I’d much rather spend ten minutes vacuuming and then get on with my life and then, at another time, spend another few clearing off the kitchen counters rather than having to do all of it all at once.

There is another component to this. As I’ve explored before, marathon cleaning can be an indication of a manic episode or a spike in anxiety. I’m not making any assumptions about whether or not this applies to you, but I know it certainly does to me. For a whole lot of years, my house was only clean when my head was in a bad place, but by breaking tasks down into smaller bits and then being able to stop, I was able to disassociate cleaning from manic episodes. It became something I did because I wanted to live in a nice clean place, not something I did because I was sick. Even now, if I find myself sitting on the kitchen floor with a scrub brush attacking the grout with no real recollection of why I’m doing it or how I started (true and very recent story), I know to step back and take an inventory of how I’m feeling.

So while marathon cleaning sessions give you great results in the short-term, they really fall short in the long-term. They’re unsustainable, and you end up resigning yourself to living in a mess the vast majority of the time instead of expending a minimal amount of effort on a regular basis and not having things get to crisis level nearly as often.

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2 replies on “Ask UfYH: Zen and the Art of Daily House Maintenance”

Another anxiety cleaner here. I figure I can sit around stressing about getting a job, or I can channel that energy into scrubbing the inside of the kitchen cabinets. Much of the job search process is out of my control and I can’t do anything about it, but I CAN reorganize that messy shelf. Which I figure is a lot better than letting the anxiety freeze me.

This one rang true for me. I’m definitely an anxiety cleaner. All at once. In marathons of “I can’t take it anymore!” while I’m putting my real problems on the backburner and pretending to be mad at dust. It makes me feel better (?) to know I’m not the only one.


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