Clean up Your Life

When I was nine years old, there were three things I wanted to be: a fashion designer, Gwen Stefani, and a maid. (At the time, who knew that I could’ve just been Stefani and knocked out two goals at once with her L.A.M.B. line?)

The. Coolest.

Clearly, two of those goals are slightly more exciting than the third.

I was a standard American kid who hated putting away her clothes and making her bed. And yet, I knew how satisfying it felt to be in a clean space. When my dresser was arranged and my floor was vacuumed, I could think more clearly and focus on the important things (like Gwen Stefani’s killer style – blue hair and eyebrow rhinestone?!). I could find what I needed (Barbies) and see what I had (more Barbies).

Plus, Saturdays were family chore day, so I learned from a very early age to associate cleaning with family time. I fondly remember Saturdays where my mom told me to choose some music and we’d open the side door to let in a breeze while we washed windows and mopped.

(side note: if I ever have kids, I’m absolutely involving them in chores as young as possible. It may seem like trouble at first, but it can pay off for years afterward.)

And yet, even knowing the benefits and remembering the warm memories associated with cleaning, I still struggle on a daily basis. Not to make excuses (I’m definitely going to make excuses), but I’m also the sole caretaker of a 1600+ square foot house with pets. I balance taking care of the house and yard with a full-time job.

I blink and the house is dirty again! And I don’t have room in my schedule to clean until next week! Even as a single woman with zero human dependents, my life is hectic. I have a ton to get done everyday, and although much of it is self-imposed (gardens, shed rebuilds), I’m not yet willing to cut those joys out of my life.

In the past few years, I’ve made an exciting discovery: a magical pocket of time exists every day. It’s the quiet hour or two while the rest of the world is still sleeping, or has maybe just awoken. Demands haven’t started to pile up, and the time is mine to do as I please.

In other words, I’ve started cleaning first-thing in the morning.

person using mop on floor
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I was already in the habit of waking early to exercise, so my morning cleaning bursts started with wiping down the counters after strength training. This grew into starting loads of towels, scooping the cat box, mopping, vacuuming…

Truth be told, I’ve actually started slacking off on exercise in favor of cleaning. Of course, a lot depends on whether or not I have people over (what kind of a monster wakes someone at 6am with a vacuum cleaner?). But nearly every weekday morning, I clean.

Not only does my morning tidying habit mean there’s less to do on the weekends or evenings, but I get the same degree of satisfaction from a morning scrub-down that I did from exercise. I start the day with a sense of accomplishment, which is almost better than a good cup of coffee.

As opposed to the evenings, when I’d rather work on projects or read, I actually want to clean in the morning. And after I’m exhausted from work, I can find my tools or notebooks or whatever, because I put things back in place when I was clear-headed that morning. I don’t have to get frustrated when I search my whole house for the stupid screwdriver and end up collapsed on the floor and feeling like a failure in life (it’s a slippery slope, folks).

Breaking large tasks into smaller pieces isn’t exactly a new or unusual concept. Rather, that advice is touted for everything from saving up for retirement to writing a novel. The morning cleaning method falls into this same pattern, although unlike a lot of other larger goals, it’s not really designed to ever be “finished.” Dust will fall, cats will shed. However, waltzing around with a podcast in my ears, a coffee mug in one hand, and a dust cloth in the other is a pretty darn good way to start the day in perpetuity.