BPF Blog

Housekeeping, Habit Forming, and Small, Easy Steps

I am a terrible housekeeper. I make no apologies for it; I live (technically) alone with my dog, and the dog doesn’t care. I accepted years ago that my home would never be as pristine as my mother kept our house while I was growing up, WHILE working a full-time job no less. Her standards were much higher than mine when it came to acceptable living space conditions. However, I have since also realized that I enjoy being in neat, organized and non-filthy surroundings. Living in squalor is stressful and I don’t particularly like it. Unfortunately, with my hatred of cleaning and my general lack of time, squalor tends to be the state of my apartment much of the time. 

In an attempt to help me fix this problem, the boyfriend (who only sort of lives here) suggested that when I can’t stand the mess anymore but can’t fathom cleaning the entire apartment, I set the microwave timer for 20 minutes, clean for that 20 minutes, and stop at the end. He’ll clean for 20 minutes too if he happens to be here when this happens. Then, we repeat daily or every other day, and soon the living space is far more tolerable and functional. (Ideally, this will become a regular habit, and I will never have to be frustrated by the mess in my living space again!)

I have found this works astonishingly well. When I just start on cleaning instead of ruminating over reasons why I don’t want to, it goes pretty quickly and I’m always impressed by what I can get done during that time. It’s not overwhelming because I only have to do it for 20 minutes, not until EVERYTHING is clean. (I would be working forever!!!)

I think we can apply this trick to nearly anything we want to make a habit of. Of course you knew I was getting there… including exercise! If you hate to exercise but don’t like the state your body’s in and know you need to do something about it, don’t start planning the diet of all diets, and decide you’ll jog for hours every day until you weigh exactly what you think you should weigh. Doing that instantly overwhelms us and makes us reaaaally not want to do it. Even bound and determined as you are that first day, by a week at most you’ll most likely have slacked off and decided you just can’t stand it so you will go back to doing nothing, until you are upset by the state of your body again, and the cycle continues. 

Try the 20 minute trick. If you’re a rank beginner or REALLY despise exercise, try setting the timer, turning on the tv and just marching in place at first. It’s better than nothing, and it’s something manageable. 

We all so often forget that not everything we do has to be perfect. A multi-billion-dollar diet and weight-loss industry is doing its best through marketing to make us feel out of control and overwhelmed so we will buy their products, which doesn't help. We all would do well to take a deep breath and start where we are, with what we have. Imperfect as our efforts might be, they are better than the paralysis of doing nothing because we are afraid to start.