The ONE TRICK You Need to Have a Clean House (for Lazy People)

One time in undergrad I inadvertently spilled an entire bowl of honey nut cheerios, milk and all, onto the floor. Also the walls and chairs. And cabinets. Milk and soggy cheerios managed to touch every surface of the kitchen. It was a disaster. 

Did I do the responsible thing and clean it up immediately? I did not. I looked at the mess, decided it was too overwhelming to address, and left for class. My lazy side won. It took 2 full days and the smell of sour milk to motivate me to finally clean up. 

I had a lot of excuses. I was insanely busy, barely sleeping, exhausted all the time etc. But the truth is I am really bad at naturally keeping my living space clean. Some people take care of their home the same way they shower and get dressed every day, almost automatically, but for me it always felt like a huge overwhelming struggle that I wanted to avoid for as long as possible . Meanwhile my home would devolve into a catastrophe that may or may not include a kitchen splayed with milk and cereal.

I LOVE a clean, organized, minimal space and was frustrated that it took so much effort and willpower to get there and so little time for the mess to return.

I wanted to be a different person. I spent years trying to become a more clean and tidy person. And let me tell you, it didn’t work. I’d put an enormous amount of effort into cleaning my entire house and a few days later it would be messy again. Repeat the cycle. I am who I am.

HOWEVER, I did not give up and after a lot of experimentation I found a way to trick my brain into thinking that cleaning and organization tasks were really not that big of a deal.  

And that trick is something extraordinarily simple that anyone can do that can be applied to any task.

If you want to have a calm, peaceful, clean and beautifully organized home but struggle to get there, this trick is for you. Read on.  

Why You Struggle with Cleaning

woman laying in bed looking forlorn
Depression or mental health issues can make cleaning extremely difficult.

There are a lot of reasons why you might struggle with house-related tasks. I refer to myself as lazy, but the reality is my brain just doesn’t work in a way where it’s easy for me to get things done around the house. 

If you have ADHD, anxiety, depression or some other mental health issue, these can detract significantly from your ability to deal with home chores. If you are eternally exhausted from work, you have less mental bandwidth to get to cleaning tasks. If you just hate doing something, you’re going to avoid it. 

When we feel distressed or overwhelmed by a task, the easiest thing to do in the moment is to ignore it. This, however, just leads to more distress down the line as we continually encounter the things we have ignored.

Regardless of the reason, you are facing some type of resistance to getting your home in order.  My trick helps to overcome this resistance so you can make real progress towards your goals.

The one trick you need to easily clean up your messy home

Here it is:

When something feels overwhelming, break it into smaller parts.

It’s that simple. 

Take any task that feels overwhelming and break it down into smaller pieces. 

If you still feel overwhelmed, break it down again. Keep making the steps to the task smaller until you get to something you can do.

This might seem too simple to work, but it’s an incredibly powerful tool to make progress on ANY project.

How To Break a Task Down Into Smaller Parts

1. List the steps to complete the task

To break down a task, you need to figure out the steps to the task. For a large task, you might want to physically write it down. For something smaller, you can write it down or just walk through the basic steps mentally.

2. Identify the first step. 

Ask yourself if you can do this step right now. Could you just easily knock it out? If not, go to step 3.

3. Keep breaking down the first step until you get to something that feels easy to do. Complete the step.

Make the steps smaller and smaller until you have no problem doing the first step. You’ll know when you get there because the task you are looking at feels easy. Do the task.

4. Each time you complete something, move onto the next step and break it down again.

Break down every step until it’s something you can do. It does not matter how small the activity is, as long as you can complete it and it is some progress towards your task, however miniscule.

5. Repeat until your task is completed.

You do not need to do the steps all at the same time.  You can do something in the morning and then come back to it in the afternoon. Or you can start on a task one day and pick it up the next day. When you think of a task as a number of small discrete steps that need not be done at the same time everything feels easier. 

An Example

Let’s walk through an easy example.

I hate vacuuming. There’s something about the whole process that seems like a lot of work and thus it is a task I resist. Even though I would personally enjoy having a freshly vacuumed living room. without the trick I would just let it go until company is coming over.

Without using the trick of breaking the task down, it just looks something like this:

  • Vacuum living room

This task feels overwhelming and I don’t want to do it. If I break the task down into smaller pieces, it looks like this instead:

  • Get vacuum out of closet
  • Unwrap cord and plug in vacuum
  • Empty canister
  • Move vacuum to living room carpet
  • Vacuum living room
  • Unplug and wrap up cord
  • Put vacuum next to closet
  • Put away in closet

This is the exact same thing broken down, and each small item in this list feels like no big deal. I can do each thing in isolation without triggering that overwhelmed feeling in my brain. 

white vacuum sitting out in hall area ready to use
Get vacuum out of closet
full cannister vacuum held up in front of living room wall
Empty canister
vacuum sitting on living room carpet and plugged in, ready to use
Put vacuum on carpet

I also realize that I don’t mind the act of vacuuming at all – what I resist is dealing with the vacuum cleaner, cord, and attachments. 

One of the great things about this method is that when you think about a task as a number of isolated steps, you realize you don’t have to do them all at once. I might get the vacuum out and plug it in hours before I plan to actually do the vacuuming. The more you break up a task into small, discrete steps, the less it feels like you did work.

How Small Should Each Step Be?

The size of each task is entirely dependent on how the task feels to you personally.  You’ll know you’ve right-sized a task when you have no resistance to completing it.

Typically, the more resistance you have to a task, the smaller you need to make each step. 

Your first step could be as small as opening a drawer or looking up a phone number. There are plenty of times when my first step has been opening a new browser window. There is no step too small as long as you are making some kind of progress towards completing the task. 

Ideas for Easy First Steps

Getting started is almost always the hardest part of a task so finding an insanely easy small first step is the most important thing you can do.  

Over the years I’ve identified a number of things I resist doing and the first steps that help me get started:

  • Move a tool to the location where it will be used
  • Move an item to the room where it needs to be put away
  • Look something up online (like the phone number of the dentist or the tree trimmers)
  • Open a browser window (can be an easier first step than looking something up online!)
  • Research a task online if I don’t know how to do it
  • Dump clean laundry on the floor or empty a box
  • Empty suitcase onto the floor

These are things that work for me, your list might be entirely different. The beauty of this trick is that you can customize any way you want to make it work for you.

Success Begets Success

One inevitable thing happens once you start on these very small tasks:  success begets success.  When you accomplish something, even something very small, you feel good about the accomplishment and it energizes you to keep going.

In many cases once people have completed a few small steps and see significant progress they feel like they can just keep going until the task is done.  This is called a flow state, and if you get to a flow state with your task take advantage of it!

If you don’t reach a flow state, that’s okay. Just keep breaking your tasks down into small steps and doing those steps. 

vacuum running on carpet in living room with 2 plants in photo
Vacuuming is no problem when the task is broken down into small steps

Make it a Skill through PRACTICE

vacuum with a mess of cords held up in front of it
Wrapping up the cord is not that bad when it’s just one single task.

Breaking down a task into smaller parts is an incredible, powerful tool. However, it’s something you have to work at.  I am excellent at it after years of practice, but still have to remind myself to do it when I’m feeling overwhelmed.  

The important thing is to recognize that you are putting something off because it feels like too much effort.  Once you recognize you have resistance to a task you can remind yourself to break the steps down into small, doable pieces. 

Try to apply this methodology to anything you dislike or resist doing. Over time, it becomes second nature.

Conclusion

For people who struggle with cleaning, organizing, or any sort of house chores, getting your space in order can feel overwhelming.

In order to make progress on any task, break the task down into small steps. Keep breaking every step down into smaller and smaller pieces until you find something you can do without resistance. 

Remember that getting started is the most difficult part of any task, so give priority to finding a simple, easy first step.

Check out more ways to apply this trick:

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