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The excuse we often give for not cleaning our bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, our entire flat, even, is that we don’t have enough time. Sure, we’d love to spend an hour hoovering every little corner each week – but what with work and all our other social engagements, it just doesn’t fit in our schedule. Soz.
But now? Now, those of us who aren’t key workers (or parents) have all the time we could possibly need on our hands. Buckets of the stuff. We have too much time. So why are those menial, every day tasks like cleaning and tidying up so hard to do? We all want to be isolating in a clear, calm space... don’t we?
While it may feel like we have loads of time, the mental load of coronavirus can take over when we set our sights on cleaning, says life coach Kate Ibbotson, a professional declutterer (yep, she trained with the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers) and author of A Tidy Mind.
“Home working can be more intense with no commute or social time with colleagues,” she says. “And for those who have been furloughed or otherwise are not working? They may have time but the mental load of what’s going on can carry heavy weight. Fear and uncertainty drain us of energy.
“So whilst, we feel we should be decluttering or cleaning our home, overwhelm often leads to procrastination or paralysis.”
Psychologist Dr Glenn Mason agrees that with more time on our hands, it’s easy to slip into procrastination and say, “I’ll just do it later”. And when we don’t do it later, we feel guilt.
“If you’re noticing guilt showing up, you’re probably in cycle of self-criticism and communicating to yourself in negative way,” he says. “Try talking to yourself in a kind manner, like how you might to a friend or someone you care about. Showing yourself compassion can help reduce the intensity of guilt.”
Feeling guilty about not cleaning only leads to more overwhelm, Ibbotson says. “It’s okay to slow down. It’s ok to be in survival mode rather than ‘growth’ mode.” But, she says, improving our home environment can positively impact our minds, too: “Never have our homes been so central to our lives – so they should be a sanctuary.”
In any day its helpful to include activities that lead to achievement, says Dr Mason. This helps promote good mental health. “For some cleaning might bring enjoyment, for others a sense of achievement,” he says.
We should let go of the pressure to achieve a lot, says Ibbotson, but do a brain dump of all the cleaning and decluttering tasks that ideally need attention. Getting it all out in a list will get it out of your head.
And then what? “Get them in some kind of priority order. Finally, break them down into bitesize chunks – ideally tasks that you can dip in out of or do for 30 minutes at a time. Accept that you may need to break off but as long as you’re moving forward, you’ll feel a sense of achievement.”
Don’t let those cleaning and tidying tasks start to build up where they feel too overwhelming to complete, adds Mason.
And if you really, really just cba?
Psychologist Dr Lesley Prince, associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, questions our obsession with cleaning and tidying. “I have tidied up to some extent, but only as far as I felt like it,” she tells us.
“Tidy home tidy mind? How about messy house, interesting mind? Or, chaotic house, complex mind? I create things, and that needs tools and materials, and that leaves a certain amount of chaos in its wake. I prefer to be creative than tidy.”
Moral of the story? You do you – just stop beating yourself up about it.