Here at mindbodygreen, we're all about holistic wellness—that means we don't just focus on how we eat or move—we explore the implications of how we live and how we love on our happiness and well-being. As often as we discuss these things on their own, we don't often dig into the cross-section of our lifestyle choices and our relationships.That's what we love about Clean My Space—Melissa Maker's book about how to create a space that promotes health, happiness, and harmony (without driving yourself crazy). With that in mind, here are Melissa's tips on how to navigate the minefield of cleaning with another person—whether that's your significant other, your sister, or your roommate. Follow this advice, and you might (dare we say it?) come out of the process closer than ever.
When I talk to people about cleaning, they'll often share with me that they have challenges managing cleaning with their partner (spouse, roommate, sibling). If you find it challenging to get family members to help out, here are some ideas for how you can approach the topic. Just remember, having a heated conversation where blame is involved will make the other party feel defensive. Just like with any discussion, you'll have a better shot at making the other party feel safe by speaking if you speak from a place of "me" and "my needs," not "you" and what "you should" be doing that "you aren't" (see the diff?).
This may start off as a bit of a crunchy conversation, but in my experience, both parties tend to walk away much happier when it's over. Have a kind, honest conversation by following these steps.
1. Outline your common goals for your space.
What does "acceptably clean" mean to each of you? If your partner feels strongly that there should never be dishes in the sink, you need to find a way to honor that. And if you feel that the bed needs to be made daily, your partner must honor that, too. If one partner is significantly neater or cleaner than the other, try to find a middle ground. It will require some negotiation, but it will be one of the healthiest things you do for your relationship
2. Outline each of your Most Important Areas (MIAs).
After you determine what level of clean is mutually acceptable, then you each need to establish what your MIAs are. By understanding your partner's MIAs, you can be more mindful as you move through that space, and your partner will respect your MIAs, too. This will also help inform your cleaning schedules and routines as you plan your time.
3. Discuss timing.
How much time can each of you dedicate to cleaning in order to achieve your goals, and when will that take place, given your schedules? Talk through an average week; where is there some time you can work to get your tasks done? Do you want to work together or separately?
4. Identify who likes to do what.
Lots of people find cleaning, well, a chore! And in their assumption that it is all drudgery, they might forget the possibility that one person's most dreaded task is another's little piece of heaven. If your partner really, truly doesn't want to clean, what else can he or she do to help run the house? I hate, and I mean hate, vacuuming. Chad, my husband, doesn't mind it. So, he vacuums. But he hates cooking (and I happen to love it), so I cook.
We have gone through what needs doing in the house, cleaning and otherwise, and we have divvied up the chores that we can both do. The rest, we either decide aren't important to us and we kind of ignore until they become a glaring issue (yes, that's real life) or we hire out. Each of you will be more inclined to do your work because you actually like it (or at the very least, feel neutral toward it).
5. Talk through challenging routines or spaces.
If you know there's an area of the home that triggers someone, talk it through and discuss tweaks and adjustments to make it manageable. (Remember, despite the urge to trot out the expletives here, keep it classy. You catch more flies with honey.) These small conversations can really go the distance. For example, "Since I really value a clean front entryway, it feels frustrating when stuff is left at the front door. Can we just make it a thing that when anyone comes home, their coat has to be hung up right away, shoes lined up neatly, and bags placed in their appropriate spots? That would make a world of difference to me."
Then, and here's where you need to take a deep breath and remind yourself that you're an amazing and equitable human being, you say, "What can I do for you?" Or, if there's a messy area, for example, where the kids play, talk about what's not working and how it needs to change. "The toy area is insane! Can we implement a cleanup song with the kids and have them tidy up before dinner each night? That would save us so much time!" These conversations may seem silly, but they are priceless. They save relationships.
6. Rethink your routines.
If there is a routine that you or your partner can tweak to better accommodate maintaining your MIAs, talk through that and see what can change. For example, when Chad empties the kitchen garbage, I stand right there with him and place a fresh bag in the can. We do that now because for the longest time, he'd empty the trash and forget to replace the bag (moving on to other, more exciting things!), and I'd get pissed off when I would go to throw something into the trash and there would be no bag. So we tweaked it.
Also, give your routines time. It doesn't have to be perfect at first; it just has to start somewhere. Resolve to make it work. Imagine if your parents stopped potty training you the first time you peed in your pants. Make your routine your new norm and adjust accordingly.
7. Set a schedule for larger jobs.
Anything that can't be managed through routines can be scheduled in. Whether it is cleaning a room, cleaning the whole house, or doing a larger or one-off job, take the time to schedule it and commit to doing it together. Use the format that makes the most sense for you—hang a monthly calendar up on the fridge, update a spreadsheet in the Cloud, use an app, have a shared calendar on your phone...whatever. There are lots of options!
It never ceases to amaze me how much work can get done when two people clean together. Take my word, it is extremely efficient and way more gets done in the same period of time (or less).