Dear Lois, Why is it easier to clean when you have people to clean with?

Illustrated portrait by James Boyle.

It’s okay for our hands to be held.

Many times when I’m unmotivated to do a project, I know that the main deterrent to getting started is simply that I don’t want to do it alone.

My week is split in two: I have my three teenage children four nights a week and the other three it’s just me. I walk between two different lifestyles as a working single woman and a very busy mother.

When the girls are home we emphasize collaboration and set a standard of cleanliness for the end of each day. I am more inclined to keep my personal belongings under control and am quick to tidy up to set an example for my children. Generally, the house is cleaner when the kids are home. We all work together and they are learning how to build basic human skills.

This parenting style keeps me sane. If we are not working together to keep the house tidy, it gets very overwhelming very quickly. The feeling of camaraderie that comes with working together has inertia. Knowing that there are four sets of hands to keep the house manageable feels more liberating than carrying everything on my own.

The feeling of camaraderie that comes with working together has inertia.”

When the kids are at their father’s, I find that the sink tends to fill with dishes and I vacuum “as needed” instead of diligently each evening. Sometimes when I look around the room I’m surprised to see my dining room table covered in work documents and dishes—but my first reaction is to give myself a break and a little grace. It is harder to find the motivation to clean up after myself when it’s just me.

I play a game with myself: the only rule is to never let the house get so messy that I couldn’t piece it back together in under an hour. (I acknowledge that I am faster than most at tidying up because I have been a cleaning professional for 10 years. I also know that I implement specific movements that I have practiced and built upon to minimize the mess I make. I find that an hour works for my skill and comfort level.)

But there are always areas of the home where I need to devote a little extra time. I tell myself that it should be something I tackle on my own, but it is hard for me to do this.

Illustration by Lois Volta.

I started taking my own advice: asking for support. Most times when I am working with a client they just need someone there to talk through how to approach their clutter, come up with a strategy and give them a little push in the right direction. I need that, too!

Life has a tendency to throw us curve balls and even the best organizational structures need to be rethought and redesigned. There is no shame in asking for help, and if there is guilt that you need to overcome, then sit with that.

Why do you feel guilt and shame? These issues are far bigger than “I need to find the motivation to clean.” It’s not just checking off a to-do list, it’s addressing that the way we have been living hasn’t been working and it won’t be fixed with a nicely labeled bin.

Whether we have the built-in structure of a family or live alone, the home should be safe and restorative. Somewhere we can work through deeper internal patterns with self-reflection, but also with support. Getting the support we need will send us in the direction of a restorative, loving home.

There are always ways we can learn and build on a solid base. Sometimes we need help to uncover what has been dormant and lay a new foundation.

Learning new ways of living is counterintuitive; we are creatures of habit. And sometimes to break a habit, we need a helping hand.

Lois Volta is a home life consultant, artist and founder of The Volta Way. Send questions to info@thevoltaway.com.

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