I’m about to tell you something extremely subversive: a lot of people do too much housework.
Yup—the idea that it’s possible to do too much housework is subversive. I know this because when I teach my eight-week class on entrepreneurship, out of the 600-plus slides I use, it’s always the one on “perfectionist housekeeping” that elicits the biggest response from my students. When I start talking about how a lot of the housework people do does not really need to be done and should, in fact, be avoided by anyone with an ambitious goal, the whole room starts whooping and hollering.
Yes, most of us want a clean, well-organized living space—and the AACL fairly insists on it. Someone, after all, has to buy all that fancy-schmancy cleaning gear and chemicals that the corporations are trying to sell. But how clean a house do you really need?
Is it really necessary for you to mop the floors every week? The answer, for many of us, is no.
Is it a terrible thing to leave the sheets on the bed for an extra few days before laundering them? No.
Is it a sin to serve your family a take-out meal or to bring store-bought treats to a pot-luck dinner? No.
Or, for any suburbanites who happen to be reading this, is it necessary to keep your lawn constantly trimmed to golf-course neatness? Of course not—and golf-course lawns, which consume lots of water and are heavily dosed with chemicals, are terrible for the environment anyway.
I am not saying, I hope you understand, that you should live in a dirty house. What I am saying is that the AACL promotes an unrealistic idea of what a clean house should look like. It’s even a dangerous idea if you count all the toxic chemicals one is supposed to use to achieve that state of hyper-cleanliness. Don’t fall for it.
Everyone’s situation varies, of course. A high-density household, whether it consists of lots of activist roommates or a family with young kids, generally requires more cleaning than a low-density one, and a household with companion animals generally requires more cleaning than one without. Or, if you happen to be a highly visual or highly organized person, you may require an exceptionally well-maintained home. Or, you may actually enjoy lavishing time on some housekeeping or gardening task. All of these are fine reasons to do more than the minimum level of housework, but just make sure you are not over-doing it or doing it at the expense of more important activities. In general, if the only reason you are doing a household task is because, (a) you think you’re supposed to, or (b) “what will people say?” then get over it and start living your life according to your own values. Live comfortably and guilt-free in your “casually maintained” home.
If you want to minimize your housework burden without living in a messy home, here’s the solution:
1. Live simply, and don’t buy too much stuff. That way, you will have less to clean and maintain.
2. Organize your space. A well-organized home with adequate storage space for everything, and where everything is stored close to where it is used, takes much less time to clean than a disorganized home.
3. Organize your time. Treat your housekeeping not as an unending stream of random chores, but as a project you need to get done within a fixed period of time. Prioritize it so that the essential tasks, at least, get done—and consider forgetting about those tasks that aren’t a priority.
4. Invest in good tools. Invest in quality cleaning supplies, and lots of them. Buy a good vacuum cleaner that gets all the dirt on the first pass. Buy several brooms, mops, etc., and leave one conveniently in each room that sees heavy traffic. Buy lots of biodegradable, cruelty-free cleaning products.4 And any time you see a cleaning gadget you think will save you time, or make an unpleasant task easier, buy it. Buying good cleaning supplies is not about succumbing to the AACL, by the way. If you live simply, you will have relatively few cleaning tasks and need relatively little in the way of supplies. But do buy the supplies you need to do the job quickly and easily.
5. Delegate. Everyone in the house should be helping in a meaningful way with the housework. If you’re living in a dorm or roommate situation, that means all the roommates. If you’re partnered, that means the spouse and the kids (their future spouses will thank you!).
6. Pay someone. If you’ve got the money, then by all means hire a cleaning service or laundry service. If you feel guilty about it, then tip the workers lavishly; I guarantee you they won’t mind. Don’t think that only rich or decadent people pay someone to help with household chores; plenty of “ordinary” people do as well, including plenty with impeccable progressive bona fides. They tend to be ambitious people who properly value their time, and so if they can pay someone a few bucks to gain a few extra hours of precious time each week, they are happy to do so.
OK, now you know some lifestyles that are inimical to success. Here is the one lifestyle that supports success . . .