Housecleaning & How I Got Off the Habit Carousel

Grasshopper Confessional: Sooo, when I graduated from school and got my first high paying job, I did not immediately buy a car, or a Gucci purse. Nope. I began to pay for a cleaning service (yes. Maids!) to come to my house and clean for me every two weeks.

Decadent. I know. And, I LOVED it.

I figured that I was working full-time, and earning a lot of money. Ergo, I was entitled to use my free time to do fun stuff. And “fun stuff” did not (and for the record, still does not) include housecleaning. I am by no means a slob, but I don’t particularly enjoy vacuuming and the like.

In fact, when Mr. Grasshopper and I were dating, we had a very serious conversation on the topic. I informed him in no uncertain terms that he was dating – and at that time talking about marrying – a professional; not a maid. If he felt the urge to clean, he was welcome to do it but would earn nothing more than an argument if he expected me to clean after him simply because of an accident of birth – my gender. Mr. Grasshopper did grouse about contributing to the cost of housecleaning when we were living together, and after we got married. But, likely because he was not interested in housecleaning himself, and probably because he was a little cowed by my ferocity on the topic, he did nothing more than grumble.

Arrgh! Housecleaning!! Run!!!

All was relatively hunky-dory until I bumped into the concept of early Financial Independence. Suddenly, the money I was spending on the maids was money I could reroute into my retirement savings. Inspired by Mr. Money Mustache, I tried to look at the money I expended for maids not as a monthly outlay but in terms of what the same money would mean if it were invested for ten years. Well, that certainly changed things, and within a few months we were maid-less.

An obvious result of maid-less-ness (it’s my word and I’m sticking with it) is that someone must do the cleaning. Mr. Grasshopper has manfully stepped into the fray by vacuuming and cleaning the occasional bathroom. However, he is pole-axed by my insistence on cleaning every bathroom, dusting, cleaning the kitchen, and generally scrubbing down the house once a week. In my defense, I know that my Essential Self dislikes cleaning. Which is why I also know that I would dislike cleaning something dirty even more. Keeping the house spick-and-span means that I am usually performing maintenance, and that I rarely bump into a truly “yucky” situation on cleaning day.

Black and White Vanity Top With Stainless Steel Faucet

Nonetheless, I have been struggling with the weekly chore. It looms before me every weekend, and sucks a little joy out of my life (I cannot tell a lie). I fear that if I continue to be discouraged by the chore, I am likely to beg my maids to return (I know, I am weak), or slack off on my cleaning duties (yuck yuck!).  Worse, I fear I may grow to resent the path to Financial Independence that has inspired this lifestyle change, and eventually stray as a result of this relatively minor, but recurring thorn in my side.


Free stock photo of light, light bulb, idea, bulb
This is my brain. This is my brain on an idea. Bzzzzt!

While it may seem like I have obsessed about housecleaning, I really have not. In fact, I have done the opposite. I buried my loathing for the task and muscled onward. That’s likely why all my grousing above has been especially virulent. In it, I allowed all my whiny-ness to take free rein.

So, it was surprising that I had a “Eureka!” moment about housecleaning – a subject I try to think as little about as possible – while I was reading a book on an entirely separate topic. After reading all the narratives of folks who created or overcame habits to stop overeating, overcome alcoholism, or otherwise better their lives, I wondered if I might not be able to use this science to make housecleaning – and through it achieving Financial Independence – more palatable to myself.

Here are a couple of the take-aways from the book:

  • The Habit loop: This is a neurological pattern that governs any habit. It consists of three elements: a cue, a routine, and a reward. Understanding these components can help in understanding how to change bad habits or form good ones. The habit loop is always started with a cue, a trigger that transfers your brain into a mode that automatically determines which habit to use. The heart of the habit is a mental, emotional, or physical routine. Finally there is a reward, which helps your brain determine if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. In an article in The New York Times, Charles Duhigg notes, “The cue and reward become neurologically intertwined until a sense of craving emerges.” Craving drives all habits and is essential to starting a new habit, or destroying an old one.
  • Golden Rule of Habit: The Golden rule of habit is a rule to follow that will help you stop your addictive habits and replace them with new ones. It states that if you keep the initial cue, replace the routine, and keep the reward, change will eventually occur, although individuals who do not believe in what they are doing will likely fall short of the expectations and give up. Belief is a critical element of such a change.

Based on this theory, I ought to be able to “program” myself to develop a housecleaning habit.

If every Saturday morning (my cue) I wake up and begin cleaning the kitchen, then the bathrooms, and finally vacuum (a routine), I ought to be able to reach a reward (Cleanliness?). Knowing myself though, the cleanliness alone will not be a sufficient reward. I will need to identify a more concrete “reward” for myself. Perhaps a donut (hmmm….no)? It’s tough to identify a reward that will gel with our lifestyle (parents of crazy toddler). In the old days, I’d have treated myself with a manicure/pedicure or an afternoon of shopping, but you see the problem with those rewards. I will have to find a no-cost, high joy alternative.

I'm open to your suggestion, gentle reader.

In any case, the biggest challenge is going to be developing the “belief” aspect of the habit. It will be all for naught if I don’t believe in it. I hope that the end goal of Financial Independence is like that bikini a girl on a diet might hang right in front of her refrigerator. Every time she thinks of snacking, she might look at the final reward (the bikini) and choose a carrot stick instead. Financial Independence can be bikini, and housecleaning my carrot stick.

Let me know what habits you have changed since you set out on a path to Financial Independence? How did you achieve the change?

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