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Keeping Up with the Joneses

By Dr. Andi McDaniel


Comparing yourself to others can leave you frustrated and reinforce unhelpful dissatisfaction with your own life. This blog, by Dr. Andi McDaniel, highlights to find things you value in those comparisons and build in basic habits that allow you to build greater life satisfaction.


We’ve all had that feeling when we see another person’s perfectly clean and organized

home...that “got to keep up with the Joneses” feeling. It can appear as though these people “have

it all together.” When we see this, we have questions like, “how do they have time?”, “how do

they keep it clean?”, “do they have help?!!”


Well, first things first. Our perceptions of another person’s life and circumstances are very likely

to be flawed, because we often only see people in small segments of time. We cannot know what

is happening in between those moments. For example, most people visit the homes of others on

weekends or for specified events (e.g., parties, get-togethers, etc.), for which the host has likely

invested time in cleaning and organizing their space. So, don’t beat yourself up. It is normal for

us to put off cleaning and organizing when we have more immediate and important tasks to

complete, such as long working hours, studying for school, managing family and childcare

duties, and so forth. Additionally, when we get a little off-time, it can often be more beneficial to

engage in self-care activities than to engage in cleaning and organizing. So, don’t feel badly if

you choose to spend time with yourself, family, or friends, rather than engage in tedious chores.

These moments are important and can be beneficial for mental health.


That being said, it is important to note when our spaces are getting too out of control. The state

of our environment is often a physical representation of the level of overwhelm and distress in

our lives. If we are having difficulty managing things emotionally, mentally, and physically, then

our environment is likely to match that in appearance. So, how do we balance between not

always cleaning and being able to maintain a healthy space? For the answer, lets go back to those

persons who we were initially envying in this blog – the Joneses. While they are not as perfect as

we may make them seem to be, they may be the type of person who tends to have a knack for

maintaining their spaces. Here are some tips from those who are typically clean and organized

that you can use to help find a bit more balance in your own life and environment.


1. Make a list – start out by making a list of the chores you want to accomplish and the

areas that you want to organize. This can help you to identify what your goals are and to

build a plan from those goals. Be aware that your starting list may look very daunting, but

you can easily break each item on the list into smaller tasks that are easier to tackle.


2. Commit to 15 minutes – often times we overestimate how long a task will take us to

complete. You would be surprised what you can accomplish in a very short span of time

when you have already identified a task and made a plan for completing that task.

Commit to spending 15 minutes per day to cleaning or organizing, and you’ll soon have a

great routine for maintaining your space.


3. Set a timer – go ahead and set a timer for that 15 minutes (or however long you are

committing to cleaning), so that you do not get lost in the process and cut into your free

time. This will not only keep you on track, but it will save you from that begrudging

feeling you get when you realize that you have wasted an entire day on cleaning and

organizing your space.


4. Pick one thing ahead of time – identify one task to complete before you start, and be

sure to have a plan for how you will complete that task. Do not pick up another task until

you have completed this first task, or you will find yourself moving around from task to

task without actually getting anything done.


5. Clean as you go – Because we overestimate how long it takes to do things, we often do

not fix a problem that we see in the moment that is small and quick to fix (e.g., throwing

something away, picking something up and dropping it in the laundry basket, wiping

down the counter after cooking and/or eating, etc.). If you complete these quick as you

go, then there will be less to do at your identifying “cleaning time.”


6. Build anchor habits – start by building anchor habits, which are defined tasks that you

complete daily as a part of your routine, and from which other tasks flow. For example,

cleaning your bed every morning has been shown through research to increase

productivity throughout your day. Plus, it tends to lead to an individual cleaning and

organizing the space around the bed, such as picking up and putting away clothes,

throwing away trash, organizing items on shelves and night stands, etc. Another anchor

habit could be to wipe down the sink in the kitchen or bathroom, which can then lead to

straightening towels, wiping down nearby surfaces, putting away dishes, etc.


7. Add in microhabits – once you have established a routine with anchor habits, you can

then add in microhabits. Microhabits are habits so small and quick that they are

unnoticeable in your routine and take up nearly no time at all. For example, you could go

through your mail once you collect it and before putting it down anywhere. Then it won’t

stack up on a table or in a corner for you to spend longer going through in the future.


8. Organize in pieces – If you want to tackle higher levels of organization in your space,

then start with organizing pieces of that space, such as organizing a drawer, a cabinet, a

closet, etc. Before you know it, you will have organized your entire space if you go

through pieces of that space regularly.


9. Commit a full organization day – If you need your entire space organized quickly, then

commit a day to fully organizing. Be sure to begin with a plan for how to tackle your

whole space, so that you are not overwhelmed or inefficient in your approach. Invite

friends and/or family to come and help and assign everyone a space to work on.


10. Find a place for everything – When organizing, your main goal is to have a place for

everything without having clutter. If there is a place for everything, then there is a

designated spot that items can be easily returned to when cleaning later. With identified

spaces for items, it is easy for the whole family to know where and how to put items

away after using them.


11. Purge like crazy – If you notice that you have clutter, and there are too many items to

have an identified space for each item without the clutter, then it is time to purge! Get rid

of items that you haven’t used in more than a year, do not fit, or are unlikely to use. Ask

yourself what you are actually getting out of an item. Sometimes we assign emotional

feelings to items (not memorabilia or gifts), because we believe that it is filling a void

within us. Remember, no one who loves you would want you to live in a space that is

chaotic, or for your items to live better than you are because they take up your space.


12. Remove clutter as you come across it – Once you have purged it can be helpful to keep

guard against returning clutter. An easy way to do this is to remove clutter once you have

noticed it; much like the earlier rule to clean as you go, it is important to remove clutter

as you go.


13. Address the pain points – We all have pain points, which are our big pet peeves in the

home. For example, maybe your pain point is to have dishes piled in the sink. Identify

your pain points and address those first; especially when you have little time for cleaning

or organizing. This will reduce your anxiety around the to-do list with minimal effort,

even when you do not time to complete the entire list.


14. Take the quick wins – celebrate the small tasks that you complete. These small tasks

have a big impact in your space and on your mental health. Learn to let go of

perfectionism and embrace the “good enough” approach.


15. Set responsibilities – Everyone in the home should be involved in the maintenance of the

space. If you live with others, be sure to work together to develop a fair and equitable

division of the chores and organization tasks. This will actually lead to better and

healthier relationships between those who live together, because helping out sends a

message of love, care, support, and respect to those around you. Be advised, when

assigning tasks, be certain to take a household member’s physical and cognitive abilities

into consideration. Some tasks will be inappropriate for a child, elderly person, and/or

disabled person. Don’t leave them out entirely, just be sure to assign them tasks that they

can complete and feel good about being able to complete.

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