How to Stick to A Cleaning Schedule: Solutions to 3 Major Obstacles

Are you having trouble with your cleaning schedule?

It is frustrating, discouraging, and overwhelming to try so hard and still feel like it’s a losing battle to keep your home in order.

If you feel this way, you may be stuck in one of these common obstacles:

  • Using a schedule that is not customized to your home and/or needs
  • Applying unrealistic standards 
  • Relying entirely on your willpower to complete the work

Fortunately, there are 3 powerful ways to ensure you can stick to your cleaning schedule going forward:

  • Personalize your schedule to work for you.
  • Make your schedule realistic and achievable.
  • Use proven strategies to stay motivated and committed to your schedule.

From my own experience – and lots of research! – I know that making these corrections can change the way you relate to your home. They may seem simple at first glance, but there is SO much to unpack in each one. 

Click below to jump to a specific section or scroll down to start from the top.

1. Personalize your schedule to work for you.

There is a really good chance that if you are having trouble sticking to a cleaning schedule, you might not have the right one.

Here’s what I mean:

There is no shortage of cleaning schedules, templates, and checklists available online. They are wonderful resources to help you identify what tasks need to be done and when to do them. But they are limited in how much they truly help you because they are generic.

They are based on someone else’s home, family, schedule, personality, and preferences. They often include things that don’t apply to your home or miss a LOT of things that are important to you.

This means:

  • You feel overwhelmed with all those additional tasks that don’t make sense for your home, just adding to your mental “clutter”
  • You still have to keep track of all the extra tasks not included in your schedule, which doesn’t relieve your stress and worry
  • You feel pressure to live up to someone else’s standards, which may not make sense for your life
  • You experience unnecessary frustration from all of this!

So – really not that helpful.

Do you feel like this is what’s causing issues in your home right now?

The good news is that you absolutely can use these resources and personalize them to fit your needs!

Remove anything that doesn’t apply to your home.

This seems obvious, but we rarely take the time to do this. Take a serious look at what is included in whatever schedule or resource you may currently be using.

Consider the following:

Are there any rooms listed that your home doesn’t have?

Are there any appliance(s) referenced that you don’t own?

Are there any home systems that don’t apply to you? (AC, heating, gas, irrigation, smart home systems, etc.)

Is there maintenance related to materials not included in your home? (crawl space, foundation, hard/soft water, solar panels, wooden fixtures, etc.)

If you don’t maintain your home personally (due to renting or a paid service), are there any items included that you are not responsible for?

Add in all the specifics of your home and possessions.

We know that if your schedule isn’t completely comprehensive, you defeat the purpose of having a checklist at all. It is worth the time to add every task to your list, so you can get it out of your head!

Following a similar list from before, consider the specifics of your home that may not be included.

Do you have any specific rooms or areas in your home that AREN’T included? 

  • Bonus room
  • Office
  • Mudroom
  • Home theater
  • Sun room
  • Garage
  • Basement
  • Etc.

Do you have any additional structures on your property?

  • Deck, porch or patio
  • Workshop or shed
  • Fireplace or fire pit
  • Above-ground or in-ground pool
  • Play set
  • Etc.

Do you own any unusual appliances or equipment that need to be cleaned or maintained regularly?

  • Ice maker
  • Deep freezer
  • Wine cooler
  • Electronics
  • Cooking appliances
  • Etc.

Are all your specific home systems or materials accounted for?

  • Does your home use hard or soft water?
  • Does your home have a slab foundation or crawl space?
  • Does your home have extensive attic space and insulation?
  • Do you have both AC and heating systems?
  • Do you have brick, vinyl, stucco, etc. for your home’s siding?
  • Do you use electric, gas, or both in your home?
  • Do you have an irrigation system?
  • Do you use solar panels?
  • Do you have any smart home systems?
  • Etc.

Are there any other home maintenance tasks you find yourself forgetting? 

Do you want to include decluttering as a part of your home maintenance? 

Taking the time to do this will create a list you can trust to meet all your home’s needs. This is what takes the “mental work” out of it and helps you feel more personally dedicated to the system.

Adjust the frequency of tasks based on YOUR preferences.

As you go through a checklist, or as you are putting one together, think about how often it takes for you to think “I need to clean that.”  Go ahead and schedule it in line with that time period.

Unless it is related to home maintenance or safety, don’t worry about what is recommended or what others do. Simply consider what keeps your home functional and in line with YOUR definition of clean. 🙂

This will make your list feel right for you, and it will also help with making your schedule realistic – our next objective.

For more detailed guidance on these 3 main areas of personalization – plus 3 other important tips – head over to my full post on adjusting a schedule to make it work for you.

2. Make your schedule realistic and achievable.

In my e-book, Habits-Based Homemaking, I share one of my favorite quotes about goal setting from Jon Acuff:

“We tend to set goals that are foolishly optimistic.”

Jon Acuff, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done

I love the honesty in that statement, but also the freedom and relief it might give us if we accept it. I’ll explain 🙂

It is so tempting to set “foolishly optimistic” goals about how we will clean and maintain our homes. While it would be nice to have spotless homes, our standards are based on an ideal that isn’t actually achievable given our life circumstances. 

This sets us up to feel frustrated, discouraged, and unmotivated. This, in turn, leads us to do less overall or even give up altogether.

The freedom that comes from recognizing our unrealistic expectations is two-fold:

  1. We realize that we aren’t failing as homemakers. The standards themselves were wrong!
  2. We have the power to adjust them to something that IS achievable, and therefore, helpful as guidelines & goals.

So what does it mean to set realistic, achievable goals in our homes – when so much of the work feels non-negotiable and never-ending?

I personally struggle most in this area and am constantly working to minimize the time and energy taken up by housework.

Since there is SO much to say about this, I wrote a full guide with 7 different approaches to making housework more manageable. But here, I’ll share 2 practical strategies you can use to make your schedule realistic.

After you have identified your list of household tasks and how often you need to do them (based on YOUR preferences, not unhelpful standards or unrealistic expectations), consider using the following in your schedule:

  • Routines, and
  • Task owners

Use routines for task management.

I know I’m certainly not the first person to recommend having regular routines around your home:

  • Daily
  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Seasonally, Semi-Annually, or Annually

However, I have spent a lot of time developing these “rhythms” in our home and can share that they provide much-needed direction and peace of mind.

Using levels of cleaning

I refer to these as the 4 levels of cleaning. Each level has a regular timing but also serves a different function in your home:

In terms of making your schedule more realistic, using routines like this helps in 3 main ways:

  • Lessens your “mental load” of keeping track of what needs to be done & when it was last done
  • Provides clear direction of where to start & how to use your (limited) time for cleaning
  • Breaks down the “big picture” of home maintenance into smaller time-frames, which helps you evaluate how much you can manage each day, week, month, etc.

Creating your own realistic routines

As you are creating or changing your cleaning schedule, consider following these two steps:

  1. Group the tasks by often they need to be accomplished – which will form these rhythms.
  2. Honestly evaluate each group in terms of its frequency. Can I really do all that every day? Can I carve out time for that each month?

If you don’t feel confident that it is realistic for your current situation, find ways to adjust. Resist the urge to think you’ll magically find a way 🙂

Whether it is doing the task a little less often, using a time-saving product or technique (more in the full guide!), or asking for help (more below!) – don’t compromise on making sure it is achievable.

Delegate ownership of tasks when possible.

An important way to make your schedule achievable is to acknowledge your limits and ask for help for work that goes beyond those limits. And just as important – once you’ve identified who can help, assign specific tasks and include these delegations in your schedule.

This will remind you that it is NOT all up to you and keep you from feeling overwhelmed each time you review your list.

Of course, the obvious sources of help may include:

  • A partner
  • A child / children
  • A roommate

There is an abundance of resources out there focused on sharing housework among family members. (Maybe one day, I’ll do a round-up for you!)

But in addition to that, I would also encourage you to think outside the box:

  • Professionals for specific home maintenance needs
  • Local handy-man for other home projects
  • Trustworthy high-school or college students for chores or projects
  • Cleaning services on a regular basis (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) or even on a one-time, as-needed basis to help you reset
  • Technology or electronic devices that can take care of specific tasks, like vacuuming, etc.

As much as you can enlist help and minimize what is on your plate, the better! And the more likely you will stick to your schedule in all of life’s ups and downs. 🙂

Again, don’t miss the full guide – 7 Solutions to Make Overwhelming Housework Manageable – for more details & strategies!

3. Use proven strategies to stay motivated and committed.

When I surveyed my readers and community, the #1 struggle I hear is a lack of motivation.

  • Feeling slow to start
  • Lacking ambition
  • Not sure where to start
  • Can’t find time to implement changes
  • Lacking forward momentum
  • Not having enough energy

You can have an amazing comprehensive, personalized, realistic plan but still struggle to stick with it.

After all, very few of us consistently enjoy cleaning, and there are so many things vying for our limited personal resources!

Because this is such a common issue, I’ve spent a lot of time gathering resources on what makes systems “stick” with us in the long-term. It turns out it has a lot less to do with willpower and self-discipline, and WAY more to do with habits & research-based strategies for forming them.

My main goal is to share to what science says about how our brains learn behaviors and help you to work WITH your brain to make desired behaviors around your home easier. 🙂

I have included below 3 of the most practical, hands-on strategies you can apply right away. These all have been so helpful for me!

All 21 of these proven strategies are included in my new e-book, Habits-Based Homemaking.

Be specific with your desired outcome.

The absolute best place to start when creating a goal is defining your goal in detail (the first step in SMART goals, if you are familiar).

James Clear, a leading expert on habits, references a study regarding implementation intentions which provides a great template.

Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick with your habits if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. For example, in one study scientists asked people to fill out this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”

James Clear, The Scientific Argument for Mastering One Thing at a Time

As seen in this template, it is important to quantify at least one part of your goal. What number can you associate with your desired outcome?

Lastly, one study from Dominican University suggests you are 42% more likely to accomplish your goal if you write it down. Physically make a note of your goal and keep it somewhere you will see regularly.

Focus on one habit at a time.

Follow-up research related to the study referenced by Clear found a critical additional requirement: the benefits of writing your implementation intentions only occur when you focus on one thing at a time.

James Clear explains:

“Researchers found that people who tried to accomplish multiple goals were less committed and less likely to succeed than those who focused on a single goal…

James Clear, The Scientific Argument for Mastering One Thing at a Time

He elaborates on this finding:

“The counterintuitive insight from all of this research is that the best way to change your entire life is by not changing your entire life. Instead, it is best to focus on one specific habit, work on it until you master it, and make it an automatic part of your daily life. Then, repeat the process for the next habit.”

James Clear, The Scientific Argument for Mastering One Thing at a Time

It seems we get on an “improvement kick” and want to change all the areas of our lives at one time. However, I think we all have experienced how difficult that is.

As you focus on making your goal a regular part of your life, resist the urge to work on several changes at once.

The Parks and Recreation character Ron Swanson puts it this way: “Don’t half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

And I’m not sure it gets any better than that.

Make it fun if you want it done!

One interesting finding in Jon Acuff’s book Finish is the critical importance of including FUN in the process of achieving your goal.

He puts it this way in his Finish workbook:

We tend to get super serious about our goals and often only think miserable ones count… [but] It turns out that fun isn’t just a bonus part of chasing a goal, it’s a critical part.”

Jon Acuff, Finish Workbook

He clarifies and goes on to say:

“We’re not just looking for fun goals. We’re deliberately adding fun to whatever goal we care about most. Lots of goals aren’t naturally fun but that doesn’t mean we can’t intentionally add fun to them.”

Jon Acuff, Finish Workbook

As you get started with your goal or habit, incorporate something fun from the very beginning.

For example, as you clean,

  • Make a high energy playlist of your favorite songs.
  • Listen to an audiobook or a podcast.
  • Turn on one of your favorite shows you watched a million times just to hear the jokes in the background.
  • If it’s a task where you can incorporate your family, make it a game or group activity. 

(I personally play the song “Closing Time” – like Andy on The Office – while I clean up the house after our son’s bedtime. It always puts me in a good mood and motivates me to see how much I can get done before the song ends.)

The point is: create an environment that is fun even if the task isn’t.

If you feel that you need help in creating habits and staying motivated to fulfill your home’s needs – definitely check out Habits-Based Homemaking! I am passionate about sharing the best evidence-based strategies out there and applying them to habits in our homes. It is a beautiful thing to “work smarter, not harder”! 🙂

What’s next?

Does it feel like one of these areas was holding you back? Do you feel hopeful these strategies can finally create a cleaning schedule that really works for you?!

If you are looking for more guidance on personalizing your schedule to fit your home & needs,

Read 6 Steps to a Customized Cleaning Schedule that Works next! Also check out the custom schedule generator through Home, Clean Home!

If you are struggling to keep housework manageable and realistic,

Read 7 Solutions to Make Overwhelming Housework Manageable next, or “No one helps me clean the house!” — 12 Sanity-Saving Solutions to share the burden with others.

If you want to create more automatic, stress-free habits in your home,

Don’t miss my free, full “resource directory” here.

Some resources are my own, and some are from other creators. ALL of them will help you overcome what is holding you back from enjoying peace of mind and a home you love.

Lastly, if you are struggling to find a cleaning schedule and/or feeling overwhelming by how to implement it,

Learn more about my personalized solution, Home, Clean Home here. Free preview for daily & weekly routines available!

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