woman with her head in her hands
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
March 6, 2020 ·  5 min read

I’m The Only Neat Freak In A Family Of Slobs, And I Am Exhausted

How tidy is your house? Does it look like something out of an Ikea showroom, where everything is organized and is so clean it looks like no one even lives there? Or does it fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, where there are dishes piling up in the sink and so much clutter on the floors and countertops that it looks like it was abandoned in the middle of an earthquake?

Kristen Mae’s home, much to her dismay, belongs to the second category. In an article written for the website Scary Mommy, she describes herself as a “neat freak living in a house of slobs”, and she’s losing her patience [1].

House Envy

As if to make the situation in her own home seem even worse, her sister’s home is the exact opposite- it is pristine all of the time. No clutter, no mess, no dirt, no dust.

She has gone both ways- trying to relax and just put up with the mess, or swinging in the opposite direction and attempting to rally her family like troops to battle to clean the house up. Whichever path she chooses to take on a given day, one thing remains abundantly clear: unless she remains hyper-vigilant, her house will be a pig sty [1].

If you find yourself in a similar situation, you can appreciate how frustrating it can be to be the only person who seems at all invested in keeping a clean home. Of course, you don’t want to live in a giant mess, but it certainly shouldn’t be your responsibility to clean up after everyone else’s mess, should it?

The Benefits of a Clean Home

Having a clean home is about more than impressing your in-laws, it can also provide notable health benefits to you and your family, like reducing anxiety and boosting your mood.

A study out of Indiana University found that people with clean houses were actually healthier than their messier neighbors. People who kept a tidy home were more physically active than those who didn’t, and house cleanliness turned out to be an even greater predictor of physical health than neighborhood walkability [2].

A 2010 study asked women to describe their homes. The women who used phrases like “cluttered” or “unfinished projects” were more likely to be tired and depressed than those who described their homes as being “restful” or “restorative” [3].

Having a cluttered home can also make it more difficult to focus and get work done. A 2011 study from Princeton University found that “task-irrelevant” objects can actually overwhelm the visual cortex, making it more difficult to focus on a specific task and get it done efficiently [4].

Cleaning Should be a Collaborative Effort

Despite all the obvious benefits of keeping a clean home, not all members of your family are going to be highly motivated to participate in regular cleaning activities. This does not mean, however, that the responsibility to tidy up should fall on the shoulders of only one or two people. 

Family is built on collaboration between all members, and so enlisting your children and other family members to help with the chores teaches them how to be a part of the team, and encourages them to take ownership and pride in the space they live in.

Here are some ways you can motivate your family to help you keep things tidy:

  1. Don’t play pick-up. If you find yourself constantly following behind your family members and picking up after them, stop. It is important to get them to take responsibility for their own items and pick up after themselves. You may have to ask more than once, but if you set a new precedent that it is their job to clean up their belongings, they will gradually begin to follow through [5].
  2. Take a day or two off. If you are constantly running around cleaning up every space in your home, there isn’t any real motivation for anyone else to help out. This is not always an effective method, but sometimes all it takes to get the other members of your household on board with cleanup is to let things get a little messy. It might only take a couple of days of stepping over shoes in the hall or having no clean dishes before they decide they want to pitch in [5].
  3. Ask. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask for help. In a perfect world, your family would notice how hard you’re working to keep the house clean, but they may not. Simply asking for some help around the house, or with a specific task, is all that is needed to get the assistance you desire [6].
  4. Teach. You may find yourself doing most of the cleaning because you don’t feel as though your family members, particularly your children, will do it properly or as thoroughly as you. Take the time to teach them how to do specific tasks properly, and you will no longer have to worry [6].
  5. Negotiate. If you are coming up against some resistance, try offering two or three chores and asking them to pick one. Giving them the power to choose which chore they complete can actually give them the motivation they are lacking [6].
  6. Designate Clean Zones. It is often helpful, especially with children, to give them tasks that they are always in charge of. For example, it’s always your daughter’s job to sweep the floors, and it’s your son’s job to take out the garbage. Consistency takes out the need to constantly ask your kids to do chores. If they know what is expected of them all the time, they will know just to do it without prompting [6].
  7. Incentivize. Sometimes a little bribe goes a long way. If you give your kids an allowance, make sure that it is dependent upon them completing their chores. Perhaps there’s a school field trip coming up that they would like to attend, or a team or club they’d like to sign up for- having them do chores in exchange for being allowed to participate in their chosen activity may be just the motivation they need [6].
  8. Don’t expect perfection. As much as you may want your home to look like a furniture showroom, the reality is it won’t. Life is messy, and sometimes your home will reflect that. When your family tries to help out, make sure you are encouraging and appreciative- even if they don’t do something exactly the way you would [6].

Taking care of a household is a lot of work, but when you enlist the help of your family it can be much less overwhelming. If you do find that your house has gotten too cluttered and needs a bit of an overhaul, try some of these tips for how to declutter your home, or rally the other members of your family and attempt the 30-day declutter challenge.