Timed Tidying

One problem I routinely encounter, working at home, is something I can’t remember reading about anywhere in all those blogs about work-at-home productivity. This is the problem that, when I’m trying to work at home, any sort of mess at home bothers me much more than it otherwise would. I never like waking up to a mess, but if I’m going somewhere else to work at least I don’t have to face it again until the evening when I can clean it up. But when I’m at home all day, the dirty dishes stare me in the face every time I look up.

However, If I start cleaning up, who knows when I’ll stop! I know, I know – I use cleaning as a method of procrastination. I can only plead that there are worse methods. It means, though, that every day I have an inward debate with myself: should I clear up this mess and risk getting lost in forty-five minutes of cleaning because of my single acquiescence to this desire to clean, or should I try to put up with the mess and tune it out?


The daytime ten-minute tidy

I finally discovered that setting a timer for ten minutes and using that time to do what I could eliminated the chance of getting lost in the task (I lose track of time very often), and thus also eliminated the guilt I always felt at ‘not working when I should’ – because it’s only ten minutes, practically no time at all. And it’s amazing what you can get done in ten minutes! In our flat anyway, it’s actually enough time to put away the most obvious clutter in all the rooms, or at least stack things neatly.

When I told Mike about this, he said, ‘It’s the ____ technique’, only I couldn’t remember afterwards what ‘____’ was (hence the blank). So, later, I Googled ‘tidy timer’ and such things, hoping to find the technique he’d mentioned, but only found tidy-up methods for little kids, songs included. If I’d attended preschool or nursery school, maybe I would have known that setting a timer for tidying up is nothing new.

I asked Mike later and got the name this time: apparently the idea of timed breaks from work (not for the purpose of tidying up specifically) is part of the Pomodoro technique. When he said the name, I thought, ‘Isn’t that a kind of tomato?’ So it is. The timer on the website is shaped like a tomato, which is pretty cute.

Later this week, for a different but related problem, I came up with a different version of this timed cleaning. It’s the evening version, and it even involves glamour, oh yes!

The evening glamor tidying routine

In the evening, I have to say that all my daytime energy for housework vanishes. However, the evening is also our time for making the biggest messes: cooking dinner, working on projects (I do sewing and crafting, Mike tinkers with his phone and other DIY things), reading sometimes multiple books, sometimes some after-dinner baking. I’m always astonished by how much clutter the two of us can scatter in the course of an hour of evening time. When that clutter remains until morning…it’s depressing (hence the instigation of my daytime ten-minute tidying). Practically speaking, as well, the end of the evening starts to feel chaotic rather than restful simply because of the mess as we both rush to do the fun things we’ve been wanting to do all day.

So, my ten-minute tidy operates just the same in the evening, but with the opposite purpose: not to limit me to only ten minutes when I’d happily take thirty, but to make the pill of tidying in my precious free time a little easier to swallow. After all, I only have to do it for ten minutes. One night I also hit upon a little addition to this routine, which I personally think makes the whole thing better: namely, before I start the timer I wash my face as I normally would before bed, and then apply some sort of facial mask (more on that below),* set the timer, and bustle away while the mask does its work and the timer reminds me to take it off so that I don’t accidentally leave it on for two hours! If you have a movie-star silk dressing gown, now would be the time to don it as you whisk about in a flutter of productivity and beauty. I don’t have one, though.

So, there it is. As I’ve written it out, I’ve thought, ‘Wow, that’s a trivial problem and a trivial solution.’ I guess so. I can only say that it solves a problem I constantly have! My husband knows that when I explain even the simplest solution to a problem, it’s usually accompanied by a long analysis of why it’s the right solution.

*About facial masks: I’ve always thought of them as a luxury rather than having much practical purpose. My skin feels nice afterwards but I never thought there would be any long-term benefits. Now, I still don’t really know, but I’ve heard a few people who swear by their own particular mask on a weekly or even daily basis for beautiful skin or treating acne. I’ve tried various homemade concoctions, but my favourite simple mask is just unflavoured full-fat yogurt (either plain or greek) with a bit of honey. It’s thick enough to spread in a thin layer without slurping off and getting everywhere, and dairy products topically applied really work wonders for my skin’s texture. Obviously any mask works to wear while tidying, as long as it isn’t a drippy one. (The yogurt and turmeric one I tried once, for example, was very sloppy and turmeric stains things yellow better than dye itself, including, occasionally, my face.)

4 thoughts on “Timed Tidying

  1. I love this: If you have a movie-star silk dressing gown, now would be the time to don it as you whisk about in a flutter of productivity and beauty. I don’t have one, though.

    Your method just might work wonders for an A.D.D.-procrastinating-mother-of-two-boys like myself. Now I just need to set a timer that will remind me to set the timer. 😉

    1. Hi Kristin! Nice to hear from you. I’m afraid I can’t help with remembering to set the timer in the first place…though my own absent-mindedness is part of what makes me use this method! I lose track of time so easily, or walk into a room and forget why. I have nothing like your excuse, though 🙂

      1. Well, they’re exactly that…an excuse! I was the same way before I had kids, it’s just magnified now that the house gets so messy so quickly. Thanks for taking the time to post!

  2. I have had this same problem for as long as I can remember! It’s why my bedroom was always so clean in high school and why our apartment was tidy in college. 😉 Now, I don’t set a timer, but I do allow 30 minutes of “cleaning time” after we put Kenna down before I do whatever else I planned to do for the evening. My actual cleaning doesn’t always take the full 30 minutes, but I’ve found it helps so much to set this time aside because otherwise I’d either be staying up later after I’m done with my evening activities to clean up before bed, or I have a whiny child first thing in the morning b/c I have to clean up before getting her breakfast (part of evening clean up is wiping down and sanitizing her high chair).

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