It's OK not to have a cleaning routine!

Ilona T

4 min read

If you have a regular cleaning routine and it works for you - congratulations! You don't need this post!

If you feel you really could do better with a regular cleaning routine - go for it! Don't let this post distract you from trying one!

But if the phrase "regular cleaning routine" makes you want to curl up in the corner and cry (feeling desperate, inadequate, and like a failure) - this post is for you!


Habit noun
(Psychology) an automatic reaction to a specific situation.
Routine noun
a sequence of actions regularly followed.
(Definitions from Oxford Languages)

When you search for cleaning advice online, you're faced with myriads of posts, pins, and printables on cleaning routines and daily and weekly checklists to keep your home clean and tidy. And if you're anything like me, you've tried and failed your share of these routines and checklists to know that trying a new one is just like peeing in your pants in Finnish winter: it makes you feel nice and warm for a short time but after a while, you'll end up feeling even more miserable.

For someone with ADHD, learning and maintaining a routine can be as easy as learning to fly with your bare hands. Even when it's something you really want to learn and feel it's important to you. Before I got my diagnosis and was unaware of the neurodevelopmental nature of my messiness, I remember feeling like an utter failure and an abomination when listening my friend and collegues discuss about their weekly cleaning routines. Most of the time I was too embarrassed to say I didn't have any and couldn't follow one even if my life depended on it. I could've gone weeks without vacuuming - the floors were so covered with clutter that I didn't even notice any dust and dirt, anyway.

After learning tidy habits with Track to Tidy and having less clutter on surfaces, I've noticed that seeing dust on an empty surface or dirt on the otherwise tidy floor makes me feel like grabbing a rag or a vacuum cleaner (like never before). I've even ended up thinking "Hey WOW, I'm actually cleaning and it wasn't an epic battle to make myself do it!"

I've tried to follow a more flexible routine: eg. vacuum on weekends. But what if it's Thursday and I see a tempting pile of dirt on the floor. I feel like vacuuming but think "It's not weekend yet - what am I going to vacuum then if I vacuum this pile now? I'll ruin my routine if I do this too early!" I'll leave it until later but then I'm busy all weekend or I never get myself to do it just because ADHD - and the next week the floor is really disgusting and I feel like a failure...

A couple of recent insight have given me great comfort:

• You don't need a cleaning routine to be a decent human being and a respectable adult!

• Don't fight against your nature - use it to your advantage: Do it when you get the impulse!

It's totally OK NOT to have a cleaning routine!
It's totally OK NOT to have a cleaning routine!

In an article of the excellent ADDitude magazine, ADHD is described as having an interest-based nervous system - compared to a neurotypical importance- or priority-based nervous system. We ADHDers can't get motivated even if we know that something is important, we need to be interested in it - or it needs to be somehow challenging or urgent.

Knowing how important a cleaning routine is won't motivate us to do it. If we learn we'll have guests coming over in half an hour, we won't have any difficulties getting started (urgency).

Or if we come up with the idea of creating a complicated cleaning routine system, we'll hyperfocus on planning and designing pretty checklists and are excited to try it for the first time (challenge) - but after that following the calendar will begin to feel like a demand which kills the motivation quicker than anything.

Randomness can make us curious and boost dopamine so that we get interested and motivated. In How To Align Your Ducks Facebook group we have daily(ish) quick random cleaning tasks that take 5 minutes to finish. You're warmly welcome to join! (We've also started a year-long challenge to toss 1000 things this year - it's never too late to get started so welcome to challenge yourself with that, too!)

Trying to follow a cleaning routine just for it's own sake is like drinking tar (like a Finnish figure of speach describes something unpleasant and hard to accomplish) for us. It takes so much mental effort that it'll exhaust you and I bet you, too, have enough to cope with already. So why not ditch the whole idea of a regular cleaning routine and work with your nature instead of trying to defeat it!

Drinking tar...

You don't have to have a routine to have a clean house - get in the habit of doing a little bit of cleaning whenever you see a real reason for it! (Remember the definitions from the beginning of this post?)

● Forget all the "shoulds":
"I should do this X times a week" => WRONG!
"I should do this (eg. dust) after I've done that (eg. vacuumed)" => WRONG!
"I should clean on Saturdays" => WRONG!

● Let the dirt inspire you! Act on an impulse!
- Grab the vacuum cleaner when the amount of dirt reaches your limit!
- (Remember, your limit will get lower when you start seeing clear surfaces!)
- Wipe the dust when you notice it!

● Make it easy for you to do it: have the cleaning gear easily at hand: a vacuum cleaner ready to go - not crammed in the broom closet (and preferably one on each floor!) ; wipes and cleaner spray bottles in each bathroom, etc.

If you don't have any scheduled commitments coming up, let your "I'll just quickly vacuum this one pile of dirt" turn into "Now that I got started, I want to vacuum that dusty corner as well" and even into "I can't stop until I've vacuumed the whole house". If you do have a time limit you can spend on the task, set a timer or try singing out loud something like "I can do just this one thing now" in a silly voice repeating it as long as you've finished and got back to your schedule.

You may end up noticing that you've actually unintentionally developed a trigger-based cleaning routine! Or then again, it may stay totally sporadic forever. And it's totally okay!