Monday, March 19, 2012

With Mr. Clean by my side, I can defeat any dirty foe

Why is it that it's so difficult to find joy in taking the time to make our lives more clean and happy? It's on days like today that I ask this question - when I've finished a big load of laundry and cleaned up my room and my life just a bit. I just can't wrap my head around why I refuse to do these things more often.

I'm very very very lazy. It's a terrible trait that I will blame on genetics because I come from a pretty lazy family (with a few notable exceptions). None of us are hyperclean or OCD about keeping our affairs in order. Instead we are pretty relaxed and wait until the moment strikes us to featherdust or rearrange our sock drawer.

When I'm at school I have this problem fairly regularly. My room becomes a mess with books strewn all across the floor and knick knacks piled on my desk as if it's a decorative table rather than a place designated for working.

And to be honest, I don't really care. I put cleaning off because I place it at a low priority. When I'm deciding whether I'd rather watch a movie and enjoy myself now or clean my room and enjoy the spaciousness of my cleared floor later, I will usually settle on the former. But why? Why can't I appreciate the results of a freshly vacuumed and organized living space?

Actually, it's not that I don't enjoy having a room that is spick and span, or a room where I could run my hand across my wardrobe and not come up with an allergy-filled palm of dust. What it boils down to is the fact that, for me, cleaning just isn't fun.

So lately I've been trying to find ways to make it more fun. In my quest I have settled on one solution: Cleaning has to be a competition - with myself.

Let me preface this by saying that I am not an incredibly competitive person. I avoid confrontation, I try not to overextend myself and despite some obvious sore-loserhood as a child, I now accept defeat pretty well. But when it comes to cleaning, I must play a game where winning is the only option. The game's objective is as follows: I must destroy all the dirt and grossness in sight.

The rules are simple: Do everything you can possibly think of in as short an amount of time as you can possible handle, and have no remorse.

Because I am not a natural keep-cleaner (like a "do-gooder," but more anal-retentive), I tend to struggle with finding the motivation to even begin cleaning. But once I do, I know that this motivation is not to be wasted. If I've begun reorganizing my desk drawers, I must have the entire thing reordered and prettified by the end of the night. If this is not complete by the end of the night, then I lose. Stamp a big "L" on my forehead, I must forfeit my prize and there's no way to get rid of the stain of failure.

Even if I don't care too much about being labeled a loser in games like Monopoly or Battleship or in arguments (if the title is rightfully earned), when it comes to my own personal achievements - loss is not an option. In other words - once I've set a goal for myself, I must achieve said goal - even if it means becoming obsessive and crazy along the way.

This becomes especially prevalent during times in my life when I am most in need of distraction. Roughly from mid-September to early June, these months are characterized with over-work in other areas of life such as: academics, extracurricular activities, socialization and sleep.

This is why the dorm room cleanliness issue becomes such a huge and groundbreaking game. If I can avoid thinking about my other responsibilities and devote my mind solely to the effort of cleaning my room, then I feel even more accomplished than if I'd, perhaps, done that ten-page paper that is due next week. Priorities are clearly my strong suit.

But the situation I faced today was at home, without other responsibilities. And instead of requiring something to keep my mind off of more pressing matters, I had to overcome an even greater obstacle: my aforementioned laziness.

While trying to balance room cleanliness and schoolwork is a challenge, trying to motivate oneself to devote any time to cleanliness when the only other concerns are eating and watching television is another matter. The game becomes an even bigger monster with higher stakes and higher gains because, let's face it, the opportunity cost of doing a ton of housework is the time you would have had to bask in mindless pleasure. Who wants that trade off?

So when the spirit of clean (he's like Mr. Clean, but with more hair) finally slaps me across the face and reminds me that the benefits of keeping a happy, crisply folded life are worth the tension and effort put in, I have to take his advice and not look back - not even for a second.

I didn't get a whole lot done today - it wasn't like in the past when I managed to clean out my entire closet and set up orderly containers in my room to separate all my random belongings, yet I felt a certain kind of accomplishment that only winning the game of cleaning can do.

Smelling the scent of my fabric-softened clothing and seeing how much counter space I had in my bathroom, I started to feel the joy that accompanies defeating the evil dirt monster (in my head he looks a lot like Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas). For even when the effort put in when getting my life in order can be more of an ordeal than a pleasure, winning the fight against my own couch potato-ness is a victory in itself.

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