Your Cleaning Personality, Decoded

Are you a piler? A hate-cleaner? Do you do chores to avoid another dreaded task? Understanding the psychology behind your housekeeping can help you discover ways to do it better and faster. Step into our office...


An all-hands-on-deck
 cleaning sesh would be nice if you had the time. Until then, you opt for the
 piecemeal approach, sneaking in 10-­­minute spurts of
 scrubbing here, a little
 dusting there.

Understand It: “You are the nonprocrastinator,” says Timothy Pychyl, PhD. “You don’t have to be motivated by total chaos or work yourself up to a major clean. You just do it.” Yet be sure you’re multi-tasking for the right reasons, warns Susan Bartell, PsyD: “Some people are afraid they’ll be judged if they relax, so they try to prove they’re not wasting any time by always squeezing in some kind of cleaning.”

Play Into It: “The more often you clean, the easier it is,” says cleaning expert Donna Smallin Kuper. Stay on top of the problem areas before they become problems, which will allow you to go longer between cleaning sessions. “Rinse toothpaste from the sink before it hardens, vacuum carpets every few days, and squeegee the shower door after every use,” she says. Keep a checklist of weekly tasks so you don’t miss anything, which is a pitfall of this type of personality, says cleaning pro Linda Cobb: “When you find a window of time, consult your checklist first so you’re making progress toward the larger goal. And try to fit in a longer, once-a-week session so you’re able to enjoy that ‘It’s all done’ feeling.”


You’ve never met a paper you couldn’t pile or
 shirts you couldn’t stack on that bench in your bedroom instead of, you know, hanging them up.

Understand It: Let’s just say it: You’re not a fan of cleaning. “This is about avoidance,” says Pychyl. “Sure, all that shuffling gives the appearance of cleaning, but you’re never actually doing the real work that needs to be done.” There could be separation and commitment issues at play, too, says Bartell: “You may have a tough time tossing clothes you never wear or old trinkets because you’re afraid of the loss—or nervous to fully commit to a decision you can’t unmake.”

Play Into It: A tidy house is not a clean house, so you’re going to have to go the extra mile at some point. “Look for ways to hate cleaning less by buying products in scents you love, along with tools in bright, fun colors,” says Kuper. Then get those supplies out before you start straightening. “Seeing them at the ready makes it more likely you’ll actually use them,” she says. And when you do straighten and stack, be more efficient by having a basket system for the important stuff (one for bills, another for school papers) and a recycling bin, adds Maker. “Clutter builds up quickly, so make sure you’re not just organizing chaos,” she says. “Can you make a pile of 25 things look great? Yes. Do you need all 25? Doubtful.”


Frustrating phone call with your mom? Husband ignoring
 that stack of plates teetering in the kitchen? Break
 out the Brillo. and P.S., where the %*@# is the vacuum?!

Understand It: “Cleaning can actually be a really healthy way to channel anger,” says Amy Johnson, PhD. “It’s much better than smashing things! It’s also better than sitting around stewing, because cleaning is physical and will help harness some of the adrenaline you’ve built up.” But no matter how calm those gleaming countertops make you feel, you probably also need to address what rankled you in the first place.

Play Into It: Channel your anger into a chore you’ve been putting off, says Kuper. Or tackle a task that requires elbow grease, like vacuuming or mopping. Make sure to clean when you’re happy sometimes, too, adds cleaning pro Melissa Maker. “You don’t want to always associate clean- ing with negative feelings,” she says. Oh, and if your huffing and puffing is to get the attention of a slacking spouse, consider revisiting the who-does-what-chores-when conversation.

THE NEAT (and Clean Organized) FREAK

You could literally eat off any surface in your house—
but it would never come to that. because if so much as a ­Cornflake falls, you’re right there to sweep it up. #NeverNotCleaning

Understand It: The personality trait at play here is conscientiousness, which sounds like a good thing until you take it too far... like, say, to the kitchen to scrub pots while your family members are still twirling their spaghetti. “Someone very high on the conscientious scale can’t relax and often becomes a workaholic,” says Pychyl. “If you can’t stop yourself from cleaning, it becomes compulsive.” You’re probably highly critical of yourself, too—and concerned about what others think of you, like the FedEx guy who might spy that heap of shoes by the front door. So you’re constantly pushing for perfection.

Play Into It: Stash “mobile cleaning units,” or MCUs, throughout your house, suggests housekeeping expert Tom McNulty. “Get a box, a tote, or a grocery bag and pack it with your essentials: rags, window cleaner, all-purpose spray, and rubber gloves,” he says. Place an MCU near areas where the cleaning bug hits you most often, like in the front entryway closet, under the kitchen and bathroom sinks, and in the bedroom closet. “It may seem like overkill,” says McNulty, “but always being armed and ready means you won’t waste time collecting your tools.”


Sure, you’ve got a work deadline and the kids want to go to
 the playground. but there are also beds to be made and floors to
 be mopped. and that spice cabinet ain’t gonna organize itself.

Understand It: “Procrastination is about giving in to what feels good in the moment,” says Pychyl. And while cleaning may not seem like the best feel-good activity around, it does offer immediate results. “We have control when we’re cleaning. Unlike with many other tasks, we know how it’s going to turn out, and that’s appealing,” he says. Still, why not just go for a walk or catch up on Catastrophe when you want to avoid doing something? Because cleaning is considered a valid use of time. “But at the end of the day,” says Pychyl, “you’re likely going to feel pained and perhaps shamed by the fact that you didn’t do what you were supposed to.”

Play Into It: “You’ve got to put some parameters on procrastination cleaning,” says Cobb. Set a timer for, say, 20 minutes, and when it goes off, return to what you should be doing. “If you work from home, limit cleaning and tidying to 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening and keep strict ‘office hours,’” she says. “You can also pick one room to focus on, and when that’s done, so is your procrastinating.” And instead of hiding behind the broom when you don’t want to, for example, go to the playground with your kids, just say you don’t want to go. “Parenting is harder than anything, so for some people, cleaning is easier than being with the kids—and that’s OK to admit,” says Bartell. “Send them with your spouse or a sitter!”


You’re a constant cleaner—until you’re not.
 Once your immaculate space loses order, you throw in the dish towel and wait for the next big binge clean.

Understand It: This is the classic diet mentality: One slipup (e.g., eating one of those Thin Mints from the back of your freezer) and you give up and eat the whole sleeve. “This person is a very rigid, black-or-white thinker,” says Johnson. “And definitely a perfectionist. Everything has to be just so, and if it’s not, you go into screw-it mode.” Problem is, when you’re not OK with the gray areas of life (and your home), you’ll always feel like you’re failing, and that’s no fun. “Try to accept a clean-enough house and see that nothing bad will happen,” says Johnson. “Your mind will throw a fit about it in the beginning, but it will get more and more comfortable over time.”

Play Into It: “Doing a quick tidy in the morning will satisfy your need to have a clean environment,” says Cobb. “And keep an empty laundry basket handy for evening clutter pickup.” Then the items will be hidden until you have time to put them away in their proper places. To ensure everything stays in order, coordinate a weekly cleaning session with help from your family. “On the weekend, assign each family member a task, set a timer for 30 minutes, and make sure everyone works until the timer rings,” says Cobb. “People are more willing to help when they know there is an end in sight.”

Courtesy of: Erin Zammett Ruddy |