How Long Does it Take to Build Better Habits?

Better housekeeping can become second nature — with a little bit of time.

When you think about habits, cleaning is probably way down the list—somewhere far below nail-biting and compulsively scrolling Instagram. But what if tidying your home could become something you did unconsciously? Here’s the good news: it can. With some guidance and intentionality, you can form new, better, and healthier habits that not only leave your home sparkling, but give you more free time (and brain space) for the things you love.

How to build habits

Positive habits—working out, eating healthy, shedding stress—do wonders for quality of life. And when they become habits, it’s like putting that good thing on auto-pilot. We’ll get into the specifics of cleaning habits shortly, but the building blocks to a healthy habit are the same, whether you’re looking to have a decluttered home or more me-time in the morning.

If you have to think about it, it’s not a habit… yet. But with these four steps to habit-building, we can do something about that.

1. Specific > general habit goals

No matter the habit you’re trying to create, specificity is a major key to success. “I want a cleaner house” is less helpful, and more daunting, than “I’ll wipe down the shower every morning after I bathe.” Where appropriate, setting parameters around time of day, length of the activity, and intended goal will help keep you in line.

2. Habit stacking

Here’s a life hack: when you want to establish a new habit, find a way to attach it to an old one. Example: if you brew coffee each morning, consider unloading the dishwasher while you wait, or wipe down the bathroom sink and counter each time you brush your teeth (using products that make it as easy as possible helps — for bathroom cleanup, we love 9 Elements Bathroom Cleaner). Stacking a new habit with a pre-existing one can help to supercharge them both, and give you early success that helps your new habit take flight.

3. Find the fun in habit building

Repetition is key to habit building—and we’re much more likely to repeat something we enjoy. Finding a way to incorporate fun into the mix creates a positive feedback cycle that actually encourages you to keep building your habit. Have a favorite bingeable TV show? Choose to watch while you fold laundry each evening. Hate doing the dishes? Listen to your favorite audiobook or podcast, and transform the slog into something you actually look forward to.

4. Flexibility is key to habit building

This is the place where most new habits die. Each new year, the world is full of well-meaning, but rigid, plans for adopting new habits. When an unexpected bump in the road, or an extra-stressful day hits, we miss our habit and quickly give up. Research, however, is clear that flexibility is not only important in habit building, it’s necessary. So have a specific plan, stack your new habit on an old one, make it fun… and if you wake up late, take a deep breath. Some days your morning cleaning habit will become an evening habit instead, and that’s okay.

How long does it take to build a habit?

So we’ve got a process, but how long is this going to take? Put the 21-days-to-a-different-life timeline out of your mind. While that number gets tossed around as scientific fact, it’s more pop psychology than anything. The simple truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all for building a new habit. How long it will take depends entirely on the person, the habit, and the circumstances surrounding both.

James Clear, author of the New York Times best-selling Atomic Habits, cites a 2009 study in which researchers tracked 96 people as they tried to implement a new habit into their lives. The results varied wildly. Some people engrained a new habit in only 18 days, while others took more than 250 days. On average, however, it took people 66 days to form a new habit—a little more than two months.

As you set out on the journey of establishing new cleaning habits, it’s important to begin with proper expectations. It’s a safe bet that creating a new habit is more than just a three week process—it’s more like a 2-8 month one. While that can sound overwhelming, remember that (a) habits are much more about repetition than perfection and (b) unlike other habits, you’ll be reaping the benefits of your new cleaning habit from day 1. So whether it takes you 18 days, or 250+ to establish your new habit, the journey is worth beginning.

7 Habits to make a cleaner home

Know you want a tidier home, but not sure where to begin? These seven habits to make a cleaner home are a great launching pad. Choose one (or maybe two) from the list below, and incorporate more as the habits begin to take root.

  1. Make the bed. It sounds simple, but making the bed each morning gives you an easy win before facing the chaos of the rest of the day. It not only means starting your day with productivity, but it guarantees you return to a room that’s put in order when you need a break—and trust me, that feels amazing. Haven’t made your bed since grade-school? These hacks will have it looking like a pro in no-time.
  2. Tidy as you go. Messes pile up when they’re unaddressed—so before you leave a room, take 30 seconds to get it all tidied up. A morning bathroom routine might include closing the shower curtain, closing the toilet lid, putting the toothbrush and hair products up, and wiping down the counter with our favorite bathroom cleaner. Tidy as you go, and you’ll save yourself a whole lot of hassle, and time, on the back end.
  3. You eat, you clean. In most homes, the kitchen is one of the highest-trafficked, and therefore messiest, spaces. After every meal, make time for a quick clean: wipe down the counters, get dishes squared away, and sweep up any crumbs. Anyone who eats with you gets to help as well. Taking time to put everything away means the space is ready for the next meal, and helps keep pests at bay.
  4. Laundry every day. Laundry never ends, am I right? Instead of pushing it off to the weekends, and letting it eat away your free time, do a load each night. Moving this potentially overwhelming task into bite-sized chunks means the mountain in the laundry room will finally disappear… and that’s worth celebrating.
  1. Have a home for paper. Mail and magazines and menus, oh my! Paper can pile up in a home, leaving counters cluttered and important documents lost in the shuffle. Establish a home for everything, and don’t put documents down until they're in their proper place—that might mean a drawer for menus, a set of folders for bills, and a small basket for outgoing mail. Find a system that works for you, and stick to it.
  2. One last sweep. Before you hit the sack for the night, do one last walk-through of your spaces. Put away anything that’s out of place—toys, shoes, backpacks—and address anything you might have missed earlier. (This could also be a literal floor sweep if you need it, but you can keep things easy with a Swiffer, one of our all-time favorite tools.) This final sweep not only means an easier morning, but it will ensure you rest easy knowing you don’t have unfinished business to tackle in the morning.
  3. Give it away now. Simply put, most of us have too much stuff. The more we give away, the tidier our home becomes. Does my family of five need 20 coffee mugs? Hardly. Is that cabinet of unmatched containers helping me? Not at all. If you haven’t used an item in the past 6 months, it might be time to consider finding it a new home. Regular purging means a less cluttered, and more clean, home.

Benefits of better cleaning habits

The benefits of adopting and incorporating better cleaning habits into your routine will be as varied as the habits themselves. That being said, four big benefits include:

  • More time for the things you love. Nobody wants to lose their weekends to cleaning. Wouldn’t you rather be at the game, out with friends, or hiking in a local park? Daily cleaning habits means less large-chunks of time get devoted to cleaning and home maintenance and instead can be given to the things you actually want to do.
  • More freedom. Hosting large parties isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s a certain sense of freedom that comes from knowing you could invite someone over at a moment’s notice. Your best friend having a bad day? Invite him over for a cup of coffee. Your sister needs to drop the kids off for the day? You can handle it. Cleaning habits leave your home feeling more like an asset, and less of a liability, in your day-to-day life.
  • Less stress. Between jobs, errands, family and friends, life is stressful enough. Adopting cleaning habits allows your home to feel like a breath of fresh air after a long day, instead of just another thing that needs to be addressed. A clean home can produce a myriad of positive mental health benefits, including lessening stress and reducing anxiety. We could all use a mental health oasis, right? Imagine if that were your home.
  • Get the money, honey. While the first three benefits are more intangible, this one comes with dollars and cents. Especially if you own your home, keeping it properly cleaned and maintained means a higher property value when it’s time to sell. While you may not be anticipating a move in the immediate future, better cleaning habits means you always have the card in your back pocket… and it might just bump your bank account too.

Adopting new and better cleaning habits doesn’t have to be a pipe dream—it’s an achievable goal with benefits well beyond cleaner floors and a less-cluttered bedroom. Choose a habit, build it in your daily routine, and put yourself on the fast track to a better (and cleaner) life.

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