I used to have a clean house. I did certain chores once a week, some of them on specific days, and the house was neat most of the time. In fact, when our super-shedding German Shepherd was still alive, a young family came to stay with us. The mother put her little girl on the floor and let her crawl around without any qualms. “Your house is so clean,” she said, letting me know that she wouldn’t put her baby on just any floor.
I look around and wonder what the heck happened. All my routines are gone. I’ve even forgotten what they were. I want my clean house back, but I get grumpy whenever I think about doing the work involved. I’m healthier now than I was back then. It should actually be easier to keep up. What’s gone wrong?
When something behavioral breaks, I try to remember what worked in the past. What worked before will probably work again. One thing I used to do was follow the FlyLady’s advice: Use baby steps to build routines. Do a little at a time. Don’t expect to have everything clean again overnight.
All good advice that I should follow. But I think there’s still something missing. Rewards.
When a friend asked for ideas for non-food rewards, I could relate. I no longer treat myself with recreational sugar and other “fun” foods because they make me sick. Commenting on her post reminded me of the many different ways I can reward myself without using food.
For example, I bought myself a beautiful book of fairy tales (The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar) and a Kindle Paperwhite to celebrate finishing the draft of my novel about Rapunzel. A project that took me 3 1/2 years to complete deserves a big pat on the back, so I spent some money on myself.
Obviously, I can’t go this big with my rewards for everything, or we would go broke. However, I’ve remembered something much cheaper that used to work.
When I was really ill and struggling to get anything done, I rewarded myself for the smallest accomplishments by putting stickers on my calendar. If I took the dog for a walk, I put a little dog sticker on that day’s date. Stars and flowers were for house-cleaning tasks. I also rewarded myself for time spent on sewing and knitting with a hand-print sticker to make sure I balanced work and play.
It sounds silly, but it worked like a charm. Tasks I normally avoided or complained about got done promptly, and putting the sticker on the calendar made me smile. I would eagerly look for more things to do, ways to get more stickers on my calendar. When I was having a bad day, I could look at the calendar and see how many times I had succeeded through the week. It helped me be more gentle with myself and to accept that not every day was going to be as productive as I would like.
Best of all, these tiny little non-food treats did wonders for my attitude. My calendar covered with stickers inspired me to do more.
Which brings me back to the house. Having it clean is a reward, to be sure. I adore a clean house. But I need a little extra incentive, and since I can’t promise myself an ice cream sundae when I’m done, I think it’s time to get out my stickers.