Why Housework Is Like Weight Loss

Years ago, when I released Sweep and Smile – a six week program for figuring out and practicing your home routines – I worked hard at doing it myself along with everyone else. By the end, I had a set of routines I knew worked for me – if only I did them. 

Isn’t knowing what to do and when the biggest challenge? Isn’t it the hardest part?

No. It isn’t. Doing it is the hardest part. Doing it consistently is crazy hard.

A few years ago I also buckled down and over eight months lost 13 pounds. I figured out what worked for me, and I did it. I said “no” to myself. I pushed myself with exercise. I drank lots of water. I saw progress. I was able to move down my pants size and I quickly got rid of the bigger pants (a “burn the ships” tactic).

I started feeling pretty good about it. And then my weight loss stopped, a few pounds came back, and there I was, stuck about halfway to my goal. I’m still there, and not because I haven’t tried to jump back on the weight loss bandwagon – many, many times.

I could give myself credit that I have figured out how to maintain my weight. But it doesn’t feel like credit when you are trying to lose and it turns out that’s just keeping you where you are. It doesn’t seem like an achievement to learn that what you thought was the weight loss plan is actually the treading water plan. 

And it’s the same with housework. 

Just like with weight loss, housework takes consistency. It takes regular every day effort. Establishing a new normal that is better than the previous one is our goal. It's making progress, then getting used to that progress so that it's easy to maintain it.

Keeping those routines consistently is so hard because I’m used to cleaning a dirty bathroom. I’m used to tidying my bedroom after it’s hard to navigate because of the piles. I’m used to not vacuuming – at all. Give me a few weeks of routine success, and I start to feel pretty good about things.

The bathrooms aren’t really dirty, my room is tidy, and the floors are getting regularly addressed. So, then I skip a day, because it doesn’t really make a difference – just like having candy one afternoon and a second helping at dinner won’t make a difference. 

If it really was just a day, that’d be true.

But it never is. I tell myself it’s just once, but one day becomes one week and the slow slide begins until we’re back in “comfortable” land: where the bathrooms just have a low layer of gunk and stuff, where the bedroom has plenty of piles, and where the kitchen has seemingly permanent collections of dirty dishes on the counter even after the dishes are done. That’s my natural maintenance level, my home plateau, just like my weight plateau.

What I want is to reach a different plateau – both in my weight and in my home. 

I could take a quick-fix, quick-loss plan and eat no carbs and take up running and make myself a cranky nuisance to my family, but I wouldn’t keep it up and the weight I’d lose would come back quickly. 

I could go on a home-cleaning whirlwind and clean, clean, clean, tackling every corner that bothers me so that I have a clean slate, the perfect starting point for my routines. Again, that would make me a cranky nuisance to my family and the effect is short lived. I wouldn’t be able to maintain it for long.

Instead, I need a “lifestyle change.” That’s what all the weight loss gurus say. It’s so obnoxious because it’s true. 

I need to let treats be rare and not daily needs (including treat-like coffee). In the same way, I need to accept that the cleaning routines, which don’t take that much time, aren’t something I get a vacation from every other day. 

I need to be intentional about getting exercise, both cardio and resistance. I’m not a runner and don’t want to be a runner, so I need to find ways to make exercise fit my style and my day, not try to force myself into the mold of someone else’s fitness plan in order to get a quick payoff.

In the same way, I don’t need a perfectly clean and magazine-worthy home, and I can’t force myself into someone else’s home cleaning checklist which I always think is overboard. However, I do need to have some extra time above and beyond the laundry, dishes, and morning and evening routines to keep on top of the inevitable entropy and creep of dirt and grime and clutter. 

I need to be not just content, but happy – rejoicing, even – at slow but steady progress. A pound or two a month that continues as a trend and stays off gets me farther in a year than a series of quick drops and back-up-again trends.

In the same way, when I stick with the routines, slowly the normal state of the house improves. There’s no spectacular ta-da moment of sparkling clean, but there’s an ever-improving normality. 

I need to not expect a weight drop every day or even every week, but I do need to monitor my weight to prevent self-delusion about what’s actually happening and how well I’m actually following the plan.

I weight myself every day so that I know my own fluctuations and so that I don’t let myself forget and let things slide. In the same way, I need to have my routines on my planner as boxes to check and not let myself drift into not tracking, which means ignoring what I am actually doing.

I too often tell myself my home routines are habits, but actually I am intentionally unaware of just how inconsistent I’m being, just how much I’m slacking. Tracking is helpful. Tracking keeps me honest – just like my Fitbit keeps me honest about my actual level of activity.

When I’ve maintained a ten pound loss for over a year, I have a new normal. If my weight does creep up beyond the plateau point, it feels icky and uncomfortable and I can quickly adjust and get it back to the set point. 

It’s the same with the house. The first round of Sweep and Smile allowed me to create a new normal. It’s as if I dropped 15 pounds in that six weeks and then, when it was all over, gained 5 back. I feel discouraged because of the 5, but there’s not only the fact that the 10 has stayed off, there’s also the fact that I know what plan works to keep that standard improving, to keep up that new normal.

But the new state of things has to stick around awhile before it’s normal. The plateaus actually aren’t so bad after all. Plateauing is establishing a new set point, a new normal, that is comfortable and easy to return to. On the one hand, it makes further progress difficult because all our instincts are pulling us back to normal. On the other hand, it’s better than it was, and we need to acknowledge that. 

It will take extra work and energy to break through to a new plateau. It will feel uncomfortable and take a lot of work – every day – to find where that next plateau will be. But reaching a plateau is our goal.

Establishing a new normal that is better than the previous one is our goal. Our goal isn’t perfection or finishing. It’s making progress, then getting used to that progress so that it’s easy to maintain it.

On February 25, 2022, Simply Convivial Continuing Education will work through Sweep and Smile together again, and this time around I will be digging in again with as much attention and gusto as the first time. Instead of seeing my routines as the dull tasks I need to grit my teeth and return to again, I need to practice them as a method for hitting a new plateau.

I’d love to have you join us. My promise with Sweep and Smile is that if your husband doesn’t notice a difference by the end of the course, I’ll refund your money.

  • Get gospel-focused advice and encouragement.
  • Level up your plans and progress, one step at a time.
  • Find accountability with likeminded women without any social media drama.
  • Experience the homemaking mentoring you’ve always wanted.
The direction & accountability homemakers need to make noticeable progress in their home management skills.

just $19/month
(or save with a quarterly or annual plan)

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