In the movie Limitless (2011), the main character, Eddie Morra, accidentally takes a pill that dramatically increases his IQ to a genius level. The first thing he does is clean his apartment. Later, when this character relapses, the first thing to go is his sense of cleanliness. This struck me as something very memorable because I have long suspected a correlation between one’s level of cleanliness and happiness.
Connection Between Cleanliness and Happiness
The connection between cleanliness and happiness might not be immediately obvious, but our sense of cleanliness corresponds to our personal level of organization, which in turn leads us to achieve more, whether it be at home or work. This increased achievement ultimately leads to more happiness.
Similarly, being clean is a positive habit that contributes to a virtuous cycle of happiness, meaning that the more “right” habits we engage in (e.g., being clean, productive, healthy, and helpful), the more “right” habits we want to engage in, and the more “wrong” habits we want to avoid.
Similarly, being clean is a positive habit that contributes to a virtuous cycle of happiness. When we engage in “right” habits such as being clean, productive, healthy, and helpful, we are more motivated to continue engaging in these positive or “right” habits, and the more “wrong” habits we want to avoid.
On the other hand, when we engage in “wrong” habits such as being dirty, procrastinating, and eating unhealthy, we become more inclined to continue engaging in these habits. We start to cut corners and become less motivated to complete tasks properly. This leads to lower results, a lower quality of life, and ultimately less happiness in the long-term. I call this tendency the vicious cycle of unhappiness.
Cleanliness is Like Wine – It Takes Time
To be clean, all we really need to do is invest time into cleaning. And even if we don’t know the correct methods of cleaning, there is nothing fundamentally difficult about it. With enough time and practice, we will learn the proper method or technique.
Ultimately, the main difference between clean and messy individuals is the amount of time spent on cleaning. Clean people allocate more time to cleaning, while messy people hardly spend any time on it. Therefore, as long as we commit to doing a little bit every day, we will be golden.
The Five Steps to Being Clean
I created a five-step approach to being clean after trying to explain cleaning to one of my former flatmates who was a slob (there is always one, isn’t there?). These five steps are:
1) Clean after yourself
2) Clean after others
3) Help others
4) Know your assigned chores
5) Do something extra
1 + 2) Clean after yourself & after others – I guess the first two points are pretty self-explanatory, as we need to do our own chores first but also clean up a bit after everyone else. This is smart because sometimes we forget to clean something after ourselves, so someone else ends up picking up after us. Moreover, I’m sure you have encountered the forgotten spoon phenomenon, which is a spoon that no one knows who used or where it came from. This means that sometimes, even the most organized people leave something behind, and someone else has to clean up after them.
In this way, if everyone exclusively cleans after themselves, there will always be something else that is left behind. That’s why we all need to do a bit extra, even if it means cleaning up after someone else. And if everyone does this, it will contribute to a great cleaning dynamic!
3) Help others – Similarly, some tasks are just too big and difficult, which is why helping others is a great way to make cleaning easier and more enjoyable for everyone. Just check with your friends, family, or coworkers on a regular basis if they need help, and everyone will be happy that you exist.
4) Know your assigned chores – Another smart habit is to assign chores. These are specific tasks that people have to do on a regular basis, so it’s helpful to know who is responsible for each task. For example, someone needs to wash the kitchen, clean the floors, and take out the garbage. Hopefully, the assigned chores are fair, as otherwise this can lead to fighting and resentment.
Here, we should remember a simple guideline that I teach at my happiness at work seminar:
If something consistently isn’t getting done, it is because no one was assigned to do it.
Indeed, we may think that person A or B should do a certain task, but if they don’t do it, it is either because they don’t know that they have to do it or because they are already too busy doing other stuff. To fix this, we shouldn’t come screaming at a person who we believe is at fault, but make sure they clearly understand which chore is assigned to them. Afterward, if something still isn’t getting done, you can talk to the assigned person about why this isn’t happening. At times, you may even find that it isn’t completely their fault as they already have so much on their plate. In that case, either someone else has to do this task, or you need to find another way to organize yourselves.
In a corporate setting, for example, management often gives all sorts of responsibilities to their employees, some of which are and aren’t very crucial to the corporate work, but management wants to do it all anyway. When something isn’t getting done unavoidably, the company needs to consider whether their employees are just bad, in which case they might want to think about replacing them, or they have poor time management skills, in which case management needs to revisit the priorities of their employees, or maybe they simply never found time to do a certain task. In the latter case, the company either needs to accept that this task will never get done or hire someone else who can do that task.
5) Do something extra – Lastly, I regularly notice that people forget to clean their walls. Everything else may be spotless, but people just don’t think of walls as something that requires cleaning. As such, several years go by and the walls become covered with whatever substances accumulate over the years. People may not even notice the dirt because the accumulation happens so gradually.
In this way, it is helpful for people to take initiative and think outside of their assigned chores. What else can we do? Like dirty walls, there are always a few things that we can find, and all of these tasks are equally important.
Loving Our Chores
Personally, I don’t think we need to go out of our way to be cleaner, as I find cleaning to be a form of meditation, especially when I’m mentally but not physically tired. This way, I don’t waste precious moments of my productivity, and I do everything in appropriate time, cleaning when I would otherwise be procrastinating.
In this way, happiness is a journey, not a destination. Even when we are doing something we may not necessarily want to do, it doesn’t mean that it is all bad. There are plenty of positive things we may want to do, but to do them, we first need to do a few things that are less pleasant. For example, we may want to have a great body, but to have it, we first need to work out and eat healthily, which might not be as pleasant, especially considering the alternative like procrastination or eating whatever we want to eat without restrictions.
However, if we want to get a positive result, we might as well learn to enjoy the process of doing the less pleasant task, knowing that they will accumulate into something positive. In this way, we need to start loving our chores, as the more of them we do, the more time we will find doing things that we actually want to do.
On the other hand, most people complain about their chores, stating how the world is unfair to them, and they have to do all these tasks that they don’t want to do. They spend so much time complaining and feeling bad for themselves that they never get to do anything of substance. Indeed, I know plenty of people who simply never do what they need to do because “it’s hard,” and they don’t want anything less than rainbows and butterflies.
Overall, cleaning might not be something interesting, urgent, or important. However, if we leave it undone for a long time, a simple chore can transform into a full-blown project. Moreover, being clean is one of the first and most fundamental things in our lives, a foundation for everything else, really. Eddie Morra knew it in “Limitless,” and we can also learn from his genius by simply being clean.