A New Way to Look At Old Chores

Life is full of repetition. The activities we repeat day after day or week after week we call “chores,” and we generally look forward to them with all the joy of a child who really wants to spend the day at Disneyland but gets to sit at his desk at school instead. Chores tend to be put off as long as possible, performed begrudgingly, even foisted off on others when possible. Single people don’t get that opportunity, so we focus on putting chores off and feeling crabby about doing them.

Recently, a friend suggested a new way to look at chores that I have really come to like. He said, think of doing chores as being kind to your future self. Consider that you are doing something now to save your future self the trouble of doing it later.

I understood this immediately because I have always cleaned my house before traveling out of town. I do that because I love walking into a clean, neat house when I come home tired from travel. I also dispose of any food that would go bad while I’m away, to prevent stinky refrigerator syndrome. And I make sure that I have enough non-perishable items in the kitchen to feed myself at least one meal in case I come home hungry. I never thought of these pre-trip preparations as being kind to my future self, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

I’ve discovered that there are lots of ways to be kind to my future self every day. Soaking pots and pans as soon as I remove the food from them means I won’t have hard scrubbing to do later. Loading the dishwasher and doing a quick wipe-down of the counters every night means I walk into a clean, welcoming kitchen every morning.

Sorting the mail by the recycling bin means I won’t have piles of paper to sort through later. Returning voice mail messages as soon as I receive them is hard for a person with telephobia, but I know my future self will be grateful not to have a backlog of calls that need to be returned, and with increasing urgency as time goes by.

If your future self would enjoy climbing into a well-made bed with smooth sheets at night instead of spending a few irritated minutes straightening out the rumpled ball of covers that was there in the morning, take the two necessary minutes to make the bed after you get up. Think how pleased and grateful your future self will be!

When you are a single person, there is no one else in your household to surprise you with a clean kitchen, paid bills, trash taken out, or a drawer organized. There’s also no one to complain about the piles of unsorted mail, the sink full of dirty dishes, or the dusty furniture. It’s easy to put chores off until they absolutely must be done. And by that time they are so unpleasant and take so long that your suspicion that these are things to avoid as long as possible is confirmed … and so the cycle continues.

I have made two discoveries about chores since I started looking at them in the new be kind to your future self way. One is what a very short time most chores take when they haven’t been allowed to build up — generally under five minutes, often far less than that. The other is a small but significant attitude change. If I am focused on the happy self who will be walking into the clean kitchen in the morning, I don’t feel so grumbly about doing the cleaning the night before.

Every morning, I make myself a drink with hot water and half a squeezed lemon. It takes feels-like-forever-probably-30-seconds to pick all the seeds out of the lemon half before I squeeze it into my cup. This is a task I do not enjoy, but it keeps me from having to pick every seed out of the hot water. This morning, I was getting ready to put the extra lemon half away for tomorrow when it suddenly occurred to me to remove the seeds from that half, too. Thirty more seconds and I put a seedless lemon half into the refrigerator. Such a small thing, such a small investment of time, to guarantee my future self a smile tomorrow morning.

We all know it’s fun to be kind to others. We need to remember it also feels pleasant and rewarding to be kind to oneself.

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