What’s your personality type? Whether you’re a fan of Myers Briggs, Enneagram, or Zodiac, understanding the inner workings of your mind and behavior—not just who you are, but why—can help you grow in just about every area of your life. (Plus, it’s fun to have an excuse for your extremely niche interests or annoying tendencies.)
Understandably, during a global pandemic, you may discover some new things about yourself: Spending more time at home has a way of surfacing new mindsets and habits, for better or for worse. Take cleaning, for example: Now that you’re hanging out inside the walls of your home more than ever before, you might find yourself newly obsessed with decluttering. Or, the opposite may be true. Maybe without the framework of your normal routine, you can’t seem to muster up the motivation to get things done like you used to.
In any case, identifying your quarantine cleaning personality can help you become more efficient—and also to look out for growth opportunities.
Curious where you land on the spectrum? We identified five quarantine cleaning personalities, then asked psychologists and cleaning experts to explain the behaviors of each type, including tips that can help you harness your energy or triggers to look out for to avoid burnout.
1. The Stress Cleaner
Maybe quarantine life has you bored. Maybe you’re looking for a constructive distraction to keep your mind off, uh, the state of things. Maybe your therapist told you to hunker down and focus on the things you *can* control, which happens to include the state of your kitchen floors. Either way, you’re channeling all that pent-up, anxious energy into cleaning and organizing your space—and you’re not just cleaning more; you’re cleaning better.
Likely, you’re looking for calm amidst chaos. New York-based Psychologist Marianna Strongin, co-founder of Strong In Therapy, says giving your hands something to do can be an effective way to keep anxious thoughts at bay. Luckily, cleaning is usually a productive way to exert control: Strongin says creating an environment you like living in can lend a much-needed sense of mastery to quarantine minutia.
“Frantically cleaning can help people get out of their own anxious thoughts while also doing something productive that will benefit how they live for the next period of time,” Strongin says.
What might help:
Remember: The goal of stress cleaning is to reduce stress, not cause it. Embracing the frantic cleaner inside you? Stephanie Sisco, Home Director at Real Simple, recommends simplifying the logistics to keep the process as stress-relieving as possible.
“Take some of the hurdles of a big clean out of the process by setting up cleaning stations in the rooms where you do the most frequent deep cleans,” she says. “For example, the bathroom could have its own cleaning caddy in it so you don’t have to waste time gathering supplies elsewhere.”
Saving a few minutes each day might not seem noteworthy, but it’ll add up fast. “You may end up with 20 extra minutes in your week, which will help you to find a little extra time in each day,” Sisco. “As a result, you’ll be less stressed, and it’s a good cycle.”
What to look out for:
While stress cleaning can be comforting and productive, Strongin there’s a point when you may be avoiding your feelings or other real-life situations. Pay attention to how much of your energy you spend on cleaning or organizing, and how much you’re spending processing your thoughts and emotions. If you feel like you need more authentic connection with yourself (or others, in a physically distanced way), Strongin recommends mindfulness or meditation as a daily practice. “Resist the urge to constantly be frantically doing something, and try to take control and sit with your feelings a little more or a little longer,” she says.
And if your stress cleaning is more about germ-removal than anything else, take a deep breath and consider the facts. Cleaning expert Donna Smallin Kuper says rather than obsessively disinfecting, it’s more important to focus on targeted hygiene, regularly cleaning high-contact areas (and, of course, disinfecting when someone in your home is or was sick). And, of course, follow CDC guidelines for hygiene, like wearing a mask and washing your hands.
“The best way to protect your home is immediately going to the sink and washing your hands when you walk in the door,” she says. “Maybe you want to clean your high-touch areas a little more, but if you’re washing your hands and follow CDC recommendations, your home should be your safe haven.”
2. The “I Need Space” Cleaner
Like the Stress Cleaner, you’re finding yourself cleaning your space more or to a higher standard than pre-quarantine. (Don’t forget those nooks and crannies!) But your motivation for spending all weekend re-organizing your pantry isn’t to stave off stress—at least not by distracting yourself from anxious thoughts. Instead, now that you’re home more than you’ve ever been before, you’re focused on creating a serene space to live, work, and play. Simply put, you need space.
For one thing, you’ve accepted the changes brought on by the pandemic, including that you might be home for a while—which Strongin says is a healthy perspective. Rather than ignoring or attempting to escape a stressful situation, you’re embracing it and making the most of it.
“These are people who are adapting to their environment and creating one that feels more in control and less chaotic,” she says. “You’re accepting that you’re home, and that there are things you can do to make your home better.”
What might help:
Working from home? By now, you’ve probably realized an orderly space can help you focus. But Sisco says cleaning or organizing to focus can be counterproductive. Instead of wasting an entire Tuesday creating a work- (or relaxation-) conducive space, break up your chores.
“Maybe it’s a matter of giving yourself thirty minutes in the morning to tidy everything up, then putting everything in a laundry basket so the visual clutter is gone,” she says. “Then, come back thirty minutes after the work day for some elbow grease and scrubbing, which will help you start your next day with a clean slate.”
To avoid burning out on cleaning (which will ruin your focus!), Smallin Kuper recommends a targeted approach focused on decluttering rooms where you either work or relax. “Make a list of these hot spots in your home, then focus on daily upkeep of these areas,” she says. “For example, in your office, you can remove anything distracting from your desk, only leaving things out that you use every single day.”
What to look out for:
Even if you’re devoting more time and energy than usual to an orderly, aesthetically-pleasing space, it’s easy to neglect the fruits of your labor—especially if you’re going from one room to another. Strongin says it’s more important than you think to actually take time to enjoy the rooms you’re working so hard to maintain.
“I’d tell this person to really relish in the mastery of their work so they can really experience the positive feelings that come with this type of cleaning,” she says. “If you imagine yourself before the pandemic, you’d be so proud of yourself for spending a weekend organizing. So it’s really important you give yourself the time and the space to feel that pride.”
3. The “Can’t Even” Cleaner
Glued to the couch without any motivation to clean? No spare minutes to invest in wiping down your ovenwhen you’re trying to juggle remote work with parenting little kids? Just straight up tired? If you’re noticing yourself becoming more lax toward all things cleaning due to lack of motivation or energy, you might be a “can’t even” cleaner.
You have a lot going on right now. Even if you don’t necessarily feelstressed, your brain has a lot more tabs open than usual, which means you may not have the energy (or time) to clean the way you once did. Strongin says this is totally normal. “A lot of people are experiencing hopelessness right now—this sensation of giving up or not trying as hard, which may result in this urge not to get up off the couch to do things like cleaning,” she says.
What might help:
First of all: Be kind to yourself. You’re living through something really hard. Instead of focusing on all the things you’re not doing, Strongin suggests trying to think about a few things you could do to take care of yourself so you can truly relax.
Is cleaning up a bit one of those things? Great! You might find that actually doing the thing you’ve been dreading will jumpstart your motivation and add a bit of joy to your life. “If you’re not experiencing much joy right now, it might be time to activate your mind and body,” says Strongin. “By doing a small chore each day, you can begin to feel masterful and skillful, which will create more positive feelings.”
The key, Sisco says, is to start small. Focus on chores that feel quick and doable, and if you have housemates or family, don’t hesitate to ask them to help. “Create a running list of tasks that will take at maximum 10 minutes, and anytime you find yourself with spare time, go to the list and check one thing off,” she says. “It’s satisfying to check something off a list, and you won’t have this looming feeling that you’re never getting anything done.”
What to look out for:
It’s normal to feel a little tired or unmotivated during something as life-altering as a pandemic. But Strongin says lack of interest in your usual activities could be an early sign of depression. If your mood continues to decline for more than a week, you’re losing motivation or interest in other areas of life, or if you’re having hopeless, suicidal thoughts, you could be experiencing depression—and Strongin says it’s important to contact a therapist or doctor for support.
If you or someone you love is dealing with depression and needs help, you can call the NAMIHelpline at 800-950-NAMI. Or in a crisis, text “NAMI” to 741741.
4. The People Pleaser Cleaner
For you, there’s nothing that motivates decluttering and deep cleaning more than having people over. Maybe your pre-pandemic cleaning pattern went like this: don’t clean… don’t clean… don’t clean… host a gathering… then spend the whole day leading up to the gathering cleaning up as an act of hospitality. With social distancing in full effect, though, the most important trigger for your cleaning routine is probably gone—which means you might be living in a state of disarray.
The People Pleaser’s primary motivation for cleaning isn’t self care or serenity, but hospitality. This person is so outwardly focused that they typically don’t make time for, or even see, their own needs. During a pandemic, when you’re not readily able to extend hospitality the way you used to, you might be feeling disconnected from your normal others-first routine and, as a result, from yourself.
What might help:
Cleaning to delight other people is a wonderful motivation, and it’s a sign you’re hospitable! But keep in mind that to take care of others, you’ve got to take care of yourself first. Think of cleaning as self-hospitality, which will ultimately rev you up to do kind (and physically distanced) things for others like you’re wired to.
Rather than leaving everything until it piles up, Strongin says a “clean as you go” approach might work well. If you don’t have to spend all day Saturday scrubbing down your entire kitchen, you’ll have more time to do the things you actually want to do. “For example, you can wipe sauce off the stove right away rather than waiting until it’s hardened and harder to clean,” she says. “Then your space will appear cleaner, and you’re saving time since you won’t have to do the big, deep cleans as often.”
To add a touch of fun experience, Sisco recommends using cleaning products and tools that spark joy. Pick an all-purpose spray that smells amazing, or choose a bright pink scrub brush over the white alternative. That way, you have something to look forward to, even if the cleaning won’t result in a dinner party or backyard BBQ.
What to look out for:
If your others-centered cleaning habits are a sign of neglecting self care in other areas of your life, you might have an opportunity to address whether you’re spending enough time on yourself. “A lot of times when we make decisions based on other people, it’s like putting a Band-Aid on something, so it’s really important to ask yourself, ‘does this work for me?’” Strongin says. “If you created a clean environment and beautiful dinner for your friends, what would it be like to do that for yourself?”
5. The Tight Quarters Cleaner
In the hustle and bustle of everyday, non-pandemic life, you maybe didn’t feel so passionately about the toilet seat being left up or the dishes piled up in the sink. (Or maybe, back then, these irritating things just weren’t happening so much.) Either way, now that everybody’s under the same roof for the indefinite future, you’re feeling the strain of a crowded house that won’t clean itself—and you’re more than likely taking care of it yourself.
Simply put, now that you’re with your family or roommates on a near constant basis, you’re noticing these annoying (read: torturous) idiosyncrasies. “Many people are having to live in small spaces with others right now, and the ways they live and order their lives—including cleaning styles and preferences—are being tested,” says Strongin.
Whether your beef is about differences in disinfecting habits or clutter in shared spaces, your relationships could take a toll if you don’t deal with the rising tension.
What might help:
Have a talk. “It might feel awkward in the beginning, but it’s worth those two minutes to talk about what’s happening and why it’s grating on you,” says Sisco.
Once you address these labor imbalances in the home, and let your roomies or relatives know why they’re important to you (Strongin recommends using “I” statements!), sit down with everyone to create a roommate chore chart. It might sound childish or demanding, but it’s important to be on the same page about expectations so no one feels disrespected or uncomfortable. If you have kids, it’s a great opportunity to teach responsibility!
To make sure chores are fairly broken up, Smallin Kuper suggests allowing each person to choose a daily or weekly chore they don’t mind doing. Then, alternate less-fun jobs like scrubbing the toilet.
What to look out for:
Yes, it’s important everyone in the home does their part to keep a tidy environment. But it’s also good to keep an eye on your own attitude and remember that someone’s lack of effort in cleaning might not be malicious. If your kids or spouse don’t know how to do the laundry or dishes the way you do it, teach them. And since non-cleaning can be an early sign of depression, peek beneath the surface of why your roommates or family members aren’t contributing.
It may not be fun to have these conversations, but remember, they’re an investment in your home and your relationships with the people you live with.
Photo: Getty Images