Cleanliness is next to godliness or so they say*. Which is strange, because gods are not exactly renowned for slacking off. Cleaning (and it’s twin sister, organising) is the classic move for the professional procrastinator. It has all the things a procrastinator could need: 1) ease of access, 2) feelings of accomplishment and 3) a renewable resource for putting off what you should really be doing.
Picture this. It’s Saturday morning, you’ve had your coffee and you’re ready to sit down at the laptop and bash out a few hundred words of the book before lunch. Although you’ve had breakfast, your stomach calls out to you “I’m hungry. I’d like a snack please. I think you should check the fridge and get me something. I won’t leave you alone until you do.”
You try to plead with your stomach that it’s not long till lunchtime and that if it lets you get on with your work you’ll reward it with some cookies. However, the good lady bellyton is having none of it and doesn’t understand why she should be punished because you have other things on your mind. So, you trot over to the fridge and look for something that will pacify her.
Peering inside, you tut tut at how messy the entire edifice has become. A 6ft icy tower of moulding leftovers and dried out condiments that only served to make food taste worse. You can’t possibly make a snack until this mess is cleared up. You’re amazed you haven’t contracted salmonella already. How have you not noticed the way in which you’ve been living up till now. No no no, this will never do.
Three hours later, you’re elbow deep in J-cloths and Mr Muscle, admiring your sparkling and decidedly empty fridge. Exhausted and starving, you abandon the writing for the day and head out to lunch.
For the uninitiated, cleaning might not seem like procrastination at all. It’s a job that needs doing. It can take a lot of effort and you feel pretty good about yourself when it’s done. However, the skilled procrastinator knows that they can do almost anything, so long as it’s not the top priority for the day. Tell a procrastinator at 9am they need to have that essay in by 5pm and they will spend the morning tidying their desktop. The essay will begin, only after the panic monster arrives after lunch.
Which brings me to another point. There is a special type of “cleaning procrastination” much loved by writers and bloggers – Organising the bookshelves. Hours of fun can be spent surrounding ourselves with towers of books as we try to put them in their correct place – the ‘charity shop’ tower, the ‘give to friends’ tower, the ’TBR’ tower, and so on. Olympian level procrastinators take this a step further adding post-it notes, journals and even spreadsheets into the mix. Personally, I love a good organising sesh. Clearing out a wardrobe can foster a sense of calm that John Kabat-Zinn would be proud of.
Of course problems arise when the cleaning is finally done (is it ever?) or if – horror of horrors – cleaning is in fact your priority for the day and can no longer be the source of your procrastination.
If this is the case, one can turn to cleaning’s first cousin and the subject of part 3 in this series – Cooking.
For part 1 in the How to Procrastinate Series – click here.
* Fun fact. Although versions of the phrase date back to days of yore, the version we use in the English speaking world is attributed to Francis Bacon and, the earliest recorded use of the phrase dates back to the 1770’s in a sermon by the theologian John Wesley.