I swear some of my best ideas happen when I’m hunched over the toilet bowl with a scrubber. Maybe it’s because I subconsciously want to be in another place? I’ve thought about this phenomenon (while I’m cleaning) and wondered why for me, cleaning and creative epiphanies seem to always go together.
So I did a bit of research (aka: I googled it).
Why Cleaning Aids Creativity
Turns out, I’m not alone! According to science, creativity and menial housework go hand in hand.
Citing work from researchers at University of California, Davis, Kate Thorne at Brit + Co explains that doing chores you don’t have to think about gives your brain freedom to think creatively:
“It all comes down to brain structure and a lot of neurological processes. Essentially, when you’re vacuuming or wiping down counters, the part of your brain responsible for muscle memory is ignoring the part of your brain responsible for creative thinking, allowing it to do its own thing (like pondering that next big creative breakthrough!). When our hands are distracting our brain, this “autopilot” function actually boosts levels of thinking and creative reasoning.”
What Counts as Menial
In all of my online research, I found that generally, tasks that involve human interaction (think scrolling through Instagram or Facebook) aren’t allowing you to be on autopilot. It’s the tasks that you do over and over again that make your body move (think folding laundry or doing dishes) that really bring on the creative thoughts.
Alina Vrabie author at SandGlaz explains that a good way to gauge if the task you’re working on is menial (allowing you to go on autopilot) is if it can be “categorized as done/not-done rather than done-well/not-done-well. ‘Sew ten sweaters’ can become menial. ‘Design ten sweaters’ cannot, the designing of a sweater contains elements of quality which will require creative thought processes and constructive reasoning.”
How to Get All of Those Epiphanies Down
So now that we know why those creative juices flow during our menial tasks. The real trick is to get those fleeting “Eureka!” thoughts down. I’ve figured out a few ways to record mine (but I’m always open to new ones, so please share!).
I used to carry around a 3×5 card and a pen but those cards always seemed to resurface as a wad of nothing in the back pocket of my newly washed jeans (#mombrain). Now I just record myself using the voice memo app on my phone. When my hands are wet or gross, I usually just tell my best friend Alexa to add it to my to-do list. The to-do list automatically goes onto the Alexa app on my phone so I have access to those thoughts whenever I need them.
So there you have it. Mindless, monotonous housework isn’t as bad as you think (although I will always be the last one to sign up for bathroom duty). Just one more reason motherhood and creativity are a match made in Heaven. Now go and clean something! 😉