What your personality type has to do with getting your house work done

April 23 | Guest post by Michelle
Timer de Cozinha em forma de Tomate © by mlpeixoto, used under Creative Commons license.
I can see my 10-year-old self painstakingly organizing my desk in my bedroom, taking everything out, putting my stories in folders, organizing my pens, markers, stickers, and notebooks meticulously, and then announcing I was done cleaning. Nothing else was organized. The other play things were still strewn about the room. There were what my scientist father called "particles" still all over the floor — dust balls, tiny pieces of paper, scraps of whatever. But I didn't really even notice these things. What was important to me was clean, and the rest was "clean enough." As you can imagine, this caused quite a bit of strife for my parents and me.

According to the Myers-Briggs personality test, I am an INFP, often called the "dreamer." This means that I possess a deep inner world concerned with emotions and concepts of "right and wrong," that I have an often paralyzing sense of perfectionism, and a damn fine set of blinders. As this relates to chores, if I have no idea where to put one thing in the pile of clutter in the bedroom, I won't touch the rest of the pile either. As for the blinders, certain things must be maintained (like a project, or perhaps my journal) according to my standards, but the rest of the house might be complete disarray. And there are times when I don't even notice the chaos.

I always just thought I was weird, but then when I started reading about my Myers-Briggs personality type, things started to make sense to me.

I had to overcome these two obstacles, the perfectionism and the blinders, if I was ever going to hope for a clean(ish) house. Easier said than done, of course, but there are a few tools that I use to keep things somewhat orderly.

Set the timer

The first tool is the timer. I set it and just start going. At first this seemed silly to me, because there was NO WAY that I was going to get the room clean in 15 minutes, so why bother? To some other personality types, this type of thinking is RIDICULOUS. Once I sat down and thought about my own processes, it was RIDICULOUS to me, too. But I had to train myself to think that way consistently. So now, if I have an hour to spare (har har), I can spend 10 minutes in 6 different rooms, or 15 minutes in 4 different rooms, whatever. And things get "clean enough for now."

Follow the schedule

I also set a schedule for cleaning, where each day there's an area of the house that I'm (supposed) to clean. My list is written on a scrap piece of paper with blue crayon. Mondays are reserved for what we call the "blue room," Tuesdays are for the dining room, Wednesdays are for the living room, Thursday is for the bedrooms, and Friday is for the bathrooms. The rest of the house is in my blinders! And instead of feeling overwhelmed by the inevitable disaster left behind the tornado that is my toddler, I am able to step outside the old thought processes and start over.

This system doesn't work perfectly, but it's a big improvement for me! It has been freeing, learning that my old thought patterns don't have to continue and that I can change them. This is helping with my house-cleaning habits AND other parts of my life. For instance, being all-consumed with what's in my head doesn't actually build relationships with others, and learning to deal with others' senses of right and wrong is healthy for my own sense of ethics. Does everything get done exactly how I want? No. But it gets done enough for now.

  1. Thank you! You described me to a tee and that way of "cleaning" drives my husband bonkers haha. I'm printing this article out and sticking it up on my fridge. My husband thanks you too, I know ;)

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  2. When I first took the MBTI, I had to smile because all of the sudden I realized I wasn't 100% crazy! I'm an INTJ and female, so if you split things by gender, I believe INTJ female is the most or second rarest category, so sometimes I really did feel I was 'messed up'.

    But I'm with you, I've been working on getting more organized with respect to cleaning. It's been difficult because I grew up in a really clean house and while I did a lot of chores, I was never responsible really. The timer thing works wonders and that's something I bring from my childhood. Every Sunday night everyone had to clean for a half hour, and it's amazing what you can get done.

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    • Just wanted to say that I'm an INTJ female, too, and I felt that same sense of relief in finally understanding why I thought differently than those around me!

      Love the timer and schedule tips…cleaning is a struggle, especially the feeling of it not being good enough.

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      • I'm a female INTJ too. When we took the test, I was the only INTJ in the class. It does feel amazing to realize something isn't "wrong".

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          • I'm a female INTJ as well! Good grief, we all seem to be congregating here, it's amazing and very cool.

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        • I just took the test for the first time and I too am an INTJ. But it didn't say anything about gender. Why is it "rare" for females?

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          • I think it's rare because INTJ's are notoriously not "people people" – almost every description says that relationships are INTJ's personal Achilles heel. Well, the stereotype is that females are good at relationships. Also, just a lot of the descriptions don't describe a traditional stereotypical female.

            Here are some estimated statistics: http://www.capt.org/mbti-assessment/estimated-frequencies.htm and it appears that INTJ and INTP are the least common for females (it's interesting to note that the traditional jobs for those groups are scientists, engineers, mathematicians, etc.) while INFJ and ENFJ are the least common for males.

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        • I was the only INTJ in my class too- male or female! That was a decade ago- I wonder if it changes?

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    • Interesting…another female INTJ here!The timer idea is brilliant – I think I'll definately be running with that one and seeing how much of an impact it has!

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      • Here's another INTJ female! Though I am only a T over an F by a narrow margin.

        Shout-out to my INTJ-sistahs! :D

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    • Not to join in the thread derailment too much, but yay – also female INTJ! Had no idea it was rare, actually.

      As for how my personality impacts on cleaning… Perfectionism is a problem. Crazy schedules no one else can live up to are a problem. Not letting anyone else's cleaning be "good enough for now" is a problem. Definitely some stuff I need to work through, since it's caused problems with past roommates…

      Also, I hate anyone else seeing me cleaning, does anyone else get that too? It makes me feel weirdly open to criticism, as though someone's going to judge my cleaning ability. But then I also get annoyed if no one notices, le sigh. As a result, my boyfriend accuses me of stealth cleaning…

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      • I battle with the "no one can see me cleaning" problem!! My mother criticized my every attempt at doing ANYTHING, and my future husband is a critical person as well. The bad part is though, he works from home. He is ALWAYS at HOME. So when can I clean??? I have to do crazy stuff like send him away for a weekend with the boys, or sneak in quick cleaning while he mows the lawn or when I send him out for milk (which we actually didn't need, I just HAD to mop the kitchen floor!!) As a result our house is always a MESS! No time to clean!? Even though I have time to watch tv or read a book…cause I can do that stuff while he's there, but I cannot bring myself to clean!

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      • I absolutely hate if someone else sees me cleaning. I need quiet alone time. Glad to know I'm not alone in this!

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        • I don't mind somebody see me clean, but I can't concentrate on cleaning if somebody is at home. I just can't focus. I clean much faster and much better when I am along. I guess cleaning takes so much concentration for me that it needs to be done in peace, which doesn't happen often with two small kids. I am either ENFP or INFP. By the way, I too have hard time attacking a pile of something if I don't know where to put some things in it. For that reason I have created "the everything box" where I random things. I have such box for some of the kids' toys too.

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    • Heck yes for the the INTJ females!! I'm sure I have met some (especially as I go to an engineering school) but it does seem pretty dang rare. I do find it amusing that we evidently congregate in places online though… ;)

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      • I wonder if we've taken over the thread because we stalk anywhere with a personality test in the hopes of catching a glimpse of another INTJ lady. And here we all are!

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  3. I am also an INFP. This was eye-opening, I never realized that my personality could be part of the reason for my compartmentalized messes! The blinders you mention are something I struggle with constantly, not only on housework, but on personal grooming as well: I'll focus on having clothes that match, but not notice they are full of cat hairs or are wrinkled. I'll make sure my hair looks decent, but my eyebrows are all over the place. Dust and cat hair tumbleweeds roll around my room, but it's only when someone else points them out that I see them.
    I wish I were able to see the whole picture, but for the meantime, listmaking helps me get things done. If it is written down on a list, I find it easier to follow even if it is in my blind zone.

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  4. My husband and I were *JUST* talking about this the other day! I'm an INFJ, which makes me wonder if that's why we are so similar in that we see no point in cleaning unless it is going to get totally clean. I know it's ridiculous, but I can't help but think that way. My husband is totally baffled by this.

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    • I'm also an INFJ! We are rare, apparently. I have a "work smart, not hard" philosophy to cleaning. (WHY make the bed when you are going to sleep in it a mere 14 hours later? You're just not going to convince me that's a good use of my time, lol). Yeah for INFJ! ;-)

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      • Party of INFJ's! I totally agree on the bed thing. Right now it's never made (at college, no mom to complain about it, haha). My roomie last year was ISFJ, which is close but more CLEAN EVERYTHING so she often had this sour look on my face when she saw my side of the room. XD

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      • That is exactly why I have a duvet and no fitted sheet on my bed- seems pointless to me…

        And my stuff doesn't get cleaned unless I have all day to work on it and do it right :D

        INFJ all the way.

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    • I'm also an INFJ, that never makes the bed and drives my husband crazy because I don't see the point in cleaning unless I'm cleaning everything. On the scientific side if you are allergic to dust mites it's better not to make your bed and let it air out everyday. Although I never made my bed even before I found out about the whole dust mite thing :).

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      • This is amusing because I am an INFJ and I only clean every couple of weeks, when I can visibly see that I have pulled everything back together. Not that I have piles of dirty dishes, but why should I clean my counters until I really cook something? I have also never made my bed unless I am visiting someone's lovely house & I'm being polite.

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    • I totally feel the same way. Before kids I used to clean once a week. In a few hours the house would be sparkling in every corner and I felt proud. Now with two little kids I rarely have that much time all at once.

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  5. I've heard the timer tip called "ten-minute tidy". I like the idea of devoting ten minutes each day to a different room or task. May need to find a blue crayon to create a schedule for myself… :)

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  6. Thank you for writing this! I too am an INFP and that is exactly the way my brain works when it comes to cleaning.

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    • You're welcome! I'm glad to help someone else. It's taken 5 years of really struggling with this to find a "solution" that works with my brain.

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  7. "damn fine set of blinders." indeed.
    sometimes i realize i've just been cleaning *around* things i don't know what to do with. sometimes i notice it after having been doing it for *months*.

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  8. I can not recommend these books enough: Every Child Has a Thinking Style by Lanna NaKone and Organizing For Your Brain Type by Lannaa NaKone. Get them! Read them!!!

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  9. I don't know what I am but this is exactly my problem also, so I'll try the tips. Thanks. :)

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  10. I am an ESTJ…any advice for me? Where did you find tips for your specific personality type?

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    • As a blanket suggestion to everyone, take time to go over your personality profile. Look at each point about your type and consider how that affects different aspects of your life.
      For instance, a page I read suggests that ESTJs thrive on structure and strategy, but may not consider the needs of others or may snap to judgement. How does that apply to cleaning? Make it a routine, tackling projects in an orderly fashion instead of trying to do it all at once. However, you may be cleaning to set things to suit your needs and conveniences–consider how you might make your organization more accessible to others.
      That's armchair psychiatry, though. Really just review your type and your attributes, and consider how that might apply to your own behaviors.

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      • Hmm…I definitely did run into this when my husband and I started living together. It took me awhile to realize his organizational needs are much different than mine, which is why his stuff was always all over the floor. Now that we have talked it out, he stores all of his clothes in open cubbyholes we installed in the closet and three bins on the floor- one for dirty laundry, one for clean stuff that needs to be put away (eventually he will get to it), and one for half-clean stuff that passes the sniff-test.

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    • I had to read a few personality profiles online and think about how they apply to all areas of my life. I find it helpful to go back and read over your personality type profile periodically. At different times of the year (sometimes week!) different topics are more salient to me, and I must have really been working through my inability to keep the house clean when I read through one day because it just clicked.

      I've learned about how I act in relationships that way, as well.

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  11. INT, but I split exactly down the middle on P and J.

    So either everything is organized along a strict and complicated scheme comprehensible only to me, then kept tidy with aggressive rigor (INTJ week) or I'm lying on the sofa with a spreadsheet, letting things go to hell because the system's there for me to admire but tidiness is merely one consideration among many, and I'll get to it later (INTP week). My baseboards look better when I'm a J; my hands look better when I'm a P.

    Too many P weeks in a row, and I have to completely reorganize the house in order to savor cleaning it. New system! Better system!

    You're right about the timer thing. Actually wiping stuff clean never takes as long as I believe it does.

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  12. I started laughing when I got to your Myers-Briggs personality type, because I was reading and nodding along, only to find that we are exactly the same.

    I'm an INFP and I'm finding it so hard to overcome those exact same challenges.

    I love timers as well, and need to do that more often. I've been trying to introduce room by room cleaning, but haven't had much success with that system yet.

    Thanks for writing this article for all the non-naturally organised people!

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  13. HA! I never get on with personality tests! I've just done 2 online ones – one gave me an ISTP and the other said ENTJ.

    The y/n ones are the most annoying "Often you prefer to read a book than go to a party"

    Well, that really depends on the book and on the party!

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    • I'm usually an ENFP or an INFP. I find that my answers to the questions are often deeply dependent on how I'm feeling that day. And is that any surprise? Some days I'm an introvert, some days I'm an extrovert! So some days, I'd really rather read the book, but others, I'm out to the party. Or wait, is there a nice movie playing somewhere? Can I go to that? How about dinner?

      I'm a very real post-modernist. Every individual is different and we're all unique little snowflakes. Even if there are some common threads among us, our reactions and personalities vary. So what the Myers-Briggs may be telling you is that you are a flexible person, possibly someone whose entire approach to living varies based on the situation. And that's okay!

      Anyway, I have a very real problem with a test that's like: Do you believe in absolutes? Yes, No.
      … … … BUT ASKSJGKJS!

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      • My fiance and best friend are both ENFP, and I'm INFP. In reading lots of things, we've seen that ENFPs seem to be more introverted than other extroverts, and they are both more extroverted than I am. Just thinking about the other aspects of the personality and the profile as a whole, it makes sense for an ENFP to identify with introverted traits and preferences more than other extroverted types might.

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  14. This is me. I'm an INFP too, and this is EXACTLY. WHAT. I ALWAYS. DO.

    When I was a kid, my room was a DISASTER, but you can bet all my drawing shit was organized pretty meticulously. I kept all my pencils and stuff in rainbow order, and my drawings in files by subject, and that sort of thing. Now, I'll keep a clean kitchen for a while but a messy bathroom, or a messy kitchen and a clean living room. Or my whole house will be a wreck but all the files on my computer are organized by subject, date, whatever.

    I can especially relate to this:

    "…if I have no idea where to put one thing in the pile of clutter in the bedroom, I won't touch the rest of the pile either. As for the blinders, certain things must be maintained (like a project, or perhaps my journal) according to my standards, but the rest of the house might be complete disarray. And there are times when I don't even notice the chaos."

    YEP. Ahaha. I'm trying not to laugh aloud because this is PRECISELY. ME.

    I have a ton of crap on my "catch-all" counter – unopened mail (I'm so bad), a pair of jeans I bought for my friend in New York but haven't seen her yet to give them to her, a gift bag, a sketchbook, a package of dust-cloths … and I'm PARALYZED by it. I look at it every day with mounting anxiety, but since I can't figure out what to DO with all of it, I just let it sit there and get more and more confused each time I try to pick something up to put it away. It sounds ridiculous, but it's TRUE. Even when I know where something technically goes, like the cleaning cloths.

    Ahahaha. Oh man. I'm sorry, I sound insane. Clearly I need to buy a timer. This article was a revelation!

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    • You do NOT sound insane at all. You sound like me. Ok, perhaps I, too, am insane.

      We can both go down together!

      But really, just set a timer and do it for 10 minutes. Don't worry about the end result, just put some stuff away. Then walk away. It's ok to walk away!

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  15. I am in the same boat! Same personality type. The thing I found that has helped me is a wonderful woman named Marla aka The flylady. She shares these traits and has taught me how to deal. She has the motto "You can do anything for 15 mins" so you set your timer for 15 mins and focus on one thing like dishes or laundry. Following a morning and evening routine. Her methods have saved me from CHAOS (can't have anyone over syndrome) her constant encouragment through emails and on facebook are exactly what I need. Check out flylady.net she might have some tips that will help you too.

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    • FlyLady! It's incredibly uncool, terribly designed and geared at stay-at-home moms, so you'd think because I'm single and a design snob, I'd hate it, but it has the most compassionate, gentle and realistic way of dismantling perfectionism I've ever seen. Gotta love a system that gets results AND makes you take a clear look at underlying thought structures that cause physical and emotional clutter.

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  16. I have so much trouble cleaning. I just have to be in one of those moods. I like the timer idea. Perhaps it would motivate me.

    I love that other people are taking the Myers-Briggs test. I took it years ago and became briefly obsessed with it because of how accurate it was. In the book "Please Understand Me" a chapter is devoted to each personality type giving very detailed descriptions of everything from marriage life to parenting styles.

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  17. I am an INFP. My mother is an ISTJ. She's convinced I'm going to be on "Hoarders" some day. *rolls eyes* Honestly, I'm not that bad! *looks around bedroom* I mean . . . maybe I should go buy a timer . . .

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  18. I'm an ENFJ – the "Teacher". Describes me to a T!

    Have no idea how it would affect my cleaning, though.

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  19. INTP here(love intjs though, my wonderful partner is one!). This advice really sounds like it would work for me. Currently studying for my end of year exams and using timers (20 min work, 10 min break), it's the only way I can stop my all or nothing mentality ruining my chances when I have a limited amount of time.

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  20. Ahhhh this post makes me happy and anxious at the same time!

    I'm an INFP toooo!! YAY!!!

    I really need to do the timer thing… I think it would work at least better than the whole lot of NOTHING going on right now. My poor fiance is too sweet, he should have killed me LONG ago. BUT he's an ENFP, so it's half his mess too! He's just a lot more likely to clean it! Well, he wants the kitchen clean and the dishes done, but the pile of his crap in the recliner is OK. And the rest of the house is a disaster, but he is CONSTANTLY rearranging and reorganizing his chef stuff!

    Anyway, back to ME! (Easily sidetracked? You bet!)

    – PROCRASTINATOR
    – Large messes paralyze me and I can't even begin to tackle. So, not good when that describes your whole house…
    – I'd rather wash things than put stuff away… especially since we have so much junk that has no place to go! I don't know where to put it! So, why move it?
    – Once I get cleaning, I'll do stuff… but I never get to the starting part…
    – I can't wrap my mind around the idea of cleaning for a few minutes… it's like it all has to be done at once and it's a huge project and that's scary so nothing gets done at all.
    – Nothing ever gets DONE, just partially done. If I'm actually in cleaning mode, and cleaning the kitchen counters and find something that goes in the office, I bring it in there and then find something that should be in the bedroom so I bring that in there, and then I decide to pick up some dirty laundry off the floor, then I decide to do something else in the bedroom, and then I'm pooped and nothing is done and I never even finished washing the counter.
    – Since the rest of the house is a mess, who is really going to notice if I don't clean up this spill? And I leave it there…
    – The house gets clean when people are going to come over… rarely otherwise
    – My friends accept the place is awful and come over anyway, bless them
    – Fiance and I keep SAYING we should make a calendar/chore chart whatever.. saying it for.. a couple years now…
    – Every time the house is clean, we are SO happy and we WANT to keep it that way! But the next thing I know it's a mess again and I HAVE NO IDEA HOW THAT HAPPENED!!!!! I think there are mess gremlins that run around my apartment at night… that MUST be it…

    I get exhausted just thinking about this and I'm not even home!

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  21. I'm an ENTP, the Visionary. I have a ton of half-started/finished projects everywhere in almost every room. Too bad I can't visualize a clean house!! Haha.

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  22. Ahahaha, this is hilarious! ENFP here, but both my E/I and F/T are pretty close calls, though the T only really comes out when I'm in an I mood. I am TERRIBLY blinkered to mess, I often just don't even see it. Until we have people coming over and I suddenly crap myself and turn into the cleaning Nazi! We had people over 2 nights ago and we blitzed the pile of dishes before (ok, partly also during) when they were over, yet somehow we now have a similar size pile taking over the counter again. How does this keep happening? I swear my mess multiplies when I'm asleep.

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  23. I have no idea what my personality type is, but I can totally relate to the whole blinkers and perfectionism thing!

    I just moved house and the whole place is crazycatladygross. It took me 6 solid hours to clean my son's room, scrubbing the ceilings, walls, skirting boards, light switches, everything. It's hard to get started on a room because it's a humungous job and once started I have to do it PROPERLY, damnit!

    But I can't clean unless it will make a visible difference. Back when I was a kid, my mum used to go nuts because she'd be wanting me to clean my room "because it's been a week, it needs doing!". But it's NOT DIRTY!!!

    Nice to meet some similar people and feel a little less crazy.

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  24. This thread makes me think the next reader survey should ask if you identify with a particular Myers-Briggs personality type… and then compare it to the general population.

    Or, they could do the whole, "which of the sites has the most INTJs???" thing. I'm betting OBHome. :-)

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  25. I did this yesterday, while I was putting a dye rinse (Burgendy) through my hair. Worked amazingly. I'm almost afraid to do anything in the house now incase I mess it up!

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  26. I'm INFJ too! When we first got married I drove my husband absolutely bonkers with my blinders. He didn't get how I could just "not see" the dishes overflowing from the sink all over the counter or the piles of clean cloths that never managed to get folded or put away when I have to have the fridge precisely organized and my hair products in a certain place in their basket.
    Making a schedule was a big help. (It's hanging on the fridge right now in fact) I do 2-3 things a day (when I don't have work) for 30 minutes to an hour each. Then once a week we have wipe-down-all-surfaces-and-put-everything-back-where-it-goes-day whether I think the house needs it or not. And usually once we get started the blinders lower so I see just how messy the place really is and go to town. It's not a perfect system but we haven't had an argument about cleaning since I made the schedule so something's working.

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  27. Just read this and all the comments and I feel a lot better about myself knowing that I'm not the only one that has the perfectionist/blinders duality approach to cleaning. One major problem I have is not knowing what to do with an item and ignoring it (and the whole pile).

    As I read everything, I was like hmm… I don't remember which 4 letter personality I have but I sure can relate to what all of these people are saying. Then I went and checked and I'm an INFJ. Either way, I'm going to go buy a timer online right now.

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