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How a cleaning app tricked me into taking care of myself

How a cleaning app tricked me into taking care of myself


Using Tody gave me a way to process grief, five minutes at a time.

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Close-up of iPhone with the Tody app showing a red notification bubble with 6 unfinished tasks.
I will be tackling all six of those Tody to-do’s later.
Photo by Victoria Song / The Verge

By the end of 2021, my apartment looked like a tornado had run through it. The messiness made me anxious, but keeping a tidy home hadn’t been my priority that year. My mom was fine in February, and by November, ALS had robbed her of quite literally everything. After her funeral, I came home to my disaster apartment, looked at my mountains of clutter, and realized I didn’t even have a comfortable place to cry.

I threw myself a pity party and then downloaded the Tody app — a to-do app dedicated solely to cleaning — the next day.

The Tody app (Get it? To-do, tidy, Tody) came recommended by a friend with an immaculate house. Looking at their spotless home reminded me of something a college friend told me when she first saw my pigsty of a dorm room. You can tell someone’s state of mind from the state of their room — a cluttered room was a sign of a messy mind. I doubt that’s universally true, but grief told me it was. I convinced myself that if I could just have a clean apartment, it would transform my visceral loss into a more manageable kind of sadness. If the state of my mind was reflected in the state of my environment, then who was to say it couldn’t work in reverse?

The Tody app was simple enough. You create a “plan” for your home by creating a list of recurring chores that are grouped by room. For each chore, you can set a particular frequency based on how lazy or proactive you want to be. For example, I can set a “Clean under the bed” chore once every two weeks. Then every two weeks, you’ll see a lil notification saying you should clean under the bed. There are a few other features — like assigning chores to housemates or a little “mini-game” where you compete against Dusty the dirt gremlin — but at the time, I didn’t want to go beyond the basics.

I spent a few minutes setting up a cleaning regimen in the app. That was about all I did that day. The thought of tackling my Tody list was so overwhelming that I marked everything as clean (it wasn’t) and figured I’d tackle everything gradually.

Using Tody started becoming my way of productively procrastinating

The next day, the Tody app had an annoying red circle with a five inside it. None of them were big tasks. It was all small stuff like wiping down the kitchen counter, vacuuming a single room, or changing out the towels in the bathroom. Things I could do in five minutes or less. I was tempted to ignore the to-do’s and wallow, but unread notifications make me irrationally angry. So I did it during work breaks as a way to get away from my desk and to get rid of the annoying red notification bubble.

Using Tody started becoming my way of productively procrastinating. Anytime I wanted to avoid my responsibilities as executor of my mom’s estate? I’d open up the Tody app and pick something to clean. I’d turn to Tody because a holiday ad made my chest tight, and Swiffer-ing floors helped release that tightness. Straightening throws and pillows (especially after punching them) gave me an outlet to vent.

Screenshot of Tody app
Eat it Dusty.
Screenshot: Victoria Song / The Verge

After about a week, the disaster zone looked habitable again. The week after that, it resembled what I’d intended the apartment to look like. It got a bit better the week after that and again the week after that.

It sounds obvious when you write it down, but it took me a whole two months to realize that I’d unintentionally turned chores that drained me into a form of energizing self-care. That I now had a clean house that I put little to no effort to maintain. Paired with a Pomodoro timer, I went from a depressed lump burritoed in a blanket to a less depressed lump capable of showing up to work. Eventually, after about a year, I had a day where I felt normal.

Nothing about Tody is revolutionary. I’m sure you could recreate all this in any free notes, reminders, or to-do app that doesn’t charge you $6.99. In hindsight, the main thing Tody did for me was make it easy to start and then keep going. I don’t know if I’d cough that up right now, but I don’t regret that I did back then.

It’s not like my home is perfect. I occasionally fall behind because life loves its sour lemons. I have moments when my mom’s loss punches me in the face, as if to remind me that there’s no “getting over it.” But my apartment no longer resembles a disaster zone. My grief has become much more manageable. I’ve no idea how much cleaning my space helped with that, but just in case, I don’t have any intention of deleting Tody anytime soon.