Spend much time online and you’ll get the impression other people live in spotless homes while you’re wondering why cleaning is stressing you out. Maybe you’ve spent a day (or more) imposing order and cleanliness throughout your house to make it look like all those other homes you see online or in magazines.
Then your kids dump their backpacks in the kitchen or leave toys all over your living room. Your significant other sheds his coat on the sofa, his keys and wallet on the counter. Making dinner you see grease splattering on the backsplash you’d cleaned just this morning.
So there you are just minutes before bedtime, telling the kids to pick their things up or you’ll throw them away and muttering under your breath as you see that coat has been shoved from the sofa onto the floor. There are dishes in the sink, you can smell the cat box, and no one has taken out the trash.
You know what’s about to happen, don’t you?
By the time you finally get to bed — physically exhausted yet mentally wound up — you can’t stop wondering why life is this way. Why do you clean but the house always seems like a mess? Why doesn’t your family get it and pick up after themselves, maybe even show some initiative and clean something without being asked? Why does it seem like you never have time to yourself? Why can’t your home just stay clean?
Why Cleaning Is Stressing You Out
Listen, there are answers to all of these questions. You can reach a point where your home (and the people living in it) don’t drive you crazy. If that’s one of your goals, whether as a New Year’s Resolution or just an overall hope, then keep reading. Help is on the way.
How did it get to this point?
Life-changes often prompt people to focus on their home environment. Someone who lost a job might fill their free time between interviews doing housework. The newly-retired manager, who spent years meeting quotas, may channel that energy to organizing and running the house.
Newlyweds, still flush with joy, are notorious for wanting to score Domestic Goddess points by creating an immaculate home and serving multi-course dinners. Then they become new parents who swear they won’t let baby gear and clothing spoiled with spit-up take over, that they’ll still have time to make three meals a day from scratch, and now maybe they’ll even start growing their own food, too.
And for some, there simply comes a time when they’ve had it: they’re tired of living with a mess, tired of not being able to find things, tired of making excuses to avoid having company and apologizing for the state of their home when people drop by.
Whose problem is it?
All of these scenarios have something in common: one person has decided the state of the home reflects directly on them: whether they’re on top of things, whether they’re meeting societal expectations, whether they have it all together.
If you are the one stressed out about the state of your home it’s a sign that you own the problem. That does not mean you’re the one at fault, or that solving it is entirely up to you.
It means you’re the one most affected by the situation — it’s a problem to you, but not necessarily to others. You’re stressed because not everyone else in your home sees the situation the way you do. To eliminate that stress, you need to figure out what’s causing that difference between your views and theirs. It might very well be one of the reasons below.
Are your standards unrealistic?
Supermodel-for-life Cindy Crawford reportedly once said that even she doesn’t get out of bed looking like Cindy Crawford. Her point, of course, is that when you see a photo of her in a magazine you’re looking at a finished product. Scrolling through Pinterest has replaced thumbing through magazines for millions of women, but the disconnect between reality and what’s shown still remains.
Many of us wonder why our homes don’t look that way, why can’t we keep them that clean and uncluttered? We spend hours dusting, polishing, vacuuming. The next day there are toys on the table, scuff marks on the floor, and Little Bobby left his cereal bowl on the sofa before going to school this morning.
So we do clean it all over again and then, when Bobby and the rest of the family get home, we lecture and nag about not messing things up. “I spent hours getting the house to look like this,” we scream, “and the least you can do is keep it that way!”
The problem is that we’re trying to make our homes resemble what was captured in a photo’s split second, which doesn’t reflect how people truly live.
Try this instead:
Realize those photos don’t reflect reality. Want to see what a blogger’s house is really like? Things aren’t any more spotless than your home.
Christina of Christina’s Adventures gave her DIY/home decor readers a glimpse outside the photo frame so they could see that no one working on projects and raising a baby is going to have a spotless home.
When a reader wrote to Rebecca at A Beautiful Ruckus to say she was jealous that Rebecca had a beautiful home and served gorgeous homemade meals while raising toddlers, she made a video of her real life.
Karlynn Johnston of The Kitchen Magpie got really detailed in her photos showing what a food blogger’s house kitchen looks like…though she probably has a better-stocked liquor cabinet than most.
If you’re trying to make your home look like what you see on Pinterest you are chasing something that doesn’t actually exist! Last I heard, that’s a sign of insanity.
Are your expectations too high?
My friend Lucy (not her real name) calls herself a “reformed would-be Stepford Wife.” For years, many of us wondered how she worked a high-pressure full-time job as a sales executive while keeping a spotless home and rehabbing furniture she hunted down at antique stores. She even cooked all three meals for her family every day. From scratch.
What we didn’t see is how hard Lucy was driving herself and her family to make those things happen. “I didn’t see what a miserable person I was to live with back then,” she said. “I was up every morning long before them, making breakfast and ironing their clothes for the day. After work I’d clean house and make dinner, and when the kids went to bed I did laundry even though that meant my husband had to watch TV by himself.”
Lucy wasn’t just busy — she was also stressed out about cleaning and says she lost count of the times she threatened to throw away all of her kids’ toys because they kept leaving them all over the house. But some kids interpret a parent’s threats about their messes as a threat to stop loving them, and that’s exactly what happened with Lucy’s kids.
“We went to my daughter’s kindergarten Open House at school and I saw a picture she’d drawn. There were two homes right next to each other. She was in one with her dad and brother, and I was in the other. When I asked her why I was in a different house she said, ‘So that way you won’t stop loving us just because we make messes.’ I had to leave the room, I was so upset with myself.”
Like many women, Lucy had convinced herself that doing things for her family was expected of her and a way to show how much she loved them. The more she did, the greater devotion she believed she was expressing. But when doing meant she didn’t have time for her family they didn’t feel loved — quite the contrary. “Once I started focusing more on spending time with them I realized they were fine eating the occasional bowl of cereal for breakfast and no one cared if their clothes weren’t ironed. We are all so much happier now!”
Try this instead:
Ask yourself what your family truly needs, and separate that from what you feel you should be doing for them. Chances are, the answers all come down to your belief you should be doing the very things that are causing you so much stress.
So ask yourself: who says how clean it has to be? Who are you trying to impress? If it’s your family, don’t you think they’d prefer having your company, your presence in the moment and focused attention? If you feel you should be doing it all because you think other parents are, go back and read the section above about having unrealistic standards.
Do you really make it a priority?
Grace (not her real name) used to regularly send me frustrated messages on Facebook about finding time to clean house. A single mom raising two boys (9, 12), she runs her own virtual assistant business from home — a job that allows her to work around her sons’ schedules. I noticed that Grace was always sending messages to me around 1 o’clock in the morning even though she worked during the day.
“That’s the time when I’d realize I needed to go to bed,” she said when I asked her if I could share her story in this blog entry. “I’d work a little in the morning after the boys left for school, nap for a few hours and do a little cleaning before they got home. As soon as they were in bed I’d get ‘Me Time’ by playing Candy Crush. Then I’d see our mess and message you for cleaning advice because I hated the way the house looked.”
At first, I gave Grace pointers and suggestions, then eventually sent her my printable cleaning checklists. Nothing seemed to help, and every day I was waking up to a new message from Grace saying her house was out of control and driving her crazy.
One day I asked her exactly how much time she spent cleaning every day. When she said she had no idea but it was a few minutes here and there between other things it started to make sense. She didn’t lack time to clean, she was spending her time on other things but didn’t realize it.
Try this instead:
Figure out how you are really spending your time, and whether you’re actually spending it on your priorities. With Grace, I suggested using a browser extension to keep track of where she was spending the majority of her time online. After installing it Grace realized she was spending between 5 and 10 hours every day playing games online, or browsing celebrity gossip sites and Pinterest.
Grace decided those things weren’t nearly as important as spending more time with her boys and feeling their house was comfortable for all of them. So, the next step was creating a “Done” list, which is basically the opposite of a To Do list. Rather than waking up listing things she hoped to accomplish during the day I wanted her to write things on a list after finishing them.
Washed the dishes? She wrote it down. Replied to her mom’s email? She wrote that that down, too. Whatever chore, phone call, errand, or distraction she spent time on, she write it down on that day’s list. To this day Grace says, “That ‘Done’ list done changed my life!”
Do this for a week or two and you’ll notice two things: first, you’ll feel more motivated to be productive so you can write it down on your list; and, second, you’ll be able to identify the time-wasters that don’t really sync with your priorities. Start eliminating those and you’ll discover a wealth of time to actually spend on the things that matter to you.