If you spend much time online, you can easily 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 their coat on the sofa. And there you are, just minutes before bedtime, telling the kids to pick their things up or you’ll throw them away. That coat is now on the floor. There are dishes in the sink, you can smell the cat box, and no one has taken out the trash.
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 stay clean?
Why is Keeping a Clean House so Stressful?
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 having a clean house is one of your goals, but you feel like all you do is pick up after everyone, keep reading. Help is on the way.
Our Standards Need to Change as Our Lives Change
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 into organizing and running the house.
New brides, 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 take over, that they’ll still have time to cook every meal from scratch, and maybe they’ll even start growing their food, too.
And for some, there 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.
Your Home Isn’t the Sum of You
All of these scenarios have something in common: one person has decided the state of the home reflects directly on them and whether they’re on top of things and 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.
Cleaning is stressing you out because not everyone else in your home sees it the way you do. To eliminate that stress and avoid burnout, 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.
Perfectly Clean Homes Don’t Exist
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 remains.
Many of us wonder why our homes don’t look that way, why can’t we keep them that clean and uncluttered?
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.
Don’t Be Fooled by Pinterest Pictures
Pinterest 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 of Rebecca’s beautiful home and gorgeous homemade meals despite raising toddlers, she made a video of her real life.
- Karlynn Johnston of The Kitchen Magpie got 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. (Now I’m jealous!)
If you’re trying to make your home look 24/7 like what you see on Pinterest, you are chasing something that doesn’t exist. Last I heard, that’s a sign of insanity.
Fictional Housewives are FICTIONAL
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.“
Don’t Confuse Cleaning with Caring
Lucy wasn’t just busy—she was also stressed out about cleaning. She lost count of the times she threatened to throw away 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,” she says, “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!“
4 Steps to Stop Stressing About Cleaning
Feeling less stressed about cleaning house or like you have to pick up after everyone starts by re-evaluating your standards.
1. Decide What’s Essential
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.
2. Evaluate your Motives
Who says how clean your house 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 others have perfectly clean homes while you don’t, go back and read the section above about having unrealistic standards.
3. Be Honest About How You Spend Your Time
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), Grace was always sending messages to me around 1 o’clock in the morning even though she worked during the day.
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 each day. When she said it was a few minutes here and there when she was away from the computer, it started to make sense.
I suggested using a browser extension to keep track of her online time. She realized she was spending 5 to 10 hours every day playing games online or browsing celebrity gossip sites and Pinterest.
4. Use a Done List
So, the next step was creating a “Done” list, which is 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 tasks on a list after finishing them.
Washed the dishes? She wrote it down. Replied to her mom’s email? She wrote that down, too. Whatever chore, phone call, errand, or distraction she spent time on, she wrote it down on that day’s list.
Seeing those tasks add up motivated her to stay productive. To this day Grace swears, “That ‘Done’ list changed my life!“
Remember: It’s not a Competition
Above all, remember there are no trophies for having the cleanest house. There’s no committee coming by to compare your place to others’ homes, no news team that’s going to do a story about how spotless your floors are.
You know what there are trophies for? Being the “World’s Greatest Mom,” the one who makes her kids feel valued and heard. What you’re trying to create is a comforting home for your family, so let the rest of the pressure go.
That is how you win at life.