Why Cleaning Is Stressing You Out

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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.

Nicole Kidman in Stepford Wives demonstrates an unrealistic perfect housewife standard

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.

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  1. Seriously frustrated says:

    I’m not even looking for perfection. I just want my house clean enough that my brain doesn’t get affected by clutter. My 10 and 7 year olds do not do anything. My fiancé spends all his time working, whether it’s his paid job or working on the house, lawn, whatever he can besides anything deemed a “woman’s job.” I am not trying to be negative but I’ve been trying to get the same dang mound of laundry done for at least a year. It just never ends!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I am sorry you’re going through such a rough time. Clutter and mess can definitely affect our brains. As parents, it can be so stressful trying to walk the line between gently raising our kids and teaching them that home is a community they need to help support. If you don’t want to be the only one responsible for cleaning your home for the next 10 years (or life), it may be time to sit down and talk about sharing the work. Have you checked out my article about dividing housework responsibilities fairly?

  2. Love your point of view: Realistic and attainable. Keep it up!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Thank you so much. ❤️

  3. Thank you for this information as it’s helped me in a small way. As I’m a mother living with my teenager as the father works away. Growing up with my family was horrible at times because cleaning our rooms was put into a competition with my other siblings. As our mother picked on me on how clean our bedrooms were. I hated it with a passion but I couldn’t stop it from happening because I wasn’t sure where to go for help and I know my parents would fake the happy family rubbish which I would be forced into complying with my parents above all else. I still struggle at times at cleaning but I understand it needs to be done for my families health. It always brings up my past with my own family and the sadness I felt at the time as my mother would say: don’t care as I want this done now. Yes I have some other issues going on as well with my family growing up but it’s predominantly how I was brought up and I didn’t know where to go at the time. If we ever threatened to tell the police my parents would say: go ahead who would they believe you’d think that the police would likely believe the parents over kids all due to hearsay.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’m sorry you went through that. It is so hard to unlearn our childhood traumas, including those involved with cleaning. I hope you keep in mind that you’re the grownup now, and that there’s no competition involved. What you do is done for yourself and your family out of love and caring, and nothing is better than that.

  4. When I clean I get so angry and demoralized. It feels like there’s always more to do than I can manage. It always feels like when I have an extra minute, I have to decide between home care or self care. Shower or dishes, exercise or laundry. It feels like self sacrifice. I am pregnant, I also have an 8 year old, a 2 year old and a 1 year old. How do I get more out of my day without feeling like a martyr?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Samantha, it sounds like you’ve got so much going on right now. I completely understand how frustrating that can be! Finding time for yourself when you have little ones is difficult, and yet it’s so necessary. You didn’t indicate whether you have a partner or are doing this all on your own, but if there’s another adult in the home perhaps you two should sit down and discuss a fair division of housework? It should not all fall to one person. Stay-at-home parents stay home to parent, not to be live-in maids. And when both parents work then both should plan to pitch in equally for the other household chores. You might find it helpful to use the checklist in my article about dividing housework fairly as a place to start discussing the topic.

      In the meantime, perhaps there’s a way to make a daily appointment for yourself after the kids are in bed to do some self-care? The housework will be there, and it will expand to take over whatever time you give it. Self-care doesn’t do that, though. So schedule the time for yourself and make it a priority, and let the housework fill in the gaps.

    2. Amber badri says:

      Mom of four. 3 of them under 4. Exact same feeling. The answer for me was get rid of shit. Do you want the stuff or an in shape body and a shower? My house is really easy to clean now. My husband wouldn’t pick dishes up, I got rid of them. Now we have 2 bowls 2 plates, a pot a pan. Cut wardrobe down a bunch. Kids have handful outfits. ABSOLUTELY no paint in the house. I have fewer furniture. One pair of shoes for kids. You can organize more or have less. I chose to have less.

    3. Katie Berry says:

      It’s fantastic that you found a solution that works for you! I definitely agree less stuff means more time.

  5. The only thing is I don’t live with little kids I live with adult children and they do not clean at all. Like today for an example woke up at 6:00 swept and mopped the floors . This house is 2800 square feet .no carpet in this house at all. Ghost all the dishes in the cabinet because being dirty every dish every day now it is only 6:30 and I have to clean all over again. They own dogs that piss all over the floor and tear up their ropes and toys all day long. No one cleans up no one with me and I’m just tired I used to love cleaning not anymore I hate it. I’m 51 yrs old and burnt out on cleaning . Me being the only one in the house that does anything I just can’t do it anymore. I hate cleaning but if I don’t do it no one else will. And I know that’s my problem giving in but I don’t want to live in a filthy house.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      That sounds so frustrating, and I’m sure it feels hurtful that they’re behaving that way.