QUIT: Resenting Housework (or, Not Treating My House Like a Home)

[Part of my mission to “live deliberately” involves ruthlessly cutting out anything that saps my time, energy or money to no good end.  I’m calling these things my “Quits,” and this is one of the many items that have found themselves on my Quits List.]


I know. Super-exciting start to the Year of Intentional Living, right?

But hear me out…

While it’s not as inflammatory or glamorous as other Quits, this particular Quit is actually fundamental to the rest of this year going according to plan. It’s the foundation on which all other Quits will be made more successful. And I have a feeling a few of you will find yourselves relating to it.


Don’t Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One

It’s no secret that I have a hate-hate relationship with cleaning and chores. If you’ve been around this blog for any length of time, you’ve likely heard of my everlasting feud with doing the dishes I’ve tried before to come to terms with the menial tasks that demand part of my waking hours, sometimes to more avail than others, but never to any lasting sort of avail.

This is because my fundamental attitude toward my house, and the things it takes to keep it nice and livable, is thoroughly out of whack.

And until I get it back in whack, I’ll have trouble moving forward with anything else on my to-change list, because this one area irreparably affects every other aspect of my life.

I am a neatnik. There is no getting around it. While I can tell myself to ease off a little on how much I allow this to influence my mood and actions, I can’t turn it off entirely. Tidy, pleasant-looking surroundings make me happy and peaceful, and messy, dirty surroundings make me agitated and mad. That’s just the way things are, and I owe it to myself to start working with that instead of against it.

I can either create an environment in which I will thrive, or I can neglect my environment and have it bring everything I do in it down a couple notches.

Guess which option fits the Year of Intentional Living?


Treating My House Like a Home

So, what will this Quit look like in action (and how can you get in on it if your environment is currently less than happiness-conducive, whatever that means to you)?

The overall goal is to turn this place I’m existing in into a place that contributes to, rather than distracts from, an awesome life and the quest to make it awesomer. This includes revamping both the state of my house (mission: make more enjoyable) and the steps it takes to make it that way (mission: make less loathable). In other words: love my home more, dislike the housework that makes me love it as little as possible.

Here’s the basic breakdown of what I’ll be doing to achieve this. Feel free to add, subtract, or revise this list as best fits your current place-you’re-existing-in needs.

  • Acknowledge the fact that neatness makes me happy. (If you are opposite, you could accept the fact that you’re o.k. with a little chaos and let go of caring what others think about that, for example.)
  • Stop seeing housework as an evil ruse by life to distract me from doing more “important” things with my time. It is important because it contributes to my happiness. Plain and simple.
  • Start seeing housework as an opportunity to nurture and care for my environment and my happiness in that environment, much like you would tend to a garden. (Totally ignoring the fact that I cannot keep an actual garden alive for anything.)
  • Practice Zen mindfulness when doing chores. Enjoy the exercise, the methodical steps (OCD heaven), the process of turning yuckiness into neatness. Enjoy also doing something that lets my mind wander free. (Potential for some great creative brainstorming? Perhaps!)
  • Keep up with chores in a mannerly and reasonable fashion. Passive-aggressively neglecting everything, then having a meltdown every time people are coming over and I have to clean the entire house from top to bottom, could, maybe-just-maybe, be contributing to my overall hatred of housework. Stop procrastinating. Do a little bit as I go each day, and stop being such a drama queen about it.
  • Acknowledge the fact that our little house will continue to fall apart, as all houses do and as clapped-together starter homes do in particular, and stop using every new fall-apart as an excuse to start daydreaming about downsizing to an apartment. We’ve considered that road several times now, but we like our space, our autonomy, and our puppies too much, so it’s time to stop ducking and running every time architectural and mechanical shit hits the fan. We’re in this at least for the immediate haul.


In Summary

This Quit is not about becoming a domestic goddess or trying to out-Martha-Stewart Martha Stewart. I won’t become a slave to housework.

I won’t be trading my passion for tail-kicking for a passion for Swiffers. (Wonderful though they are.) My floors will still be visited by dog fur tumbleweeds (unless we shave the dog), because that shit is impossible to keep up with.

What I will be doing is respecting the fact that I deserve to live in conditions that boost my happiness, and that life is not made up all the time of tail-kicking moments. Sometimes dishes need to be done. Sometimes Swiffers need to be Swiffed. It won’t save the world like writing a manifesto will, but it will save my sanity and make me better poised to do things like manifesto-writing without distraction.

And it could do me some good to stop being 100% hustle and devote 5-10% to simple, inglorious tasks made more meaningful by what they symbolize.

So, who’s in? If you’re joining the January Quit, say hello and share your story in the comments!


Image:  Rachel K / Flickr

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  • Cordelia’s Mom

    You couldn’t have come up with this new opinion of housework while you were living at home with your father and me?

  • eemusings (NZMuse)

    This is great – I’m with you on this.

    My struggle with housework is with the division of labour – we have such different takes on frequency/degree of cleaning and finding a happy compromise is hard. Plus we’re both settling back into old/new work schedules, so it’s a work in progress.

    • Debbie M

      One problem is that people tend to put off cleaning until it starts bothering them, and if it starts bothering one person before the other, they’ll tend to end up doing the cleaning more often. If you each focus on the things that drive you nutso first, that can be a good compromise. But if all the tasks drive the same person nutso first, then it’s not a compromise at all!

      There’s an online “game” called Chore Wars that can let your competitive side work in your favor–this can work great with kids and the silliness can be a fun way to get a grip on fairness issues for grown-ups, too. And you get to assign more points for the ickier jobs, so that the point system is customized for you.

      • Debby: I will let your comment speak for both of us — because your ideas are awesome! I won’t even try to beat them, because I can’t.

    • I understand that all too well. A couple things out of place drives me nuts; the husband needs to literally have his path into a room blocked from all angles before he notices a mess. 😛

      • Yikes!

      • Loving Evening

        LMBO!! I can relate sister!

  • Debbie M

    I have the bad attitude that when I am not working (for someone else), I should be just having fun. But really I should also be working for myself sometimes. The advantages are that this work benefits me directly (rather than indirectly through a paycheck), I can do the work just how I want to–and the work can be done just how I want it. And some of that work is housework.

    Some people do better with a once-a-week frenzy that frees them for the rest of the week. I’m better with a clean-as-I-go strategy. In some cases the reason is logistical–I don’t have a clothes dryer, and it can take a full 24 hours for clothes to hang dry in the winter, so I really need to do a load every day (if I have enough laundry for a load). And some things are easier to do right away (dishes while the food is still damp). But it’s also better for me psychologically–things piling up makes me dread doing them. And once I can get into a habit of tying cleaning to something else, then it stops being a thing I have to remember to make myself do.

    I also need to learn to do more of the preventative maintenance that houses need. At least I’m good at leaving strainers in the sink (to catch food in the kitchen, hair and lint in the bathroom), changing the A/C filter regularly, and dusting the bedroom ceiling fan blades before I change the sheets.

    • The clean-as-I-go strategy is something I desperately need to take up. Some things (clutter on the coffee table/counters), I clean up the instant I see it–other things (ahem, dishes!) I leave until they become that behemoth project I dread. If I can adopt a more even-across-the-board approach to ALL chores, I’ll be much better off (and so will the house).

      And, oh, preventative maintenance! I am horrid at that. Maybe once I conquer the basics, I’ll add that onto my regular routine. Gotta master level 1 before I level up!

  • Cheryl

    Love this goal! One of my mantras is “Outer order contributes to inner calm” (which I believe I got from Gretchen Rubin), which helps me keep cleaning and organizing in perspective as something of value. My January goal is to go through my apartment, a little each day, to organize and unclutter. After that I’ll have to figure out how to get myself to vacuum more consistently…

    • I can so relate to that mantra. I love the result of a clean house; I just need to learn the actions that lead to the clean house are equally valuable (although not nearly as fun).

      Isn’t it funny the things we tend to slack on? Vacuuming I do regularly; laundry I have no problem with. The dishes (oh, the dishes!), I will leave until I have literally reused every coffee mug twice over before I finally cave and give in.

      But it’s o.k. We shall prevail in 2014!

  • Debbie M

    Apartment Therapy has some hints here:

    I don’t like the first idea–having a drawer in every room for random stuff–but the other ideas could be good. (That doesn’t mean I have a place for parts-to-things-that-I-don’t-recognize.) There’s also some good stuff in the links at the bottom and the comments.

    • I LOVE that article! So happy you shared it — for the great tips, and for feeling a little less guilty about my cleaning issues!

  • Rob F.

    I think I’m doing okay on this. I spent last Sunday sweeping, vaccing and mopping, and this weekend is lawn mowing and vege bed weeding.

    Still, the place could use a general declutter – especially our front room / office – and the hallway needs a repaint. (In fact, some of our walls and most of our skirting boards need a wash off.)

    • I need to learn how to get Zen about doing chores. How do you do it?

      • Rob F.

        I think a morning meditation practice helps clear out all the little resistances I’d otherwise have during the day. I’ve been following Leo “Zen Habits” Babauta’s advice on how to meditate and I’m steadily working on getting back into the habit after a while out of it.

        With that under my belt, I actually start noticing my moods during the day; I find myself seeing untidiness as something I can fix in a few minutes instead of Somebody Else’s Problem (and, of course, the only Somebody Else is Vickie). Even if not, I do something small that shows visible progress. that either feels like enough of a win to want to keep going or to reassure myself that I am effective and can come back alter if there’s something else on my mind right now.

        • I should read more of Leo’s stuff on meditation. I feel like it would be impossible for me with my hyperactive mind…but maybe that just means I need it more than ever!

          • Rob F.

            Here’s the one I go to: zenhabits dot net slash fundameditate.

      • Rob F.

        Ah! Here’s a case-in-point from half an hour ago: I was sitting at my PC trying to find something to entertain myself with and I noticed that feeling I get when I’m procrastinating: Kind of a pouty, sludgy, selfish-in-a-bad-way feeling.

        I sat up in my chair and looked around for something to do; I spotted the back of the car through the home-office window, remembered that it’s been badly in need of a cleanout for weeks and thought, “I’ve got the energy and doing that, whilst certainly not the most joyous of experiences, will feel better than keeping on doing this.”

        Vigorous application of the vacuum cleaner later: The car interior is now clean.

        So I think the trick is developing your awareness of how miserable you are when procrastinating (and knowing the difference between it and taking an honest, needed timeout / chillout), then deciding which task best suits your energy / mood right now.

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