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The one thing you should do when cleaning makes you want to cry

house cleaning and stress

“Cleaning is like email – produces a temporary sense of satisfaction and productiveness [sic] when done (or answered – “inbox zero” 🙌) but is ultimately pointless (yet necessary) at the same time.”

As a stress free cleaning service, we didn’t write this gem but wish we did. Nope, a reader named Peter dropped this in the comment section of this New York Times piece about why women are judged more than men for keeping a messy house. His is a perfect simile to describe the home cleaning paradox: Performing repeatable tasks, over and over, knowing the evidence of your hard work will begin unravelling within hours. Sounds a bit like Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

And when you’re managing (or struggling to manage) depressive thoughts and/or anxiety, it’s this utter pointlessness of cleaning you may tend to focus on. It fits beautifully into the hopelessness/helplessness thought cycle that traps so many in its fierce grip. Even if you’re not clinically depressed or anxious, the futile nature of cleaning tries really hard to get you down. Burnout and stress lie on the fringes of clinical depression, and according to a 2022 survey by Bromwich+Smith, almost half of Canadians feel more stressed out in 2022 than they did at the start of COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. Within that same group, 70 per cent said they were most worried about their physical and mental health, second only to inflation/cost-of-living.


Is stress-cleaning the answer? Maybe not for you

How does house cleaning reduce stress and anxiety? The link between negative emotions and a cluttered or messy house is well-established. You may have already heard about (or experienced) the Messy House-Depression Cycle whereby you feel overwhelmed and down so the mess builds up, which makes you feel even more overwhelmed and down … and the cycle repeats. When you live with a family or partner, the mess around compounds even faster. It’s times like this that motivating yourself to clean seems impossible but we’re here to say this loud and clear:

If you’re struggling to keep up with the demands of house cleaning, you’re not lazy. Or incompetent. Or failing. You’re simply struggling to keep up with the demands of house cleaning.

One quick Google search reveals countless different ways to motivate yourself to clean so you can release happy brain chemicals and clear that environmental clutter. Things like:

  • Start with something small, like a targeted area of a single room
  • Use a timer
  • Choose one chore to commit to each day
  • Track your progress with a chart
  • Clean as you go (like washing up pots while dinner is in the oven)
  • Organize your cleaning supplies so you always know where to find what you need
  • Make your bed as soon as you get up in the morning
  • Break the monotony by listening to music or your fave podcast

There’s no doubt the physical activity of stress-cleaning works for some, but not for everyone – and not all the time. What if a more effective strategy, one that was easier to employ, is the key to cutting down your stress levels and maintaining a cleaner residence? And what if science backed that strategy?




Science says: We’re more likely to buy “things” but buying back time makes us happier

Several years ago, researchers from UBC and Harvard Business School conducted a fascinating study that found buying time makes people feel happier than buying material things. At the same time, they found people were actually less likely to invest in activities or services that bought them time.

Head-scratcher, right?

In the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers gave 60 Vancouver participants $40 each to spend on two weekends. The first weekend, they were told to use the money on any material item they wanted. Most bought wine or new clothes, and everyone was asked to rate their level of happiness after purchasing their new item. On the second weekend, they were asked to use the money on something that would save them time, like taking a taxi instead of public transit, or hiring someone to run an errand for them. Again, they were asked to rate their level of happiness after the purchase. 

The self-reported happiness ratings revealed people were much happier when they invested in saving time over material things. But only 2 per cent of the group actually reported they would spend money on things that gave them more time. The researcher’s running hypothesis on the reasons behind this perplexing discrepancy was … you guessed it: Guilt.

“People who don’t feel they’re rolling dough may feel like that’s a frivolous way to spend money, but what our research is showing is that even if you don’t have tonnes of money, using money to get rid of your disliked tasks may be a pretty smart decision,” lead researcher Elizabeth Dunn told the CBC. “People may feel like ‘I can do this so I should do this’ and … I hope our research helps to break through that perhaps misguided cultural assumption.”


A stress free cleaning service might be a sound trade-off for your mental health

The only thing that can break the cycle of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity is to do something different. Perhaps ‘different’ means examining your household budget and ‘giving’ in some areas so you can ‘get’ somewhere else: A stress free cleaning service may be the most effective way to reduce stress and burnout, and break the Messy House-Depression Cycle.

“… even if you don’t have tonnes of money,
using money to get rid of your disliked tasks
may be a pretty smart decision.
– Elizabeth Dunn, lead researcher

Let’s leave it with this, another poignant comment from another New York Times reader: 

“Once I went to work full time, I hired a house cleaner on a weekly basis.  It meant cutting back on other things, like clothes or eating out, but it was absolutely worth it, because there was [sic] far less bad feelings about who did what. I still did more than my share (I’m the female) but so much less of it that it was tolerable. Anyone with a partner who doesn’t pull his/her weight around the house is entitled to paid help. Make them give up something (like fancy toys) to help pay for it.”

Related article: 10 ways to combat SAD



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