It feels like life in lockdown has become one giant chore.
As soon as you’ve finished the washing up it’s time to put a wash on, then you notice that the rug needs a hoover (again), oh, and then you need to clean the bathroom, and by the time you get back to kitchen the sink is full of dishes again.
We’re sure we never did this much housework before the pandemic hit.
It’s a consequence of spending so much time at home. We live, eat, work, exercise and socialise in the same space now – so we are simply making more mess. And we have more time to notice dirt as it builds up around us.
But, where chores used to be just one element in our rich and varied lives, without our busy and exciting schedules, housework has taken centre stage. It is one of the central tasks that our reduced lives now revolve around, and it is making us feel like Victorian house maids.
Deyan Dimitrov is the founder of Laundryheap and expert on all things cleaning. He says it is no wonder that people are starting to become overwhelmed by housework in lockdown – he says for many people, chores are beginning to feel all-encompassing.
‘Right now, everyone’s emotions are heightened,’ says Deyen. ‘Whether that’s work stress, boredom, or exhaustion, all of your feelings are magnified.
‘Some people really enjoy cleaning as it can provide something practical to do when our minds are racing. But, if housework is usually a chore you’d rather avoid or something that stresses you out, then you’re more likely to feel overwhelmed by it.’
He says this is especially true if you live with a particularly messy partner and find yourself doing an increased share of the housework. Or if you live in a flatshare and find your housemates are quite messy.
‘It can be really overwhelming to feel as though you are constantly cleaning up,’ he adds. ‘And as we’re at home most of the time now, we want our space to be our haven: somewhere that’s clean, calm and away from the chaos in the outside world. So naturally, you’re going to feel stressed if it’s messy, especially if you don’t have the energy or motivation to clean up.’
The burden of lockdown housework is, unsurprisingly, unequal. The responsibility of all this extra cleaning is disproportionately falling on the shoulders of women.
Research has shown that women, and especially mums, have borne the brunt of the additional household chores, spending less time on paid work and more time on housework during the pandemic.
The study also found that women on lower incomes and Black, Asian and ethnic minority women have faced higher demands for unpaid care work and domestic work than their wealthier, white counterparts.
This disparity is unsurprising given the many other ways in which women and ethnic minority groups have faced worse impacts as a result of the pandemic – including poorer health outcomes and higher levels of career instability.
Many women are reporting feeling resentful, overwhelmed and completely burnt-out by the seemingly never-ending list of household chores. And the impact of this labour shouldn’t be underplayed simply because it is historically perceived as ‘women’s work’.
So, if you feel as though you’re drowning in housework and can’t keep up with all the chores – you’re not alone, and it doesn’t mean that you’re failing.
Deyen says that we have all hit a wall due to the fact that we have now been in lockdown for such an extended period:
‘In the first lockdown, it appeared as though many people were on a cleaning frenzy – probably because we were bored and had a lot of energy to use,’ he says.
‘But now, the third lockdown – combined with the exhaustion that has been creeping in over the last few months – is leaving a lot of people feeling burnt-out. That means any free time we’re getting at the moment, we’d rather spend doing something we love: not cleaning up.’
There is a real psychological impact in feeling like life has become devoid of fun. We need a release, the freedom of nights out, holidays and socialising – these things make the boring and difficult parts of life more manageable. Without them, the chores start to feel thankless and horribly infinite.
How to cope if you’re drowning in housework
If the sheer amount of housework you’re doing at the moment is making you feel bored, anxious, or just really low, it might be time to create a new schedule for yourself – so chores aren’t the central focus of your whole life.
‘The best advice I can give is to set yourself a time limit and don’t overwhelm yourself with lots of tasks,’ says Deyen. ‘If you have 20 minutes spare in the evening, designate that to something easy, like cleaning and mopping the kitchen.
‘If you find you’ve got some spare time at the weekend, then block out 30 minutes to an hour (don’t go over!) to sort out your bedroom, or deep clean your bathroom.’
Deyen says that, whereve possible, get your chores out of the way earlier rather than later.
‘I cannot stress this enough – do tasks in the morning if you can,’ he says. ‘In the evening you’ll feel tired and just want to relax. So get it over with first thing.
‘If there’s one room or a space that really needs cleaning or sorting out, then make sure you prioritise that space. For example, a messy wardrobe or chest of drawers, or perhaps the junk cupboard under the stairs. You may be surprised at how much of an impact messy surroundings can affect your wellbeing.’
It’s also important to take the pressure off wherever you can. Often, our to-do lists are self-imposed, and the time-limits we give ourselves are completely arbitrary. Will anything happen if you hoover tomorrow morning instead of right now? Or if you leave the washing up for a few hours? Probably not.
‘Don’t feel pressured to “Marie Kondo” everything,’ adds Deyen. ‘There’s a time and place for big clear-outs, and if you’re feeling burnt-out, leave it for when you have some motivation and energy. As long as things are put away, and the space is neat and workable, then it’s more than fine.’
Another tip is to break your tasks down in to manageable steps.
‘For example, if you need to do the laundry, don’t focus on getting the whole wash bin empty,’ says Deyen. ‘Stick to just doing one load of laundry – such as whites – and do a load every other day or so.
‘Make use of hacks such as sticking ice cubes in the tumble dryer to get creases out of clothes. This can help you save time on other jobs such as ironing.’
If you have to clean the kitchen, Deyen says you should focus on what exactly you need to do to make it clean.
‘This could be to wipe down the sides, wash and dry up, or mop the floor,’ he says. ‘If you have a dishwasher then make use of it! It’s more eco-friendly to do one full load of the dishwasher than it is to keep washing up throughout the day.’
And remember, it’s important to share how you’re feeling with the people you live with. It’s all too easy to just silently get on with all the cleaning – especially if this is something you have always done – but creating a cleaning rota or just having a chat about the chores can help.
Domestic labour is labour, and it shouldn’t all fall to one person in a household. Life is tough enough right now, so make sure you ask for help if it all starts too feel like too much.
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