The feeling of managing a home without any help from others can be crushing. It can range from overwhelming to resentful to guilty to frustrated to angry – and everything in between.
Because this is an increasingly common issue, I wanted to gather meaningful, mature solutions that promote lasting change.
Fortunately, there are strategic and healthy ways to change your personal mindset, work with the people in your space, and streamline your housework in order to lessen the burden of caring for your home alone.
More than just simple tips or surface-level suggestions, I want to help you look inward, dealing first with your own resentment and expectations. Then, I want you to feel empowered with both interpersonal and practical strategies to tackle housework as a team.
The strategies are organized in a three-prong approach:
- Dealing with yourself (mindset)
- Dealing with others (communication and cooperation)
- Dealing with housework (resources and organization)
VERY important: This area of frustration can be rooted in so many different living situations, makeups of people, and personal expectations – it is impossible to address them all. Please use what works for you and ignore what doesn’t apply to you. I feel sure that something here will help you on the way to more harmonious living 🙂
Dealing with yourself
No one will enjoy starting with changing ourselves in this situation. As an Enneagram One, I relate on a deep, painful level to the resentment you might feel towards others not pulling their weight, having all the fun, ignoring responsibilities – or toward any situation that feels to meet an “ideal”, “right”, or “fair” standard.
I also recognize that taking care of a home by yourself is exhausting, overwhelming, and quite impossible in many situations.
So I don’t offer these suggestions of personal reflection & internal adjustments lightly. But I have learned it is unavoidable if we want to experience any peace in relationships and in life.
Not to mention – any strategy for working with others or for tackling housework will be infinitely more effective if our mindset (the only thing truly in our control) is in a healthy place.
1. Acknowledge what you can control.
Speaking of control, this is the first mental obstacle we must address. Simply, we have to be honest with our limitations of controlling others and their behaviors. We can influence, encourage, or work with them (as we’ll see in strategies to come) but mentally, we must let go of the notion of control.
Steven Covey in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, describes our circle of concern and circle of influence. The first are things that affect us, things that we care about. Within that circle is a smaller section of things we care about AND can do something about. If you’re unfamiliar, here’s a quick overview:
Our family often references this concern vs. influence framework, because it can be so helpful in distinguishing where effort should truly be focused and what needs to be let go.
It’s not unlike the serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
2. Assess what matters most.
When an issue is emotionally charged at the moment, it can be different to ‘zoom out’ to larger values and relationships.
First, try to put this housework struggle in context of what these relationships mean to you. While this may vary from a temporary roommate to a spouse of 40 years, it is worthwhile to ask yourself what is your TRUE priority: a successful, meaningful, respectful relationship with them OR getting your way with the home.
I’m not saying that mutually caring for a home and also being happy cannot coexist. It’s just important to remember which is the ultimate goal in this situation and let that be your “north star” as you approach the issue.
3. Assume the best of your people.
When I say “your people”, I mean your spouse or kids, roommate(s), partner, extended family or whoever you are sharing space with.
Regardless of the relationship, it can be easy to assume the worst motivation when we are feeling shafted or unappreciated.
However difficult it can be, it is so important to break this cycle by using empathy, compassion, and a generous assessment of our people (consistent with the situation and the rest of our relationship).
Rachel Hoffman explains it this way:
With very few exceptions, they are not actively sabotaging your efforts. I’m just going to come out with it, because this can be a hard one to hear, but: chances are, they either don’t notice, or they don’t care. Before you make any progress with how you look at this situation, it’s really important to fully understand this. You’re seeing ill intent where there’s likely just apathy and/or laziness.“How do I keep the place clean when no one will help me?” by Rachel Hoffman
4. Take responsibility for your preferences.
We will talk soon about the importance of creating shared definitions of what “clean” means. But before you ever talk to your people, it’s important to come to terms with this: Every individual in your home has different priorities, and that’s okay.
If it is clear that your standards of clean are much higher than those you live with, that will be a sign that you will be responsible for the gap in cleanliness. You can certainly agree to a compromise and a shared level of cleanliness but if yours is above and beyond that, you will need to come to terms with doing that yourself.
Try your best to see this above-and-beyond work as a preference – not as “the right way to do it that everyone else is neglecting.” Begin to view it as work that you do for yourself.
Dealing with others
After shifting to a mindset that is ready to collaborate, the next goal is to learn to communicate appropriately and work with the people in your space.
Fortunately, psychology can show us strategic ways to communicate with your people that are more likely to yield positive results.
Additionally, there are many tools and strategies that can help you work together and share the burden more naturally.
1. Have an honest, careful conversation with your people.
The first step: you just gotta talk about it. Face-to-face, honestly, and respectfully.
On Mind Body Green, Kelly Gonsalves shares two extremely helpful ways to start this conversation.
Lead with how you feel. “Trying to force your partner to do anything rarely succeeds in the long term, even if it is successful in the moment at getting what you want (or maybe even need),” Joanna R. Pepin, Ph.D., a sociologist whose research focuses on gender inequality within the family, tells mbg. “Talking with your partner about how you are feeling, such as the sources of stress and anxiety, offers your partner a way to show up for you rather than feeling defensive for what they haven’t been doing.”
Ask for what you need to feel how you want to feel… rather than making this about how your partner has been failing you. What would make you feel more equal and supported?How To Get Your Partner To Do More Around The House, For Real
Her article also pulls from Dr. Pepin’s resources around how to communicate these feelings. These are in the context of long-term relationships but could certainly be adjusted for anyone.
2. Create your own definition of “clean” – together.
After you communicate about the heart of this issue and establish understanding around the importance of working together, you can move into a practical conversation of what that looks like.
My advice – get nitty & gritty. Talk about everything that needs to be done in your home and talk about how often each of you feels it should be done.
My post, How Often Should Chores Be Done? + How to Define “Clean” for You, provides a checklist of over 100 tasks with professional recommended frequencies. It is a perfect template to work through this together.
If you want something more automated, you could complete my online custom cleaning schedule generator. Choosing which tasks you want to do, how often you want to do it, and you’ll receive a personalized schedule in seconds! This would be a great way to get on the same page and have a common starting point.
3. Avoid micromanaging.
This can be a big, sneaky pitfall in learning to share responsibilities. (And one I’m still learning how to let go of, for sure!)
Gonsalves (quoted above) calls this “gatekeeping” and explains how counterproductive this can be to working well together with your people:
Gatekeeping can be a big barrier to an equal division of labor. That can look like constantly criticizing the way your partner does certain chores, swooping in to “fix” his completed work, or monitoring him as he does them because you don’t trust him to do it “right.” These behaviors discourage your partner from being actively engaged in the work and taking initiative.
Trust your partner to get the job done. If something falls short, try not to criticize him or argue with him about what the “right” way is to do things—that will cause defensiveness and frustration. Instead, explain to him why you care about a certain way of doing a certain task. For example, organizing the laundry into colors helps preserve your delicate whites; cleaning the dishes immediately after use avoids a buildup later, and the buildup is what stresses you out.How To Get Your Partner To Do More Around The House, For Real
4. Find a time in your schedule that you can clean together.
This certainly won’t be an option for everyone, but it can be helpful to clean together at the same time.
If you’ve been living in a “50/50” mindset for a long time, this can be a tangible way to feel like a partner and a team with those you’re sharing space with – even if you’re working on different tasks.
It can also make the work go by SO much faster, which will be a positive encouragement to both of you.
This may be most beneficial at the beginning of your division of labor, but can certainly be continued if it works for you. Make it a habit, throw on some music, and find ways to make it fun. 🙂
5. Use an app for easy organization AND rewards.
Does everyone “deserve” a reward for doing housework? No, but the science of habit formation tells that it goes a long way in encouraging a long-term behavior.
One interesting way families or roommates can organize housework and also set up a rewards system is through apps like OurHome or Labor of Love.
I have personally used OurHome to track and reward new habits of my own, and I love the intuitive set-up, interface, and sharing features. Labor of Love is reviewed very well and looks like a great solution as well.
Using a rewards system that sync across the group can lighten the mood around housework and provide a more game-like experience, especially for kids involved.
Dealing with housework
Practically speaking, if you are feeling overwhelmed by all the housework, one huge way to help yourself and anyone coming on-board is to make it all as painless, mindless, and quick as possible. 🙂
There are several ways to streamline housework and lessen the burden on everyone involved.
1. Provide the right tools and methods.
Starting first with your own experience, are there any tasks that you struggle to tackle? Whether it’s due to lack of knowledge or lack of tools, this can be a huge time-waster and discouragement. Take time to find the resources you need.
Personally, I struggled for a long time to feel like my cleaning was really successful – like I was doing it “right” and seeing good, lasting results!
I now use a guide from a professional cleaner for all my cleaning how-to questions. She also has amazing tried-and-true homemade cleaning recipes that I love!
Additionally, I have really benefitted from time-saving products like my Bissell steam mop and smart organizers around the house.
Secondly, ask your people what barriers they experience.
- Do they know what to use and how?
- Do they know where the cleaners and tools are stored?
- Do your kids know what you mean when you ask them to clean? Have you taken time to break down the tasks into age-appropriate steps? It takes longer to teach them but will definitely pay off in the long-run.
- Can tools and cleaners be stored in individual totes* to make it easy to grab?
Work together to find solutions that work for everyone. Not only will this address the issue, it will also create ownership and buy-in from everyone involved.
2. Create a strategic, rotating schedule.
When one member of the household is in charge of keeping track of everything – what needs to be done, when it was last done, what is necessary to complete it, what is still in progress, etc. – it adds significantly to their burden. Specifically, this invisible work has been named the “mental load”.
One way to lessen your mental load is by using a comprehensive, rotating schedule of household tasks.
Instead of household chores and maintenance tasks floating around your head, they are encapsulated and organized within one system. Anyone in your home can reference this schedule and share in the management of these tasks.
► The schedule generator, mentioned above, is a perfect way to get this done quickly and custom-fit to you. Get a custom schedule for your family here.
3. Outsource when possible.
Often, there are real limitations to how much housework can be shifted to other members of the family. Whether they are truly unwilling to cooperate or if life circumstances prevent them from doing so, sometimes you have to get creative in finding help for yourself.
Whether it’s other members within your home, professional or non-professional hired help, or one-time services, this can be a significant way to alleviate the burden on yourself.
► Related: How to acknowledge your limits and ask for help
At this moment, what stands out most to you: dealing with yourself, dealing with others, or dealing with housework?
Even in writing this post, I recognize strategies in all 3 categories that could benefit the way my family shares the work of caring for our home.
It can be an uphill battle and even a one-step-forward, two-step-back process. But it is so worth it to live harmoniously with people we care about, create a space we all enjoy living in, and grow individually in the process. ❤
Also don’t miss these resources to support you on your journey!
- How Often Should Chores Be Done? + How to Define “Clean” for You
- How to Stick to A Cleaning Schedule: Solutions to 3 Major Obstacles
- 7 Solutions to Make Overwhelming Housework Manageable
- 6 Steps to a Customized Cleaning Schedule that Works
- Habits-Based Homemaking
Don’t be a stranger.
If this post meant something to you or if you want to chat more about this obstacle in your life – shoot me a message!
PS – don’t miss my free, full “resource directory” here.
Some resources are my own, and some are from other creators. ALL of them will help you overcome what is holding you back from enjoying peace of mind and a home you love.