7 Solutions to Make Overwhelming Housework Manageable


what to do if you are overwhelmed by chores or drowning in housework - solutions for realistic, manageable housework

Do you sometimes feel that you’re drowning in housework?

It feels like just a simple walk around your home can generate an endless to-do list.

One of my readers said it feels like playing “whack-a-mole” – just trying to deal with the most urgent problem as it comes up and not having time for anything else.

There is no denying it: it takes SO much to care for a home. It is completely normal to feel overwhelmed by that at times!

The good news, however, is there are ways to work smarter – not harder! 🙂

Since there are many different causes of this overwhelm, I have compiled 7 different approaches to make your housework more manageable and realistic:

  1. Lessen your “mental load” by using routines.
  2. Let go of unhelpful expectations or unrealistic standards.
  3. Plan for successful cleaning times.
  4. Use time-saving techniques and products.
  5. Acknowledge your limits, and ask for help.
  6. Reflect on deeper issues – like a lack of motivation.
  7. Make adjustments for demanding circumstances or seasons of life.

Whatever you feel holds you back from managing housework with confidence, one – or all! – of these strategies may be your answer.


1. Lessen your “mental load” by using routines.

We often use so much mental capacity keeping track of:

  • what needs to be done
  • how often it should be done
  • when we did it last
  • what might be slipping through the cracks

And in keeping this in our head, we carry the weight of ALL of our tasks, all of the time. That is enough to make you overwhelmed!

Also, it is almost impossible to prioritize and know where to start when you don’t have any structure of when things get done. It makes everything feel urgent – which is a recipe for a breakdown in my house. 🙂

That’s where routines can do the mental work for you. (Notice that I say routines and not just a checklist.)

Here’s how routines help:

  • Routines group tasks that need to happen at similar times: daily, weekly, monthly, etc.
  • All the tasks that need to be done are included in their appropriate routine – so you don’t have to keep track of when to do it or when it was done last. It gets it all out of your head!
  • You can narrow your focus solely on a specific list. This gives you direction in knowing where to start and allows you to leave the other tasks for their allotted time.
  • When routines happen consistently, they are forgiving. If you skip it one time, it’ll rotate back around soon enough.
  • Over time, routines become habits – happening automatically with much less thought and willpower.

How to start using routines

If you aren’t currently using cleaning routines, I recommend starting with daily routines.

These daily rhythms consist of tasks that make your home function even if nothing else gets done. They are usually split between morning and evening routines, and include tasks like:

Make bedCharge electronics used daily
Start laundryFold & put away laundry
Clean dishes / run dishwasherPut away dishes / unload dishwasher
Tidy kitchen and wipe down countersWater and tend to house plants
Tidy common areasTidy bedroom(s) and bathroom(s)

The great thing about identifying these essential tasks is that you have a structure to fall back on in times of change or unusual busyness.

As one reader described, they are “easy routines that are able to be maintained throughout all the ups and downs of life – not only when life is running “smoothly” but also when there is upheaval or chaos so things don’t implode and fall apart.” I love that!

I actually started using daily routines myself after my first son was born. I felt like I could only get a small handful of things done each day, so I prioritized the absolute essentials – dishes, laundry, and food.

So consider establishing these routines for the most important items in your home. Write out a morning list and an evening list, perhaps to do in the same order every day.

Even this step can provide a lot more predictability and confidence in managing your household workload.

For more in-depth guidance, get a free excerpt from my product Home, Clean Home that will help you get started with daily and weekly routines of your own.

2. Let go of unhelpful expectations or unrealistic standards.

Within a quick search on Google or Pinterest, we can find an abundance of cleaning routines.

The problem is that these checklists are rarely personalized to our specific situations and inadvertently create unhelpful expectations. They pile on more & more things we should do, and we begin to believe we must constantly measure up to that standard.

This pressure can come from other places too:

  • how we were raised
  • how our spouse was raised
  • how our friend cleans his/her home
  • how our neighbor clean his/or home
  • how other homes look on social media

Identify unnecessary work.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by your housework or struggling to make it manageable, consider if you are trying to measure up to standards that don’t make sense for you.

Think about how you can scale back your expectations and only focus on what truly benefits your home, family, and life.

Of course some tasks must be dealt with regularly – such as maintenance checks related to health, safety, and structural integrity. But honestly, the rest of it is in your control!

You can ask yourself:

  • Are there tasks that I could do less frequently and still be comfortable with my home?
  • Are there tasks I would *prefer* to happen more regularly but aren’t necessary for our home to be functional?

My post on personalizing your cleaning schedule has a lot of practical advice for re-evaluating your goals, preferences, and expectations. If you are honest with yourself and keep an open mind, you may find a lot of new freedom. 🙂

Don’t try to be perfect!

As a recovering perfectionist, one of my favorite quotes about goal setting is from Jon Acuff:

“This is the first lie that perfectionism tells you about goals: Quit if it isn’t perfect.”

Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done

Perfectionism creeps into caring for our homes in so many sneaky, counterproductive ways:

  • We think we have to complete each task perfectly.
  • We think we should only start our list when we have time to do it all.
  • We think we should constantly be “caught up” on housework.

Well, another quote from Acuff:

“It’s not supposed to be perfect, it’s supposed to be finished.”

The Finish Workbook

Getting something mostly right, or knocking one thing off your list, or doing one thing every day — it all matters. It all counts.

This could be a book of its own, but just keep this in mind when you start feeling overwhelmed. Ask yourself if you are falling into an all-or-nothing mindset that is creating too much pressure.

And if you struggle specifically with the nagging feeling of “not being caught up”, check out this article about how to shift your perspective!

3. Plan for successful cleaning sessions.

Now that you have narrowed down your essentials, eliminated unnecessary work, and given yourself some flexibility – let’s talk about how to knock out that cleaning as efficiently as possible.

Choose a time when you are most energetic, focused, and/or available.

If you have kid(s), I love this advice from The Parentologist:

Be strategic when you clean. The best time to clean is during a child’s naptime or first thing in the morning when you have the most energy and your child is often in the best mood. I am a big advocate for eating at the table together as a family during mealtime, especially dinner, but mealtime is often the only time of the day when your child is contained and you are free to clean! I have found that the best time to clean the kitchen or family room is while my child is eating breakfast and or lunch.

theparentologist.com

Get the clutter out of the way before starting.

Before cleaning, pick up clutter and centralize items where they need to be cleaned. This will keep you from stopping mid-task to take care of these items, and it gives you a “blank slate” to start with.

Keep supplies simple & ready to go.

While specialized cleaners can certainly come in handy, I’ve been really happy with streamlining my main cleaners to homemade options using similar ingredients.

Also, grouping cleaners you often use together in easy-to-grab totes – or even an apron! – takes all the thought out of it. I’ve gotten into the habit of storing all my cleaning rags in the tote, as well, so I always have them ready.

Multi-task wisely.

It is easy to get overly ambitious in what you can accomplish and end up with several unfinished tasks.

While it can certainly make sense to start a load of laundry or run the dishwasher while you work on another area of the house, make it a general rule to only focus on one thing at a time. Work a task to completion, then move on to the next.

Not only does this make it less overwhelming mentally, it also makes it easier and less stressful to stop mid-process if something comes up. 🙂

4. Use time-saving techniques and products.

If you are looking for practical ways to cut down on your cleaning time, there are lots of techniques AND products available.

Learn from the best.

I will admit, I am not a “cleaner” at heart. I LOVE clean and organized spaces, so I do it a lot, but I don’t like it. (Sorry, Monica Geller.)

So, I defer to the experts! There is no shortage of brilliant tips out there. I recommend finding a few that really make a difference in your cleaning routine, rather than feeling overwhelmed by implementing all of them at once.

  • Good Housekeeping says ” Spray the bathroom cleaner on the tub and basin and leave it to work for 10 minutes before you rinse off. This will make all the difference in how effective it is!”
  • Lovely Craft Home recommends using a dust mop to clean walls.
  • One Good Thing suggests using a lint roller to clean furniture, lampshades, and more!
  • Practically Functional explains how you can use vinegar & steam to clean your microwave (I use this all the time!)

And perhaps most importantly,

  • Molly Maids says, “Clean as you go. This is a tried-and-true way to save time when cleaning, especially when it comes to your kitchen and bathroom. While cooking, be sure to wipe surfaces as you go and place prep utensils and bowls in the sink. Clean spills on your stovetop as they happen so you can prevent crusted-on stains. Similarly, be sure to wipe away any soap scum or toothpaste on your bathroom sink daily.”

Invest in products that simplify time-consuming tasks.

As my husband says – “It’s not about how good you are, it’s about how good your tools are.”

Normally, I’m too frugal to fork over money for fancy cleaning tools. But over time, I’ve definitely changed my tune if something really saves me time.

The best example is my Bissell Steam Mop (full review here). It has saved me so much time as an all-in-one tool that only uses water to clean, disinfect, and quickly lift dried-on or sticky messes.

For all my favorites, check out my post Amazon’s Best Products for Quick, Simple Cleaning & Organizing. (I use every one!)

5. Acknowledge your limits, and ask for help.

Even after making cleaning simpler and more efficient, you still may need a helping hand. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to alleviate those responsibilities as needed.

Assign an owner to each task.

If you live with a spouse, roommate, partner, etc. have an honest discussion to divide responsibilities. While you can certainly help each other, having an “owner” for every task prevents miscommunication and procrastination.

If you have children, you can also assign tasks to them! Check out this guide to kid-friendly chore assignments, as well as this fun chore system over at Lightly Frayed.

Enlist professionals – or non-professionals! – if your budget allows.

If you don’t have enough time to meet the needs of your home, perhaps you can adjust your budget to hire help. Consider the most “bang for your buck” in outsourcing.

  • Consider dry-cleaning for especially difficult or time-consuming laundry.
  • Identify specific home maintenance items – like heating & cooling or hot water heater needs – that would be best serviced by a professional.
  • Ask around for recommendations for a handy-man who could handle other home projects.
  • Hire a trustworthy high-school or college student to help with household chores or projects. Many are looking to make some extra money and can be great helping hands!
  • If it best serves your lifestyle, you can even consider cleaning services to come weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly to keep up with regular cleaning.

Consider one-time assistance.

Very few people can afford to pay others to do the majority of their housework. However, if you are feeling really overwhelmed, there are ways to enlist help to relieve your temporary stress without paying on an ongoing basis.

  • Consider arranging childcare for a few hours or a whole day (spouse, grandparent, babysitting, or even a day camp) so that you can have devoted time to focus on your home.
  • Even if you can’t hire a cleaner regularly, perhaps you could have a one-time deep clean or organizer, so that you just have to maintain the cleanliness from there.

Everyone will have a unique balance of spending their own personal time and spending money for hired help. There’s no wrong way to do it! What matters is that you are doing what is necessary to take care of your home in the way that best fits your lifestyle and needs.

6. Reflect on deeper issues – like a lack of motivation.

Sometimes, despite the BEST plans, strategies, “hacks”, and products – we just don’t stick to our plan.

Personally, I know the feeling, and I’ve heard from countless readers that motivation is the primary obstacle in maintaining their home.

In their own words, they struggle with:

  • Feeling “slow to start”
  • Gaining forward momentum
  • Lacking energy and ambition

So if you find yourself overwhelmed by tasks left undone, some troubleshooting and deeper digging into the “why” may be your answer!

I go into more detail in this post and I have a whole e-book about it here. I hope you find it helpful!

7. Lastly, make adjustments for demanding circumstances or seasons of life.


Like we touched on earlier with daily routines, we have to build in flexibility for seasons of life that shift our capacity AWAY from our homes.

When we are experiencing circumstances that are unusually busy or less than ideal, it is important that we are realistic in our expectations of what can happen around the house. Despite our desire to “do it all”, we just can’t.


These seasons include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Depression and anxiety
  • A new baby
  • Financial stress
  • A busy time of work and/or travel
  • Lack of help and support
  • Disabilities, chronic pain, or health issues

If you are experiencing any of these circumstances, be kind to yourself.

Physical and mental health issues, excessive responsibilities and stress, and life transitions can make everyday responsibilities feel impossible – all for their own unique reasons.

Prioritize taking care of yourself.

Outsource what you can, or simply ask a trusted friend to do it with you.

Break tasks down into manageable chunks and celebrate the smallest of accomplishments!

I feel sure you are doing your best. And that really is enough for each day.


Taking the next step

The most important thing to do when you’re overwhelmed is usually to just do something.

If you want to set up your own daily & weekly routines, sign up for a free workbook:

Don’t miss out on these other helpful posts:

Related Resource: How to Stick to A Cleaning Schedule: Solutions to 3 Major Obstacles

Related Resource: 6 Steps to a Customized Cleaning Schedule that Works

Related Resource: Why Your Cleaning Schedule May Be Failing

And lastly, if you are looking for an entire overhaul to how you clean, maintain, and declutter your home, I highly encourage you to check out the full version of Home, Clean Home!

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