Here's how household chores help us to de-stress

If we can manage to alter our inner experience when we do our daily chores even the most mundane activities can feel ecstatic

Somi DasUpdated: Sunday, October 02, 2022, 02:30 PM IST
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I do not remember a day growing up when my mother wouldn’t be in her worst mood or on the verge of exploding while doing the cleaning and dusting routine. As kids, we would tiptoe around our parents when we saw them struggling to finish their daily chores. A shrill cry warning us to stay away from the room that was being cleaned to an earful of harsh words if we happened to walk over the cleaned floor were inevitable. There were consequences if you happened to cross paths with parents with brooms and mops. 

 Even today when someone cleans around me I feel displaced, nervous, and completely unsure of what I am supposed to do during that time. I now know that it wasn’t just my parents who would carry an air of indignation because they were cleaning the place they inhabited. It happens with most people who live with another person. The person cleaning harbours strange indignation and a passive-aggressive attitude while completing household chores.

I do understand where this behaviour among women about household chores, stems from. Traditionally, women have been burdened with so much household work without their consent that the only way to vent their frustration was to bang the utensils or shout at their children or people over whom they had some power. 

Many women of my generation probably are at a better place. They earn enough to hire help. Men too are self-training themselves in cleaning and helping with household chores. Yet, the cleaning routine at home remains one of the thorniest issues among modern couples. If one partner likes to be messy, the other one wants an immaculate house before they leave for the office. ‘Organised’ and ‘messy’ are more personality traits than gender traits. So, it would be unfair and misleading to look at our general anxiety towards household work through a gendered lens, at least in the case of modern working millennials.

 Then what explains our anxiety around household work? Why do cleaning and household chores bring up uneasy feelings in us? Diwali cleaning probably matches the anxiety induced by a Monday. Why do we push it to the end of our to-do list? Why do we not give it equal respect and priority just like we give our office work? Perhaps because we have associated household work with chaos and anxiety since childhood, we tend to dislike it.

Another explanation could be found in our generation’s philosophy around work. We only ever commit to two kinds of work: one that has a purpose and another that gives us sensory pleasure. Household work doesn’t fit in. Deadlines are more important than cleaning the thick layer of oil collecting on our kitchen slab. Attending the pool party on a Sunday is more interesting than clearing the dust comfortably settled on your bookshelves. 

I bring to my consciousness a powerful scene from the iconic show "House of Cards" in which an ambitious journalist on the White House beat Zoe Barnes is sickened by the amount of filth in her room and runs to a friend's place just to sleep in a clean bed whenever I am lying in a pool of mess while wrapping up my writing deadlines or doom scrolling through instagram. By the end of the first season Barnes is murdered and her bright career snuffed. It usually pushes me to clean my house and fold my clothes. On some rare occasions I am able to reach that place inside me when I truly start enjoying the cleaning and the folding. No, it isn't aided by any music (that too works for many) but the very awareness of my body fully committing to these actions without associating any negative memories or purpose to it.

 If we are doing the work to break generational trauma, put an end to habits that don’t serve us and get rid of anxieties passed down to us by our parents, merely doing breathing exercises and meditating won’t help. Something as basic and mundane as cleaning reveals our core beliefs and our attitude around it carries the remnants of our early wounds. There is plenty of scope for doing our inner work while doing our housework. 

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