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Overwhelmed by Housework? Try These Simple Strategies.

We’ve all come back home at the end of the day to the proverbial “Tornado House,” which, if you’ve stepped into my laundry room, may look a lot like this:

Overflowing laundry basket in basement laundry room. Laundry piled up during the week can cause one to feel completely overwhelmed by housework.
Laundry can pile up when you’ve been rushing around all week. Photo credit: Picture This Images on Shutterstock

It all starts the same way. A mad dash in the morning, a small wrench thrown in the schedule, and the housework pile-on begins.

Tornado House can happen daily for many of us, depending on what kind of “life stuff” happens. Work, sickness, family emergencies, or back-to-back after-school activities all have a tendency to just gum up the wheels.

I’ve been there. Often.

If you’d like to know how to avoid the feeling of being overwhelmed when it comes to housework, or dive into why it’s happening, keep on reading.

These strategies can help when you feel like you just cannot do one more thing.

Tip 1: Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of “Good Enough”

You’re busy. And your home will never be perfect. Heck, that’s the theme of this whole blog!

Can’t vacuum the whole house? No problem. Hit the high traffic areas.

Giant mountain of laundry? Wash the stuff you need immediately, and get the rest later.

The point is that you take some action. A little goes a very long way, and you’d be surprised that even “half done” can make you feel a bit better about the situation.

Tip 2: If It’s Still Too Much, Start Tiny – Really Tiny

After a bout of the flu or a period of just-feeling-blah, everything can seem like a Herculean effort.

So do something really tiny. Expend as little energy as possible.

You might consider folding the towels, but not the rest of the laundry. Or wipe down just one bathroom counter or mirror. Or take out the trash.

Once you get started, your mind plays this trick on you where you’ll probably just keep going a little bit longer. Smaller steps can help you to get motivated to clean whenever you are overwhelmed by mess.

But recognize that you don’t always have to do more, though. Do what you can.

Photo of tortoise slowly walking. To reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed by housework, tiny slow steps are best to start.
For motivation, just keep it slow and steady to start–like the humble tortoise! Photo credit: Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash

Tip 3: Put It on Paper, and Use the “Rule of Three”

This may not work for everyone, but it works well for me when my brain is just spinning in all directions.

To feel a better sense of control, just start writing things down. Look around. What is driving you crazy today?

Once you’ve written it all down, pare that list down into something more manageable.

The easiest way?

Use the time-tested “Rule of Three.”

Just pick three tasks from your list.

Why three tasks, and not five?

Because over time, we’ve discovered that “three” is probably the easiest combination of things to remember for the human brain (especially an overwhelmed, stressed brain). There is a reason the Rule of Three is used in marketing, political speeches, creative writing, and throughout corporations, government, and the military.

Use the Rule of Three when trying to tackle a long list of tasks. Three items are much easier to remember and process than ten!
Photo credit: Miguel A. Padrinan on Pexels

After you’ve picked your three items from your list, know that you are obligated to do only those three items.

If you have completed your three tasks and you feel “done” for the day, simply pick it up tomorrow and do three more!

But if you’re motivated to do more, keep on going!

The Rule of Three is the only way my husband and I can stay on top of housework during the workweek. There just isn’t time to do any more than three chores per evening, so we pick the three tasks that seem to be the most important at the moment.

It is by no means a perfect system, but our most important chores are generally taken care of.

Tip 4: Ask for and Accept Help

This is going to sound a bit “over-said,” but I am going to go ahead and risk sounding like a broken record.

Why are so many (women especially) carrying all the housework load on their own?

Photo of a sign "ask for help" in blocks. One of the ways to avoid feeling overwhelmed by housework is to ask for and to accept help.
Ask for help, and if you receive help, accept it with gratitude. Photo credit: Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Every household has its own dynamic, so I’ll reserve any commentary, but I do think there are subtle ways to encourage your family to help you. This might even work with roommates (try it out and let me know!).

  1. If someone actually offers to help you, please let them help. This is gold. Do not refuse the offer—this may never happen again!
  2. If someone helps, and the task isn’t exactly “how you would have done it,” do not sound ungrateful by criticizing the work that was done.
  3. Give praise and/or thanks for the help you received. Please do this every single time. It really matters!

Case in point: Sometimes when my husband puts away the dishes, I occasionally find the plates in the wrong section of the cupboard. Plates, bowls, saucers–it’s all indistinguishable to him. They’re just…dishes!

But are the clean dishes now out of the dishwasher? Yes! Mission accomplished.

When you’re absolutely overwhelmed with chores, accept the help and try not to be too particular about the outcome.

So Why You Are Overwhelmed in the First Place?

All of the life hacks and checklists in the world will be no help at all if you haven’t done a proper root-cause analysis.

Ask, why am I overwhelmed all the time?

Is this just a feeling I’m having based on my own perceptions, or is the house truly in a state of chaos?

Am I avoiding something or procrastinating?

To dive deeper into what happens when someone becomes overwhelmed by housework, I came up with some theories.

Reason 1: Your Cleaning Tools May Actually Hurt

Are you getting older? I sure am. I can’t lug a heavy vacuum cleaner upstairs anymore. Also, I have Tyrannosaurus rex-length arms, so I need extensions to reach dust in high areas.

I cannot begin to count the number of times I avoided vacuuming because it literally hurt me to drag that clunky machine up and down the stairs.

Photo of vacuum cleaner on rug. Those who experience pain while performing housework should look for more ergonomic options.
The cleaning tools that you use may actually be painful. Look for more lightweight or ergonomic options. Photo credit: Jarmoluk on Pixabay

It’s time to invest in yourself! Your tools do not have to be expensive or “high-end” to get the job done well. There are inexpensive used tools to be found on Craigslist, Freecycle, or Facebook Marketplace, some in need of only very minor repairs or parts.

If the tools you use don’t physically hurt you and are user-friendly, then I promise you won’t dread using them.

Reason 2: Your Perfectionist Mindset is Causing You Stress

Those with small children probably know this, but your home is a lot like a factory. Everything in your home is in various stages of production and it will never be entirely “done.”

Until you move out or die.

So if the control freak in you insists that you will have a perfectly clean sparkling home every day of the week, send that mean little troll back underneath his bridge! It’s just not realistic.

Living itself is dynamic and constantly shifting; it’s imperfect and extremely messy. Our homes can sometimes reflect that.

In our high achieving, competitive modern culture, we can all learn to incorporate a little more self-compassion in our daily lives. So please go and give yourself permission to practice it!

Reason 3: You Have Few or No “House Rules”

How many homes have “house rules?”

A few simple “house rules” to remember can reinforce that everyone must cooperate in keeping the house tidy.
Photo credit: Joshua Miranda on Pexels

House rules do not have to be some long, elaborate list. In fact, the more rules you have, the more likely they are to be ignored.

But if you find yourself picking up the same things, cleaning the same messes, or searching for the same things over and over, it might be time to set up a few guidelines.

Our house rules are simple.

  1. Shoes are placed by the door in the shoe cubby (because they’re a trip hazard).
  2. Dirty dishes go into the dishwasher immediately after meals. No exceptions.
  3. No dirty laundry allowed on the floor.

I haven’t calculated how much time having house rules saves me, but little repetitive movements occurring many times throughout the day can surely add up.

Pick your own 3-4 house rules and reinforce them. Just like the Rule of Three, three or four is about the most anyone can process or recall.

Reason 4: You May Just Have Too Much Stuff to Clean

This is a phenomenon that affects many of us. Even if you’re an extreme minimalist, you’ll have to fight a constant battle against more stuff coming into your home. Blame cheap consumer products, holiday gift giving pressure, and many generations of inherited stuff.

There are all kinds of resources out there on how to de-clutter, but it may be worth taking a look around and asking, what do I actually use in here? Can I get rid of this or make better use of it?

Don’t be afraid to be a little unconventional about it. Do you really use a dining room table? Sure, a lot of people have one. But do YOU use it? Has all that extra furniture become just an expensive cat or dog lounge area that you have to clean?

Reason 5: Your Schedule Is Crazy

If this “overwhelmed” feeling is constant, your lifestyle could be trying to tell you something. Many of us feel pressure to have successful careers and to be full participants in our children’s activities, our religious institutions, and our communities.

You just cannot do it all. There has to be a tradeoff somewhere, and “really clean home” may not fit into this equation. That’s ok!

Sometimes, your plate is just too full. Photo credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

This reminds me of the time I was working three part-time jobs and going to school full time. My apartment was just a wreck, as I was always in and out rushing off somewhere, and I couldn’t figure out why I could not stay on top of laundry.

Well, if you understand basic math, you probably know why.

But I was young and…well, extremely…uh…optimistic? (Ok, foolish.) Determined to become the ultimate time hacker, I read all kinds of how-to articles. I remember some clever blogger had described how she broke down her entire day into 15-minute increments.

You know how long that brilliant little system lasted before I flamed out? About 3 days.

Ultimately, something had to give. When one of my jobs reduced my hours, I finally got some of my life back. Voila! Finally time for laundry again.

In your own life, ask, is there something that can be eliminated? Even something small?

There is No Such Thing as a Perfectly Run Home

If there’s any takeaway from this post, I want you to know that the perfect home does not exist, and that feeling overwhelmed with housework is a very common issue today. We’re all just spread thin in many different directions.

And if anyone tells you that they have the ultimate solution to your problem, well, you should be pretty skeptical!

To have some semblance of order and control in our lives is a very natural thing, though. Most of the time, the issue is not about the problem itself, but how we’ve allowed the problem to control us.

So when Tornado House is angrily staring back at you, use these strategies, and don’t let him win!


Tell me below in the comments, did you ever have to take things off of your plate to make time for housework?

Does spring and summer yard work also leave you feeling overwhelmed? Check out the last section of this post, where I talk about our low-maintenance yard method!

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