I think everyone goes through periods of time where the thought of keeping up with everything feels like a giant weight of ‘just one more thing that needs to be done.’ When all the things all together mean that nothing gets done because it all just seems like too much. Learning how to manage your home when overwhelmed becomes essential to keeping life going. More importantly, we also need to learn how to keep from getting to that point.
My most recent (and probably the worst) bout with this was in 2020. At the time, my husband was working a contract job for a year out of state, halfway across the country, and in late March everything went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I know we all went through all the feelings during this time. For me, not only was I managing the household by myself, but I was also dealing with the realities of being a business owner during this time.
As a property management firm, we were considered essential. Because we were maintaining the apartments and making sure that people’s homes were kept in good repair, we couldn’t just close. This meant absorbing, adapting and disseminating the daily directions, rules, and changes that were coming down from the government. The government press conferences were about 5pm each day. So, after working a full day, my business partners and I then spent another 3-4 hours meeting, coming up with new policies, writing required manuals, and so on. All of which was then basically no longer valid 24 hours later, after the next press conference. (I’m feeling the strain and burnout just remembering and writing this!)
I definitely remember what that extreme exhaustion was like. Dishes? Housework? Cooking? Yeah, no. Some nights dinner was a bowl of oatmeal cooked in the microwave before I collapsed into bed or zoned out on the couch and played Animal Crossing.
As the months wore on and it became apparent that this was going to be much longer than the two weeks they originally told us, I had to come up with ways to keep things going, to keep from feeling too overwhelmed when faced with the thought of keeping the house (and myself) going.
Are you getting enough sleep?
You would be surprised how much sleep deprivation can make everything seem so much bigger and make managing your home seem insurmountable. Prioritize a good night’s sleep over just about everything else if you can. Even just getting enough sleep for a week can go a long way toward helping you recover your energy.
This was the first thing I noticed – I was having issues falling asleep. The stress would make my brain churn for hours with frustrations, potential resolutions, and so on. Normally, I’m asleep within minutes of getting in bed, so it was definitely unusual for me.
To help you get enough sleep, check how much caffeine you’re drinking and sugar you are consuming. Short-term those may keep you going, but they’re not going to do your long-term self any good. Start cutting back late in the day, which should help your body wind down naturally so that you’re ready to sleep. For most people, noon is about the latest that they can consume caffeine before it starts to affect their sleep. (This doesn’t apply to everyone – I’m one who usually processes caffeine fairly quickly. But try it and see how it affects you.) I also used soft piano music to fall asleep. It gave my brain something to pay attention to and kept it from thinking too much.
You Don’t Have to Do It All
Managing your home when overwhelmed can trap you into feeling like you have to do all the ‘shoulds’: I should keep my house perfectly clean, I should be exercising, I should be taking this “extra time” during the pandemic down time (hah!) to learn something or do something new, I should be cooking and eating healthy meals…
All the ‘shoulds’ make us feel even more overwhelmed.
Instead, I found it helpful to focus on a few daily non-negotiables that made me feel like I had my stuff together for the most part. This varies from person to person, but mine were fairly simple:
- make the bed
- wash the dishes/reset the dishwasher (honestly: this happened every few days when it got to the point of bothering me)
The rest of it I would deal with as I noticed it. Sometimes this was every week, sometimes every few weeks, or even once a month – depending on what it was. Let’s just say I have a very high tolerance for dust!
Eliminate Decision Fatigue
Sometimes the overwhelm is made worse by decision fatigue. After making decisions all day, the last thing I wanted to do was make yet another decision about what I needed to do as the day progressed. Instead? To manage my home when overwhelmed, I borrowed someone else’s cleaning schedule.
Enter Clean Mama, Motivated Moms, and Flylady. I mention all of them because I have used each of them at various times. They are apps or websites that have suggested routine cleaning routines so that you don’t have to spend a lot of time cleaning each day. Instead, they have you address areas on a rotating schedule so that they get cleaned just enough, but you still have time left to do other things. For all of them, they are a starting point; definitely feel free to modify!
Here’s the basics for each:
Clean Mama (referral link) has my favorite schedule to follow recently. She has a set of 5 suggested daily tasks that keep the house fairly presentable on a daily basis: make the bed, do a load of laundry, a quick pick up of surfaces that tend to collect things, wiping the counters, and checking the parts of your floors that tend to get dirty quickly like the kitchen or under the dining table. In addition, she adds one rotating weekly task most days: Mondays – clean the bathrooms, Tuesdays – dust, Wednesdays – vacuum, Thursdays – mop, Saturdays – change sheets and towels. She also has monthly tasks around a theme if you want to add deep cleaning items in, but the daily and weekly tasks are enough to keep your house running.
I do modify the schedule to fit my situation. Generally, I don’t have enough laundry to do one load a day every day, so I do all laundry once a week. I also don’t mind doing multiple weekly tasks on one day. Our house is not very large, so they don’t take very long to do.
I have found that Motivated Moms (affiliate link) was good for when I just want someone to tell me what to do because I don’t have the energy to make any more decisions. Her downloaded schedule and/or app have specific tasks assigned to each day that rotate through daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly/annual tasks for you.
Unlike Clean Mama’s version where you need to reference a second list, it’s a checklist you can just check off and be done with. No having to decide when to do something. There are about 10 daily items on the list and 2-6 additional rotating tasks. So, I usually tend to use her format when I want to have everything in one place and not worry about working through multiple lists. The app is customizable so you can rearrange or reassign things, but you can also just ignore the things that don’t apply if you’re using her downloadable file.
Flylady was where I started with cleaning schedules in the 90s. She consolidates the weekly housekeeping tasks into an hour once a week so that it’s all done in about an hour. She then encourages you to theme your days each week so that you take care of other items to keep the household running on certain days (running errands, cleaning out your car, etc.) Aside from the one hour of cleaning once a week, she has you clean the sink each night. She divides the house into zones as well. There is a different focus zone each week of the month where you address decluttering or deep cleaning tasks.
With all those options, find what is working for you right now. When something changes in your life, change what you’re doing so that it works for you in your new reality. I rotate through these three (sometimes following them very loosely) depending on what is going on for me at that time.
Take Advantage of Conveniences
Yes, it’s popular to cook from scratch, make things yourself, to do all the things without any help. But, you know what? There’s a time and a place for that.
Instead, take advantage of conveniences, even if it’s just for a little while.
It definitely became popular during the pandemic for other reasons, but rather than spending an hour grocery shopping each week? Order your groceries for delivery or pickup. While sometimes there’s a charge, consider whether it’s a good offset for how valuable your time is and what you could be doing instead. Sometimes that spending that one hour napping instead is priceless.
If you don’t even have energy to cook meals, sometimes it’s best to just take advantage of meal services to get you through. From pre-packaged meals that just need to be heated, to meals where the ingredients are pre-measured and ready to go, there’s a wide variety of options to make your life just a little bit easier. I have taken advantage of several pre-packaged meal services over the years, including Pete’s Paleo and Freshly. Look for ones that match your food preferences or dietary requirements. Sometimes this can even be a good start to reseting your eating habits, if that is one of your goals.
Use disposable plates and cutlery
Sometimes it’s not the cooking that does us in, it’s all the dishes afterwards. When everything else is piling up, it’s okay not to make more dishes that need to be washed. As my friend Kristin said, “We’re not corporations. We aren’t going to kill the earth with a few days/weeks of 1 or 2 people using paper plates.” If the thought of using disposables is a huge sticking point, be sure to recycle them after you’re done or look for compostable options to lessen the environmental impact.
Build a success pack & accept help
Success packs are an idea from Start Finishing, a book by Charlie Gilkey (affiliate link). Beyond the workplace, it definitely applies to daily life as well. Anyone who can help you is part of your success pack.
Success Pack ideas:
- a housekeeper to clean your house for you
- gardeners to take care of any lawn or garden maintenance
- a friend or family member to who will work with you or alongside you on a chore (either over the phone or in person)
- a handyman who can help take care of the little repairs that are driving you nuts.
Many times friends and family would love to help you – you just have to ask.
Toward the end of August 2020, it became apparent that working from home was going to be a longer-term reality. So my Mom helped me pack up my tiny craft room to convert it into a usable home office space. Prior to that, I was working at a desk in the living room sandwiched next to the front door. This meant that work was always visible and causing me stress. Afterwards, being able to close the door on my office space meant that I had better mental and physical separation between work and home, now that they were both in the same location.
Schedule Time to Take Care of Yourself
Circling back to my first tip: the best way to manage your home when overwhelmed is to make sure you take care of yourself. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you won’t have anything left to give. Get good sleep. Try to eat healthy food. Give yourself grace. Let yourself off the hook. Have oatmeal or cheese and crackers for dinner if that means that you get a break and a moment to breathe.
Most importantly, learn to recognize when overwhelm or burnout is threatening and do what you need to do in order to back it down again before it all gets to be too much. Taking a few minutes each day means that you are less likely to have to take whole days or weeks to recover in the future. Be nice to your future self.
What tips do you have that have helped you through periods of overwhelm?
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