Among the many truths revealed during lockdown – Zoom meetings are somehow more tedious than real-life meetings, wine is cheaper when you bulk buy – one of the most salient is the reminder that housework is, generally speaking, awful.
In April the Sydney Morning Herald reported a 52 per cent decline in the outsourcing of general home cleaning.
That included a 50 per cent drop in cleaning services in Sydney and 55 per cent fall in Melbourne between mid-February to late March when both states were in hard lockdown. There was a 45 per cent decline in all cleaning jobs overall during that same period.
Put simply: many of those Australians lucky enough to once have cleaners found themselves doing their own housework. And for those who always did their own cleaning, it was, according to statistics, mostly women who found themselves doing more of it.
The Australian Institute of Family Studies undertook a report Life during COVID-19, which showed that women take on the majority of household chores in 43 per cent of heterosexual couples. That figure only dropped by 2 per cent during the pandemic.
And only 9 per cent of men were taking on the majority of housework. You don’t have to be a family therapist to guess what happened next: fights. Lots of them.
According to Fantastic Services Group data, household chores created a source of conflict in relationships for almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of couples, with some arguing as often as once a week. (No stats were available on conflict between teenagers and mums, which one can imagine was probably north of 99 per cent.)
And the most loathed of all chores? That dubious honour went to cleaning the bathroom.
Thirty-three per cent of people surveyed said they hated it. Which stands to reason. Rare is the person who delights in getting under that rim.
Few among us enjoy trying to scrub the mould out of those tiles. Yes, there are a thousand “bathroom cleaning” hacks out there but the fact remains, it is difficult!
The hatred of bathroom cleaning was followed by mopping (17 per cent of people did not care for it) and gardening, (13 per cent).
Fantastic Services Group also found that just under half of those surveyed (46 per cent) never clean their windows, and a third (38 per cent) never scrub their ovens, while 21 per cent somewhat alarmingly never clean out their fridge. Not occasionally. Not seldom. Never.
According to psychologist Jemma Doley, the avoidance of cleaning is a relatively normal trait.
“Cleaning can become something we dread. This may happen when we lack the time to clean, when the mess is just too big and overwhelming to tackle, or when perhaps we’ve fallen into some bad habits around maintaining a tidy home.”
Although, for many of us, the big clean-up was nothing short of cathartic during lockdown, with 34 per cent of women spending time deep cleaning the home compared to 22 per cent of men.
Who are these people? And why do they find it so soothing?
“Some of us find cleaning can be beneficial in relieving our stress levels and helping us to feel more organised,” says Doley.
“When we clean our homes, this can result in a sense of mastery and achievement. A clean environment can help us to feel calmer.”
Calm was certainly something we were craving during lockdown, when the fear of coronavirus was matched only by job insecurity and a deep feeling of disconnection from the rest of the world. In this sense, it’s easy to understand how chores such as vacuuming (a favourite) and decluttering might seem appealing.
“Whether you love or hate cleaning, having a clean environment can help us to feel more in control and organised and can have many positive benefits for our mental health,” says Doley, who notes that cleaning can lower cortisol.
But that can be difficult when you’re in stage four lockdown and have to keep fighting the urge to return to it multiple times a day.
It remains to be seen how our habits will change next year. One thing is certain – cleaning services will be in high demand.