Why Does a Messy House Give Me Anxiety? How to Stress Less About Cleaning and Keep Your House Functioning - Happy as a Mother

Why Does a Messy House Give Me Anxiety? How to Stress Less About Cleaning and Keep Your House Functioning


with KC Davis, @domesticblisters on TikTok and Founder of Struggle Care



WHAT YOU’LL LEARN


  • How to Reframe Our Thinking About Care Tasks
  • Practical Ways to Approach Cleaning as Functional
  • The Role Intensive Mothering Plays in Anxiety Over a Clean House
  • Why We Should Let Go of the Concept of “The Lazy Mom” 
  • A Simple Method For Cleaning Up (Even When It Seems Overwhelming)
  • Why Prioritizing Ourselves is Important

Why does a messy house give me anxiety? Why can’t I motivate myself to clean since I had kids? Am I just a lazy mom? Moms often worry about these things, feeling immense pressure to keep a clean house and experiencing shame when they fall short of those expectations. 

As moms, we can’t always buy ourselves more time to clean. But we can approach the concept of cleaning differently, learn to overcome our anxiety around cleaning, and develop simple tips for keeping the house functioning without getting overwhelmed. 
Today, I’m joined by KC Davis, author of How to Keep House While Drowning, known as Domestic Blisters on TikTok and founder of Struggle Care, to discuss reframing our thinking about “the mess” and tips for cleaning with kids.

The Laundry Mountain and the Invisible Load

When my kids were born, my husband and I worked to divide out the physical tasks in the home fairly. We came up with a system for laundry that worked for us, played on our strengths, and sounded fair on paper—he would wash and dry the clothes, and I was responsible for folding and putting them away. 

But sometime during my third maternity leave, I found myself becoming paralyzed at the thought of folding the laundry. 

The pile of unfolded clothes in our bedroom started growing, turning into a mountain. I told myself that I just needed to tackle it—that it was easy. I wondered what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I just fold the clothes?

Eventually, I took a step back and got curious about myself and my reaction to the laundry. What was really going on? Was I really just lazy? Or was there something else happening I wasn’t seeing? 

When I did, it suddenly clicked for me—it wasn’t about the laundry itself. The season was about to change, so I knew that I needed to sort through clothes and change out the dressers and make sure that everybody had clothes that fit that were weather-appropriate. I needed to shop for clothes, organize, and think about so many things. 

As I started thinking about all the steps that I needed to do before I even folded that laundry, I realized that it wasn’t that one surface task that was holding me back—it was all the other labour, the invisible load that went along with it. 

That was actually the moment that I started to understand the invisible load, and that’s why I talk about it so often. We often don’t even realize how much we are carrying—we just feel ourselves drowning and can’t figure out why. 

And because we have grown up with gender norms that tell us a clean house is something that “good moms” maintain, it can often lead to shame and guilt when we can’t keep up with the massive invisible labour that falls to us. 

When I started seeing KC Davis’s content, it was eye-opening. This was a different way to approach the concept of a “clean house.” I was excited to chat with her about how to keep the house functioning without drowning in labour. 

How to Reframe Our Thinking About Care Tasks

The cleanliness of our home can play a large role in our identity as moms, but KC pointed out that the concept of the home often gets left out of conversations about mental health. There is a sense of shame connected to a clean house that is particularly strong in women and even stronger in mothers. 

We often end up searching for organization tips and videos online, but they can make us feel even worse about the state of our own homes. When we see moms online with perfect refrigerators full of organized bins, and we’re covered in spit-up and struggling to find time to shower, it’s easy to feel like we’re failing. 

KC said that if we want to overcome anxiety and shame around having imperfect homes, we have to reframe our thinking about care tasks. 

We tend to think of household tasks as moral—there’s a sense of superiority in having a clean home. This leads to thinking that there is something wrong with us if our house is messy—that we are lazy or inefficient. 

We also often think of care tasks as binary—either they are “done” or we are behind. This leaves us in a neverending state of chasing the “done” status. 

But instead, she says they should be viewed as functional, cyclical, and morally neutral. Care tasks exist for a function. 

For example, the task of doing laundry has one function—to make sure everybody has clean clothes to wear. There isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to do it, and it doesn’t need to be morally charged. 

Shifting our thinking around care tasks to cyclical also relieves some of the pressure to get tasks “done.” For example, laundry isn’t done or not done—it’s a cycle. There are clothes on our bodies, clothes in hampers, clothes in the washer, and clothes that need to be put away. It’s unrealistic to think of it as a task with an end. You’re not a “bad mom” if laundry is at a certain stage of the cycle. 

Practical Ways to Approach Cleaning as Functional

Once you start to view household tasks as functional instead of moral, you can determine what works for you (and more importantly, what doesn’t). As you discover what your needs and your family’s needs are, you can start to let go of unnecessary subtasks and expectations. 

For example, KC pointed out that in the past, sorting clothes by color was necessary. However, now it isn’t always a functional need, with advancements in detergents and washers. So, that is a task that she has eliminated in her household. She doesn’t need to do it in order to make sure that everyone has clean clothes. 

She has created shortcuts that work for her and her family that still allow them to achieve the same function. As she started looking at what was necessary, she realized that she didn’t need to fold clothes and put them in three separate closets. She created a “family closet” with bins of clothes—instead of folding the clothes, she simply sorts them into bins. 

She also pointed out that moms sometimes try to take ideas from online or from TV and apply them without thinking about the function. If you ordered a bunch of clear bins because somebody else told you to, without considering the function, you haven’t reached the root of the task. You still have to consider the function and decide if it’s something that works for you. 

Ultimately, it’s about digging into what your family really needs and letting go of the moral expectations or the cookie-cutter traditional way of approaching household tasks. 

The Role Intensive Mothering Plays in Anxiety Over a Clean House

It’s also important to think about why we created the expectations around clean houses in the first place. Who decided we had to have every piece of clothing folded and every toy put away at all times?

For many of us, this stems from intensive mothering—the idea that we must give all of our capacity and resources to our children in order to be “good moms.” Our identity as moms often becomes wrapped up in how much we martyr ourselves. 

KC pointed out that this can happen to moms who wrapped their identity up in their work before they became moms. Sometimes when they are home with their children on maternity leave or working less, they look for that identity and validation in the “work” of motherhood. 

The issue with that is that at work, you can clock in and out. But motherhood is neverending. This can lead us to feel like we must be working on household tasks at all times in order to have value as moms. 

KC encourages moms to ask themselves, “Is this house serving me, or am I serving the house?” If it’s the latter, then we need to reevaluate our approach. 

We also have to consider the role that gender norms play in the expectations around our homes. Many of my clients feel embarrassed about the state of their homes—they feel as if they would be judged if somebody came over to visit. But that same shame doesn’t apply to dads. It’s steeped in gender stereotypes. 

KC sometimes faces judgment online from people who say she talks about motherhood as if she doesn’t like being a mom. But she says that’s not the case—she would just like to experience parenthood the way dads are able to—checking out and taking time for themselves as well as being present in the home. 

Why We Should Let Go of the Concept of “The Lazy Mom”

When my clients mention to me that they feel embarrassed about the mess in their homes, they are often worried about being viewed as lazy. Sometimes, they even view themselves as lazy. This was something I faced when I couldn’t bring myself to tackle the laundry mountain. 

But KC said that she doesn’t believe “laziness” even exists. It’s a morally charged word that indicates there’s something wrong with us. When we are unable to complete tasks, there is almost always something else happening beneath the surface. That could be neurodivergence, mental health concerns, task initiation struggles, or even just overwhelm with the invisible load. Other times, it’s simply that people prioritize tasks differently.  

It becomes hard to explain why managing the household is so difficult after motherhood. We can’t understand why we can’t do a task that would just take a few seconds. But when we’re in the throes of motherhood, sometimes we don’t even have a few seconds to spare. 

KC believes we should move past the concept of laziness and look beneath the surface for what is contributing to our inability to tackle tasks. 

A Simple Method For Cleaning Up (Even When It Seems Overwhelming)

Letting go of perfection and understanding that mess doesn’t make us bad moms is a big part of the puzzle. But KC also acknowledged that there are still tasks we need to do to keep our house functioning. 

The struggle comes in when we don’t know what to prioritize or how to begin tackling tasks when the invisible load is so massive. 

KC’s “5 Things Tidying Method” is a way to cut through the noise and clean up even when we don’t know where to start. 

She pointed out that in any mess there are only 5 things: 

  1. Trash
  2. Dishes
  3. Laundry
  4. Things that have a place but aren’t in the right place
  5. Things that don’t have a place

She recommends working through that list, starting with the trash, when tackling a messy space. Teaching children this method also helps them learn how to clean up. Breaking a big mess into tiny pieces makes it easier to tackle and prioritize. 

Using this method can help us contain our cleaning to manageable tasks so that we can let ourselves have time left over, for rest, for our own mental health, and for time to reset. 

Why Prioritizing Ourselves is Important

We often get so caught up in chasing a clean home that we feel like we can’t even take breaks or carve out space to rest. 

KC said that care tasks don’t end, and if we as mothers are waiting for those tasks to be finished before we rest then we will never rest. 

We have to carve out time for ourselves and give ourselves permission to check out and reset. For KC, that meant resting and relaxing during naptime, even if it meant the house remained messy. 

She realized that she was incapable of being the kind, respectful mom she wanted to be and keeping a perfect house—and the better value to her kids was allowing herself to reset so she could be an engaged, happy mom with a sense of identity. Without space for herself, she felt as if she was literally falling apart, leading to overstimulation, Mom Rage, and dissatisfaction in motherhood. 

By prioritizing herself and giving permission to let tasks wait, let her show up as the mom she envisioned. 

The perfect mother myth tells us that we should sacrifice every bit of ourselves for our children. And KC pointed out that at the end of the day, she would sacrifice her physical health and well-being for her kids if it would make them happy. But when she sacrifices everything, it doesn’t make her kids happy—in fact, it’s detrimental to their well-being. 

Prioritizing yourself is not an issue of righteousness, and sacrificing your well-being does not make you a good mom. Taking time and space for yourself and your mental health allows you to enjoy motherhood more, and it creates a better space for your children. 

KC pointed out that it’s important for our children to see us prioritizing ourselves as well. If we always sacrifice ourselves, we will raise sacrificial children. We want them to know that it’s okay to take care of themselves. Setting the example early teaches them that their mental health matters. 

Do you find yourself getting stressed, overwhelmed, and overstimulated because of mess and chaos? Register for our Managing Overstimulation in Motherhood workshop to learn how to reduce stressors and stay grounded in triggering moments.

KC Davis is a licensed professional therapist, author, speaker, and the person behind the mental health platform Struggle Care. KC’s compassionate and practical approach to self and home care for those dealing with mental health, physical illness, and hard seasons of life has drawn over a million followers on social media. Her book, “How to Keep House While Drowning” has sold over 50,000 copies and has been translated into multiple languages. KC Davis began her therapy journey at 16 when she entered treatment for drug addiction and mental health issues. After getting sober she became a speaker and advocate for mental health and recovery. Professionally, KC has worked most of her career in the field of addiction in roles such a therapist, consultant, and executive director. She lives in Houston with her husband and two daughters.

  


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