Author’s note: This post was originally published on November 14, 2020. It has been updated and reposted.
Sometimes it feels like all I do is chores. This is — of course — an exaggeration, but as the parent of a toddler all I know is that dishes pile up in the sink faster than anyone can wash them and that the end of day toy reset often feels futile by 8 AM. And it’s not just kid chores that get on top of me.
Historically, my approach to my least favorite chores could be called “creative avoidance.” When I realized that I hated ironing, I started buying fewer clothes that needed to be ironed, or just hung clothes in the bathroom while I was taking a shower to get the wrinkles out. (I’ve since graduated to a steamer, which I break out on special occasions!) I stock up on socks and underwear to be able to stretch out the time between doing loads of laundry. I’ve gone out to eat simply to avoid dirtying the kitchen.
But parenthood and pandemic living have broken some of my well-honed systems, and like many others, I find myself grappling with having to spend more time doing things I dislike. But when the going gets tough, the tough get joyful (that’s the saying, right?) — and so I thought I’d gather some inspiration for ways to make some life’s dullest chores more delightful.
Ways to Make Chores More Joyful
For ideas, I turned to the Joyspotters Society, our private community of more than 6000 joyspotters, and I was overwhelmed by the response: more than a hundred tips and tricks were shared by this generous, thoughtful group. I’ve gathered them into themes to make it easier for you to find the strategies that will work for you, and added some of my own tips, as well as ones that I’ve come across in my research. All in all, I hope what you find here helps make chores more fun and less stressful. If creating more joy at home is on your to-do list, make sure you’re on the waitlist for my free live workshop The 5 Secrets to Designing a Feelgood Home. Sign up for the waitlist here.
1. Set a timer
Joyspotter Genevieve writes, “I hated emptying the dishwasher (I know, privilege) until I timed myself doing it. It took 4 minutes. Knowing that, it’s no longer a big deal.” I love this strategy because it creates awareness. A looming task can feel like it requires a huge amount of time and effort when in reality, it will be over much sooner than you expect.
The other thing about setting a timer is that it can make a task feel like a race, which turns it into a game. Vanessa says that she sets a 17 minute timer for cleaning the bathrooms on Monday mornings. “I always try to beat it! Loooove starting my week with that chore checked off.” I used to do the same thing for my drawing exercises in grad school, allowing only 20 minutes per page. Being “on the clock” focused my attention, giving me an energy boost that helped me power through pages and pages of repetitive warm up sketches.
2. Dance it out
Many joyspotters rely on a playlist of fun tunes to keep their energy up during unpleasant chores. The most popular genres seem to be top 40 hits from the 80s, 90s, and 00s, but anything with a fast beat and a joyful cadence will do the trick. (A few specific favorites include Spice Girls, B52s, and Hanson. Marike even has a “special vacuuming song” which she kindly shared with the group.) I’ll attest to the power of good music as a salve for chores; our weekly cleaning sessions became much more fun as soon as Albert discovered this “Cleaning + Organizing” playlist on Spotify.
And if the urge to bust a move strikes, most joyspotters agree that it’s worth indulging in a dance break. Shelly writes, “I have cordless headphones and a ‘Joy’ playlist with all songs that bring me joy. I hit shuffle and clean and dance away, makes it go so much faster.” Even if the time spent dancing makes things take a little longer, it feels like less time goes by. And if you invest in a pair of washable microfiber mop slippers, as recommended by Twila, your dance moves can be as productive as they are joyful!
Music and dancing can also soothe nerves agitated by certain tasks. As Linzi points out, “I hate vacuuming because the noise makes me anxious and it takes a long time. I put on my headphones, turn up my music loud, and make myself dance around the apartment while cleaning.” Linzi’s approach reminded me that some chores are unpleasant not just because they’re tedious or dull, but because they trigger sensitivities (such as to loud noises or harsh smells) or negative emotions (such as disgust) and that adding in pleasing sensations can be an important way to ease the negative impact of these triggers.
3. Escape into another world
Another popular strategy among joyspotters is to listen to podcasts or audiobooks while doing unpleasant chores. “About a year and a half ago I started listening to podcasts,” says Daniella. “This has changed my life. Boring tasks have become the trigger for quality time.”
Monotonous tasks often occupy our hands, but not our minds. Adding in narrative or learning completely flips the purpose of that time: it becomes joy-time, and the work is just incidental. As Daniella says, “If I put the kids to bed, and then discover there isn’t much laundry or there aren’t many dishes — I’m actually a little disappointed!”
Audiobooks, with their serial nature, can even make you look forward to your list of chores. I’ve always hated spending time in the car, especially stuck in traffic, but when Albert and I made a rule that we could only listen to our current book in the car, I began to look forward to our long drives back to the city on Sunday night. I’ll confess I even sometimes wished for traffic so that we would get to listen a little bit longer.
4. Layer in a “guilty pleasure”
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you probably know that I don’t like the term “guilty pleasure.” Unless a pleasure hurts you or someone else, the guilt we attach to it usually stems from external judgments around the value of that enjoyment, and why sabotage our joy by labeling it in a negative way?
That said, the association can be hard to break, and when it comes to pleasures we feel guilty about, TV is often at the top of the list. Decades of criticism have taught us to believe that TV is “chewing gum for the brain” or “empty calories,” so even when we enjoy it, we often feel like it’s something we shouldn’t be doing.
But adding a so-called guilty pleasure to a dreaded task seems to redeem them both. Allowing ourselves to watch a favorite TV show while ironing or folding laundry puts boundaries around the indulgent quality of TV watching, and makes the task more pleasurable. As Eveline says, “I love folding laundry! It is one of the few chores you can do while watching television! Which make[s] me feel not so guilty about watching a quick vlog or tv show in the middle of the day.”
Music can also be a guilty pleasure, particularly the cheesy stuff that the cool kids turn up their noses at. And here again, pairing this music with chores creates a kind of balance that makes each it feel more palatable.
5. Find a way to play
While one approach to chores is to simply get through them as quickly as possible, another is to create opportunities for play and whimsy within the tasks. When one joyspotter mentioned she hates changing the sheets, Laurie responded, “Ah the cure for this one is a mischievous cat…putting clean sheets on the bed becomes an adventure of hide & seek.”
Laurie’s comment reminded me how my nanny Lola used to play with me while she was making the bed, letting me lie still in the sheets as she tightly made the bed around me. (This task was best done at night so I didn’t ruin her hard work by immediately messing the bed back up.) I still have joyful memories of this that I think about whenever I make a bed now.
Other ways to turn chores into play? “I’ve learned if I turn mopping into a dance party and play in the dish soap bubbles, both become more bearable!” writes Larissa. It’s hard not to find the joy in bubbles. It also helps if you can get others involved. With a little creativity (and little children!) toy clean up can turn into a scavenger hunt. I also found a suggestion online to turn a basket of clean socks into a game of “Go Fish.” Everyone grabs a few socks, and takes turns holding up a sock asking if someone else has the mate. If they come up empty, the player has to take a sock from the draw pile (or laundry basket). The first player to match all their socks wins!
6. Choose joyful tools
I swear by the power of joyful tools to make dull tasks feel more enjoyable, and was not surprised to see so many joyspotters do too.
What makes a joyful tool? Color helps, and several people mentioned having recently replaced cleaning items such as microfiber cloths or rubber gloves with versions in a favorite color or in a rainbow palette. I personally love this fluffy multicolor duster, which looks like a funny cartoon character helping to get the job done.
And if you can’t find a colorful version, you can make your own! Wrap washi tape or colorful twine around the handles to add a pop of joy to tools you already own. In the Joyspotters Society, Natalie mentioned she spray painted her vacuum pink, while Petra crochets her own cleaning cloths from bright orange yarn.
Another way to make a tool joyful is to give it a little personality. My smiley face dustpan takes the edge off whenever I have to pick up something I’ve spilled. Adding googly eyes to a tool also helps to make it come alive. Karina writes, “Before he passed (RIP) we named our Roomba Gary. It was always more fun to pick up so Gary could have a spin around the living room. He even had googly eyes and a bow tie hot glued on!”
Some tools are so effective, they actually feel magical. Jenny says, “I never liked mopping until I finally got a steam mop. Now I feel like I’m unleashing dragon power, and it goes so much faster! 🐉🤣” Cleaning robots and dragons? If your cleaning regimen is a little bit Jetsons, a little bit Lord of the Rings, it’s a pretty good recipe for joy!
7. Harness the power of scent
One of the things I’ve been finding joyful in cleaning the kitchen has been rediscovering Citrasolv, a potent natural cleaner made from the oil found in orange peel. It cuts grease like nobody’s business, and the citrus scent always perks me up.
And it turns out that many joyspotters are also fans of incorporating pleasurable scents in household chores. Nandita sprinkles lavender oil on her sheets after she makes the bed, while Mandalynn adds essential oils directly to her cleaning products to give them a natural, fresh scent. Others mentioned choosing cleaning products with joyful scents (one favorite brand is The Laundress) or lighting a candle before or after cleaning.
Doing this can turn cleaning into a form of aromatherapy. Choosing lavender is ideal because it’s been shown in research to reduce anxiety, while citrus scents might actually help you keep a space cleaner longer. That’s because a study has shown that people are less likely to litter or make a mess in spaces where a citrus scent is present. It’s possible that we associate citrus with cleanliness, and this influences our behavior on an unconscious level.
8. Make a timelapse
This whimsical suggestion comes from joyspotter Nicole, who says, “Sometimes I’m not in the mood to cook… but recently I’ve started making time lapses of my cooking process and that makes it super fun!” For her, the fun occurs on two levels: during the process, she knows she has a fun video to look forward to (this stimulates our sense of anticipation, which can be a potent joy enhancer). And after, she gets the reward of watching the video. Kerri has a friend who uses this same strategy for cleaning, and points out another benefit: the timelapse occupies your phone so that you don’t get distracted during your cleanup.
If a timelapse feels too challenging, you can use your phone to add joy in other ways. Valeska says, “The other week I made some videos using the Snapchat lenses of me pretending to sing along (lip sync) and being silly while cleaning and shared it with some friends.” She says it gave her “a good laugh (spreading joy) and really raised my energy levels while doing it.”
9. Team up
Research shows that we find more joy in an activity when we do it with someone else, and this has certainly been my experience during quarantine. Though we divide up the tasks, Albert and I have a designated weekly clean time, and doing it together not only lightens the load, but also lightens our spirits.
Several joyspotters mentioned getting kids involved. For example, Frances discovered one day that her four year-old loves to vacuum. Others give kids old socks and let them run around dusting. Reading this reminded me of child psychologist Alison Gopnik’s advice to involve kids in a full range of household tasks. Young kids haven’t yet learned to see these tasks as tedious, and often find it fun to shell beans, peel carrots, or weed the garden, especially if these tasks become a form of bonding.
And if you live alone? Consider scheduling time to do tasks together virtually. FaceTime a friend while you’re both cooking dinner. Or host a closet cleanout with a small group of friends on Zoom, taking turns trying things on for each other for advice on what to keep and what to toss.
10. Create a ritual or celebration
According to the author of The Power of Ritual, Casper ter Kuile, a ritual is defined by three things: intention, attention, and repetition. A routine might be something you repeat often, but add an intention and focus your attention on it, and you can create a ritual. Joyspotter Lisa does a pre-cleaning ritual, which involves saying a little blessing for her home and lighting a candle. She says this helps her focus on how she’s creating positive energy by cleaning. It’s less a chore than a joyful act of transformation. Other joyspotters do something similar after cleaning. Jennifer, for example, lights a candle when she’s finished. As she says, “It’s like a finishing touch or celebration, it’s nice!”
Many joyspotters also incorporate elements of mindfulness or gratitude throughout their chores, reflecting on how thankful they are simply to have a home to take care of, or clothes to fold. Doing this takes the focus off the task and brings it back onto the broader joys that such objects enable.
11. Treat yourself
Joyspotter Jenny writes, “I think having a treat to look forward to after the work is finished, something like a TV show, reading time, or a snack, also helps.” Happiness expert Gretchen Rubin says that treats may seem frivolous to some people, but they’re helpful because forming good habits is draining, and treats help restore our energy.
“When we give ourselves treats,” she writes, “we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which boosts our self-command—and self-command helps us maintain our healthy habits.” She notes that research has shown when people are given a small treat, it increases their self-control.
I like to treat myself by cooking (carefully!) something indulgent, like a cake or granola, in my newly cleaned kitchen. (Gone are the days when I worried so much about dirtying it!) This year, after planting our garden, we celebrated with lunch outside on the patio, where we could look at our hard work and enjoy it. Treats don’t have to be particularly indulgent to be successful. Even a workout could be a treat if it’s something you don’t often get to do!
Sometimes, as with our garden, the treat is simply to enjoy the result of your hard work at the end of the day. Several joyspotters mentioned envisioning this result at the beginning helped them stay motivated through their chores. As Alicia writes, “I try and remind myself how nice the bed feels after putting new sheets on.” Having this mental picture of the joy of the result clarifies the reward of doing the chores, reminding you why you’re bothering to do these chores in the first place.
12. Have only things you love
Another way to make chores more joyful? Stop caring for items that you don’t really want or love. As joyspotter Claudie writes, “The other thing that has helped me is making sure I only have things I really like in my house / cupboards / wardrobe. I have bright colors and pretty things about and find them more rewarding to keep tidy. That way I’m not wasting time tidying stuff that irritates me anyway!”
When we buy things, we tend to think about them as simply physical objects. But each item we acquire is also a commitment to a future investment of time: time spent washing, mending, updating, or repairing that item. When you have things you don’t like in your space, all this time and effort feels wasted. But when you truly love what you’re surrounded by, as Claudie points out, it doesn’t erase the fact that you’re doing chores, but the effort feels meaningful and worthwhile.
Having items you truly love can also give you something to focus on while doing unpleasant tasks. For example, Lindsey keeps plants near the sink so that she sees them while she’s washing dishes. Instead of having a blank wall to look at, she surrounds the spaces where work occurs with things that bring her joy.
13. Add a sense of harmony
Joyspotter Seth points out that there’s a particular joy in packing the dishwasher neatly. Reading this, I immediately recognized the harmony aesthetic, which explains the joy we find in creating or restoring order. Some joyspotters find a form of this joy in arranging their closet or drawers. As Janet writes, “I love organizing. I don’t fold my laundry, I artfully arrange it.”
When we can create satisfying systems, neat folds, or orderly arrays of items, it not only makes our surroundings feel more harmonious, it also makes us feel like our chores are a kind of bulwark against chaos. Not just a mindless task, but something that has a broader impact on the flow of our daily lives.
14. “Okay is good enough.”
And lastly, several joyspotters say that sometimes it’s important to lower your standards. “Okay is good enough,” writes Hinda, saying that this has become a bit of a mantra for her as someone with a perfectionist streak. To those of us type-A folks, the idea of lowering standards can sometimes feel like we’re letting ourselves down. But instead, think about it as a form of prioritization.
You can have perfectly clean floors all the time, but is that something that’s going to matter to you when you’re 80? If so, by all means, scrub away. But for most of us, sacrificing a bit of perfection in our chores can be a conduit to spending more time lingering over a delicious meal, enjoying a sunset, or working on a craft project. At the end of the day, chores keep us safe, clean, and healthy, ideally so that we can do the things that bring us joy. And if having more time for joy means sometimes doing the bare minimum, that seems a worthwhile one to me.
What about you? Do you have any secrets or strategies for making chores more joyful? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
This post was inspired by contributions from the Joyspotters Society, our free online community devoted to finding and creating more joy in daily life. As one member says, “It’s becoming a vital part of my day to look through all the beauty and joy! It’s also the most inclusive, supportive and non-judgmental group I’ve ever been in on FB.” If you’re not yet a member, I hope you’ll come join us there!
And if you’re interested in creating more joy at home, you don’t want to miss my free workshop The 5 Secrets to Designing a Feelgood Home. You can sign up for the waitlist here.