Crafting Competence into Household Chores

CRAFTINGI’m not much of a housekeeper. I’m not dirty, but there’s a level of home care that I find it very hard to achieve. My dishes are clean and my laundry is folded, but you can also probably find some major dust bunnies lurking under the furniture. I will fail your white glove test.

People have been searching for ways to make housework fun at least since 1950, when Walt Disney had Cinderella’s mice friends strive to ease her household burdens:

For those of us without tiny furry friends to help (or, in my case, with furry friends who add exponentially to the mess), another way to make housework just a little more satisfying is by tweaking your method to better support a sense of competence.

Competence is supported when we receive feedback that acknowledges success and identifies paths to improvement. Many chores lend themselves nicely to this. Here are a few examples:

Vacuuming

I used to hate to vacuum. Then something big happened: I got a bagless vacuum. Every time I clean the house, I empty the canister into the trash and am able to immediately see the huge amount of dirt and pet hair I’ve cleaned. The actual chore is no more fun, but I get an immediate sense of success now that I can see the contents of my vacuum cleaner.

Laundry

I’m the weirdo who likes doing laundry anyway, but I find it just that much more satisfying if I fold and put my clothes away immediately. It’s easy to let clean dry clothes linger in the laundry basket, but putting them away reinforces my laundry accomplishment with the visual of an empty basket, and the pleasure of having my entire wardrobe available for wearing.

Dishes

Doing dishes is my least favorite chore, even though competence-wise, it has much in common with laundry. You can see your accomplishments as the dirty pile dwindles and the clean one grows; put the clean stuff away and enjoy your clear countertops. The one “trick” that helps me feel a little more motivated with dishes is washing as I cook so that my post-dinner cleanup is minimal. The reward there is more relaxation when I want it in exchange for doing the work earlier.

Cooking

Whether you’re a gourmet cook or a microwave expert, making your own meals has the potential to boost your sense of competence right away. How? When the food tastes good, of course. Get an extra bit of reinforcement by cooking for someone else and basking in their positive feedback. If you’re making something more labor intensive, you might also feel your sense of competence grow through the process as you watch your pile of ingredients transform into something delicious.

How do you get motivated for housework?

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