Wellness

‘Remote Work Doesn’t Give Me Enough Time to Clean Up My Home’

Not everyone can have perfectly curated DIY spaces...and that's okay

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Being cocooned at home has made us reconsider our own spaces. Is it working for us? Will it keep on working for us as we go through this ongoing pandemic? Many, have in fact, taken to improving them—from creating indoor gardens, to full-on DIY makeovers, the home has become not just a sanctuary, but a place where everything needs to happen because its currently necessary.

For many people who have transitioned into remote work, however, plans of home improvement remain just that: plans. And I’m one of them.

After the initial panic of the first lockdown in 2020, I thought that I might as well declutter my space. I managed to start on a closet and a drawer, but that’s about it—more than a year later, I haven’t gotten the time to touch anything else. And it’s not just about major clean ups (much less makeovers); sometimes, I can’t even do the simplest chores due to work. Dishes from breakfast and lunch sit on the sink until dinner time. I forget to sweep the floor. Clean laundry remains unfolded for a couple of days.

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One may think that it’s about time management, but as a Harvard Business Review article has mentioned, time management can become a trap: “We try to squeeze in hour-long meetings into half-hour sprints by being ‘more efficient’ or we slot smaller tasks into gaps in our calendar to minimize unproductive time,” writes Third Factor CEO Dane Jensen. “And yet, paradoxically, time management often increases the stress we face instead of reducing it.”

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The key, he says, is not trying to squeeze in all the work you can do within a certain amount of time in the hopes that you’ll have a few hours to yourself (pro-tip: you’ll never get free time this way). The solution is actually simpler than that—reduce the volume of tasks.  “We are better served by attacking the root causes: the sheer volume of tasks, decisions, and distractions.”

I know, I know. It’s easier said than done. One can’t really say no to one’s boss, and I fully understand how so easy it is to have your job take up 75 percent of your day (it happens to me all the time). This doesn’t mean, however, that you have to deprioritize the other aspects of your life. In House Rules, Curbed’s advice column, writer Briallen Hopper shares that one thing you can do is to internalize that you don’t need to face housework alone. If you’re living with your family or with other people, an agreed-upon division of labor can make things lighter, and it will definitely feel like a huge weight off your chest. If you live alone, invite a friend to a Zoom call as you do your chores. A bit of conversation and a few household tasks done can give the personal break that you need.

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Another thing that I’m still learning is saying no to additional work-related tasks, or at the very least compromising by making it clear to your team or your boss that you need to let go of one responsibility in order to handle another. Boundaries, especially during these times, are so important—it’s honestly a matter of maintaining your mental health—but do note that drawing the line isn’t only something you have to apply to office work. You need to allow yourself personal space at home, too. This may be harder to do when you’re a parent with a full-time remote job. Psychiatrist Dawn Brown writes about the importance of planning in the situation on Forbes:

“When working from home with kids, planning becomes essential. Keeping in mind your own work schedule, create a schedule for the kids’ days, including educational periods, lunch and times for play, which you can adjust as you go. Make sure to include a plan to keep the kids occupied while you have to work. The activities will depend on the age and unique personality of each child, but you might consider having ready several suggestions of things that your child can spend their time on.” Again, it’s easier said than done, so if you can, ask help from the other members of your household. It takes a village, after all.

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(For practical tips, there’s an article on Smart Parenting that office sage advice from moms who are caring for toddlers while they work from home  which is definitely a must-read.)

Probably the most important thing of all is to take care of yourself, and try, if you can, to treat taking care of your space as part of taking care of yourself. “Housework is serious physical work,” continues Hopper on Curbed. “At the same time, there is real joy in showering in a clean tub or falling into a bed with freshly washed sheets. There is even a kind of pleasure in sitting down to work in a space devoid of yesterday’s junk mail and multiple cups of cold coffee.” Spending a few minutes to straighten your bed or restock your pantry not only affords you a brighter living space, but also allows you a breather.

But if there are days when you don’t feel like doing the dishes right away, that’s fine, too. Remember, it’s okay to not have a spic-and-span abode that looks like something out of a catalogue. It’s okay to not have everything arranged. It’s okay to order take-out and it’s okay to keep groceries in their bags for a while.

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Don’t be too hard on yourself, and take things one step at a time. You’re not alone, and remember, you deserve to rest.

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