We humans

8 ways to add some joy to your most dreaded chores

Jan 19, 2021 /

This post is part of TED’s “How to Be a Better Human” series, each of which contains a piece of helpful advice from people in the TED community; browse through all the posts here.

These days, one common complaint that I’ve noticed from friends and on my social media feeds is how much more time we all seem to be spending doing chores. Many meals that were once eaten out or on the go are eaten at home, necessitating more cooking. Being home all day every day, dishes pile up in the sink and everything seems to get dirtier that much quicker.

Like seemingly everyone else right now, 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.

For ideas, I turned to the Joyspotters Society, a free online community I founded that is devoted to finding and creating more joy in daily life. I was overwhelmed by their response. I’ve gathered their tips into themes to make it easier for you to find the strategies that will work for you and added some of my own, as well as ones I’ve come across in my research.

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. What seems like a big, looming task actually turns out to be inconsequential when we look at it.

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. Joyspotter Marike even has a “special vacuuming song” which she kindly shared.)

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 my partner Albert discovered this “Cleaning + Organizing” playlist on Spotify.

And if the urge to bust a move in the middle of chores 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 tasks take a little longer, it feels like less time goes by. And if you invest in a pair of washable 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 our resident designer 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). Adding in pleasing sensations can be an important way to ease the negative impact of these triggers.

3. Layer in a guilty pleasure

Let me make one thing clear: 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. 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”, 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.”

4. 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.

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 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. Lavender is a good choice because it’s been shown in research to reduce anxiety. Citrus scents might actually help you keep a space cleaner longer — one study found that people were less likely to litter or make a mess in spaces where a citrus scent is present.

5. Document your efforts  

This 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.” Another easy suggestion: Take before-and-after pics of your work and text them to a friend.

6. Create a ritual of celebration or gratitude

According to Casper ter Kuile, the author of The Power of Ritual, 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, making it 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.

7. Surround yourself with 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: The time spent washing, mending, maintaining or even just seeing that item.

When you have things you don’t like in your space, this time and effort can feel wasted. 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 your 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 thethings that bring her joy.

8. Realize that OK is good enough

And lastly, several joyspotters say that sometimes it’s important to lower your standards. “OK 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 rewarding project.

At the end of the day, chores keep us — and our homes — safe, clean and healthy so that we’re able to do the things that bring us joy. So if having more time for joy means sometimes doing the bare minimum, that seems a worthwhile trade-off to me.

This post was first published on The Aesthetics of Joy site — and go to the original post there to read 6 more tips.

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