Four common obstacles to completing chores

Chores are tasks you don’t want to do. If you wanted to do them, you wouldn’t call them chores. Rather, you would refer to them as opportunities or entertainment or fun.

Even though you don’t want to do chores, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them to help your life run more smoothly. If you’re someone who lets dirty laundry and dishes pile up, avoids mowing the yard until the neighbors complain, or hasn’t cleaned out your car since 2005, maybe it’s time to learn why and overcome these obstacles:

  1. Temptation. When a comfortable couch and favorite television show are calling your name, it can be hard to ignore these temptations. You want to participate in the short-term benefits of watching tv, instead of holding out for the long-term benefits of doing chores. Find a way to reduce or delay the immediate distraction (like getting a DVR and recording your favorite show), so you can focus on the long-term benefits first and the short-term benefits when you’re done with your chores.
  2. Associated stressor. You may not be putting off a chore because you don’t want to do it, but rather because you don’t want to do something tangentially related to the chore. For instance, if you know you haven’t recently balanced your checkbook, you might put off paying your bills. Consider scheduling a regular coffee date with your friend where the two of you meet, hang out for awhile, but then vow to balance your checkbooks before you can go home. Being accountable to someone else often helps you overcome this obstacle.
  3. On the road. Working long hours can often mean you don’t have much time at home to take care of chores like laundry, dusting, and scrubbing your toilet. The upside is that you don’t have much time to mess up your home, but the downside is that some chores still need to be completed (like laundry). If this sounds like you, outsourcing some of these chores might work best for you. Take advantage of a fluff-n-fold that will do your laundry, start using a dry cleaner that picks up clothes instead of requiring drop offs, have a cleaning service come in twice a month to scrub your floors, countertops, and bathrooms, and hire a professional errand runner to do other odds and ends.
  4. Inertia. Humans are creatures of habit. If you haven’t been great at doing your chores in the past, it’s unlikely you’re going to wake up one morning a changed man. Overcome this obstacle by creating a schedule of the things you need to do and when you need to do them. Then, try your best to stick to the schedule. When your system falls to pieces, start again the next day. Consider hiring a professional nagger (there really are such things) or asking a friend to help encourage you. Simply acknowledging that inertia has the upper hand often can be all you need to get moving.

Looking at this list, I see myself in a lot of these obstacles (especially inertia). What strategies do you use to overcome these four obstacles?

33 Comments for “Four common obstacles to completing chores”

  1. posted by Carson on

    You write: “Take advantage of a fluff-n-fold that will do your laundry, start using a dry cleaner that picks up clothes instead of requiring drop offs … and hire a professional errand runner to do other odds and ends.”

    Good advice—if you live in a major metropolitan area. While those services might well be available in the mostly-rural state where I live, demand for them is so low—and therefore prices so high—as to put them out of the price range of most people, particularly those people who work long, hard hours and thus probably need such services most.

  2. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Carson — You don’t have to use a company, you can always hire a personal assistant to help out twice a week for a fraction of the cost. A local high school student might love this type of after-school job.

  3. posted by Marjory on

    At my house, the sofa is innocent of all charges. It’s the quilty computer desk, because hubby and I teach online classes – we must check our classes and emails. I’ve found it’s just safer to do my chores before sitting down.

    That works for the daily stuff. If I need to do major work such as spring cleaning (which is now), it’s essential to schedule specific time for that activity and tell my students I’m away from the computer.

  4. posted by Samuel on

    I echo @Carson’s comment. I’m away from home an awful lot, but laundry and housekeeping services are out of my price range in the small city I live in in rural Texas. However, I’ve found success with simply scheduling cleaning chores each week. I’m not home to mess things up, so cleaning takes maybe thirty minutes a week. Laundry takes a little longer, but I can usually work that in to my schedule weekly as well.

    Minimalism and simple living come in to play here as well: A small-ish apartment, with simple furnishings, is a lot easier to clean than something bigger and more complex.

  5. posted by Visty on

    I love the term “associated stressor”! I can apply that to so many things, especially the children. It makes me want to fling my arms out like a robot and start moving around the kitchen chanting, “associated stressor! associated stressor!” whenever they start crossing the line.

    I do love this website and this post. It makes so much sense. I also anticipate a lot of fun in the coming days when I introduce my older kids to my robot voice and warning phrase.

  6. posted by Kyle Fadeley on

    Relating to temptation, Psychological research shows that our body get intrinsic value from blowing things off. It’s called Negative reinforcement, the idea that our bodies receive intrinsic pleasure from the removal of negative things. So, if we could do anything to not do work, our bodies are naturally prone to that option.

  7. posted by Mark on

    I find it VERY helpful to look at sites like It’s a motivating factor to see others are out there doing things I want to and to connect to new ideas.

  8. posted by Vanessa H. on

    I try to do a little bit each day, so that things don’t become unmanageable. I don’t always keep-up but things run well when I do.

  9. posted by Green on

    A quick note on the cost- large cities are not cheaper when it comes to hiring help as well. I live on the Jersey side of the Hudson River- and though considered cheaper than NYC, costs about $12 to hire help- with a minimum of 3 hrs work, plus $4 for transport- totalling to $40- for un-trained labour. The professional cleaners/helpers charge between $80 & $120 to help clean up a 1000 sq ft apartment.
    What say, folks?

  10. posted by Gal @ Equally Happy on

    My worst obstacle is temptation, especially the temptation to do something small and inconsequential as a way of telling myself I’m being productive when I’m actually not. For example, I’ll go through email rather than writing up my latest blog post. Sure, I emptied out my inbox but I got nothing done.

    To compensate, I try to minimize the distractions (shut down outlook for example) and just start working. I find that when I start I can get into this zone where I’m very productive, it’s just getting that start that’s hard.

  11. posted by chacha1 on

    Those who commute from rural areas might be able to find personal service providers (laundry, etc) located very close to their work, or that provide pick-up and delivery service to the work location. I’d agree you are not likely to find these across the street from your home … presumably that’s why you live outside the city.

    My best strategy to keeping up with chores is to take care of business daily. Picking up after myself and doing a quick surface cleaning job takes a negligible amount of time and prevents accumulation – of clutter and of dirt.

    There are few reasons why all family members over the age of 5 couldn’t contribute in this way.

  12. posted by slobette on

    I fall foul of 1,2 and 4.. Im not on the road much but, I do try and convince myself my chores are less important than they are on the grounds Im single, so, theres the element of, “Well theres only me, it can wait”..

    Often, Id rather do pretty much anything than do my chores. Even though for the most part, my washing machine washes my clothes, its only 1 or 2 loads a week, hoovering the house doesnt take too long, dusting something I tend to skip I guess, but washing up, I have a dishwasher.. I have little excuse except, theres no one else to appreciate it, and I find that a huge demotivation.

    I like the idea of a professional nagger..

  13. posted by JustGail on

    I think my biggest obstacle is not on the list – the endless repetition (cleaning, laundry, cooking). I used to get a sense of satisfaction after getting the house clean, laundry done and put away, and meals cooked, the garden weeded. But after ?? years, not so much any more.

    Once a co-worker was complaining about helping put a roof on a friend’s house. I looked at him and reminded him that at least the roof would NOT need to be redone for another 25 years or so, unlike the what I had done that weekend and every weekend for the last 25 years. He had no comeback for that one. Yeah, I was in a bad mood after spending yet another weekend cleaning/laundering/cooking/weeding.

    What works to get started at the tasks? A deep breath and tell myself to get off my behind and get going because there’s no housework fairy with a magic wand coming. Only I use much less polite language.

    Ack – this is sounding dangerously close to ranting and whining – sorry!

  14. posted by Lisa on

    @ JustGail: I hear you!! Somewhere (possibly even here on Unclutterer!) I once read the suggestion to begin by doing one thing that will NOT be undone in the near future (like the laundry, the dishes, etc.). The idea is that you will be more motivated by the satisfaction that that arranging that drawer or what have you will still be tidy tomorrow. ALL of your work is not an endless “Groundhog Day”! Give it a try when you’re feeling grouchy!

  15. posted by Emilie on

    My issue with chores is that they’re never “done”. I have some kind of mental block with this…the idea that no matter how well I clean the bathroom this time, I’ll just have to do it again. My main strategy is to try to make chores as fun as possible. I play fun music while I do the chore, and then try to reward myself afterwards.

  16. posted by Jessica on

    I also struggle with the “Why bother? I’m just going to have to do it all over again tomorrow (or next week, or next month, etc.)” mentality. But then I reasoned with myself: I don’t complain about having to take a shower or brush my teeth every day. It’s just part of my daily personal maintenance. And unfortunately, loading and unloading the dishwasher is just part of my daily kitchen maintenance.

  17. posted by Alice F. on

    @Jessica – I *do* complain (well, to myself) about having to shower and brush my teeth every day! Well, not the teeth brushing as much … but I find showering really boring, and like house cleaning, it’s something that’s never done. There are so many things I would rather do than shower and wash my hair. I love being clean … I just hate the process!

  18. posted by Andrea B on

    Oooooh. Guilty as charged.

    I do so love my evenings full of short-term benefits. *shameface*

  19. posted by [email protected] on

    I like to prioritise decluttering over cleaning the house because when you’ve decluttered, those things stay gone AND the house is easier to clean!

  20. posted by April on

    You forgot one:

    5. Laziness. (AKA, Selfishness.)

    I’m the first to admit this one is true! Sometimes you just don’t want to, and you know you should, but you don’t do it anyway. You ignore the problem, hoping it’ll go away (or worse, hoping your spouse/roommate/someone else will get sick of waiting on you and just do it).

    I struggle with that the most.

  21. posted by mara on

    @justgail: I echo Lisa’s suggestion, since I’m struggling with the same issue, except that mine are also toddler-care-related. I try to incorporate semi-permanent housekeeping tasks like organizing/ decluttering and small decorating projects so that at the end of my day, something is *done* that won’t need to be redone in a few days or hours.

  22. posted by Grammie Linda on

    When I married my darling husband 37 years ago, there were things he just would not do. One was taking out the trash. What an easy thing to do, especially in an apartment where the trash chute was just down the hall! It was his chore when he was growing up. Now, he doesn’t mind at all, but sometimes you hate to do what you were nagged to do while growing up. TIME TO GROW UP.

    I think if your first response to “hire a fluff and fold” was to object to the cost, you didn’t really get the idea, actually. There are other suggestions there, too. Mostly, you can use your imagination to come around to another way to do it: 1. If your home has a washing machine in it, or your apartment building has a wahing area, you may throw a load in each night until done–doesn’t take much time, and you can either leave the folding for later or do it one load at a time. 2. If you don’t have those options, you can call a friend in the same situation and go to the laundry together and enjoy yourselves. 3. Take your laptop to the laundry to get some work done OR play with it OR check email while you are there.

    Of course, I should admit one of my favorite duties was folding laundry–a good thing since my husband tended to turn things pink (including his underwear and good shirts). Doing the washing part got me to my favorite task. I HATE vacuuming. I tell myself it’s because of my dust allergy, and that may be true, but we now have no carpet in the house, and I don’t mind using a dust mop for some reason.

    Just use the imagination to get things done!

  23. posted by Louise on

    I turn into a whirlwind cleaning fiend when something worse comes along, like doing my taxes. For me motivation often takes the form of procrastinating from something even less fun!

    Ultimately, the thought of paying huge penalties to the IRS is less fun than writing up the taxes, so that gets done, too.

  24. posted by Living the Balanced Life on

    A great list of reasons why we avoid stuff we don’t like to do! And I like the one that someone added, laziness, lol! So many other things are so much more fun!
    I have struggled with this for my entire life! I am trying to make some changes. One thing I find that helps me is to set a timer and see how long it actually takes you to do the dreaded task. I don’t like to do dishes or fold laundry, but realized that it usually takes 10 minutes or less. So it became a no-brainer, most of the time, lol!

  25. posted by Brian on

    I second a brief thought by April, mentioning the spouse. I’m certainly of the mentality “do it when I walk by it” to chip away at small things as I walk around the apartment. But the biggest challenge is that my spouse is NOT good at this, letting socks pile up in the living room, leaving dishes out rather than loading the dish washer, etc. So then things, no matter how simple, just pile up places and counteract my efforts of chipping away at stuff. How do you convince someone you married to change their habits?

  26. posted by L. on

    Honestly, my main challenge is not on this list–time. We have two young children and there just isn’t enough time. I don’t shirk much these days, but kind of like the “never done” issue, it’s also defeating to know that even if I used every spare moment, I still wouldn’t have enough time to do what needs to be done.

    That said, it helps for me to take note of how long a chore actually takes. When I realized that washing the dishes only took 10 minutes, not the half hour I’d imagined, it was a lot easier to tackle the job. I’ve also newly adopted Jess’s approach. When I have decluttered, chores become, and look, a lot easier. And, finally, taking note of when I’m taking care of my own messes (as opposed to others’) helps me become less grumpy about doing other chores–it’s so easy for me to always blame everyone else (okay, sometimes there’s truth in it, though…).

  27. posted by Jeanne on

    @Grammie Linda… I’m smiling about your husband turning the laundry pink. I have wondered if otherwise intelligent and capable humans sometimes figure out that if they do a terrible job at the laundry (or other house-cleaning chores) that no one will let or make them do it. Really, are we to believe that a grown man cannot tell the difference between light and dark clothes? Or that he cannot tell the difference between a sink and counter that are wiped off properly & ones that are still littered with food crumbs? But in how many households are men exempted from chores because they just “can’t” do them right? Kinda funny, no?

    For little repetitive tasks that I don’t want to do… like stop for gas, floss my teeth, or fold a load of laundry, I’ve found that it helps to time how long the chore takes. I used to drive around on fumes because I didn’t want to stop for gas. Then I timed it. Five minutes. Okay, not so bad. Flossing… 90 seconds. Really, no excuse not to do that! And folding a load of laundry (of course it depends on the number of items)—I was surprised to find that it usually only takes about 5 minutes. (Sometimes mind-numbingly boring tasks seem like they take at least three times longer than they actually do.)

    Anyway… It helps me to know that something will only take X minutes. If it doesn’t take long, but it will be a good thing to get done, that seems to help.

  28. posted by Ft Carson Storage Space on

    Hahahaha! I absolutely agree with you on this. Sadly, I’ve been known to use these excuses as well, specially the first one. Thanks for enlightening us!

  29. posted by Layla on

    My roommates and I have a weekly schedule. I use that guilt “oh shoot I haven’t done my chore yet this week but there’s my roommate cleaning the bathroom” to make myself do chores 🙂

  30. posted by the other Tammy on

    I agree with L.

    With a 5 year old who is constantly wanting to play and “help” and make messes she doesn’t pick up, and a new baby who wants to be held all the time, some of those chores just don’t get done. By the time I get them in bed I’m just too exhausted to care about laundry or running the sweeper.

    And when the kids are awake, I think it is much more fun to play than do chores. 🙂 They’re only little for a little while.

  31. posted by Bryan on

    Another common obstacle is thinking you don’t have the time, but yet you make time for facebook, tv, internet, spending an hour in the bathroom, etc

  32. posted by Lauryn on

    You know what’s funny? Number 3 is exactly why things don’t stay clean in our home. There’s a lot of different things going on, different people are at school, etc.

    With that said, it seems everyone’s still opposed to the idea of a housekeeper. I’m like, “Why? A cleaning company that does the place up once or twice a month will help reduce the load we all have to bear.”

    Everyone thinks the answer is for “Everyone else” to just “respect what they’ve done.”


  33. posted by Keli on

    I find that when I’m not being productive, it’s usually because I’m letting the stresses of everyday life interfere with clear thinking and planning. This is when I take 15 min or so to get quiet (meditate if you will) and clear my mind. This will usually put me back on the path to productivity.

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