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Autistic Life Hacks: Housework Edition

Keeping on top of household tasks is a challenge for any parent, and can be even more so for Autistic parents. Autistic people don’t tend to form habits in the same way as non-autistic people. Everything we do tends to be consciously thought through; we don’t just do things automatically. Add to this the differences in our executive function, and you can understand why housework can be a struggle, as we have to use so much more deliberate effort to get things done.


This is not to say that autistic people can’t manage a household, just that we may need to find alternative strategies that suit how our brains work. This blog post covers ways to make housework more manageable, suggested by our members, who are all autistic parents themselves. This includes general advice and approaches to housework, as well as specific practical tips for different tasks. Hopefully, you will find at least one new idea that is helpful for you.


Self Compassion


As autistic people, trying to force ourselves to meet neuronormative standards of tidiness and cleanliness is unlikely to work. We may need to do things differently to other people, and that is ok. There will be times when we can’t get it all done, and that does not mean we are lazy or that we don’t care about our families. Struggling with housework does not make us failures or bad parents.

Here are some tips to help develop self-compassion with regard to housework:


  • Work towards noticing and challenging negative self-talk around housework and letting go of shame. These feelings may stem from internalised ableism or hearing negative messages from others (either now or in the past).

  • Remember things didn’t get messy overnight, they aren’t going to get clean and tidy in one go either.

  • Let go of perfectionism. You may not be able to get everything done all of the time. If you can only get some of the jobs done some of the time, that is ok - you are doing your best.

  • Doing a half-hearted job is better than doing nothing at all.

  • Having children means having more stuff in your home, and less time and energy for cleaning and tidying. It’s normal to have times when you can’t keep on top of it. If visual clutter is dysregulating for you then it’s understandable if this makes you feel even more stressed. Perhaps see if you can keep one room or one area reasonably tidy as a sanctuary to escape to.

  • Remember that in the past, running a household was considered a full-time job! Although society has moved on and thankfully women are no longer expected to be housewives, it’s still a lot of work. Juggling employment, family commitments and housework is not easy!

  • If you don’t know where to start, just pick one small thing and do that. Sometimes this will create momentum and you’ll be motivated to do another task afterwards (but it’s ok if it doesn’t - getting one thing done still helps). It doesn’t really matter where you start, it’s getting started that is the hard part.


seven assorted colour clothes pegs on a washing line

Photo by Félix Prado on Unsplash


Systems


If getting household chores done just doesn’t become a habit for you, setting up simple systems can help. There are some published methods you could try, although you may need to adapt them to suit your family and home and your own needs. Be flexible and don’t expect to follow someone else’s routines exactly. Some options include:



Outsourcing and Support


Sometimes we just can’t do it all ourselves. Here are some top tips on getting support when you need it:


  • Delegate tasks whenever possible (e.g. to partner, children, or wider family members - if they are able to help). If this is not an option then see if there are any tasks you can drop, or do less often, to reduce demands on yourself.

  • Try body doubling - a body double is someone who works on tasks simultaneously, either in-person or online, which can help you to stay motivated and on task. A simple version of this is to phone a friend and chat while you fold laundry and they chop veggies for dinner. There are apps and online groups if you want to find a body double.

  • Neurodivergent Cleaning Crew is a Facebook group that can help with cleaning questions and problems, including if you’re in a total mess and don’t know where to start. They can help walk you through things step by step.

  • Skills swaps can be another way to get informal support - for example if you help a friend with admin tasks, and they help you with cleaning.

  • If you can afford it (and you don’t find the idea intrusive), getting a cleaner could be a dream solution. A regular cleaner isn’t affordable for most people, but perhaps you could pay for for a one-off deep clean to give you a fresh start, or it could be something you treat yourself to once or twice a year. It could also be something you have weekly or fortnightly for a particular period of time, e.g. for a few months after having a new baby (you could even ask relatives to pay for this as a baby gift).

Remove Steps and Reduce Barriers


Make it as easy as possible for yourself to get the job done, by removing unnecessary steps in the process, or putting things where you can see them as a visual reminder. If there’s a lid or door to open, it’s an extra step. And if things are out of sight, they are often out of mind. So remove those barriers!


  • Don’t store the vacuum cleaner in a cupboard, leave it out somewhere in plain sight, and plugged in. It's so much easier to vacuum when you don't have to get it out, plug it in and put it away!

  • Dirty clothes ending up in a pile on the floor rather than people walking across a room to put them in the right place? Put a laundry basket in that spot. And get one without a lid so you don’t have to open anything.

  • Keep a pack of cleaning wipes in every bathroom so when you’re in there you can grab one and do a quick wipe down of the surfaces.


Tech Solutions


Modern life means we have a variety of gadgets and apps that can help us with household tasks. Some suggestions from our members are:


  • Set smart speaker reminders for short-term tasks and imminent medium/long-term tasks.

  • Use the digital assistant on your phone (e.g. Siri) to make a note of tasks straight away and remind you of them when you are at home, or to put things straight into your calendar.

  • Sweepy is an app which gamifies housework and makes you feel good about what you’ve done around the house, helping you stay motivated.

  • Google Calendar can help you keep track of everything.

  • Trello can be used as a shopping list on your phone.

  • Use Wallet on your phone to store all your debit cards, credit cards and loyalty cards.


Blue shopping trolley in supermarket heading towards the checkout

Food Shopping


Food shopping is time-consuming and cooking for the family every day can become a real energy drain. Here are some tips from our members:


  • Keep a shopping list on the fridge that you can add to as and when you think of things. You can then rewrite it just before you go to the supermarket into the order things are in the aisles, to make the process of shopping smoother.

  • Use click-and-collect or online ordering for groceries as much as possible.

  • Write a meal plan once a week and put it up in the kitchen.

  • Make a list of what's in the freezer so you can plan to use up what's in there and reduce buying duplicates.

  • Use clear, labelled storage containers for dry goods such as rice, pasta, cereal etc. Then you can do a quick visual check of the cupboard, and if anything is nearly empty, add it to your shopping order.

  • Have labelled storage trays in the fridge so you know where everything is, and put things back in the same place each time. This can help prevent the problem of things going out of date or buying more unnecessarily.

  • Clear out the fridge and wipe it clean as you put the shopping away. This prevents life from evolving there and makes it easier to see what needs to be used up.

  • Get regulars like non-perishable foods and cleaning products on subscription from Amazon so you know you won’t run out.

  • Whenever you do the food shop, have a calendar in the kitchen and write down when everything goes out of date.

  • Bulk buying safe/familiar foods if affordable, so you won’t need to go shopping as often.

  • Leave carrier bags and a £1 coin for the trolley in the car so they're there whenever you go shopping.


A blue laundry basket full of grey and black clothing

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


Laundry


Keeping on top of the washing for the whole family can be a daunting task. If you can’t remember the last time you saw the bottom of the laundry basket, try these tips:


  • Don’t worry about sorting clothes, just wash them all together on cold so you can plough through several loads quickly.

  • Have a basket for clean clothes for each person in the house. When you are taking down the dry laundry, put each person’s clothes straight into their own basket. The baskets are then easy to put in each person’s room. The clothes can stay in the basket for as long as you like, it doesn’t all need to be put away straight away or at all. Better than piles that get moved from the bed to the floor and back again.

  • Don’t bother with ironing if you can avoid it. For things that do need ironing like school shirts, if you dry them in a tumble dryer, take them out one or two at a time (while keeping the dryer going) and hang them up straight away, they won’t need ironing.

  • Rather than letting laundry build-up, try to do a load each day and make it part of your daily routine. This also means you need fewer clothes, so less sorting and putting away.

  • Instead of having a laundry basket, ask everyone to put their dirty clothes straight into the washing machine. Whoever fills it to the top can either start the washing machine or let an adult know it is ready to start. Of course this requires coooperation from the whole family, but it eliminates a step in the process.


Storage and Decluttering


Our members suggested these ideas for keeping on top of all your stuff:


  • More storage! Storage boxes can help mess and clutter look neater, plus you can then sort things into the correct boxes which can be quite enjoyable and satisfying.

  • Have a box somewhere for items to donate to charity. Whenever you find something to get rid of, pop it in the box, then when the box is full take it to the charity shop next time you are out.

  • Have a big box in the living room for children’s toys and clutter so you can quickly pick everything up at the end of the day and the room feels tidier. This means if you’re tired you don’t need to worry about putting things back where they go, you can just put them in the box.

  • Have a place for everything e.g. pot next to the front door for keys, a handbag on the back of the door, glasses on the shelf. That way things don't get lost and you don't have to get stressed trying to find where everything is.


A blue plastic recycling bin with white recycling symbol of three curved arrows forming a triangle

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash


Rubbish & Recycling


Don’t let rubbish get on top of you with these ideas from our members:


  • Instead of letting recycling pile up around the kitchen, have small recycling bins indoors so you can sort it as you go. Then you can empty the smaller tubs into the wheelie bins once or twice a week when they are full.

  • If small waste paper baskets end up spilling out onto the floor, get a bigger bin or basket. You could even use an open-top laundry basket with a bin bag inside. It may not be what it was designed for, but it will stop rubbish from overflowing all over your bedroom.


Make It More Enjoyable


If you can find ways to make cleaning tasks more pleasant, it’s a little easier to find the motivation to get started, for example:


  • Using natural essential oil cleaning products that smell beautiful will encourage you to clean- sensory heaven!

  • Listen to a podcast or music while doing chores to prevent boredom from kicking in.


We hope you’ve found something on this list that you’d like to try. Be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up for struggling with housework - we can’t all be domestic ninjas. Find what works for you, whether that’s having one day a week set aside to blitz through chores, or doing a bit each day to prevent jobs from mounting up. If you have any tips of your own you’d like to share, please leave a comment below.

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