Finding Meaning & Joy in Chores and Errands

Today, my typical day starts with doing the dishes, cleaning the kitchen and rewarding myself with a hot cup of masala chai prepared with grated ginger, a whiff of cardamom and lots of love. It wasn’t always like this and I, like many, thought of this as a menial task, not worth my time. I would rather spend time on things that reward me with growth, health or wealth- on ‘real’ accomplishments. Most of us like to think of ourselves as active, can-do people who grab opportunities and solve problems. But when it comes to chores and errands, we are different people.

Today most of us do not find joy in doing chores and running errands and some of us even hate it- be it stay at home parents, children, working parents. I am not saying people are not hard working. All I am saying is most of us would not work given a choice and would rather have someone else like a house help or ‘maid’ as they call it in India, to do our chores or

It is easy to confuse a chore with an errand. A chore is a routine task, especially a household one. It can be a tedious task yet a necessary one. Some examples of chores are doing the dishes, washing clothes, vacuuming or taking out the garbage. Whereas an errand is typically a short journey undertaken outside the home in order to perform a non-routine yet necessary task. Some examples of errands are: taking or fetching clothes from the cleaner or filling the car with fuel. A comfortable life requires that chores are performed routinely and errands are run when needed. I find chores and errands to be similar to body functions like digestion, circulation, temperature regulation etc. Both are necessary for the sustenance of health and life. But the difference in case chores and errands is that one needs to voluntarily choose, make a decision, to start and complete them.

I read on this blog about the 10 most hated chores in America: Cleaning the bathroom/toilet, washing the dishes, cleaning the stovetop & oven, Doing the laundry & ironing, Dusting, Sweeping & Vacuuming, Mopping, Grocery Shopping & Cooking, Cleaning the windows and Gutter cleaning. I am sure most of us, irrespective of where we live in the world, can relate to most of these chores and how we feel about them.

Shying away from chores can be a sign of lethargy. “The source of India’s troubles has been the people who are thoroughly idle,’ said Mahatma Gandhi. Although I don’t entirely agree with that, I do agree that lethargy can be associated with reluctance to do chores.

I would not blame our genes but rather our culture for this. This cultural phenomenon has been a more recent development for centuries living the life meant doing chores and running errands. Any achievement, growth or accomplishment was considered a bonus. The Marketing age we live in today prods us to achieve, buy and experience only that which is different from our daily routine.

Our attitude towards chores and errands also says something about the kind of people we are. According to DePaul University psychology professor Joseph Ferrari, there are two distinct types of people who have a problem completing household chores in a timely manner: task delayers and chronic procrastinators. He says, ‘They delay at home, work, school and in relationships. This 20% make procrastination their way of life. Chronic procrastinators make up about 20% of the population. It is a pathological problem behind their chronic procrastination tendency that may require treatment by professionals/medical help. The other category is that of task delayers. For them, procrastination is not waiting and it is more than delaying. It is a decision to not act. So it’s lethargy combined with indecisiveness- a double whammy and a recipe for stress and regret.

Mahatma Gandhi preached and practised sharing of housework by both men and women of the family. He encouraged women to do intellectual work and men to help in cooking, cleaning and caring, conventionally ‘women’s chores’.

There are more reasons why each of us needs to pick and own certain chores at home. Here are some:

1. It gives you independence, the dignity of work and the joy of labour.

2. You control your day and your time better

3. You start appreciating the little things that make us happy

4. Chores train you to focus better, make you more mindful

5. Chores are humbling, help size our inflated egos.

In conclusion, I would say that chores and errands are the backbones of our lives and necessary for the healthy functioning of our daily lives. They are the canvas on which we can paint with colours of special accomplishments and rewards. How one performs one’s chores, reflects in everything else that the person does in ones personal and professional life. It mirrors one’s commitment to one’s values and ideals. Doing chores and running errands efficiently and joyfully is a skill that needs to be cultivated with love. For those of us who shy away from chores, I urge that you review your perspective and your reasons and give it another shot.

P.S. I would love to talk about how to get ourselves to find joy in chores, but I will do it in a follow-up post.

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