When the pandemic was declared in March 2020, we all suddenly started spending a lot more time in our homes. But we didn’t all become perfect homemakers.
Families, entrepreneurs, industry experts and academics spoke to CBC about why COVID-19 seems to have translated into more labour on the home front.
Mante Molepo is a lawyer and anti-racism consultant, as well as a wife and a mother of two school-aged children.
For nine months during the pandemic, her kids had school lessons online, and all four people in her family were home all day long. At the same time, Molepo was getting her new consultancy business off the ground.
“Instead of having that time to fold laundry, I have to finish this client report … and then it just piles up,” she said.
“We’re not generally a messy family, but our house was definitely messy,” said Malepo, who used the kitchen as her office and employed a background-blurring filter on her Zoom app to hide the disarray.
“I’m hoping to do a lot this weekend and catch up on the … hot mess of my house.”
Stuck at the scene of the grime
This sense of never having enough time to get a handle on the housework is a familiar one for Anita Grace, a post-doctoral researcher at Carleton University.
She studies work-life balance and how perceptions about housework have changed during COVID-19. And as a working mother of two, she’s a living example of her research into how people with jobs and kids are coping in the pandemic.
Many of her study participants complain about housework. “One person said, ‘How are there so many dishes? I never stop doing dishes.’ ”
According to Grace, people would say they wanted “someone to clean my house, someone to do my dishes, someone to just tidy my kitchen. That the laundry is overwhelming.”
“There was just this sense of never-ending chores,” she said, and no way of getting away from the scene of the grime. “You can’t escape. You can’t leave. It’s just there in your face.
“Sometimes, seeing that laundry basket is just … ugh.”
Part of Grace’s work involves looking at who’s doing what in the home, and she’s been following 70 study participants since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Men perceive that they are doing 50 per cent of the household work, whereas women perceive that they’re doing 70 per cent. So I’ll let you interpret that.”
Businesses weed out dirty work
For some entrepreneurs, all this COVID-inspired disarray is good for business.
Cameron Banville started The Bong Cleaners, his mobile bong-cleaning business in July 2020.
“People’s bongs have been dirtying up over the winter,” he said. “It’s definitely time for spring cleaning.”
The 22-year-old Algonquin College business management and entrepreneurship student launched the business after learning to clean his own bongs.
“I just always found it very therapeutic to clean them. It got to the point where my friends caught on and asked me to clean their pieces for them.”
He charges $15 per bong and caters to people who like to smoke, but find cleaning their equipment “dirty and nasty” work. When he turns their blackened bongs into glistening glass, “people say, ‘Wow, that’s crazy.’ “
Banville has always loved cleaning, everything from detailing cars to cleaning the fryer when he was a line cook. “It’s just the satisfaction of seeing the before and after.”
Maid service cleaning up
Stephanie Applejohn, the owner of professional cleaning service Merry Maids Ottawa, says business slowed down at first during the pandemic, but it’s since bounced back.
“People were working from home,” she said. “They had their children home doing virtual learning, and they needed a little more TLC than normal.”
Some of her clients worked longer hours at home than they did when they were at the office.
“They don’t want to be looking at those four walls anymore,” said Applejohn. “They want to be outside getting some fresh air. So that’s why they’re calling us.”
Pre-COVID-19, Applejohn said they had about 150 clients. The company is now cleaning about 175 homes.
Robin Milhausen, a professor of family relations at the University of Guelph, is studying how 1,000 men and women are coping with work-life balance during COVID-19, including the stress of housework, while juggling jobs and kids.
“The challenges of the pandemic are not equally distributed across all families,” said Milhausen, who also acknowledges her own privilege as part of a two-parent, double-income family.
“There are some really big challenges for families where they have lost work … or who have experienced illness.”
Different stress points
Like Grace, Milhausen has researched how people perceive the distribution of housework and child care since the pandemic began. She says women are still doing more in the home, pandemic or no, but there are illuminating nuggets in the details.
“Men were more likely than women to say they were doing more,” said Milhausen. “But women were more likely to say they were doing much more housework and much more child care.”
Another revelation was the men who said they were doing much more child care and housework were more likely to report high amounts of stress.
“It’s a big shift for them, and it led to them feeling at the highest level of stress,” said Milhausen.
Interestingly, women didn’t report as much stress with added child care during the pandemic. But she said they did sweat the added housework.
“It’s the housework that pushes women into the danger zone for stress.”