Helpful, or just another way for us to feel bad about ourselves?
I’m just finished work. It’s been a long day. I’m exhausted, I have the worst PMS symptoms known to man and all I want to do is crash in front of Netflix and binge a series until I fall asleep. Instead, I indulge in the pastime beloved of all millennials: mindlessly scrolling Instagram. It’s then, in my sloth-like state, that I have my first Mrs Hinch encounter. Nestled neatly beside Kardashians shilling detox products and influencers posting #sponcon, I find Mrs Hinch on her Instagram Story, showcasing her meticulously clean house and all the products it took to make it that way.
This gorgeous Essex house isn’t just clean, it’s clinical levels of clean. There is not an item out of place, nor a speck of dirt in sight. It’s been blitzed, bleached, scrubbed and scoured within an inch of its life and it’s then that I guiltily acknowledge ‘the chair’ that’s become my makeshift wardrobe (be honest, we all have one) and sheepishly wonder about the time I last scrubbed behind the sink. The answer would be, er, never.
For the uninitiated, Mrs Hinch is the adorable, bubbly Essex woman leading the craze that’s sweeping Instagram: cleaning. Since virtually taking people inside her home, showing off her spotless house and sharing her smart cleaning hacks, she’s racked up over a million followers, appeared on ITV’s This Morning and caused her beloved cleaning products to sell out across the country. She’s the figurehead of the Instagram trend we just didn’t see coming.
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An amazing experience, thank you for having me on the show @itv @hollywilloughby @schofe ! Happy hinching everyone and thank you to my army for making this happen .. forever grateful #hincharmy #itvthismorning 💖 and thank you to my @makeupbygeorgiax for my make up and @tracylousnails for my nails .. As always xxx
On the face of it, sharing cleaning hacks is a harmless craze, but it wasn’t so long ago that we said the same about fitspo and FaceTune. We now know that impossibly high standards – whether it’s unfeasibly chiseled abs or flawlessly filtered selfies – can have a negative impact on our self esteem, so is compulsive cleaning much the same?
“There can be positives to this trend,” clarifies psychotherapist Deirdre Madden. “However, these pristine Instagram accounts may set unrealistic images for people to live up to. If we are constantly being exposed to preened homes we can begin to make unhealthy comparisons and set unrealistic standards for ourselves.”
Remember, these are images and not real life so our concept of ‘an ideal home’ can become distorted. Separating reality from the curated Instagram version can be difficult, and has the potential to cause feelings of not being good enough or that we are failing in some way. This then creates pressure to live up to almost impossible lifestyle expectations.
It’s like anything, when the bar is set too high and you can’t meet it, you can feel like you’re failing and you don’t have to look too far to see the standard that’s been set for women to keep a tidy home and to – UGH! – be good housewives. Facebook is currently littered with Mrs Hinch fan clubs, full of people bragging about their ability to keep an immaculately clean house, despite holding down a full time job and having four kids under seven. Why is this suddenly superior to, I don’t know, good old fashioned resting? Or socialising? Or self care?
One person who doesn’t get the hype is Vanessa, 32, a newspaper writer from Dublin. “I’m not a fan of cleaning,” she tells me. “If you are, that’s great, no shade from me. But I’m just not into it. My husband and I bought a house last year and I absolutely adore it and like to keep it looking its best, but I’ve never been the type of person that gets any sort of joy or satisfaction from wiping, hoovering and scrubbing. So, we have a cleaner that comes every week or fortnight, depending on the state of the place, and gives it a thorough once over.
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Good morning 😀 worktops cleaned ✅ sink cleaned ✅ first wash load of the day in the machine ✅ and minkeh buddy and Pinkeh are resting for a few hours whilst I try and tackle my garage and of course Narnia today 😆 I hope you all have a wonderful day .. and I can’t thank you all enough for following me! 40k is just crazy to me .. my #hincharmy are amazing! #mrshinchmademedoit #kitchenideas #newbuildjourney #homesweethome 💖
“She does all the big stuff; defrosts the freezer, cleans the oven, hoovers in between the bannisters and the skirting boards, and blitzes the bathroom,” Vanessa explains. “That means my husband and I can get away with merely clearing up after ourselves, doing our washing, changing our bed and keeping on top of daily messes, and this delights me. This might all sound incredibly privileged, but at an average of €70 a month between us, it’s the best money we spend and works out at less than the price of a takeaway coffee a day. It saves me so much hassle and energy, and means we can relax and unwind when we’re at home.”
There is of course the assumption that cleaning is an inherently female thing too.
It pisses people off that I’m not a natural homemaker, most of all my dad. He thinks it’s a sign of pure laziness, and that it’s disgraceful that I’m neither interested in cleaning nor motivated to do it, and that pisses me off right back because he doesn’t expect the same from my husband at all.
“There’s something very old fashioned about the expectation that I would be more inclined to make things clean and hygienic than my husband – it’s not the 1950s. We both work hard at our jobs and at balancing everything outside of them.”
But maybe there’s another side to the coin here. “Cleaning is generally not considered glamorous or fun and it usually has negative connotations such as being a chore or something which requires energy and effort, so seeing someone on Instagram gaining enjoyment and satisfaction from cleaning can change our perception of it so it becomes less cumbersome,” points out Deirdre. “Generally, cleaning is something that is done in isolation so to feel that you are connecting to other people makes it seem less so, and perhaps also makes it more fun and motivating,” she adds.
That’s something Waterford-based cleaning Instagrammer Ellen O’Keeffe agrees with. “I think people like to find quicker and easier ways to get the different jobs done and that’s kind of what I try to show people,” she explains. “I also only recommend products I’ve tried and tested that often only cost a couple of euro which saves people spending lots of money on products that turn out not to do what they claim.”
For Ellen, cleaning can actually be a positive for your mental health. “Cleaning is my therapy,” she enthuses. “My oldest son has autism and some days I can feel totally out of control. Cleaning is my way of keeping control on my house and not letting it pile up and add to the stressful days. Housework can build up in a matter of days and become so intimidating so keeping on top of cleaning can help you feel more in control of your house. It can give you a sense of pride and achievement when you sit down in a clean room.”
But she does agree that it can become an unhealthy obsession. “I know first hand how it can become something that takes over your life,” Ellen explains. “That’s why I try to show how little and often can be enough. Five or ten minutes here and there is all it really takes to keep on top of it all.”
Maybe Ellen has the balance right when it comes to keeping a tidy house, but living a life too. “My house is not perfectly clean,” she clarifies. “I have three kids under five so there is always Cheerios on the floor or handprints on the wall. at’s just real life. All we can all do is our best and that is enough! A happy home is more important than a ‘perfect’ one. For me cleaning is something that has to be done but it is not the only thing to be done. Time is precious and memories need to be made. You won’t look back and think of that one time your sink wasn’t shiny.”