Forget Gym Memberships—Housekeeping is the Only Workout I Need

Cardio classes are fine, but have you ever organized a Tupperware drawer?

A 2021 study from Singapore found that people who do housework are fitter than those who don’t. Tackling “high intensity” tasks such as cleaning windows helps improve physical health and mental faculties, especially among the elderly.

The mental aspect doesn’t surprise me. Attempting to change my duvet cover often leaves me entirely submerged in the thing, my hands holding its corners inside the cover, wondering what to do next. I’m pretty sure the widespread belief in ghosts stems from people becoming permanently entangled in their duvet covers.

Stacking the dishwasher is worse, with a hundred possible solutions to the problem of fitting everything in, only one of which is judged as correct by other household members. Has a dishwasher ever been stacked without someone saying: “Not that way, you’ve got it all wrong!”?

The bathroom leads to more disputes. It’s my belief that every time you have a shower, the shower has a shower and is therefore self-cleaning. But my wife, Jocasta, believes the shower recess needs to be cleaned separately, a task I achieve by stripping naked and attacking it on my knees with a scrubbing brush, my backside waggling from side to side as I work away at the grime.

Jocasta enjoys the sparkling results but remains uncertain about whether it’s worth the flashbacks. Apparently, there are some things that, once seen, cannot be unseen.

As for cleaning windows, it’s impossible to achieve a good result. I work hard at it, spraying on the fluid and scrubbing the glass with a crumpled sheet of newsprint. Everything looks spotless until the sun hits the windows the next morning, upon which they resemble a Jackson Pollock painting.

I then wash them again, which only moves the swirls from one place to another. Maybe I’m using the wrong section of the newspaper.

Next in my housework/workout regimen, I sweep up, which creates a pile of dog hair so unfeasibly large that I wonder if there’s anything left of the dog. Maybe I could sell his hair for wigs and turn a profit.

The late British writer and eccentric Quentin Crisp famously claimed that if you don’t do housework, dirt will stop accumulating after four years. I don’t know if this is entirely true. I have memories of student houses in which the type of flooring was uncertain, so complete was the coverage of motorcycle parts, pizza boxes and general filth. I remember the moment someone moved a pizza box and exclaimed: “Hey, there’s a carpet under here!” Nature abhors a vacuum and so did these young men. Was it a coincidence that they were all out of shape? I think not. The bathroom was worse. Every time I hazarded a visit, I remember optimistically wondering if “Putrid Black” was just another colour in the range of bathroom fittings.

I hope my housemates eventually realized one of life’s great truths: Romantic partners find people who perform their share of the housework more arousing. Jocasta’s erogenous zones, I’ve learned, include the kitchen floor, the bathroom and the lint filter in the clothes dryer.

What other housework can we throw ourselves into and make ourselves fitter at the same time? I have found that organizing the Tupperware drawer is a good start, as it tends to involve a lot of crouching, standing and then crouching again. There’s also the moral and intellectual tussle of whether to throw out the lids that have no bottoms and the bottoms that have no lids, or wait to see if missing parts turn up.

And by never having the lawn mower serviced, I have cleverly created a system in which starting it involves two hours of sweat-inducing cord-pulling.

That’s the thing about housework. As the Singaporeans discovered, you’ve got to use your body and your brains.

Next, check out 13 cleaning hacks that take the hassle out of housekeeping.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada