Why Moms Are Leaning Hard Into TikTok’s Adaptive Cleaning Method
This mom of five makes household chores actually feel manageable, especially if you're living with chronic illness.
Among the many insidious forms of mom-shaming is the pressure to maintain an immaculately clean home, which is tough enough even on most parents' best days. If you experience chronic illness, you know that sometimes, keeping on top of domestic labor can be downright impossible. One TikToker is helping to reframe the prevailing narrative, reminding parents that it's more than OK to adapt household tasks however you need to, with zero shame, judgment, or stigma attached.
Sarah McGlory, a mom of five living with chronic illness, coined the term "adaptive cleaning," a method that eliminates pressure and perfection in favor of function and comfort. It's clear why her approach has resonated with close to one million TikTok followers — as she tells Scary Mommy, "You are not lazy, and you have nothing to be ashamed of. You need systems that match you where you are right now and not where you believe you should be."
McGlory explains that for as long as she can remember, some days she has felt "fine" and others "exhausted and unmotivated." On a "particularly hard day a few years ago," she says, "I asked myself what my life would feel like if I wasn't always pushing myself to do more than I felt capable of doing."
Her lightbulb moment? "I had this startling realization that I didn't have to prioritize an immaculate home — I could choose instead to prioritize my own health and well-being." She wrote out a to-do list only with tasks she knew she could complete when she was experiencing a lack of energy, time, bandwidth, whatever, breaking down her lists by the amount of spoons she has on any given day.
This approach changed her mindset and her home almost immediately, which is why she's passionate about sharing it with her social media followers.
Adaptive Cleaning 101
So, what does it actually look like in practice? "The first step for making cleaning manageable is mental," says McGlory. "We must drop the expectation that our homes must be immaculate. A spotless home is not accessible to most people, but a functional and comfortable home is. With that in mind, we can move on to logical strategies. In most homes, I think there are three main places to start."
- Kitchen: "In a comfortable home, people need to eat," she says. "This means that groceries need to be ordered/picked up, and clean dishes and utensils are needed to eat the food." But a never-ending pile of dishes is exhausting, so McGlory advocates for disposable items when you're "at a lower capacity."
- Laundry: "We all feel more comfortable with clean clothes, towels, and sheets." But if everything associated with laundry— washing, drying, hanging and folding, organizing drawers and closets — is simply too much, it's OK to do the bare minimum. "You can use a hamper to store clean clothes; you can designate a chair to use for laying out clean items; or you can even use bins to organize your clean (but unfolded) clothes."
- Bathroom: "The bathroom is a beast to manage, but creating a rhythm to keep the surfaces you touch disinfected is the biggest priority," she says. "I always keep disinfecting wipes and disposable toilet scrubbers in the bathroom so that even if the space isn't organized or deep cleaned the way I'd prefer, I can spend five minutes wiping down the surfaces and scrubbing the toilet bowl. Even if the rest of my bathroom is a hot mess, having my commonly touched surfaces sanitary keeps me in a forward-moving headspace."
McGlory's Tips for Motivation
"If I'm struggling with executive dysfunction, depression, or physical pain, it can be so hard to begin cleaning, so many of my favorite techniques revolve around getting started," she explains. "One thing I do to get the ball rolling is set a timer for 5-20 minutes and work as fast as I can until the timer goes off."
"Another helpful strategy is to put on a comfort show or an interesting podcast while I work," she adds. "Having my brain entertained is half the battle sometimes."
"I also find it helpful to start cleaning a small area where I can easily see results. For instance, if there are a lot of tasks I want to do but I'm dreading them, I might start with my bedside table. I find it very satisfying and easy to make that small space clean and welcoming, and by the time it's done, I don't feel so resistant to getting a bit more cleaning done."
McGlory also recommends buying cleaning tools that help reduce physical strain and/or pain whenever possible. She loves this electric shower scrubber, noting, "It has an extendable handle, a brush head that can be adjusted to varying angles, and a decent motor. This means that I can get the shower or tub scrubbed with less strain on my wrists and less bending down."
"I also like dusters with extendable handles, but I don't just use them for dusting," she says. "I use that tool to snag toys from behind the couch, swipe my baseboards clean, and even 'sweep' hard-to-reach crevices, all without stressing my back and neck."
Her biggest pearl of wisdom doesn't involve an Amazon product or an expertly crafted to-do list. It's all about giving yourself grace, kindness, and compassion, even when it's hard AF. "You have probably placed enormous pressure on yourself to 'have it together.' This mentality makes us believe that we can't do a little here and there — we must go on a crazy cleaning spree to get everything de-cluttered, cleaned, and organized."
"The truth is, most of us can't deal with all the demands of life and keep an immaculate home without significant help and resources, which many of us lack. My best advice is to see what happens when you prioritize function and only work on your home in small chunks of time."