The Instagram 'cleanfluencers' elevating housework to a fetish

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Amid scattered toys and a pile of dirty washing that didn’t quite make it into the laundry basket, I’m perched at the top of my stairs watching Mrs Hinch spray her artificial flowers with antibacterial spray. She’s already done the kitchen bin and the flush of her toilets.

Shooting a critical eye over my own less-than immaculate surrounds, I then watch her separate her whites from her colours before loading the washing machine. It’s unusual but strangely compelling viewing, which is why I’m joined by close to 3 million others viewers.

For the uninitiated, Mrs Hinch, AKA Sophie Hinchcliffe, a 29-year-old hairdresser from Essex, UK, is leading the charge of a new breed of influencer who share images and videos of themselves cleaning. They’ve been dubbed "cleanfluencers." When Sophie started her Instagram account in early 2018, she had amassed 1,000 followers by April.

By October of that year, she had one million. Twelve months on and Mrs Hinch is now followed by a whopping 2.8 million people. Naturally, she’s already released a book. Hinch Yourself Happy: All The Tools and Tips To Shine Your Sink and Soothe your Soul became the second fastest selling non-fiction title ever in the UK, while the second, an "activity journal", has topped Amazon’s bestsellers list in pre-orders alone ahead of its release later this month.

Of course, Mrs Hinch isn’t alone. There’s also Gemma Bray (The Organised Mum) with 172k followers, Nicola Lewis (This Girl Can Organise) with 109k followers and cleanfluencer Megan Hickman who even boasted that the income generated by her YouTube channel Love Meg paid for her dream home in Savannah, Georgia, to name but a few. It’s 2019 and the most influential people on the internet are women who clean, meaning Instagram has become the acceptable face of the unpaid labour of women, of which here in Australia they already do 72%. Can this be a good development?

“It becomes problematic when we reduce cleaning to be the measure of how well women perform their femininity, and sometimes, in an effort to be relatable to their followers, some of these ‘cleanfluencers’ use language that insinuates such tasks are solely a woman’s domain, or something that only women are capable of doing properly,” says social commentator and academic Sarah Ayoub, who notes that although dual income households and the number of women in paid employment has risen from 40% to 60% over the last three decades, that has not translated to the division of labour at home.

British cleanfluencer Lynsey Crombie, known by her 161k Instagram followers as Queen of Clean, disagrees. “I think no matter what, we’ve all got to do a bit of housework. This isn’t the 1950s, these days it’s a team effort. I’ve always worked full time and I’ve managed to run a really clean home.

My husband does his bit,” says Lynsey, who tells me that she first turned to cleaning when her life was at rock bottom and her anxiety was through the roof. She had no idea that you could make money from Instagram. The fact that this is now her career still baffles her.

“I think people follow me because it’s motivational and it combats anxiety. In my opinion, for mental health, cleaning has done nothing but wonders. Some people exercise or go for a run, I turn to cleaning. A clean house is a happy house,” she says.

Yet by citing the mental health benefits of cleaning (it’s widely recognised that the repetitive tasks can feel calming and almost meditative), we’re neatly sidestepping away from the question of why women are so anxious in the first place. Instead, women are being encouraged to take their frustrations out on a toilet brush.

But why cleaning and why now? “This niche tribe of influencer use many of the same tactics as beauty and fashion influencers to promote cleaning brands, building community around a shared interest,” says Sarah Owen, a Senior Editor at trend forecasting agency WGSN, putting cleanfluencers firmly in the wellness and self care camp.

Our fascination with cleaning and tidying is largely a reaction to living in a time of economic uncertainty and political upheaval, continues Sarah, who predicts that we’ll see more accounts of this nature in the near future.

“We expect it to evolve into influencers centred more generally around the home-hub or home economy, think planet parents and skinfluencers in the bathroom,” she says. “As people become homebodies in such tense and anxiety-ridden times, we will see more home-inspired influencers on Instagram.”