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Cathartic Chores

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"You know what I did when Pete died? Polished silver. Three nights straight, till daybreak — over and over and over."
Vivian Dimitri, Columbo, "Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo"

This trope is the act of performing domestic chores in anger or because of sadness or anxiety. Frustration is a strong motivator, and chores can release strong feelings and provide relief from anger or suffering.

A good thing to do when characters in fiction need to vent their frustration or relieve stress is to actually do something useful. Their home — be it a house or flat — and their yard, garage, or garden offer countless possibilities. They can beat carpets, vacuum, polish windows or mirrors in angry rapid movements, chop vegetables, wash up, clean the bathroom or scrub the floors spotless. They can weed or hoe their flower beds, prune their plants, or sweep the yard.

When angered, the characters receive an energy boost and they might finish their chores quite soon. Sometimes, however, if they are absolutely furious, they might be so vigorous in their effort that they happen to smash the things they are supposed to clean or organize. For example, if they start putting stuff in the dishwasher, they must be careful not to slam cups, glasses, or plates too hard because these might break easily. If they are stressed and suffer from anxiety, routine and repetitive movements can offer some relief and help a great deal.

In the best circumstances, cleaning, organising, and finishing their chores help the stressed characters. Their anger or stress level gradually diminishes or disappears entirely. Best case scenario: they're so satisfied with the clean kitchen or yard work done that they don't remember what angered or stressed them in the first place. The fact that their chores are done might help to calm them down and make them actually feel better. However, if the cause of their problems is still on, they might get angry or anxious again pretty soon.

The trope also covers the situation when an adult tells a kid to do their chores, and they start doing said chores in anger or while sulking.

Related to Cope by Creating, Kids Hate Chores, and Percussive Therapy. Closely related to Distressed Woodchopping. It can overlap with Looking Busy if they choose to do chores that are not actually needed — things like washing clean things or scrubbing things senselessly over and over.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Kaguya-sama: Love Is War: Erika's go-to form of stress release is grinding up miso paste due to her family being a Bland-Name Product of one of Japan's largest miso producers.
  • Nanoha assists in the cleanup of the Long Arch in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS to keep herself from focusing on the fact that her daughter was kidnapped. Once her work has ended for the day and she no longer has anything to distract her, she descends into an Heroic BSoD.
  • My Hero Academia:
    • After his anticlimactic and unsatisfying win at the Sports Festival, Bakugo brushes his teeth extra vigorously while screaming at the germs in his mouth to die.
    • When Bakugo and Midoriya are assigned to clean the dorms, Bakugo screams at everyone to give him their trash and is incensed when he discovers that they all have huge bags of it to throw out. Mineta then teases Bakugo for leaving a windowsill dusty, prompting him to scream at Midoriya for not cleaning properly. Bakugo is also pissed because Midoriya went around one day before asking for the others to give him the trash and nobody gave him anything.

    Fan Works 
  • Quizzical: As seen in A Little Fixer-Upper, Quiz(zical) finds "Fence Painting" relaxing, which is one of Apple Bloom's chores, and also a use of the trope about getting someone else to do your chores, being a Shout-Out to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer:
    "I much prefer this." Quiz dipped her brush in the can of whitewash and stroked the picket fence. "This task is relaxing."
    As the others watched Quiz paint and listened to her lecture, Scootaloo took Apple Bloom aside.
    "This is suspiciously like getting Quiz to do your chores."
    Apple Bloom shrugged. "Look at her. This is the happiest she's been all day. Ah wish ah had a longer fence for her. What should we do next?"
  • In What You Knead (Naruto), Kakashi takes up baking as a hobby after discovering that he doesn't have a natural knack for it... and that it doesn't matter if he makes something less than perfect, as a screwed-up loaf of bread isn't on the same scale as screwing up during a mission.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Emperor's New Groove: Pacha's wife, Chicha, is so furious at hearing about how Emperor Kuzco brushed her husband's concerns aside that she descends into Angrish before saying "I gotta go wash something."
  • Jim Hawkins from Treasure Planet finds himself assigned as "cabin boy" aboard the RLS Legacy, a position no better than busser at his mother's Benbow Inn. One job that the bullish Mister Silver dumps on Jim is cleaning the galley's huge backlog of uncleaned cookware and tableware. With a dour pout, Jim sets to work on a stewpot. Hours later, Silver comes to check on Jim and finds him dozing over a stewpot. Silver then sees all his cookware gleaming and organized, which elicits a fatherly smile from the galley chief. Jim might be a malcontent firebrand, but he's definitely no slacker.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Cinderella (2015): After her father's death, Ella becomes passive about the many chores her stepmother and stepsisters convince her to do, in part because the physical work helps distract her from her grief. This backfires as she slowly realizes she's become a servant in her own home, culminating in her getting called "Cinderella" for the first time.
  • Marecek Pass Me The Pen! (a comedy about adults frequenting evening classes): Jiri's wife is giving the whole family the Silent Treatment and conspicuously keeps polishing mirrors in the whole house. When she finally answers her husband why she does it, she says it's for his benefit and for him to see what a fine young man he is. She was upset because she thought he's dating his classmate. It's just misunderstanding though.
  • National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: Audrey and Ellen are in the kitchen cooking for their relatives, both feeling miserable and annoyed by everything that'd happened thus far. Audrey is shown hurriedly peeling a carrot, and when Ellen is called out for having a Cigarette of Anxiety by her mother (who isn't even in the same room), she slams a cabbage down on the table and angrily cuts it in half with a single knife-chop.
  • Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars franchise finds comfort in mechanics and repair work. In Attack of the Clones, Padme offers him some lunch in the Lars's garage, where he's repairing a broken shifter after slaughtering a Tusken village in revenge for abducting his mother and torturing her to death. "Life seems so much simpler when I'm fixing things," he notes. Once he sets the wrench down, it begins a rant on how tormented and wracked his spirit is.

  • Adrian Mole: In Growing Pains, Adrian's mother, who is normally too feminist to clean, suddenly cleans the entire house from top to bottom, the day before she gives birth to Rosie.
  • Discworld:
    • Wyrd Sisters: When Granny Weatherwax is stressed about the danger the kingdom is in. "It is at times like this that the mind finds the oddest jobs to do in order to avoid its primary purpose, i.e. thinking about things. If anyone had been watching they would have been amazed at the sheer dedication with which Granny tackled such tasks as cleaning the teapot stand, rooting ancient nuts out of the fruit bowl on the dresser, and levering fossilised bread crusts out of the cracks in the flagstones with the back of a teaspoon."
    • Wintersmith: Her student and heir, Tiffany has the same tendency. Worried about the encroach of the personification of Winter, Tiffany compulsively cleans her house. Mrs. Aching realizes something is wrong when Tiffany starts scrubbing the bottom of the tables.
    • The Shepherd's Crown has two principal characters doing cleaning as displacement activity.
      • Granny Weatherwax cleans when she realises she is about to die.
      • Granny Weatherwax's successor Tiffany Aching furiously cleans a house from top to bottom when she's furious with an older witch and frustrated at the Witch workload thrown at her.
    • In Men at Arms, when Carrot thinks Angua is dead, he writes his report, sweeps the Watchhouse floor, and polishes his armour even more meticulously than usual. The narration says that this would seem very strange to a dwarf or a troll, or anyone who doesn't know how the human mind reacts to stress.
    • In Thud!, Vimes recalls a woman who'd lost her baby and threw herself into cleaning the house to avoid thinking about it.
  • In The Dresden Files, Charity Carpenter keeps a sewing room that Harry sometimes sleeps in when recovering from the events of the most recent case. At one point it is noted that it must serve as a worry room of sorts for her when her husband, a genuine Knight of the Church wielding a Holy Sword, is away doing God's work.
  • Bobbie Draper from The Expanse takes to cleaning her rifles over and over as a way of coping with her trauma from when her squad was literally torn to shreds by a protomolecule hybrid.
  • In The Finding, Alex's mother and older sister Laura cope with his disappearance by cleaning all the pottery in the house.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: When Dobby dies in his arms in the escape from Malfoy Manor, Harry insists on digging the grave without any magic.
  • In Stephanie Plum, Stephanie's mother's usual response to being worried about a family member or otherwise upset is ironing. She once ironed the same shirt for four hours during a crisis.
  • In Warrior Cats, after Ferncloud dies during the Great Battle in arc four, Dustpelt is thrown into a deep depression over the loss of his mate. When Bramblestar suggests that the senior warrior retire to the elder's den, Dustpelt refuses, preferring to keep working to stave away the painful memories.
    Dustpelt Let me keep busy. I need something to distract me, or the memories hurt too much.

    Live-Action TV 
  • All in the Family, After being attacked by a rapist, Edith obsessively irons clothes and makes the bed because she's afraid to leave the house and identify him to the police.
  • Ally McBeal, "It's My Party": After Billy tells Ally off for being selfish and inconsiderate, she hides in her kitchen and keeps preparing a swan made of fruits. She probably wanted to prepare it anyway, but she keeps fiddling with it on purpose.
  • The Big Bang Theory: In the last season, Amy is distressed because she feels too much pressure once she's told she has a chance to be the fourth woman to receive Nobel Prize for Physics. As such she could inspire numerous women to choose a career in STEM. (Two scientists stole a credit for her and her husband's groundbreaking work and her public outburst at them didn't help at all.) They try sensory deprivation therapy: Sheldon is calmed down, but Amy is still anxious and once they get home, she starts scrubbing their fridge.
  • Columbo, "Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo": After Mrs. Columbo's funeral, Columbo says he spent five hours cleaning their place, even though it hadn't been needed as his wife was a very tidy person. He was going crazy and started washing even the walls. Vivian, the woman he investigates who's visiting his house, is sympathetic and claims she kept polishing silver over and over when her husband Pete died. It's not clear if she was honest because she's the murderess and she's trying to play Columbo. (She killed Charlie because he had ratted Pete which had put him [Pete] in jail, but Pete did in fact die.) Columbo is definitely bullshitting her though: Mrs. Columbo is alive.
  • The first episode of The Conners shows everyone dealing with Roseanne's death in different ways. Jackie is desperately trying to reorganize the kitchen in order to keep her mind off of her sister's passing, which results in a scene where Darlene enters to find every single container, plate, and glass piled on the table while she tries to figure out "the flow".
  • One episode of Corner Gas has Davis and Karen discovering that Emma reflexively starts cleaning whenever she's angry, and waste no time exploiting this by bringing her into dirty rooms and purposely pissing her off.
  • April in Dallas is furiously vacuuming her apartment. One of her friends comes around and wonders what the heck happened. She tells her that she's angry, and when she's angry, she either has to eat or clean. Vacuuming has no calories.
  • Desperate Housewives: During the Season 1 Finale, Bree is called and told that Rex died in the hospital. Bree does not react to the news and continues to keep polishing her silverware. It's not until she finishes her cleaning and looks at Rex's dining room chair, when she finally breaks down and starts crying.
  • Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: After witnessing a massacre of Native Americans near the Washita River, Dr. Mike develops post-traumatic stress disorder. She can't sleep and she keeps scrubbing the floors in her clinic at night. And she doesn't seem to care she's hurting her fingers and hands while doing so.
  • Fawlty Towers: In "The Wedding Party", when Basil is frustrated by Sybil having her very long and loud "Ooh, I knowwwwww" telephone conversation, he mutters "I'll go and clean the roof, or something". The front doorbell then rings, and he seems quite glad of a reason to leave the room.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: In "Home Is Where the Heart Attack Is", Carlton, after hearing that his father had a heart attack and is now in the hospital, obsessively cleans the kitchen to avoid having to see him in such a vulnerable state.
    Will: Carlton, what's the matter with you, man? Y-Your father just had a heart attack...
    Carlton: You don't know that! It could be acute indigestion! Even doctors have made that mistake! Does that window look smudged to you?
    Will: Carlton, you're going down to that hospital if I have to knock you out and call an ambulance!
    Carlton: [holds up a trigger bottle] You come near me, I'll spray!
  • Played for Laughs in an episode of The Golden Girls. Dorothy discovers Sophia busily cooking and reminds her that she's on doctor's orders to rest up after a health scare:
    Sophia: Dorothy, I'm feeling anxious. And when I feel anxious, there's only one thing that calms me down.
    Dorothy: I know, Ma—cooking a big meal.
    Sophia: No, making hot naked love in a closet. But hey, you do what you can.
  • One episode of Letterkenny has Wayne doing non-stop farm work (and running everyone else ragged in the process) to distract himself from a breakup.
    "Back to chorin'.'
  • In the Malcolm in the Middle episode "Boys At Ranch", Hal, Reese, and Dewey visit the ranch where Francis works. When Dewey breaks a display doll, Gretchen tells him that he can "work off" his guilt by cleaning part of the hotel; for the rest of the episode, he keeps remembering other bad things he did and keeps cleaning.
    Gretchen: [happily] You know vhat your Tante Gretchen does vhen she feels bad? She vorks. She vorks herself to ze point where her body screams in pain and her soul begs for mercy!
    Dewey: Why?
    Gretchen: It's ze best form of penance. Vhen my fingers are raw and my back is racked vith crippling pain, I feel all better!
  • An episode of Miami Vice saw Sonny Crockett obsessively cleaning the St. Vitus Dance after the death of his wife Caitlin Davis.
  • British series Next of Kin, when Maggie Prentice is attempting to quell her bitter granddaughter Georgia's depression, she offers a tactic her grandfather offered up in her youth..."have a good wash and polish your shoes". She mentions it works; she had the shiniest shoes in the whole family. The episode is unique in that it's the first occasion normally emotionless Georgia hugs Maggie.
  • In the "Spring Fever" episode of Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, Moze goes overboard with spring cleaning, mostly as a way of getting her mind off of potentially falling for Ned. Eventually she does realize she can't clean her problems away.
  • The Odd Couple (1970): Not surprisingly, Felix apparently cleans when he's upset. According to Oscar in the episode "The Hideaway", during his breakup with Gloria, he changed the shelf paper so often it flummoxed the insects.
  • Sense and Sensibility (2008): Elinor takes over from a housemaid who's been instructed by Fanny to beat an already-clean carpet. Elinor's own whack is pretty forceful. The situation in Norland is pretty tense because Mr Dashwood, Elinor's father, died. Her half-brother and his overwhelming wife Fanny have inherited the family seat.
  • Young Sheldon: Sheldon cleans and arranges stuff whenever he gets upset. For example, he's cleaning the house when his parents won't let him go to Houston with his friends. This seems to explain why he's so obsessed with cleaning in the parent series.

  • One "News From Lake Wobegon" story from A Prairie Home Companion has a stressed housewife vent by beating the proverbial tar out of a rug.

    Video Games 
  • Annette in Fire Emblem: Three Houses is hard-working to the point that she is unable to relax by simply doing nothing on her days off. As a result, she tends to enjoy cleaning when there is nothing else to do and often sings silly little songs to accompany the task. Being, in her own words, "scatterbrained" though, she does occasionally make a room messier than it was to begin with.
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds: Go back to visit the Witch after her granddaughter Irene is transformed into a painting and kidnapped, and she'll mention that she keeps brewing potions to keep herself from worrying too much.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the first chapter of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, Kaede, waiting in a classroom to see if her plan to capture the Big Bad has worked or not, becomes so anxious that she grabs a broom and starts sweeping the whole room. This actually serves a narrative purpose: later in the scene, in narration, Kaede mentions that she "dropped everything she was holding" before leaving the room. The player, of course, assumes she means the broom—but that's a misdirection; quite a bit later it's revealed what object she really dropped, and it plays a major role in the subsequent events.

  • In one arc of Life of Maid, after Sakuya and Youmu called to a maid convention and Meiling, Yuyuko, Patchy, and Flandre raise complete hell in the Scarlet Devil Mansion before Remilia, the head of the household, comes back and sees the utter mess everyone has made. She snaps, just before rage cleaning the entire mansion, completely exhausting herself in the process. By the time Sakuya and Youmu come back, not only is the place spotless, but Remilia has enlisted everyone else as maids.

    Web Videos 
  • In an episode of Carmilla, Perry copes with a stressful situation by cleaning the dorm. Carmilla wakes up the next morning where she'd been sleeping on the floor and as she's getting her bearings, asks: "Did you vacuum around me?"
  • Dad: In "Mom's Chores", Mom is peacefully vacuuming and humming to herself... until she notices something on the floor, which turns out to be Dad's Magazine, the contents of which make her incredibly angry. She throws the magazine on the ground, and resumes vacuuming, but furiously.
  • According to Reigarw Comparisons, one in eleven newly-single men mop the house to get over the breakup.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Cleveland Show, it's revealed that the reason Cleveland Jr. is so obsessed with cleanliness is that it's his way of taking his mind off his parents' divorce and later, his mother's death.
  • In the classic Courage the Cowardly Dog episode "King Ramses' Curse", Muriel enters a mad cooking frenzy as the locusts approach to devour the house.
  • Gravity Falls: Gideon's mother uses this technique to not draw attention to herself. She's anxious, stressed out, and terrified of the kid because her son literally wants to take over the world. "Just keep vacuumin'" is her Madness Mantra.
    Gideon's mother: Just keep vacuumin', just keep vacuumin'...
  • The Simpsons, "Fear of Flying": After Marge's first panic attack on the plane, she acts very anxious at home. She cooks and bakes all night and later she's seen repairing the roof at 3 AM. Lisa is worried about her repressing her fears and anxieties and wants her to go to therapy.


Video Example(s):


Young Sheldon

Sheldon vents strong emotions by doing chores.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / CatharticChores

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