VOGUE Australia, October 2019 (PDF) (LINK)
Meet the cleanfluencers, the latest wave of social media stars who are swapping micro-dresses for microfibre cloths and entertaining millions of followers by turning daily domestic duties into addictive content.
When Adelaide-based domestic organisation blogger Iryna Federico replied to an interview request from Vogue, her response was typically on brand. “Whatever time you like. My only plan is to make cupcakes,” she wrote over email. Federico’s Instagram account, @fromgreatbeginnings, may resemble that of any lifestyle blogger – a sea of storage box excellence, stark white interiors and flawless food pics. But look closer and you’ll notice something different. Tap into her stories and you’re met with a whir of hypnotic domestic cleaning tutorials showing off how that stark whiteness got so white, what her washing machine gunk filter looks like, and how she makes the inside of her kettle sparkle.
Federico (who boasts a following of 86,000 on Instagram, 22,000 on Facebook and 18,000 as part of a home organisation Facebook group) is classified a ‘cleanfluencer’, a new type of content creator quite literally sweeping through social media. They are the antithesis of the high-flying influencer stereotype, but the epitome of domestic perfection. They self-style, they do their own chores and organise their home to a militant degree. But unlike others who hide behind Photoshop, Federico and her cohort show the wizard behind the curtain. Their front door is always open, and not because they want you to see their selfie mirror, but because they want to show you how they clean their toilets.
One of the first of her kind to gather momentum in Australia, Federico's home is brand-new and sheen-heavy. Her garage is pristine, her wardrobe, boutique-like; even her ‘junk cupboard’ is crystallised home porn. The pièce de résistance? A pastel coloured, co-ordinated pantry filled with matching and KitchenAid appliances, a coffee station, co-ordinated boxes and what she calls her ‘command centre’: framed to-do lists she uses to keep track of her chores with a whiteboard marker.
As it turns out, the 28-year-old has a day job at an aerospace engineering company and wouldn’t usually be baking at midday on a weekday. When Vogue finally catches up with Federico, she’s just gone on leave and in the middle of a preflight cleaning session, which later results in a dizzying Olympic-level scrubbing-spree posted to her Instagram stories that includes every chore she can think of (and the kitchen sink). “It was all my husband’s idea,” she says of her From Great Beginnings blog, launched three years ago. “When we were building our house, I planned out every cupboard, down to the pantry. I wanted it to look like a candy shop,” she says, laughing. “As I was organising, he kept encouraging me to blog it all. I was like: ‘Oh, who would care about this?!’” A year later, Federico caved. She launched her website, finished the pantry, posted a photo of it to a Facebook group while seeking advice and then … fame.
“It just blew up – people went a bit crazy,” she says with a laugh. “I am so surprised at how many people care about cleaning. I grew up in a family of six, so this is just what we were always taught. My mum would have killed me if I had left a wet towel on the floor.” Aside from her motivating cleaning how-tos, Federico shares chemical-free domestic product recipes, project ideas and do-it-yourself hacks. Most recently she replicated her household budgeting, cleaning and organisational systems in the form of e-books, aiming to help her followers master their life admin like a pro. “I hear from a lot of people who struggle to take control of their own homes,” she says. “That’s why I started the Facebook group. I thought it could be a space where like-minded people could ask questions, share solutions or just show off their spaces.”
In Australia, the Instagram cleanfluencer is still a little-known category, and Facebook is where most of the domestic online community gathers, still holding a candle to Netflix’s Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, which became a worldwide phenomenon earlier this year. Here, the most passionate chatter occurs in the groups focussed on levelling-up budget home purchases, like Ikea Hackers (410,000 members) and Kmart Hacks & Décor (244,000 members). These pages are so popular, they even have parody accounts, the fiercest being Kmart Unhacks & Roasts (125,000members), which reposts the most polarising stylistic undertakings with a snarky Joan Rivers-like candour.
The fastest rising market in the world for the cleanfluencer, however, is in the UK. In fact, there’s a whole water-cooler discourse based around one Instagram account in particular, @MrsHinchHome, who has 2.6 million followers and counting. Mrs Hinch is Essex’s Sophie Hinchliffe, a charismatic and unapologetically zany 29-year-old hairdresser-cum-cleanfluencer. Hinchliffe started posting photos of her highly styled home and stories of her cleaning routine in March 2018. By October, she had her own army of followers, or ‘Hinchers’, and was skyrocketing at such a rate she was signed to global Influencer management company Gleam Futures, the same people who look after A-list beauty talents like Zoë Sugg, aka Zoella, who has more than 10 million combined Instagram followers and 11.6 million YouTube subscribers.
Just a few months ago, Hinchliffe published her first book, Hinch Yourself Happy: All The Best Cleaning Tips To Shine Your Sink And Soothe Your Soul, which was the result of an 11-way bidding war between publishers.Like Federico, but more prolific, the gold is hidden in Mrs Hinch’s mesmerising, and at times, exhausting stories. Tune in to be taken on one of her ‘Hinch haul’ shopping trips. Watch her bizarrely entertaining vlogs filmed with the Snapchat ‘Gretel’ filter. You can even join Mrs Hinch and her friends – Dave the duster, Clarence the cloth, Minky the sponge and Vera the mop – as she gets to work around the home on everything from artificial flower scrubbing to stamp-sealing her toilet rolls, as well as sorting out her under-sink cupboard (aka Narnia) and going on one of her Febreze-spritzing adventures. What’s more, she pairs most of her activities to the saccharine upbeat sounds of pop songs of the ages, which her Hinchers then use to create Spotify playlists in her name as an homage. “A talent manager in our office came up to me and was like: ‘Lucy, this woman – Mrs Hinch, we must phone her! You have to look at her content,” Gleam’s head of talent, Lucy Loveridge recalls. “I looked at her grid and was like: ‘Uh, okay? I can’t see why you’re so obsessed.” But like everyone who has shared Hinchliffe’s account with a friend, the words “look at her stories” were uttered, followed by the realisation Loveridge was looking at something extraordinary. She says it was the first time they had seen anyone utilising Instagram stories more than the grid. “Sophie went from 1,000 followers to a million in about six months,” she notes. “She would get mentioned every single day in the office and I was like: ‘I bet this is happening in every office.’ Everyone offline and online was talking about her and became obsessed. It was very organic, but I do think the word-of-mouth element played a real part among women in their 20s and 30s at that time.”
It doesn’t take a data analyst to recognise why we’re becoming more obsessed with our own private sanctuaries. Trend experts have long been saying we’re nesting more and going out less. The fear of missing out (FOMO) is out, and the joy of missing out (JOMO) is in. Look at the hottest homestyling buzzwords of the past few years. Before Marie Kondo’s “spark joy” method came hygge (the Danish celebration of cosiness), ‘death cleaning’ (a Swedish method of decluttering designed to relieve relatives of burdens in the case of death) and kaizen (the Japanese philosophy of ‘continuous improvement’). These micro trends led us here.
And then there is Influencer fatigue. “I think there is a definite air of reality and authenticity that comes with being inside somebody’s home,” says Loveridge. “In the past, we’ve seen influencers create these stunning images that are so aspirational and beautiful, but unattainable to most people. Whereas this type of creator lives in a normal house and they’re doing normal things.” Loveridge points out that the cult-like following part comes from the familiarity. “When you’re seeing their toilet and under the kitchen sink, it’s intimate on a kind of other level. It adds that air of: ‘I really know this person’, so the relationship is really intense.” It’s also why we subscribe and keep tuning in – and keep in mind, an Instagram story only lasts 24 hours. “I think that one of the appeals is we like hearing stories and it allows people to share theirs,” says Dr Peter Baldwin, psychologist and lecturer at Victoria University. “All we want is human connection. I think that’s one reason why people find these stories fascinating: you’re not seeing some celebrity in some very contrived situation, their story is very much like yours.”
“The really nice thing about this category of influencers is the relatability,” agrees Melissa Maker of Clean My Space (133,400 combined Instagram followers; 1.2 million YouTube subscribers). “I want people to look at my stuff and feel good because I’ve had many moments where I look at Instagram and feel worse off.” Unlike other cleanfluencers, 37-year-old Maker is a professional cleaner and arguably the doyenne of cleaning content with an inthe- know edge. “I think there is something empowering about learning how to take care of your space. It goes back to those corny real estate shows of the 2000s. It’s about pride of ownership and when you live in a space, take care of it and make it beautiful, you feel better about it,” she says. Based in Toronto, Maker started her business in 2006 and began uploading tutorials as a marketing tool in 2011 before gaining a huge audience and becoming a regular on North American talk shows like Rachael Ray and The Today Show. “Just from the messages I get, I’ve realised that these videos are a way for people to learn how to take care of themselves in the privacy of their own home. They can learn a skill they might be embarrassed or ashamed to have asked about otherwise.” Maker has three companies, a book and her own microfibre cloth range, and yet, ironically, hates cleaning. “You know how some people find it therapeutic? I’m the opposite: my blood boils, I’m miserable and even though I’ve been doing this for 13 years, that hasn’t changed,” she says with a laugh. Maker’s philosophy, drawn from kaizen, aims to make domestic chores as painless and efficient as possible. “In the cleaning business, time is money and reputation is everything,” she says. “I thought: ‘How can I take this clunky cleaning routine, trim it down and get more done in less time?’” This is the intel she relays to her millions of viewers on a weekly basis: how to clean when you hate cleaning.
Above all else, the common thread that runs through each of these creators is the desire to help people. But in the case of another UK-based cleanfluencer, Charlotte Osborne of Instagram account @cleaning_my_anxiety_away (13,800 followers), hers is a two-way street. “It actually started when I read about how cleaning helped Mrs Hinch [with anxiety] in a magazine,” she says. “I never really thought of my cleaning in that way, but one day I thought: ‘You know what? I do use it as a way to distract my mind’, and started the account.” Osborne, a mother of three, suffers from crippling anxiety, fibromyalgia and PTSD and is supremely open about her mental health. “The cleaning doesn’t take it away, but it takes the edge off,” she says. “I get so many messages. I’m like the Agony Aunt of anxiety and mental health side of all this, so it does make me feel less alone.” Osborne’s passionate followers worry about her if she doesn’t post anything; they know her daily routines, what products she’s testing out and are hungry to know more about her life, all of which she shares with a refreshing warmth. “It’s so funny, they see the products and they’re like: ‘Oh! I haven’t tried that one’, things like fragrances for the floors – it’s like collecting Pokémon!”
“I just think there’s no point creating a fake account behind a fake person: I just have to be true to myself. If I can motivate or inspire people or help small brands get noticed too, then that is just lovely.”
With all the bi-carb soaking and Febrezing going on, it’s also fair to ask, is this trend healthy? Or on the contrary, will we end up with more perfection pressure on our feeds? At this point, it’s hard to say. “In a positive context, it might act as motivation for people to clean their apartment, or it might be an aspirational situation where people are motivated to work harder,” says Dr Baldwin. “But there’s a double edge to that thought: the social comparison side of things.” Our brains are wired for this, so be aware of the context, he advises.“It might have taken that person three months to get their house to that point, so for you on a Sunday afternoon a bit of a mess is probably alright.”
So by all means, bulk-buy the bi-carb and Febreze, name your sponges and subscribe to the tips, tricks hacks and personal stories of these women. Just don’t forget, the cleanfluencers may be scrubbing the floor and cleaning the toilets, but it’s all still behind a filter.