Let’s talk about one of the more shameful and embarrassing effects of depression. The inability to clean. Cleaning with depression is hard! (Also, check out Magical Housekeeping and Decluttering for ways to keep your space clean with handy, dandy, charts!)
I’ve been pretty open with the effect that anxiety and depression have had on my life, especially when I was in my 20s. I coudn’t clean. I just couldn’t. The only thing that got me to clean my apartment was a notice on my apartment door that Maintenance would be spraying the complex for bugs or inspecting something. I was sure that if they saw my mess I’d get evicted and that type of Anxiety overrides Regular Anxiety and Regular Depression.
My first apartment looked like something out of hoarders. There were bags of trash everywhere, crusty stains on the floor, dirty dishes in the sink that had been in there for no joke – 6 months. Going to the dumpster behind my complex was so difficult for me that I would let a few weeks worth of trash pile up so that I could take it all at one time.
My second apartment had a balcony and I had so many plans for it. I wanted it to be my little haven of plants, a place for meditation and yoga.
I was just in the beginning stages of my self-love/mental-health journey but my cleaning-depression issues followed me.
They didn’t magically go away. The balcony filled up with trash bags and the dishwasher that I was so excited for, filled up with dirty dishes I didn’t bother to wash for weeks. Things were better, but they still weren’t great.
It took me a long time to work through those habits. I thought that once I worked through my depression all of those things that I did while depressed would magically just…. stop. There are things that we learn to do in our mental illnesses that don’t just heal themselves when we feel “better”.
I learned how to work on those things.
Even when my depression/anxiety levels were low – the thought of cleaning would make them skyrocket. Cleaning had been a trigger for so long and I had to learn how to face it.
Now it’s almost the opposite – when I get anxious or depressed – cleaning helps me feel better. Having a clean space tricks my brain into thinking my depression/anxiety isn’t that bad and it actually helps me feel better. If I have a clean kitchen then I must be doing okay!
Here are some things that helped at varying stages in my journey of learning how to clean with depression.
The biggest tip is learning how to manage your depression/anxiety by talking to a therapist or getting help. These tips can help in the meantime.
Only Pull From Dirty Dishes
If your sink is looking a little full of dirty dishes, whenever you need a clean plate or silverware, wash what’s already dirty instead of going for the dwindling supply of clean dishes. You can usually clean a plate, fork, and cup in just a few minutes.
While you’re waiting for your food to cook in the microwave – use those few minutes to wash just a few dishes.
Wash 5x What You Need
Like the above option, if you need a clean plate – wash five. Need a clean fork? Wash four extra forks. If you can keep this up every time you go to eat, you’ll win the battle against the dishes!
Wash in Categories
If your dishes have piled up and you’re feeling overwhelmed, wash in categories and take breaks in-between. Do all of the pots and pans first (it helps to get those out of the way because they’re bigger!). Then wash all the cups and then the plates. Washing the bigger stuff first helps the pile look less intimidating.
Don’t Focus on How Much You Have to Do
If you look at the dishes and think about how long it’s going to take you to clean them all, you might lose your nerve. Just start cleaning or doing dishes and don’t focus on how much there is or how long it will take.
Ask Someone to Help
Cleaning with a friend can be fun and it can help remove some of the stress of doing it by yourself. It’s hard to reach out for help, but I guarantee your friends would rather pitch in and help rather than watch you struggle.
If there are other people living with you, ask them to help! Having to clean up after other people while struggling with depression can breed some serious resentment.
Have One Clean Space
Having one space that’s clear of clutter and trash can do wonders for your overall mental health. Focus on that one room and eventually, you’ll have the emotional energy to focus on the next room and the one after that.
Bedrooms or living rooms are great because those are places you spend the most time in. When your immediate surroundings are clear of trash and clutter it has a positive effect on your mental health even if the rest of your home looks like a disaster zone.
Make It Fun or a Ritual
If that’s not your thing you can play loud music or turn up your favorite episodes of the Golden Girls so at least you can get some laughter in while you’re cleaning.
Sometimes the best thing to do is focus on having less to do by getting rid of things. Get rid of as much as you can so that there’s less for you to do. Try to only use one set of dishes/silverware, or one pot and pan, so that you’re never having to play catch up.
If you have tons of clothes everywhere that you don’t even wear, think about putting them in a trash bag and storing them in the closet.
Take Advantage of Good Mental Health Days
When you have depression/anxiety or any mental or chronic illness there will be days when you have more energy “or spoons” to get things done.
Instead of trying to force yourself to clean a lot when you’re already depleted just to have it lead to frustration and shame – focus on more energy-intensive cleaning on your good days when you can accomplish a lot and feel good about yourself.
Schedule It or Create a Chore Chart
Set a timer for five minutes and then do as much as you have the energy to do in those five minutes.
Create a chore chart that allows you to get everything done over the course of a week. Even if you have to start out small: Five minutes of vacuuming on Tuesday, Five minutes of dishes on Wednesday – it’s better than nothing!
I like to do the bulk of my chores right after I get off work for the week. That way there’s a great balance between not having to find the energy during the work-week but also not having to worry about it during my days off.
One Room A Day
I also had a lot of success in doing one room on a certain day of the week. It even helps to spread out the to-do list for each room. Do one thing, take a break, do another, take a break – and voila, the room is done and you feel accomplished. Cleaning between episodes of whatever you’re watching on Netflix is better than not cleaning at all.
Do the Bare Minimum
If you’re in a rough patch right now, do what you can do. If all you have the energy for is cleaning off the coffee table – at least it’s something.