Depression and Cleaning.
If you suffer from depression, you’ve probably got your own experience of the relationship between depression and cleaning. Maybe you’re there right now, stuck in a pit of dirty dishes that you can’t seem to climb out of?
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You’ve probably noticed that it’s a vicious circle.
Looking at your mess and clutter every day makes you feel crappy. You feel ashamed that you can’t even keep up with such a basic requirement of functioning in normal society. You’re exhausted just from getting yourself and your body through the day. There’s just no energy to tackle a week’s worth of dishes, or find the bottom of the laundry basket.
I get it.
I’ve been there, and I’m sure I’ll be there again. Dealing with depression and cleaning your home don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
The ‘Bare Minimum List’.
Are you a list-maker? I am. I have lists and notes here there and everywhere, despite my attempts to keep them all in one place by buying a beautiful traveller’s notebook. I’ve had so many different lists and systems designed to help me keep on top of the housework, that I couldn’t even begin to tell you about them all.
Depression and cleaning doesn’t need to be an either-or thing, it’s possible to live with depression and still keep a reasonably tidy home. (But… if you’re used to Hyacinth Bucket levels of cleanliness, then my place probably isn’t the best place to hang out….)
I’d love to introduce you to a simple tool that might just help you feel better about the work needed to keep your home running.
A bare minimum list won’t fix everything. It’s not a magic bullet, and it can’t help you get your whole house in order when you haven’t felt well enough to clean in months. (Click the link to see a system that can help you with that though.)
The hardest thing with making a bare minimum list to help you improve the relationship between your depression and cleaning is to not let that list get out of hand. Honestly, I would suggest between three and five things, and they should be tiny things – especially if you’re finding life hard right now.
What to Put on Your List.
Something that’s nothing to do with cleaning & everything to do with self-care.
My first item just says ‘water’.
I bought a beautiful insulated travel mug. It holds about 600ml, has a lid that doesn’t come undone in my bag, and it’s stainless steel, so my water stays cool and fresh-tasting all day. Drinking a cup of water isn’t going to change your life, but it’s one tiny step towards taking better care of yourself.
Make this your priority.
Know that if you do nothing else today, you can drink a full cup or bottle of water, and that it will help you. I almost always find that once that first cup is gone, I’m back to refill several times in the day. If not, don’t worry about it. It’s a bare minimum list, resist the temptation to make it harder than it needs to be.
If hydration isn’t an issue for you, maybe there’s another self-care thing that would fit at the top of your list? Do you take medication for your depression? Can you hand-on-heart say that you remember it every day? For a long time, my bare-minimum list just said ‘meds & water’ and I genuinely considered my day a success if I could cross that off.
No matter how badly you want to fix everything else in your life, start with self-care.
Something Small With A Big Impact
Your second item should be something small that makes a big difference to how smoothly things run in your home.
In my house, it would be a toss-up between laundry and dish-washing.
My experience is that the dishes get done regardless, at least at a very minimal level, whereas laundry just doesn’t happen if I don’t make it happen.
So, the second spot on my bare minimum list goes to laundry. One load, every day, washed and dried. Folding and putting away is obviously the ideal, but having clean, dry laundry in bags or baskets means that everyone can forage for their own clothing if necessary.
I picked laundry because, for me, it’s the main thing that can get seriously out of hand very quickly. There are seven of us living here, so there’s a LOT of laundry. Your lifestyle may be different – pick something that’s going to have a big impact for relatively low effort.
One More Thing.
The third item on your list is free choice. I recommend picking something that’s going to affect the room where you spend the most time – maybe your bedroom or living room. I like to pick a surface in the living room to clear off and then keep clear. (Full disclosure, sometimes that surface is the sofa so that I can put my feet up on it and read a book ?.)
If your self-care is really lacking at the moment, consider switching this item for another self-care practice. Maybe spending ten minutes outside would be of more benefit to you than clearing off the dining table?
Just Three Things.
1. Something self-care related.
2. Something small that makes a big impact.
3. Something else in the room where you spend the most time.
How to Use the Bare-Minimum List.
Keep it simple. Make it as easy as possible for yourself. The aim is for this list to be your standby for when things are tough.
Put it somewhere you’ll see it. I know that I look inside my traveller’s notebook every day, regardless of how I’m feeling, so my list is in there. If your planner falls off your radar when you’re ill, though, then don’t hide this list away. Stick it up next to the kettle, put it on a Post-it Note on the fridge, do whatever it takes to put it in front of your face every day.
That first item is the important one, the self-care thing. Promise yourself to get that done. Every. Single. Day. If the list says you’re going to drink a cup of water, do it. If the list says you’re going to stand outside in the daylight for five minutes, do it.
That said, don’t use it as a stick to beat yourself with. If you don’t do everything on the list, don’t worry about it. Tomorrow will be different. Be kind to yourself.
Getting into Helpful Habits
Once you’ve nailed that bare-minimum list, it can be good to gradually start building good habits to help your house stay cleaner and tidier in the first place. If you can build those habits while you’re feeling well, then hopefully at least some of them will stick around when your depression creeps up again.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Wash up as you go – I know, so boring, but it really helps. Even something as simple as rinsing out your mug and using the same one all day can cut down on the amount of work you have to do. I’ll admit that this one feels like trying to push back the tide when you live with other people, but even tiny steps can be helpful.
- Keep the bathroom clean – I’m not sure anyone really loves scrubbing a dirty bathroom. So, do everything you can to avoid it getting to the stage where you need to scrub. After you shower, take a minute to just wipe down the cubicle. Do the same for the bath and sink after you’ve used them. It takes seconds, but it stops that build-up of dirt that makes the job feel overwhelming.
- Declutter – sometimes it’s the clutter rather than the lack of cleanliness that’s getting you down. Depression makes everything more difficult, and decluttering is no exception. If decluttering feels overwhelming at the moment, that’s okay, but even tiny amounts of time spent culling the excess can be helpful. Try doing just five minutes a day, or making a plan to go through the different areas of your home. It doesn’t have to be done all at once.
Will This Really Help Tackle My Depression and Cleaning Problems?
Right now you’re probably thinking one of two things, depending on how you’re feeling and functioning at the moment.
Are you in the ‘that’s not enough’ camp, or the ‘I can’t do all that’ camp? I’ve been in both places.
Once again, this isn’t a housekeeping schedule, it’s not a plan that’s going to make everything magically clean and tidy. It’s a plan for helping you feel like you’re in control of something.
Sometimes you just need to trick your depression into letting you take a tiny step in the right direction.
So, what do you think? Can your tiny thing for today just be to make yourself a bare-minimum list? You don’t have to do any of the stuff on it today, just make that list, and know that you have a plan for tomorrow.