How to Clean When You’re Sad, Tired, or Sick

Dear Stranger who is feeling overwhelmed,

I’m assuming if you clicked on this post that you are either having a bad day, or going through a rough period in life. I hope you feel better soon!

At the moment I am working through all of the problems listed in the title of this post. I have a chronic illness. That chronic illness makes me very tired. And I’ve always had mental health problems, but lately I’ve been feeling blue for weeks at a time. All of these things combined make it extremely hard to get out of bed and start cleaning, so lately the messes have been piling up.

The ironic thing though, is that having clean rooms make me feel a bazillion times better. It’s made me realize that a clean living space is more than just about keeping things sanitary, it’s also an important part of self care. So eventually I had to pull myself up by my boot straps and figure out how to get stuff done without pushing myself too much.

This post is about all of the methods I have learned to make cleaning easier when you are in survival mode. It’s divided into two sections, short term and long term habits I have been working on:

The short term habits are what help me start cleaning on the days where all I want to do is stay in bed. They are things that help me make the most of my time, or things that make cleaning a little bit more fun.

The long term habits are what help me keep the house clean permanently. The way I clean and organize the house can have an affect on how dirty it gets in the first place. If its always pretty clean, then I have the ability to take a break and take care of myself sometimes without our home turning into a pig sty!

Short Term…

Figure out your Priorities

Sometimes after I spend four hours cleaning, I look around and realize I’m still surrounded by a huge mess. This happens because I am terrible at time management, and because I usually pick what is most “fun” to clean instead of what is most important to clean.

You need to find out whats most important to you, the “bare necessities…”

and do those first (or only those if that’s all you can handle that day. For me the room that has the highest priority is the kitchen. This is for two reasons:

  1. I will definitely need to use that room in the immediate future, and
  2. Dishes continue to get icker the longer you leave them alone.

Once you pick your priority rooms, you can also pick the highest priorities inside of of those rooms. My two priorities inside the kitchen are filling the dishwasher and quickly wiping down the counters. If I finish the absolute necessities in all the high priority rooms, then I give myself permission to move on to other projects.

Make a List

When I’m feeling down, I don’t have any motivation to clean. So I tend to wander the rooms aimlessly, only half-finishing every project I start. In the end none of the rooms look clean, they just look a little bit less dirty. And cleaning all day and having nothing to show for it makes starting again the next day a lot harder.

But when I make a list, it makes it easier to finish the tasks I start. Partly because it gives me a solid end to cleaning time to count on. And partly because checking off all those little boxes makes me feel like I accomplished a lot. Sometimes I make the list ridiculously detailed so that I have a ton of boxes to check off and feel extremely productive….(hey, if it gets the job done…)

Having a cute notebook or planner to write lists in is also very helpful to me. This is the one I am currently using. It’s my second year using a Happy Planner, and I love them because they are beautiful and colorful and are filled with uplifting messages. They also have prompts that encourage you to write down things you are grateful for or excited about. I think it’s really important to have something pretty to use while trying to get all the dirty jobs done.

Set a Timer

Half the reason I have trouble cleaning is because it feels overwhelming to start when there’s no end in sight. I mean when the entire house is dirty, you could work on it for days until you finish. So I like to set a timer for 10 min, 30 min, or an hour and do the best I can. Once the timer goes off I know that I can either take a break or be done for the day, and that makes a huge difference when I’m feeling overwhelmed. It doesn’t matter how much I finish, it’s always better than nothing. However, I usually find that when I set a timer I am suddenly able to finish all my chores in record time. Maybe it’s my competitive streak?

I never set the timer for more than hour, because that makes me feel too comfortable and leads to time wasting. So if I have a lot of cleaning to do, I’ll set the timer for an hour and then take a break, and repeat the process until the house is clean!

Listen to Something

Personally, it’s very unhealthy for me to clean in silence. Most of the jobs are mindless, so I either find myself thinking about how much I don’t like the washing dishes, or dwelling on sad things that don’t need to be dwelled on.

It’s much easier if I listen to music, audiobooks, radio dramas, or (my favorite) podcasts. Why spend time worrying when you can hear amazing true stories from around the world or speculate about what happened to Amelia Earhart. Sometimes I am so into what I’m listening to that I actually (sort of) enjoy cleaning.

If it helps you stay motivated, you can even decide that you are “not allowed” to finish your story or listen to the next episode unless you are cleaning.

Get Dressed

If I am going to be productive, I must take a shower, brush my teeth, and get completely dressed for the day first. I pick something comfy (like sweatpants and a t-shirt) but I try to look presentable enough for company. That way I feel like I “officially” got out of bed. For some reason taking these steps makes a huge difference in my attitude and how much cleaning I get done for the day.

Plan a Reward

Sometimes this is all it takes to give me that extra push to just do it. If I tell myself that at the end of cleaning time I get to watch my show, or take a bath, or eat a piece of chocolate it makes me move more quickly.

Long Term…

Purge Your Stuff

I’ve found that the only way I can keep the house clean is if I own a lot less stuff. The Kon Marie Method is a good place to get started, it helps you learn “how to clean up your home once and never need to do it again.”  I’m in the process of getting rid of all our stuff, and every area I have worked on has stayed really clean.

Swish and Swipe

My mom taught me this tip she learned from Fly Lady. If you “swish and swipe” your surfaces every day, they won’t really get dirty, which means you don’t have to deep clean them very often. Basically by cleaning for ten minutes every day, you are saving yourself from doing hours of scrubbing later.

For me this means quickly doing these five things every single day:

  • Quickly wiping down the bathroom surfaces
  • Quickly wiping down the kitchen counters and sink
  • Clearing off our bedside tables
  • Putting away any junk in the living room
  • Quickly sweeping the kitchen floor

If I do nothing else on these days it’s okay, because I at least I am maintaining the cleanliness that I worked hard for on other days.

Put Things Away Immediately

Try to put things away immediately after using them. I’ve always been terrible about this, I used walk in the door every day and dump my tennis shoes, purse, and jacket on the floor and walk away. I would use all my makeup and hair tools and then just walk away. I would pull out seven outfits to try on and then just walk away. At the end of the day it all adds up and I’ve created a huge mess! By starting to put things away right after I use them, I’ve saved myself hours of future work!

Ask For Help

I didn’t want to ask my husband for help because he works hard all day to bring home a paycheck. As homemaker, I felt like I should be able to handle all of the cleaning by myself since I had more time than him. I have a lot of physical and mental health problems, but still…I wanted to be able to say I could do it. One day (without me asking, because he’s a sweetheart) he decided to do a huge overhaul of the entire apartment with me for a few hours. Now I wish I had swallowed my pride and asked for help a lot sooner. There were so many projects piling up that I just couldn’t keep up with them all, and no matter how much I cleaned it was just getting dirtier and dirtier.

Now instead of spending the majority of my time scrambling to make things clean, I spend it maintaining what we cleaned together. And that’s a lot easier to stay on top of! Don’t be afraid to ask for help every once in awhile, it can change everything!

If you have any methods you use to make cleaning the house easier, I would love to hear about them. Whatever you’re going through, I hope that you will find some relief soon! Hopefully some of these tips will help you take your home from being a source of stress, to a resting place that helps you heal from stress.

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