Two weeks ago I talked about how mental and physical health affect each other so closely, but that is far from the only cycle I have witnessed. This week I am going to talk about something that has been a HUGE struggle for me: depression, anxiety, and a messy house.
I want to clarify that this isn’t true of everyone. Some people with depression and anxiety have immaculate houses and that’s awesome. I am not one of those people.
I also want to say my house isn’t gross. There aren’t bugs and rats crawling everywhere like you may see on TV. But I am in an almost constant state of embarrassment due to the mess in my home. But I’ve noticed something, the worse my mental state is, the worse my house becomes.
When I give myself a really good pep talk, keep up with my physical needs, and get in a good mindset, my house gets clean. Sometimes for weeks, I keep up with laundry and dishes perfectly. I keep clutter on the floors to a minimum and do well with my routines. But then depression wins out and I just throw my hands in the air and say, “Who cares?”
Six months ago I thought I was the only one with these issues. Boy was I wrong! As I have talked more and more openly with mental health sufferers, I have learned I am far from alone. Please know if you are like me and struggle to keep your house clean, you are not the only one! There are more people with this problem than I could even begin to imagine.
How the Cycle Works In My Life
For me, this cycle begins with my mindset. I finish cooking and I just really don’t care to do the dishes or even clear the table right then and there. Depression tells me that there is absolutely no point in doing this because nobody even cares anyways.
Then someone announces they are coming over to visit and my anxiety starts screaming that I have to get the house cleaned up. So most of the time, I do. But the whole time I am rushing around like an idiot, depression is telling me how horrible I am for not already having it all cleaned up and then I start feeling guilty.
My anxiety normally takes precedence and I push through and get things clean (or at least stuffed in a closet so no one sees) but then I collapse into a more discouraged state than before.
I beat myself up for being lazy. But when I see the toys strewn across the living room later that night, depression says, “Look how horrible you are. You’re such a slob.” And I begin to accept that I am a slob and I continue living as one.
Until, for some reason or another, I again feel a desire to clean. But generally by that point, my house is too far gone to clean in a reasonable time/manner. I want to clean, but my anxiety takes over and I become terrified that I will never be able to do it. I become agitated, which makes focusing even harder.
The next stage is when I begin isolating myself. I “know” I can never get my house clean enough to not be embarrassed when people come to visit, so I begin to make excuses and do my best to keep people away from my home. This leads to isolation which gets into another cycle I’ll be writing about soon, but trust me, it’s no good either.
How To Break The Messy House Cycle
I have tried so many different systems and while almost all of them work for a while, within just a few weeks, the cycle starts all over again. But I have gained valuable insight from several of them and come up with some tips myself. So here are my suggestions on how you can break the cycle of depression, anxiety, and a messy home.
1. Set One Small, Realistic Goal
Don’t try to clean your whole house in two hours. You won’t be successful and that’s just going to feed the depression. Instead, choose one room. For me, that’s normally my living room because that’s what people see when I open my door.
Next, choose one small, manageable area. This could be a couch, a table, or even a certain amount of floor space. Make it something you know you can handle quickly and get busy. Sometimes I have found setting a timer for 10 or 15 minutes can be a game changer as I race against the clock.
When that small goal is finished, your next goal is to just maintain it. Make it a constant battle to NOT allow anything to get set on that space that doesn’t belong there. As soon as you see it happen, put that item away properly and promptly.
Keeping a whole house, or even a whole room clean can be hard when you are overwhelmed with depression and a messy house. But one couch cushion? I can handle that and so can you!
2. Push Yourself A Little Bit
Once you’ve mastered keeping that small area clean, widen it a bit or a pick another small area and do the same with it. Over time, continue to widen your area and keep maintaining it. Before you know it, the “small area” will be that entire room and then you can move on to another one. But DON’T push too hard. If you get going too fast and you feel overwhelmed and like it’s not achievable, back up and slow down a little bit. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
3. Build A Routine
There are lots of websites, blog posts, and videos that share with your the “perfect” routine to take care of your messy house. I’m not going to go there because guess what? My routine is NOT going to work for you. Yours won’t work for me. But I do believe finding a routine that works for you is VITAL. Here are some things that work for me.
- Wash Dishes After EVERY meal – even if you have to do it by hand.
- Do at least one load of laundry every day (and doing laundry includes folding it and putting it away)
- Unload the dishwasher every morning at least.
- Spend 20 minutes at the end of the night picking up as many things that aren’t where they belong as possible.
For more help on building up a routine, I strongly recommend the Marla Cilley’s (aka, the FlyLady’s) first book, CHAOS to Clean in 31 Easy BabySteps. She has been a huge inspiration for me to accept that “I can do anything for 15 minutes.” I never would have dreamed what can be accomplished during that time Her 31 babysteps can take anyone from being a slob to having a manageable home, although I must admit, 31 baby steps took me a lot longer than 31 days.
4. Get Rid of What You Don’t Need
Decluttering is HUGE! Things won’t be all over the floor if you don’t have enough junk to cover it. If you know you aren’t going to use something, why let it rob you of space in your beautiful home? Broken, torn, or just nasty items just need to be tossed. If it’s usable, let it bless someone who needs it. But as you go around cleaning your home, if you come across something you don’t need, or don’t use, please find it a new place to go.
No one helped me understand this concept more than Dana K. White from A Slob Comes Clean. I cannot even begin to say how much I have enjoyed listening to her podcasts and reading her blog. But more than any of that, her book Decluttering at the Speed of Life: Winning Your Never-Ending Battle with Stuff has shown me so many things I didn’t even realize I was holding on to that I didn’t even need.
Get Your Kids Involved!
Check out this post for some awesome games you can play to make cleaning fun for your kids (and you) so you can get more accomplished!
More About Cycles
If you’re interested in learning more about the cycles I have experienced and observed, check out the rest of the series:
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