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Ask UfYH: Where to Start When You Can’t Get to Everything

Q: Hi! When a person’s entire home is trashed, cluttered, disorganized, and dirty (two floors, three bedrooms, two and a half baths, for example) and they live alone with chronic illness and most likely won’t receive any assistance in cleaning, where/which room, in your expert opinion, is the most important place for them to start? Thank you for your answer and guidance.

A: Start with where you spend the most time. Whatever space you see the most of is the one that will bother you the most if it’s in bad shape, so whether that’s your bedroom or the living room, start there. Make sure there’s a clear, empty space near the bed or couch (a nightstand or coffee table). This will give you a place to focus on that won’t take too long to clear off and that can remain a calming “home base” for you to see when things might get a little overwhelming.

From there, move on to getting rid of obvious garbage in all the rooms — nothing makes you feel worse than trash all over the place. Next priority should be dishes and the kitchen so you have a clean and healthy space to prepare food and eat in. Try paring down the number of dishes that you use. It’s hard to be overwhelmed by a sink full of dishes if you only have two coffee mugs in rotation instead of ten.

Next, the bathroom. There’s very little more frustrating and disheartening than a dirty bathroom. It’s much easier to take care of yourself if you aren’t dreading going in there. Keep some cleaning wipes or a rag and cleaner handy so you can do just a little bit every time you go in.

If you’re in a situation where it’s possible, consider enlisting or hiring some help. Housecleaning services are not cheap, but friends may be an untapped resource for assistance. Human nature seems to dictate that while we’re ashamed of our own messes, we freaking love helping other people deal with theirs. If you have someone you’re comfortable asking, ask. You might be surprised by the answer.

Most importantly, understand that it’s going to take some time, and it’s probably going to be a little frustrating, and you’re going to be somewhat limited by your illness. Try not to let that make you give up; just work slow and steady and do what you can to make the situation better.

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