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Ask UfYH: Cleaning with Depression and a Deadline

Q: I need some advice for cleaning while dealing with depression. I can get myself to clean, but if I take any breaks, I can’t ever motivate myself to go back to cleaning.

I have a six week deadline to get my apartment cleaned and I don’t know how to make this happen. If I sit down on a break I can’t motive myself to even get out of bed again. Last week I tried to do a 20/10 in my kitchen, and the 10 found me just sitting on the kitchen floor and basically giving up.

If I could I’d prioritize going to see a therapist, etc. over cleaning right now, but I had to sell my father’s house after he died and in six weeks the furniture I’m bringing from his house to replace my old furniture will be coming to my apartment, and I’m worried that if I don’t get my apartment decently cleaned first I’m going to end up with a mess I can never get out from under. If you have any advice, I’d appreciate it. Roomie offered help but I feel so stuck.

A:  This is a rough situation, but there’s a lot in your question that leads me to believe that this situation is well within your ability.

  • First and most importantly: “Roomie offered help.” Take the help. People generally hate dealing with their own mess, but are deeply satisfied with helping to clean up someone else’s. Help being offered is huge. Take advantage of it. Not to mention that, as your roommate, this person is sharing space with you, and likely wants to have a level of input and control into how that shared space looks. Take the help without hesitation.
  • Next, you have six weeks. It’s not the longest amount of time in the world, but it’s enough that you don’t need to be panic cleaning. You just need to make sure you’re making the most of the time that you have. Don’t procrastinate or postpone; do something, no matter how small, every single day. Those tiny things add up to make a huge difference.
  • Make a plan. Sit down with your roommate and make a list of what needs to get done. Prioritize tasks by how long they’ll take, how critical they are, and how much you’re dreading them. Do one simple thing alternated with one shitty thing.
  • You found it hard to keep going after your break in the 20/10. Did you give yourself any credit at all for the 20 minutes that you spent cleaning before that? You need to realize that stopping wasn’t a failure, because you accomplished something before you stopped.

I’ve written a number of things about cleaning and depression; you might find something helpful in one of these:

Good luck. I know you can do this. Check back in and let us know how it goes.
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5 replies on “Ask UfYH: Cleaning with Depression and a Deadline”

Seconding the list thing! May I suggest breaking your list down into itty-bitty bits? Like, instead of “clean the kitchen,” it would be: 1-throw out trash, 2-put away cooking implements, 3-clean the stove top, 4-clean the microwave and toaster, 5-clean the counters, etc. This way, instead of one huge task that no way you can complete in 20 minutes, you have a bunch of small tasks that you can complete several of in 20 minutes. And then you get to cross stuff off your list!

Yes, yes, and yes.

Also, something Rachel’s suggested many times before but not here (though it could be in those links, I don’t remember): PHOTOS! Even if you’re the only one that ever sees them. Not only can you sometimes notice problem areas in photos that your brain seems to skip over IRL, but you can see the progress you’re making better in photos sometimes. Taking photos isn’t just a great tool, it’s a great motivator. Especially when you’re having a hard time focusing on your accomplishments. (Not that I have any personal experience with that. Nooooooooo, not meeeeeeeeeee…. >.>)

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