Ask UfYH

Ask UfYH: Cleaning With a Chronic Illness

Q: I have a chronic illness that leaves me unable to stand for long periods of time (and sometimes even short ones). I get tired very easily, and too much physical exertion can result in an attack that lasts for days and requires me to take some really awful medications. I want a clean house, and I can’t afford to get someone in to help. Is there anything I can do, or should I resign myself to living in a dump?

A: Never resign yourself to anything. Once you do that, you lose all of your motivation and momentum, and it sounds like you have the motivation and the desire to try to improve your living situation. What you need to find are methods that you can adapt to your health needs and your limitations of time and energy that you can safely afford to expend on cleaning.

  • Do what you can. If you can only manage five minutes or two minutes, that’s great! Progress is progress.
  • Listen to your body. If it’s telling you it’s time to stop, then stop. Your health is your first priority.
  • Adapt. There are many tasks that can be done in a non-traditional way, such as sitting down, to make it easier on your body.
  • Focus on what’s done, not what’s not done. Progress doesn’t mean immediate results. It means slowly changing habits in a way that’s sustainable for you and your situation.
  • Work in shorter increments. The UfYH system uses 20/10s (20 minutes of cleaning, followed by a ten-minute break), but that might not be feasible for you. If a 5/45 or 3/the rest of the day is all you can manage, then do that and consider it the victory that it is.
  • On days when things are especially bad, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get “enough” accomplished. Just do any little thing that makes you feel better.
  • Ask for help. If you have someone you trust to be in your space without judgment, ask if they wouldn’t mind helping you out for an hour or two. It’s a fascinating phenomenon that people rarely enjoy cleaning their own spaces, but many really, really love getting their hands into someone else’s mess.

Keeping things clean while living with a chronic illness, chronic pain, mental illness, sensory issues, or any other of a host of various situations can make things difficult, but it’s not impossible. You just have to look at the circumstances of your everyday life, and come up with a plan that balances your health and your home in a way that’s manageable for you.

Q: My sink smells terrible. I try to make sure I’m using the garbage disposal so that there’s not just rotting food down there, but the odor builds up. I always forget to get chemicals at the store for this kind of thing, and I really dislike putting them down the sink anyway. (Lord only knows what else is down there and how it might react.) Are there any natural solutions for my funky (in the bad way) sink?

A: Garbage disposals are a blessing and a curse. The curse part is that at some point, they’re going to stink (and also, I have a persistent fear of death by garbage disposal, as unlikely as that is). Fortunately, they’re pretty easy to clean using stuff you have around the house that’s also safe for human consumption. Several things you can try:

  • Put a few ice cubes in the disposal and run it with cold water to dislodge any food particles that may be stuck to the blades. Some people suggest adding rock salt, but I don’t know many people who keep that on hand, except in the winter to keep from slipping and breaking your face on evil patches of ice.
  • Freeze vinegar into ice cubes and use those the same way as the regular ice cubes, just with the added benefits of acetic acid. (Vinegar, while smelling pretty funky itself, kills most other odors, and once the vinegar smell goes away, whatever you’ve cleaned will be pretty stink-free.)
  • Drain volcano! Pour baking soda into the disposal and then follow it with vinegar. Let it fizz and bubble and sit for a while, and then run really hot water (use a kettle full of boiling water if you have metal and not PVC pipes) without running the disposal.
  • Every time you use citrus fruit, grind the peels in the disposal.
  • When you use your disposal, run it for a little extra time after the crunching sounds have stopped. This will allow any extra food particles to make their way out of the disposal.

[This post originally appeared in November 2013.]

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2 replies on “Ask UfYH: Cleaning With a Chronic Illness”

I love the realistic and concrete advice for cleaning with a chronic illness! In our house, we’ve also realized that there are some important things to keep in mind, like which tasks are more likely to exacerbate illness. Dusting, for example, is a task my husband can’t do. The same goes for cleaning the garage. If I weren’t around to do those things for him, he would need to prioritize either dusting every day (to prevent it from getting bad enough to trigger an attack), or he’d have to hire someone/ask someone for help. I think it’s important to prioritize tasks based on how they will affect your health.

A quick comment on the citrus peels in the garbage disposal: my friend is a plumber, and he specifically said not to do that. He said that lots of people do, but that it can cause a lot of problems for the disposal. Basically, little strips of the peel end up getting caught in the nooks and crannies of the disposal’s mechanisms, and overtime it can cause buildup and breakdowns of the equipment. He recommended the ice cube method that you mention. Up until then, I had been using orange peels in the disposal regularly! Now I use those little “Plink Your Sink” balls that I find in the grocery store. I don’t use them nearly as often as the package recommends, but I do use them from time to time if things start getting a little funky.

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