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Dealing With Depression? Housecleaning Tips to Help

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Updated July 05, 2010

When I'm dealing with depression, one of the first things to go to hell is housecleaning. From talking to many of you, I've gathered that this is a very common problem. All it takes is a few depression symptoms to put you in a state where you are straining just to keep up the critical tasks of your life - going to work, paying your bills, caring for your kids and the like. Housecleaning? Low priority compared to those - but when you look around and see your house deteriorating day by day, it's likely to feed make you feel worse, making dealing with depression that much more difficult.

So here are some tips for helping you get a few things done. In my experience and based on what a lot of you have told me, getting even a single small job done can give you a sense of accomplishment and pleasure that you can really use during a depressive episode.

Don't expect too much of yourself

Keep your cleaning checklist short!
Marcia Purse/Microsoft
If you get up in the morning saying to yourself, "I have to clean out the refrigerator, do all the laundry, clean the bathrooms, vacuum all the rugs, wash the tile floors ..." how does that make you feel? Do you go back to bed (literally or mentally) and do none of it? Changes in activity levels are a very common symptom of depressive episodes, and as your energy decreases, your fatigue increases, and you feel more emotional pain, you may very well find that over-committing yourself leads to getting nothing done. So simplify your mental to-do list. Maybe you'll choose to clean out one refrigerator shelf or clean just the bathroom counter.

Make use of times when you HAVE to get up

Clean a light bulb
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No matter how depressed you are, no matter how much you want to stay on the couch and do nothing, you will have to get up to go to the bathroom. So now that you're on your feet, do something that makes a difference, no matter how small, before you sit or lie down again. Run a dust rag or dryer sheet over a television screen. Use an all-purpose cleaner and a paper towel or rag to clean the accumulated finger dirt and oil off a switchplate cover. Carefully clean a lamp's cold light bulb with a damp rag, making sure it is completely dry before replacing it. More light is good for depression.

Do a self-structured job like a load of laundry

Laundry has built-in structure that you can augment to make it even easier to finish:
  1. Start the washing machine, then set a timer for about how long you think it will take. Keep the timer near you. When it goes off, check the laundry, and if it's not done, reset the timer and, again, keep it with you.

  2. When the washer is done, clean the lint filter of your dryer next. This is a 5-10 second task often skipped. Make it a part of your routine.

  3. Throw a dryer sheet into the dryer, put in the wet laundry, start the dryer. If it has a "done" buzzer, set it for as loud as you need so you will hear it - or use your timer again.

  4. When the laundry is dry, put it away. This isn't fun, but the good thing about it is, you don't have to think about where each thing goes. They already have places.
Jobs with structure built into them can be easier to accomplish during depression than those that are open-ended and require decision-making. Others might be emptying wastebaskets, changing burned out light bulbs, or dusting a single surface (put the supplies away afterward so they don't add to clutter).

Do more than just bring in the mail

I never had much trouble with this when the mailbox was on the front of the house, but now that I live where the boxes are out at the street, days can go by before I go out and get the mail. However, when I finally do go and get it, I have two steps I do - most of the time - before ever setting the mail down to help me make the most of the task. First, I stop by the recycling bin and throw out everything I don't want. Second, I have a spot specifically for bills and other important mail, so I sort through what's left. It takes far less time to do this than it does to gather up stacks of mail from all over the place (usually half-spilled onto the floor), plus I'm less likely to pay bills late if I've separated them out. I can't say I always do it this way, but it sure helps when I do.

Have a list of 5-15 minute tasks

I've found that no matter how full my kitchen sink is, I can empty it in ten minutes. (I put on hand lotion, then rubber gloves, and use the hottest water to help the lotion sink into my hands - it's nice!) Cleaning a toilet takes even less time, but you need to set a timer while it soaks. Water your plants. Put the dirty clothes that have accumulated in your bedroom into the laundry hamper. Make your bed. Clean your keyboard or your cat's litter box.

Have a list of 1-2 minute (or less) tasks

Here's a list of thirty 30-second chores to get you started, though some of these would take me longer. Others I can think of:
  • Clean a doorknob
  • Wash your pet's dishes
  • Empty your ashtrays
  • Return used dishes, flatware, drink bottles, etc., to the kitchen. Rinse and recycle what you can. Soak things with dried food.
  • Dust a favorite knickknack

Remember you're not the only one with this problem

It's a common problem for people who are dealing with depression. Almost every day we discuss our goals, large and small, at About Bipolar Disorder on Facebook. We support each other. You can also post in our Forums to get support and ideas from people who also have bipolar disorder and are experienced in dealing with its depressive symptoms.

Enjoy what you did!

Every time you flick the light switch in the switchplate cover you cleaned, smile when you see that it's clean. Be glad your ashtray isn't so full that you're liable to start a fire. Feel proud when you see an empty sink, a clean toilet, a gleaming counter. Maybe you can use that feeling as momentum to do another task.

What do you do to clean house when you're dealing with depression?
Use the link below to submit your own cleaning tips - specific easy jobs or ways to make it easier to do things.

More Cleaning Ideas from About.com

Here are some good resources from About Housekeeping:
  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Bipolar Disorder
  4. Coping & Support
  5. Coping Tips
  6. Dealing With Depression - Housecleaning Help When Dealing With Depression

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