If you are struggling with depression, cleaning can feel impossible. Here’s how to cope.
Depression is one of those illnesses that makes it almost impossible just to get out of bed, let alone do all of the necessary tasks your life requires, like getting dressed, feeding yourself, and cleaning your house. Unfortunately, the tendency to neglect your physical needs can often make you feel even worse, leading to a downward spiral that can be hard to get out of.
When it comes to cleaning while you are depressed, the physical activity of cleaning and the sight of a clean house can help you feel better, while having a messy house can worsen your mood—but when you’re depressed, mustering the energy to clean can feel almost impossible. Here are a few strategies that can help you clean when you’re depressed.
The amount of cleaning you can do will vary according to your energy level and the amount of mess
Depending on how severe your depression is, as well as how long it has been going on, your approach is going to vary according to how much energy you have and how messy your house is. If the depression has been going on for a while, then there’s a good chance the mess has accumulated to a point that feels impossible to tackle. Even if this is the case, there are still small things you can do that can help.
What to do if you barely have any energy
If your living space seems so buried under piles of clothes, trash bags, and random clutter to the point that you can barely move, the first thing, according to KC Davis, author of “How To Keep House While Drowning,” is to make your place functional to live. Davis, who is a licensed professional therapist, runs a mental health platform called “Struggle Care,” which focuses on no-judgment, practical advice for people who are going through tough times.
When Davis says “functional,” she’s not talking neat or organized, or even particularly clean. What she does mean is that you deserve a clean place to sleep, as well as a safe place to walk. To start, put clean sheets on your bed, then clear a path to the kitchen, living room, and bathroom, so that you aren’t tripping over piles of clutter every time you try to move. If that’s all you have energy for at the moment, then that is enough. You’ll still feel a little better than you did before, and that is what matters.
What to do if you have some energy
If you have a little more energy for cleaning, Davis recommends a strategy for cleaning that will keep cleaning in one room, while minimizing the number of decisions you have to make, so as to not get distracted or overwhelmed.
As Davis explains in her Youtube video “5 Things Tidying Method,” is that when she looks at an overwhelmingly messy room, she tells herself that “There are only five things in this room.” These five things are trash, dishes, laundry, things without a place, and things that have a place they need to go into.
Davis’ suggestion is to tackle one thing at a time, all while staying in the room the entire time, so as to not get distracted and wander off halfway through, forgetting all about what you were doing, which definitely happens while struggling with depression.
To start, grab a trash bag, start collecting the trash, and only the trash, until you’ve gotten it all, at which point, you’ll put the trash in a corner of the room. Then collect all of the dishes, and place them in another part of the room to be washed later. Once you’ve done that, pick up all of the laundry, place it in a separate section to be tackled later on, then start collecting all of the things without a place, to be put in another section of the room. Finally, put all of the things with a place where they belong.
Once you’ve done that, you can either choose to tackle the dishes, the laundry, and/or finding places for things, or if you’re out of energy, you can stop. Either way, the room will look and feel more manageable than it did before you started.
As Davis explains in her video, the important part of this method is to stay in the room the entire time to lessen the chance you’ll get distracted and wander off, while the five categories minimize the number of decisions you have to make, thus making it feel more manageable.
What to do if you have a moderate amount of energy
The previous methods are ones that will work if you either have extremely low levels of energy, an overwhelming amount of mess, or both. If you’re dealing with low-grade depression or a moderate amount of mess, then it can help to break down some of the tasks, as well as trying to clean as you go along.
Six strategies for cleaning your house while depressed are to break the tasks down into smaller, more manageable tasks; to clean as you go along, so that the mess doesn’t accumulate; to do your best to avoid procrastinating; to store your cleaning supplies close to where you’ll need to use them, so they’re easily accessible; to focus on cleaning the high traffic areas first; and then to include your family in your cleaning efforts.
Depression can feel overwhelming, while a messy house can make you feel even worse. Even if all you have energy for is a few minutes of cleaning, it’ll still help. Just make sure that, in addition to the cleaning, you also get the help you need to recover.
Where to get help for your depression
If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, there are trained crisis counselors available 24/7 through the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which you can reach either by calling 1-800-273-8255 or through their online chat. To reach The Crisis Text Line, text “HOME” to 741-741, to call The Trevor Project’s hotline, dial (866) 488-7386. For additional hotlines, as well as finding a psychologist, you can reference this resource from the American Psychological Association. Your doctor can also help, so reach out to them as well. Depression is a serious illness, but it’s treatable, especially with the right healthcare team.