A tidy house is a tidy mind. It’s trite, but in my experience it’s very true. Horribly so, in fact, because the problem with depression is…well, it makes you less able to do things like cleaning. Then you end up stuck in this messy building. Which makes you more, or at least stay, very depressed.
Over the years I’ve battled a lot with my relationship with cleaning and that balancing act of motivation and depression. I’ve tried a lot of strategies for it. If you’re new here then you should be aware that I actually weirdly enjoy personal organisation. If you’re not, you’ll have seen plenty of evidence of this.
And my latest strategy seems to have worked.
But why do I need a cleaning calendar?
I’m much better at contributing to, and in fact doing the lion’s share of the household chores now. This has been primarily achieved through a lot of willpower, and – well, a lot of my willpower is fuelled by guilt.
It’s not good for me. I’m aware that I do it. But it’s so damn motivating it’s hard to stop.
The problem is, that guilt-as-fuel method is incredibly stressful. It means that every single day I get up, look at the house, and feel nothing but guilt and shame. Because I’m human – and as such, my house is never absolutely 100% clean.
I spend the vast majority of my time at home, too, which means I do not get removed from this source of stress. I am trapped there with it. It consumes me. It consumes me even when I’ve been working hard to fix it. I can finish hours of cleaning, look at my incredible work, and think: but the front door is really dirty.
Obviously, I needed to try something different.
Here’s what I was doing before.
I have a good idea of what needs to be done on a weekly basis or even more frequently. So every week when I sat down to do my bullet journal, I would portion out the cleaning so that I did some every day of the week.
I would do my best not to put any cleaning on the weekends, so it would often be very compacted into the weekdays. As to what I was doing on a weekly basis – well, I’d googled some example how-often-you-should calendar and I’d just used those.
This included such (unrealistic) things as hoovering the entire house every week. Dusting everything every week. Cleaning the wooden floors every week. It just wasn’t sustainable in the slightest.
Before this I’d tried cleaning for 15 minutes every day. This was better, but I would miss some of the jobs you have to do less regularly.
So this time I tried putting it into a google calendar.
This is what it looks like. I’ve hidden all my other calendars so it’s clearer. You can’t see all of the tasks I have scheduled in this one month, because some of them I don’t do every month – cleaning the oven, for example (more on that later).
You’ll also notice that they’re not very frequent…at all. This is because I wanted to start small. All of the habits I’ve built despite my depression trying to stop me, I’ve built in increments.
I figured that if I wanted to get myself to clean the bathroom once a week? Well then first I needed to first get myself to clean it once a month.
I don’t always do the task on the precise day. If I’m out that day I’ll do it a couple of days either side. Some weeks I don’t have much – hooray for this week! – and some weeks I have more. I tried to scatter them through the month so as to be as even as possible.
The best thing? I didn’t intend for this to be a stress reliever. But it is.
I genuinely just wanted to make sure I was cleaning things regularly.
But I’m now into my second full month of doing this, and something incredible has happened. If I keep to the schedule, then I don’t feel as guilty – and I have with absolutely every task bar cleaning the oven, which came up a few weeks ago and I still haven’t done, because I fear it. You would too if you’d seen our oven.
I won’t try and tell you that I never feel guilty at all, because sometimes I do. Sometimes I still finish all the tasks and look at it and go: but I haven’t hoovered the skirting boards.
(Do that job, by the way – you’ll be amazed how much better your rooms will look).
But now, most of the time, I look at the house and I think it’s not perfect, but I’m still on track. And that’s incredible. That’s priceless, and I gained it with something that took me 15 minutes to put together.
Some disclaimers though if you’re going to try this.
It doesn’t work so well for things you need to do very frequently. You’ll notice on that calendar I’ve not got any laundry scheduled, or loading/unloading the dishwasher.
However, the fact that I’ve been less stressed about the less frequent cleaning jobs has meant that I’ve been better equipped to take care of the more frequent ones. I’ve maintained doing the laundry every other day, cleaning the kitchen at least every other day if not daily, things like that.
You will also sometimes have a few days where it all goes tits up, everything gets a bit much, and you have to hard reset your house. I did this last weekend, primarily fuelled by my grief would like something active to do now. But enlist help with it and it’ll be over before you know it.
Lastly, it might require some tweaking. You might find, like I’m starting to think, that you need to hoover more than once a month because actually the carpets looking awful is more stressful to you than doing the hoovering once a fortnight instead. Be prepared to spend months getting it to work.
But I would really recommend trying it if you’re someone who gets stressed about household chores and struggles with doing it due to depression or other illness. Just remember the key goal of this: to find a routine that is sustainable for you.
If you’re enjoying these lifestyle-with-mental-health posts, let me know! I’d love to hear from you about what you’d like to see more of. I do take post requests, so just comment, email me or Tweet me to ask!