10 Ways I Keep My Home Clean When Dealing with Depression
I’ve struggled with depression on and off since I was 9 years old. Although I’ve never had the kind of depression that prevented me from getting out of bed or holding down a job, I know what it’s like to feel that heavy cloud roll in and start putting off basic tasks.
The first time I went to see a therapist to fully lay bare my mental health struggles, I lied about one question on the intake form. It was something like, “Do you ever struggle to complete basic tasks, such as cleaning your home or doing the dishes?”
I circled “no” because I didn’t want the therapist to think I was dirty, messy, or incompetent. I could admit that I was struggling with sleep, feeling a sense of hopelessness, and experiencing other symptoms of depression. But I didn’t want anyone to know that I had let certain tasks go undone for longer than usual because I was embarrassed.
If you’re having a hard time staying on top of cleaning or other chores, it may be because you’re depressed. There’s nothing wrong with lowering your expectations of what you can accomplish when you’re struggling with your mental health. But there are things you can do to make your to-do list feel a little more manageable, one small step at a time.
Before we get into tips for cleaning when you’re depressed, let’s talk about what depression is and how it relates to cleaning.
What Is Depression?
To give you a general overview of what depression looks like, I spoke with Anne Willis, a clinical psychologist.
“Clinical depression is a significant change from your baseline mood where you feel low energy, lose interest in things that you used to enjoy, and can be sleeping too much, sleeping too little, gaining weight, losing weight, or generally having changes in your eating and sleeping habits,” Willis says. “Typically, when we think about depression, we think about low mood and being sad, but irritation is [also] a common symptom.”
Willis goes on to explain, “Depression is related to neurotransmitters that are specific to regulating our moods, like serotonin and dopamine. Either the brain isn’t producing enough of those neurotransmitters or the connections aren’t working, so the neurotransmitters aren’t getting to the places they need to go.”
If you think you may be experiencing depression or are having thoughts of self-harm, you should reach out to a medical professional or call one of the numbers listed at the end of this article.
Why Does Depression Make Cleaning So Hard?
There’s a strong link between depression and cleaning, and it might not be as subjective as you think.
“Low motivation is a pretty hallmark symptom of depression, as well as not enjoying the things that you used to do, which is my favorite word in psychology: ‘anhedonia,’” Willis remarks. “In addition to low motivation and fatigue, difficulty doing tasks can be a reflection of what’s happening inside. If inside you feel kind of broken or worthless or bad about yourself, sometimes your environment can mirror that.”
Willis further explains that the relationship between depression and cleaning is a two-way street. “Cleaning specifically is super helpful for depression because when you start cleaning your space, it’s the same thing as clearing your mind. Things like making your bed and doing small chores … can make you feel better.”
Plus, Willis states, “You can get dopamine from doing something rewarding. When you start to do these little tasks, it gets you active and helps with the internal self-talk and dialogue, and it’s a reflection of you taking care of yourself.”
10 Tips for Cleaning Your Home When You’re Depressed
Cleaning when you’re experiencing depression may never be easy, but it can feel a little less daunting. Here are 10 approaches that have helped me keep my home clean when I’m struggling with depression.
I find that the fewer items I have in my home, the easier it is to clean because I have fewer things to tend to and move around. If your depression comes and goes, try decluttering during your non-depressive periods so you can have an easier time cleaning when you’re feeling low.
2. Create drop zones.
A “drop zone” is a basket, bin, or other container that you assign for certain items. Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin of The Home Edit coined the term to describe this method of keeping clutter contained. I have one drop zone by my front door for my purse, jacket, and keys and another in my bedroom closet for clothes that need to be put away or aren’t quite ready for the hamper. You can also place drop zones next to your bed or virtually anywhere else in your home to make your space look tidier.
3. Put things away immediately.
Instead of putting an item down on the counter, a chair, or the floor, I’ve gotten into the habit of putting it away where it belongs without hesitation. This goes for dishes, too. By placing dishes in the dishwasher instead of in the sink, or washing them immediately after I use them, I’m able to keep them from piling up and becoming an overwhelming task later on.
4. Break it down.
In my experience, one of the hardest things about cleaning when depressed is that certain areas can feel impossible to tackle. Willis advises breaking bigger tasks into small steps. For example, instead of setting out to clean your entire bathroom at once, try cleaning the bathroom sink today and tackling the bathtub tomorrow. It can wait.
5. Make it easy.
Willis also advises people who struggle with depression to make cleaning as simple and easy as possible. One method that has worked for me is keeping disinfecting wipes on my bathroom and kitchen counters or in nearby cabinets. This allows me to wipe surfaces down quickly when I don’t have the energy to get out my cleaning supplies and deep clean my space.
6. Create a schedule.
Sometimes the hardest part of doing anything when you’re depressed is deciding when to do it. I schedule regular cleaning times to take thinking out of the equation and pencil in time afterward to reward myself with a treat or activity I enjoy.
7. Take advantage of high-energy times.
Even when your energy is generally low, it tends to ebb and flow throughout the day. I prefer to clean when I have the most energy, such as first thing in the morning or when I return home from running an errand or spending time with friends.
8. Curate a vibe.
Make cleaning an event you can look forward to. I like to use one or all of the following methods to help set the mood:
- Open all your windows.
- Play feel-good music.
- Listen to your favorite podcast.
- Light candles or incense.
- Diffuse essential oils.
9. Include others.
Another way to make cleaning feel more fun and less lonely is to ask your partner, roommate, or kids to clean alongside you, something also known as body doubling. This practice has helped me stay accountable, at the very least.
10. Acknowledge your hard work.
No matter what I can or can’t accomplish, I try to focus on what I’ve done instead of what I haven’t done. This is a great exercise in self-compassion and helps keep me from spiraling.
“Self-compassion is the antidote to really critical self-talk,” Willis notes. “It might be something like, ‘I wanted to do the dishes and sweep the floors, but I only did the dishes.’ Instead of that, you can say, ‘I am suffering and this is normal. May I find calm today, may I find peace today.’ And just know that you can do it later.”
Sometimes when you’re depressed, the shame you feel about your mental state and the things you’re unable to do can be worse than the depression symptoms themselves. Whether you get around to cleaning or not, you can alleviate some of the pain you’re feeling by releasing that shame. Your home might not be as clean as it usually is when you’re struggling with depression or another mental health issue, and that’s OK. Sometimes you need to lower your standards so you can prioritize taking care of yourself. And there’s no shame in that.
If you or someone you know is dealing with depression and needs help, visit one of the following websites or call one of their helplines: