It’s January. All your family and friends have gone home, and ‘new year, new me’ totally means burning yourself out cleaning after the holidays and keeping it clean. I mean, how else are you meant to stick to your resolution if you don’t go all in? And then you look at all the zones you need to get on top of. The bedroom, the kitchen, and my personal hell–the bathroom. The thought of cleaning your house after the holidays is enough to make you want to crawl under a blanket and sleep until summer. You feel like you need more than just willpower to get through this.
I get it. I’ve been there. In fact, I’m going through the motions right now!
It’s actually because of this that I saw how quickly I would burn out all over again if I wasn’t careful. Especially after my realisation when I made my resolutions this year. Instead, here are some things to consider when deciding how to approach cleaning as an ADHDer, and pick up where you leave off if you ‘get messy again’.
First, find out what works for you!
Before I started this new practice, I would look at the entire mountain of things to clean, quickly feeling overwhelmed. It didn’t help when I tried different routines like the FlyLady Routine or the Clean Mama. I still managed to make it into an all or nothing, perfectionist exercise.
Thankfully, I revisited these routines, and reflected on my way of living. I learned that the missing element was to address my own internalized ableism. Clearly everyone needs to break things down into steps, including the cleaning self-help influencers! And, sometimes, you might just not get to it or just don’t have enough time. This doesn’t mean that you’re failing at the cleaning schedule, but that maybe the cleaning schedule isn’t quite right for you.
It’s crucial to find what’s right for you instead of assuming that there’s a one-size-fits-all approach–even to cleaning. Wherever possible, approach your cleaning schedule, and yourself, with curiosity. Here are some things you can think about when reflecting on your routine:
- Don’t be afraid to try new things. And don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work out the first time!
- Do not force something that clearly isn’t working for you. If wiping down your kitchen counters every night isn’t for you, but washing your dishes makes you feel better when you wake up to a clean sink in the morning–prioritise getting the sink done for 5 minutes. If there are dishes left after those 5 minutes and you’ve lost steam, that’s fine! You did your 5 minutes, and that’s it! And who knows, maybe after those 5 minutes, you realise you only have 2 dishes left, you might finish it after all!
- Consider habit stacking. What habits can you group together that would motivate you to complete the task? Save your most desirable task, like journaling or even making yourself a hot chocolate with marshmallows, for last! Then work backwards and build habits that would lead you to that task.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help or support if you can. Do you live with someone or have a really supportive friend who wouldn’t mind body doubling while you clean around them every weekend? Reach out and ask–as long as you feel comfortable to do so!
- Ask yourself: am I getting enough sleep? Am I eating well? Am I exercising regularly? If the answer is no, make sure that these things are happening before starting a cleaning routine. I know when I’m really tired, I’m less likely to stay on top of my cleaning. By addressing this first, practicing my routine, and chipping away at the tidying iceberg, I allow myself the days to just do as much as I can to feel good enough for the days when I’m particularly hungry or tired.
As always, break the chore down into tiny steps.
No matter how you clean, it’s important to break it down into tiny steps. This can be as simple as washing one dish at a time, or doing one load of laundry at a time. Don’t try to tackle all of your cleaning in one session (unless you’re feeling particularly ambitious, but maybe it’s time we admit that this is what gets us in the never-ending cleaning burnout cycle). It might feel like a lot less work if you break up large tasks into smaller pieces!
As an example, I do one small load of laundry every day. I have pre-sorted hampers to make the process easier, and just put the washer on every morning, and set my alarm for when I’ll next be free to deal with it since I’ll likely forget otherwise. Well, to be fair, I still manage to forget even with this system. But, I’ll definitely remember before I go to bed and will quickly take 5 minutes to sort it! If I happen to forget altogether, well–right back in the washing it goes tomorrow (unless it doesn’t stink from being sat in the washer overnight, then it’s getting hung to dry)!
Again, it’s important not to overthink things: if something isn’t working, change it! For example, if organizing all your dishes into cupboards does nothing for you because it takes too long and feels overwhelming after even just looking through them once—then give up on organizing them altogether and focus instead on putting away each dish as soon as it’s dirty/empty. Your organization doesn’t need to look like mine or anyone else’s. It’s your organization, and should only be what works for you.
Invest in cleaning products that make cleaning easier.
Dish soap can clean almost anything. Except for clothes and carpets. (Trust me on this one.) Similarly, so can general spray cleaner. If you have pets, make sure to get pet-friendly ones! But, best of all, invest in the tools that take all the scrubbing and elbow grease out of the equation! When I bought battery-powered scrubbing brushes–including extendable ones–it made cleaning so much easier! The tub, cleaned. Kitchen cabinets, cleaned. Tiles on the wall, you guessed it, cleaned! I don’t even have to scrub or bend in awkward positions because the machine does it for me. Getting electronic scrubbers, weirdly, made cleaning a bit fun for me, too. It was like playing with a toy that cut an hour’s worth of cleaning in half. And then I get to walk around like the lady of the manor!
Designate a place in your home as a “drop zone.”
No matter how much self-control you have, sometimes things just end up in there anyway, and that’s totally okay! And as soon as you start feeling like it’s getting a bit cluttered, put it next to its resting place.
I can’t be the only one that has multiple drop zones. If I am, a drop zone is a place where you can put things that need to be cleaned or tidied away, but don’t quite fit anywhere else (or, when the thing is in its in-between stage between where it was and where it needs to go like chargers that have been designated as your ‘travelling charger’). Having a drop zone is especially helpful if you’re living in a small apartment or studio, or if you have ADHD and are prone to losing your keys/phone/wallet in the couch cushions (guilty). It’s also good because a drop zone will make it easier for family members who live with you to get rid of their junk.
For example, I have a drop zone for all the dirty kitchen towels in a bucket under the sink. My spouse (who is an AuDHDer) and I put the towels in this bucket so they’re tidied away, even though there are not enough to be washed just yet. And when I feel ready to throw them in the laundry, I do!
Another example is the pile of cardboard boxes that come from deliveries. These tend to collect by the garden door. I’ll break all the smaller boxes down and pile them into the biggest box. Once the biggest box gets full, or I know people are coming over and they need to be tidied away, it’s now time to bring everything outside to the recycling bin (or the night before the recycling bin is meant to go out–whichever comes first).
Similarly, you can try to ensure that everything has a home or designated space. Due to my perfectionism, if I know something is out of place and I’m done using it, it will nag at me until I put it where I know it’s meant to be. See if that potentially works for you! And if it doesn’t, get creative–it’s what we do best. For example, I remember seeing another ADHDer use a bin system for clutter that would go back once they got to it. Or even using bins for laundry!
Lastly, self-care is important, but remember that housework is actually self-care too!
It may not feel like it, or even look like it to others, but having a clean space will likely make YOU feel better and be able to function better in your home and in your life! I know that I find it harder to focus in a cluttered environment. In fact, I generally love my desk area. But because we recently moved and have yet to unpack a lot of boxes, it’s currently covered in books and clutter. I can’t stand to even enter the room now just because of this–but I also have to wait for furniture to arrive so it’s a bit of a catch-22. Either way, the room being full of boxes makes it so difficult for me to feel comfortable to the point where I avoid it altogether! This could also be why some ADHDers, like myself, will clean before we start a big project. Not only are we putting it off and possibly delaying it, but we also feel we need a clean space to think more clearly.
As you learn what works best for you, you might realise that cleaning wasn’t ever really the issue. Instead, we were forcing ourselves to clean in a way that wasn’t true to us. Maybe you need headphones with your favourite music playing, maybe you need to clean late at night with a dim light as a meditative practice before bed. Or, maybe you just need to do a couple of cleaning chores a day. Dishes could be habit stacked along with wiping down counters so you do it every day.iping down the surfaces in the living room could be once a week, whenever you remember. Whatever your routine, approach it and yourself with curiosity to learn what works best for you and what feels good! Once you practice it, tweak it, and refine it, you might be surprised to find that you are actually able to stay on top of cleaning–it just looks different to everyone else’s routine. And just like us, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being different.
It’s important to remember that while housework might not be the most glamorous or fun thing in the world, it can still be pleasurable if we approach it in a way that works for our brains. When you find yourself struggling with cleaning tasks, try out some of these tips and see what works for you! Remember that there are no right or wrong ways of doing things—just different ways. And with enough practice (and patience from those around us while we figure out what works), we can all learn how to make cleaning feel more natural and even enjoyable too! Finally, here’s a hint to the secret sauce after all the considerations above: Tomorrow is always a new day.