Tips to declutter when depression has made you neglect your apartment
October 11, 2017 1:59 PM   Subscribe

My flat/apartment has got very neglected this year due to having a few months of depression.

I let a load of dishes sit unwashed in the area near the sink which got so mouldy and gross I had to throw them all away and buy all new china and cutlery. There's lots of paperwork and bank statements on the floor, and on my computer desk there's empty takeout food containers building up. Because I live alone and never have visitors I can sort of get away with it, in the sense there's no one to complain and demand I do something about it, but I can feel living in an environment like this is dragging my mood down. I also have more books than I possibly can read so some of those need to go as well.

So I most definitely need to do a big de-clutter, but it seems a real mountain to climb as I've let things get so bad. And of course I'm depressed so it's hard summoning the motivation to get started.

Has anyone else been in a situation like this and got out of it? How did you do it? I was talking to an author acquaintance on the phone tonight and she recommended setting a timer to 30 minutes and just trying to get 30 minutes done each day, and no more, for a week and then seeing how far I get. Does anyone have any more tips which worked for them?

Also, if anyone has gone from living in a very messy apartment to living in a tidy and orderly one, and has found it gave them a significant emotional benefit, I'd be interested to hear a description of the contrast are now as that imagining that end result might serve as motivational fuel. Cheers!
posted by AuroraSky to Home & Garden (38 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
 
Having someone else do the dishes or clean (do you have friends or family nearby who could visit?) helped, because oftentimes for me, the clutter feeds the depression which then feeds the clutter... You can also pay people to de-clutter and organize your home.

FLYLady mentions a specific goal like keeping your sink clean. Just focus on keeping your sink clean first. Then, once you have the hang of that, keep the counters around your sink clean. (her 31 Beginner Baby Steps) The F. L. Y. of FLYLady stands for "Finally Loving Yourself", which I think is too important a part of the equation to neglect. (Yes, I know that site is almost 20 years old and looks it, too. It still can help.)

And then get the mental help you need, too. See your GP, maybe get some blood tests done to see if you need more vitamin D, etc, and talk to them about how to help. Holy crap, has it helped me in the past couple of months.
posted by jillithd at 2:12 PM on October 11 [6 favorites]


The timer thing really works. I only do 20 minute intervals, with 10 minutes of rest. I try to do two or maybe even three if I'm feeling good. You'd be really surprised what you can get done with 20 minutes and a few garbage bags.

Unfuckyourhabitat is a really great website for exactly what to tackle. I like their challenges.
posted by sockermom at 2:14 PM on October 11 [17 favorites]


Can you ask a friend or family member to help you clean? I know that asking that question alone can also weigh on you, but a second person can help keep you going, and can really help you get rid of stuff if that's a problem (it is for me, because you might need that thing, right? That's what goes on in my mind, at least).

You could set yourself goals that you find reasonable, and offer yourself reward, either through full-on gamification with points and such or a simple checklist with a reward after each completed task, like clean kitchen = go out for a tasty dessert (or make one in your newly clean kitchen!)

On basic strategy: start with the easy stuff, so you get clean spaces and you realize you can clean everything. From the same blog, here's a suggested prioritization, focused on getting a house clean for guests to visit, but you can still use their prioritization:

Step 1: Take a deep breath, get out your calendar and some paper, sit down at your table . . . and be realistic.
Step 2: Make a list of rooms, prioritizing them according to where [you] will spend the most time.
Step 3: Throw stuff away.
Step 4: Declutter.
Step 5: Clean the kitchen.
Step 6: Clean the bathrooms.
Step 7: Clean rooms in order of priority.
Step 8: Dust.
Step 9: Vacuum/Clean floors.
Step 10: Repeat.

There are more details and thoughts in the linked blog post.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:14 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]


I have been in your situation, albeit with the effects limited to my bedroom (I was living in a house with housemates and always kept the door closed, and my mess contained inside). The only thing that ended up getting me over the cleaning hump was having a very trusted friend come over and help me for a marathon cleaning session. So, if you have someone you're close to (whether a friend or family member) who's good at cleaning and won't get all judge-y, I think this can be a good way to go.

At the time, I also looked into hiring a professional "organizer" -- your location might determine if this sort of thing exists where you are, but if so it seemed like it could have worked well for me. I was actually close to pulling the trigger on it but then mentioned it to the friend from above and she offered to help me for free. Not cheap though, so it would depend if you have money to spend on this.

Finally, in term of emotional benefit, I'll say this. I will never be a tidy and orderly person. It's not how I was as a kid or have ever been as an adult, and while some mental health stuff did make it worse for a while (hence getting to the point where I couldn't manage to just clean on my own), I'm just never going to be that person with a spotless apartment/house. Trying to fit myself into that generally makes me feel miserable and like a total failure, because WHY CAN'T I JUST PUT MY SHOES AWAY WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME??? That said, putting into place routines that at least keep things to a manageable level so I don't feel like I'm in a situation that is actively awful (i.e. super gross dishes, never being able to find things, not feeling comfortable with having guests over without doing a marathon cleaning session, etc.) definitely does make me happier and also makes me just feel good about being in my home.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:26 PM on October 11 [8 favorites]


I tidy when I can't sleep. It's exactly the kind of dull, gently physical work I need to help me wind down, plus you get to wake up to the surprise of a newly tidy house. (Don't do this with paperwork - that's a recipe for insomnia. But just slowly discarding rubbish, putting things back where they belong, that stuff is great for sleepless nights, or even a short burst of tidying before bed. ).
posted by embrangled at 2:58 PM on October 11 [4 favorites]


I think reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Maire Kondo would be a help to you. In addition to providing strategies for getting your mess under control, she often remarks how getting your surroundings and belongings in order is a way of helping to get your emotional life in order; when your surroundings are cluttered, you are cluttered, you cannot think clearly and make good decisions. I've re-read it a few times as its a quick read and have found her advice to be very helpful.
posted by NoraCharles at 3:00 PM on October 11 [7 favorites]


My biggest tip to make a big dent in decluttering a super messy house is to work in one broad category of thing after another. As you feel motivated, do the following. You can do one per day, or several, depending on your energy level.

Grab a trash bag, and quickly go through the entire apartment picking up everything that obviously needs to be thrown away. If it is super messy, do one room at a time. Don't worry about opening drawers, looking under furniture or piles of clutter. Just grab everything obvious on this first pass. I would include any dishes you find that are too dirty to wash.

Go through and gather up any dishes that need washing, and take them to the kitchen.

Grab a laundry basket, and quickly gather up every piece of laundry that you see. Once the basket(s) are full, take them to the laundry area and leave them to be washed later (or to an out of the way corner to be taken to the laundromat later.)

Go through with a box and gather up any paperwork you need to look through. You can sort it later, for now you just want to get it all gathered up in one place. Even if you never get around to sorting and organizing it, at least if you need to find something you will know it is in that box somewhere.

Depending on your life and habits, you likely have other categories of stuff cluttering your place up. For me it would be:

Groceries (I tend to leave bags of non-perishable stuff all over the dining room floor for days)
Books
Notebooks
Art and craft supplies
Jewelry
Bathroom stuff (hair ties, combs & brushes, the shampoo I bought and never put away, etc.)

So I make one or more pass-throughs, grab all the books, and stack them near the bookshelf.
Another pass-through, and grab all the notebooks I see lying around.
Etc, etc.

This works for me because it eliminates the confusion of "this is so overwhelming, I don't even know where to start!" Starting with a category gives you focus. Working as fast as you can helps you make a big dent, which is motivating.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:10 PM on October 11 [18 favorites]


I am of the long-standing opinion that one of the hallmarks of mental health, or at least mental health self-awareness, is the ability to ask for help. Around this issue, for me, this means refusing to be bullied by my own shame. When I lack friends to provide this help, I hire someone. In the worst case scenario, I never have to see that person again, so fuck 'em, except that I've always been really clear I need someone non-judgmental and have ended up making friends with most of the people who've ever cleaned my house.

Reach out. Get help with the overwhelming parts of this. It will make a real difference to your ability to feel less shitty about yourself. It will be hard but it will be worth it.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:12 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]


The timer thing works for me too, but in my case I do cleaning for as long as it takes to boil a kettle and then I am rewarded with tea afterward.

If I have invited someone over that motivates me too, even (maybe especially) if I know they aren't going to judge my mess. Try making plans with someone ten days from now, then do the timer thing as many days in a row as you can. For the last one or two days before your guest, focus on areas where your guest will be, like the entrance, kitchen, and bathroom. If things are still really bad you can go out to eat and see a movie (or whatever), but if things are good at home you can spend time there. Either way they're coming to you and being in your space.

I'd ignore the books for now. Culling books is something I'm very familiar with and I can tell you from experience that doing so while depressed is an added difficulty level that you don't want to handle right now. Just make piles against a wall so you can read their spines. When you're in a better mental place you can go through them without breaking down in tears or wanting to get rid of all of them at once or whatever.
posted by Mizu at 3:14 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]


Start with the trash. Buy latex gloves and contractor bags - wearing the gloves helps you get over the "I don't want to touch that" hurdle.

Go from room to room and just collect trash.

Next, dishes. Get an empty laundry basket and collect all the dirty dishes from all over the house and bring them to the kitchen.

Next, dirty clothes. Collect all the dirty clothes in each room and put them in one place.

Once you've tackled those three common clutter collectors, you will find it easier to walk around. Do mail next, put it all in one place for later sorting.

At this point, start a load of dishes. Again, make sure you have dish gloves - it lets you use very hot water and helps you not feel anxiety about having to touch gross stuff.

Bathrooms are small and fairly quick to clean, so once you've done a load of dishes, you can take a break and then move on to the bathroom.

That gives you an entire room that is clean, which is a nice feeling.

If you are still going, move to your bedroom and change your sheets and make your bed. You already picked up the dishes and dirty clothes so once your bed is made your room is probably starting to feel like a much nicer place to be. Pick up any books or makeup or anything else that may be out of place and put it away (if there IS an away) and vacuum.

Now you have two totally clean rooms and you're building momentum.

If it's going to take awhile to get through the dishes, order takeout and make sure all the trash you collected is out of the house by taking it to wherever trash goes for pickup. Throwaway your takeout containers and start the next load of dishes with a full stomach.

Sleep well in your clean bed and start laundry the next day, then living room chores like tidying things and dusting.

I'm a single mom in a giant house with two kids and I can't keep up with it. I am constantly in a state of digging us out of a critical mess. Starting with the litany "trash, dishes, laundry, toys" and using gloves for cleaning gets me over my main hurdles of "I don't know where to start" and "Ew, I don't want to touch that."
posted by annathea at 3:18 PM on October 11 [46 favorites]


Hi. I am you. Not only have I done this, but I've done it at least a dozen times, the most recent occurrence being two weeks ago when I had an apartment inspection to get ready for and you couldn't make it through my bedroom without winding up for a longjump to get over stacks of Christmas presents and never worn clothes I haven't put away from last December.

Lots of the suggestions here are good, especially timers and dealing with things in increasing levels of granularity, so I'll just add a couple things.

1. Don't skimp on good, effective cleaning supplies. Now is not the time for $1 store Glass Cleaner or your etsy sourced vinegar/soda paste. Just use good stuff, and if you're environmental, use Mrs. Meyers or Method.

2. Put together a cleaning kit with a garbage bag attached and take it from room to room.

3. Buy a couple of cheap baskets of reasonable size (I use laundry baskets from a discount store) and toss things that should not be thrown out but don't belong in a particular room into the baskets as you declutter a room. It saves time moving back and forth to put things away.

When I am not in the pit of depression, I am EXTREMELY organized. Almost disgustingly so. Labels on things, pencils sorted by color, DVDs in sleeves and sorted by genre then alphabet, clothes hanging in the same direction, socks rolled and arranged by color, all of that. The awesome thing about this is that when I do fall into my pits of despair, returning things to order is a very simple and straightforward process. I already have places for laundry and nailpolish and art supplies and computer cables and batteries and candles and all that. I just need to deposit them into their labelled box after rescuing it from the floor or the table or the desk. My mother is the complete opposite--her home looks sparkling but every time you open a closet shit falls out onto the floor. I'd rather be me.
posted by xyzzy at 3:35 PM on October 11 [5 favorites]


I lived in a very messy, had-a-bunch-of-bad-cats-if-you-know-what-I-mean, no visitors allowed kind of situation for a really long time. I’m divorced now and living on my own in a new space with just one cat, and the difference emotionally to being in a clean, safe place is staggering. When I lived in the bad house, my attempt at cleaning was always: trash first, dishes roundup second, laundry roundup third, sweep the floors fourth. Clean floors make a huge difference. I’m also a fan of UFYH and do the 20/10 thing except mine is more like 10min of cleaning and an hour of relaxing, bc I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t do more than that at a time. I timed myself by binge watching tv shows and cleaning a little after each episode.

Now that I’m on my own and control my own space, I clean three different ways: a little every day when I get home, a lot on Sunday (laundry, floors, shower etc), and as-I-go (mostly just tying tasks together instead of only doing part of the thing, like wash/dry/hang is laundry, and I try to always do all three instead of letting it languish in the dryer). This takes care of most things. I also have people over (one person at a time, for dinner, that we make from Home Chef or whatever), and this also motivates me (and sometimes they even do dishes after I cook).
posted by oomny at 3:36 PM on October 11 [4 favorites]


Listen to NPR or your favorite podcast while you clean. Helps keep your mind occupied on interesting things instead of the boring task at hand.
posted by slateyness at 3:36 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]


Pay for a professional declutterer who will (1) help you get your place to a state where a cleaner can come in (2) suggest and arrange systems for you to make it easier and more practical to keep the house clean (3) then you engage cleaners to come regularly. This worked for me and was worth the money because the declutterer made things happen I never would have had the energy for or got round to - disposal of clutter is quite a job too (recycling, taking out rubbish, taking things to charity) and because her advice (tailored to my problems and needs) and her fetching of and assembling the things she advised made the house manageable for going on with the cleaners. If you have enough money to pay for this, I found it really worth it. I learned a lot too. I went from a situation like yours to having a clean flat which is more or less under control and it does feel better. But the solution was to get help from a professional.
posted by Flitcraft at 3:49 PM on October 11 [5 favorites]


Absolutely hire an organizer to help you clean. I've been in this situation. Attacking this yourself is going to be really hard mentally and physically, and you don't deserve to put yourself through something like that. Your mind has been slowly adjusting to not notice all the trash and clutter acceptable to make it acceptable to look at so to suddenly ask it to bend and see it all as unacceptable all of a sudden is too much.

When I did this I also got very hung up on who exactly to call and who got good reviews and so on and that just made it take longer. Here's what you do. Go on yelp and put in "organizer". Start at the top of the list and just make calls til one of them picks up. Don't look at reviews, don't leave voicemails. Just make calls until one of them picks up and you schedule an appointment. If they can't schedule you right now say thanks hang up and go back to the list.
posted by bleep at 4:15 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]


I have a lot to say about this, so I'll come back and comment further, but just for now:

(1) Trash is easy. If you don't have a trash bag, then get a grocery bag, or box, or whatever, and just cruise around trashing stuff. I don't mean judgment call stuff, "should I donate this?", nothing like that. Just obvious trash like used paper napkins.

(2) If you can't cope with it, just put it in a trash bag. You can come back and sort through the bag when you feel up to it. Or maybe you'll happily realize that you don't need any of the crap that's in there and you'll donate the whole bag in toto.
posted by 8603 at 4:25 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]


I, too, have a lot to say, and I will come back later.

But, for now I suggest boxes for sorting instead of trash bags.

As I said here once before, I really recommend getting a pack of bankers boxes for sorting, the soothing white ones. (That might sound silly now, but just wait ...).

Boxes stay open (unlike trash bags or grocery bags) and can be closed up at the end of a session.

This will look better and be more efficient, and that will feed further progress.

To make it short for now, I did Konmari, and did it to the letter. It is indeed life-changing.

But first, you clean.
posted by jgirl at 6:16 PM on October 11 [4 favorites]


So much good advice in this thread. I, too, struggle with depression-induced messiness. Unlike in the past, nowadays I'm able to keep up with things like dishes and trash. I just do it every day, while dinner's in the microwave or when I'm headed out the door for other things I'll take a full trash bag with me. It's become one of those not-optional things.

The piles of clutter I still struggle with. One thing I've been doing lately is tackling one tiny little mess a day. I cleaned off the food-splattered front of the fridge door yesterday. Today it was finally throwing away all the little soap ends that have been collecting around my soap dish in the bathroom. I'm hoping to tackle my sock drawer soon since I can never ever find a matching pair of socks when I'm in a rush.

I'll certainly never win any housekeeping awards with this strategy, but there is satisfaction in it, and it's doable when I'm struggling with extreme apathy and sadness.
posted by whistle pig at 6:24 PM on October 11 [2 favorites]


Me too. What really pulled me out was living with my partner-- I am a messy depressive and he is an anxious tidier so our life now is spic and span and I love it, despite the fact that I am constantly retraining myself away from letting entropy take its course.

The first thing that started to turn it around was making the bed every morning. It's a big flat calm surface and then you can't get back in.

I also did the Kondo method and appreciated a structure, though a live companion to assist that process would probably help it.

Related: yes, trash out. Immediately. DO NOT STORE TRASH. Things in your house that are actively making you sad to look at them, just toss them. Your mood will lift and you won't miss them. Seriously.
posted by athirstforsalt at 7:12 PM on October 11 [2 favorites]


I call it "real-life defrag". Select a "subdirectory" (e.g. a drawer) and clean it out. One drawer/subdirectory at a time at any rate you like, until you've done the whole directory. Then select another directory (e.g. a cupboard) and do each subdirectory (e.g. shelf) until that is done too. So on and so forth up to a "partition" (room) and finally a "drive" (your home). No it isn't really how file structures or defragging works but whatever, it works for me!
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:35 PM on October 11 [5 favorites]


she recommended setting a timer to 30 minutes and just trying to get 30 minutes done each day

If 30 minutes seems like too much of a commitment, try 5 minutes. Depending on the task, 5 minutes has the potential to make a HUGE difference. Chucking something disgusting from the fridge, hanging up clothes, making your bed, walking through your home with a trash bag and filling it up with stuff that needs to go.

If I'm having a really shit day, then when the timer goes off I've done my 5 minutes and that's it. If I'm just having a little trouble getting started, 5 minutes is easy to commit to and once I've started I'll keep going.

When it's really overwhelming I'll use an online journal to sort out my thoughts and prioritize. "The kitchen is kind of messy but so is the bedroom ... don't know where to start ... I have company tomorrow so I definitely don't want them to see the messy kitchen. I'll load the dishwasher first and then pick the clothes up off the floor in my room" kind of thing. I sometimes do this in a small FB group with a few friends. When I'm having a very hard time getting started, I commit to a task on FB and then report back when I'm done. Something like "I will not check FB again until I load the dishwasher. I am walking away from the laptop now." When I get off track or distracted I post about that too.

I also have someone come in and clean occasionally. She doesn't declutter but knowing she's coming is good motivation for me to.
posted by bunderful at 7:36 PM on October 11 [2 favorites]


If you can afford it, hire someone to do it. It's just the fastest and easiest way to get it done. It also, for me, helped me keep my apartment neater because I never wanted to have to pay for that particular service again. It was worth every penny, but it was expensive. It's been almost 10 years and my apartment hasn't approached that level of clutter again.
posted by Mavri at 7:57 PM on October 11


If you use a normal Rubbermaid type dishrack, that takes about 15 minutes of hand washing to fill up, or exactly 10min for me and my highly streamlined techniques. It was an epiphany when I realized this, and that doing a rack of dishes was not going to take an hour, so stop procrastinating. Tea steeping? That's half a rack right there.
posted by rhizome at 8:26 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]


Every now and then, I do a round of what I call "Song Clean". I put on pandora, or whatever will play random songs in a row, and then I clean each room in my house for the length of one song. I live in an apartment so thats five rooms (including the bathroom), so five songs, boom boom boom. It ends up being like 20 minutes of cleaning and I at least feel like I made a dent.

Other days I actually have energy or motivation to clean for real and stick with each room until it's done, but for those nights when I'm about to collapse, at least a nice round of Song Clean makes me feel like I accomplished something.
posted by silverstatue at 8:38 PM on October 11 [12 favorites]


When I'm looking at an overwhelming "weeding" task (sorting those papers, getting rid of books or clothes), sometimes instead of deciding on which things I'll keep, I say, "Okay, I'm going to get rid of the five WORST pairs of shoes." (Out of the, uh, 80 I was trying to pare down.) It's really hard to pick 20 pairs of shoes to keep! But it's REALLY EASY to pick five pairs you can live without! A couple days later I surveyed the shoes again and picked the five next-worst to get rid of. And so on, just five at a time, picking off the low-hanging fruit, got me halfway done before I starting having to make hard decisions. If you can look at your books and say, "Okay, I'm just going to pick five I feel like I can live without, and drop them in the donation bin on my way to work today," and do that every couple of days for two weeks, you'll have weeded 30 books with hardly any effort. Eventually by doing the five-worst over and over on a particular category of stuff, it would have shrunk enough (and I would have spent enough time glancing at it to pick the new five worst) that it felt small enough to tackle the rest all at once.

Five-worst doesn't work as well with paperwork, but you can definitely do "Okay, I'm going to deal with the first five pieces of paper I grab -- trash, file, to-do file, or deal with immediately." Five isn't so bad! And when you've got a big pile of papers to get through, frequently four or five of the five you grab are TRASH, the process takes 30 seconds, and you almost feel like you cheated because it was so easy to do your five pieces of paper today!

(I also did Marie Kondo, A+++)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:09 AM on October 12 [7 favorites]


Annatheas's suggestions are excellent. I also have three tips that work for me.

1. Put on a playlist of Irish jigs. Google play has some good ones. There's one called Rousing Irish Jigs that should work. I've tried all kinds of upbeat music, but there's something about Irish jigs that just keeps me revved up and cleaning even when I really, really don't want to.

2. Reward yourself for small accomplishments. I'm really bad about starting to paint a room and getting most of it done, but then procrastinating about the detail work, like the corners and the edges. The fiddly stuff is so tedious! But one day I bought myself a box of imported French chocolate truffles, and only allowed myself to eat one after I had finished a wall completely. It worked way better than I had expected, because of course I could have just sat down and eaten the whole box any time I wanted. But I didn't! I just kept painting away so I could have those hard-earned truffles.

3. I picked up this tip from an AskMe: put on your shoes. There's something about having shoes on that just seems to make people more inclined to be productive. And for me, sneakers make me more productive than other kinds of shoes.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:17 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]


Been there. Specifically for this:

There's lots of paperwork and bank statements on the floor...

...I tend to let mail pile up. I kind of hate mail. It's technically neutral, but the potential for something upsetting just makes me not want to open it, and then it piles up. This strategy inevitably leads to the something upsetting happening. So what I do now is after I have some mail in the "I don't want to deal with this" pile, I sort it until I can deal with it. It turns out you can do a gross sort based on the envelopes: this is an ad, this is some stupid privacy policy update I'm never going to read, this looks like I should open it. So I sort with the recycling bin on one side and the "to be opened" pile on the other. Reducing the big stack of mail to just the important stuff usually results in a less intimidatingly high stack. Then, I grab a metal nail file (my letter opener, ymmv) and rip open all the envelopes and dump them into the recycling, and then sort the contents without really reading it -- something I have to file, something with a deadline, something I don't care about but should shred, something that goes into recycling. Those steps take care of both reducing the volume by a lot, and relieving the "something terrible awaits" feeling since you would notice anything terrible while skimming contents for sorting. And then you have a pile of neatly categorized things you can look at and feel like you are handling your business like a regular person who gets things done, which kind of gives the emotional oomph to actually handle it.

Plus, you can spread the steps out over multiple days if that's what you need. Do the first gross sort on day 1, get rid of the envelopes on day 2, sort it into categories on day 3, etc. The tip about bankers boxes above is great (stuff goes in box, lid goes on box, mess no longer glares at you in red panic emotional lighting, now look at you all organized AF with your neat little white boxes), I love bankers boxes.
posted by sldownard at 3:25 AM on October 12 [2 favorites]


Specifically from a mental health POV I think changing the bedding is a great first step. Strip it, chuck it in a hot wash, remake with new covers - only takes 5/10 mins, gets your heartrate going just a little (good for mood-raising) and you get to sleep in deliciously clean heaven. It is cleaning, but it's looking after your comfort and wellbeing as well.

I've found in general a cleaner place is better for my mental health but you can't get there all at once (a bit like depression really...) and some great tips above for where to start with that. I've just got one more to add - throw open all the windows and let the fusty air out. Good luck!
posted by london explorer girl at 6:09 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]


The only thing that forces me to clean is inviting someone over. The shame gets me in gear. I pick a date about a week away. I start at my front door and walk through the place as if I were a guest in someone else's house. Each time I spy something out of place I pick it up. I don't get hung up on thoroughly cleaning one area. This is just triage - you have to stop the bleeding before you can sew up the wound.
posted by AFABulous at 7:32 AM on October 12 [3 favorites]


Just to downgrade the "do x minutes" suggestions even further, I often go with "I'm just going to pick up 6 things and put them away."
At the worst, my surroundings are marginally less cluttered after and I feel marginally less down on myself.
At best, I find myself thinking "While I'm at it, I'll just pick this up too, and these," and before I know it a whole corner of the table/sideboard etc is clear and I find myself having gained the momentum to carry on. It's like putting yourself in first gear to get started. Once you've got moving, it's not so much effort to just keep going.
posted by penguin pie at 10:14 AM on October 12 [2 favorites]


I have major depressive disorder, and I have been in this position a few times in my life.

Much of the advice given above is on the money, but there are two things I did before I started any decluttering day that 100% improved my chances of achieving any goals, no matter how small.

1: If the temperature outside is decent, open every window. FRESH AIR.

2: Open every window treatment and turn on every light in the flat/house, and I mean every light. Make it as bright as you can. It's not going to tip your electric bill over, as it's only for X hours, or Y days at X hours each day. BRIGHT LIGHT.

Bright light and fresh air are almost magical in their ability to help someone with depression do anything at all, let alone taking on a labor-and cognition-intensive project like decluttering.

(Possible 3, if it's to your taste and it won't interfere with anyone else's day: blast your favorite music. Anything that makes you happy. It's no SSRI, but it sure does bump your mood *a little*, and sometimes that's all you need to get the ball rolling.)
posted by tzikeh at 12:43 PM on October 12 [6 favorites]


Oh, and nthing "put new linens on the bed." Also, if you like scent, burn a delicious candle or incense while you work. Treat all of your senses to joy-inducing input as much as you can while decluttering.
posted by tzikeh at 12:45 PM on October 12 [4 favorites]


if anyone has gone from living in a very messy apartment to living in a tidy and orderly one, and has found it gave them a significant emotional benefit, I'd be interested to hear a description of the contrast are now as that imagining that end result might serve as motivational fuel.

ME! I have and I'm very proud (benefit.) Went from a mess I would describe as insurmountable, even unspeakable--think roaches and mold and year-old mail-- to an always-clean, usually-tidy apartment. Still have depression, but my cleaning routine has helped me in many ways both expected and unexpected.

Unexpected emotional benefits
- a "home" feeling rather than a sinking feeling when I open my door
-I don't need 5 days' notice for visitors, so being more spontaneous makes me more socially fulfilled and less lonely; also, theoretically I could bring home a hot date which adds new dimension and excitement
-I was able to get a cat (wouldn't introduce a pet and its messes to my mess) and the psychological benefits of pets are proven
-my cleaning routine is exercise; when I was a couchbound depressive this was one of the only ways I moved, stretched, sweat, carried heavy things, etc., and the benefits were immediate.
- I don't lose shit which makes me feel more organized in my head which is a blessing when your head's usually swimming
-I buy myself nicer furniture, sheets, etc. because I know I'm not bringing them into a dump, and I now feel like a nice adult with nice things, when I always felt like an outside-looking-in rat person
-the new tidy me extended to my office and now my workday is less stressful
-when I do get depressed or sick, my place is a comfort and I can relax and focus on caring for myself
-cleaning doesn't actually take very long when you're not having to crime-scene clean, and it doesn't require as many supplies once you have your routine in place, so the mental block I had about cleaning eventually lifted
- one of the only true habit changes I've forced upon myself in recent years and it really feels like an accomplishment

The tips others have are great. All I can say is, whatever works, do it. Don't worry if you're not following an established method or winning homemaker awards. Keep it simple at first. Just put some music on and throw shit out. (I won't tell on you if you don't sort the recycling or make donation piles. Those are for when you have a more established routine.)

Me, I have a weekly thing I do on Sundays. Garbage, then dishes, then cat area, then mail/clutter, then counters/surfaces, then tub sinks and toilet, then floors. Sometimes I add special projects-- organize a closet, wash baseboards, dust books, etc. Sometimes I half-ass everything and that's okay too. But I always do it and I always feel great afterward.

Anyway. If I could do it I KNOW you can.
posted by kapers at 1:15 PM on October 12 [7 favorites]


As for getting started: honestly, it worked better for me to sacrifice a whole weekend for the first Big Clean. I don't know if that was healthy, but it kickstarted the more manageable routine. I like the idea of 30 mins a day in theory but it was just easier for me to summon one monstrous burst that I will never have to do again.
posted by kapers at 1:32 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]


Watch an episode of Hoarders while drinking a coffee.
Put on shoes and gloves and an upbeat song.
Motivation + caffeine + protected digits make for a great cleaning combo.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:14 AM on October 13 [1 favorite]


Play lively music, literally, music with a fairly brisk tempo. Dance music works well and if you like show tunes, they are perfect for cleaning. Having a broken music system really screwed me up.

Unfuckyourhabitat is a website, an fb group, an fb page, and possibly more. I get the occasional status update from the fb page that says How about spending 20 minutes unfucking your habitat right now and it will motivate me to clean the bathroom, or empty the dishwasher or whatever. Just joined the fb group.

You can look at your home and feel horrible, guilty, sad, etc. Try sneaking in thoughts of I deserve a cleaner home. I will feel better when I throw out those takeout containers. and once you get any task done, you can look at everything else that still remains, or you can think I got the living room vacuumed, wow, that makes a difference. go, me!

Having a system of rewards is very effective, but can feel cheesy. Get a wall calendar, preferably attractive. To start, any 10 productive minutes gets a checkmark on the calendar. 5 checkmarks gets a star sticker(office supply store). Any week that has a checkmark in every day gets a star. 5 stars gets a small tangible reward. Tangible rewards can be fresh raspberries, a scented candle, a song from itunes, a movie from google play, an artisanal chocolate truffle, a new set of markers. You get the idea.

It sounds like you aren't getting exercise, so if you can add exercise any way at all, it will help. Literally, park the car farther away from work and grocery store. Take a 5 minute walk at lunch. Depression saps energy, and makes exercising hard, but if you can do it, great. If not, don't beat yourself up.

Depression is hard, and steals your joy, your energy, your life. It makes it so hard to care. Reading this is making me feel some motivation to deal with my own mess, so thanks for posting. Sending you a big hug.
posted by theora55 at 6:56 AM on October 13 [5 favorites]


Hello again! Like kapers, I am by nature a just-this-side-of-hoarder who has converted to being a clean person. Or relatively clean, let's say. I also have a long history of mental illness. I now use the state of my apartment as a barometer of my mood--I may think I'm doing pretty well, but if the house doesn't look OK, then maybe I need to double-check that I really am taking my Rx every day.

The bad news is what it took to get me here. I moved across the country and THEN moved twice in my new city. I left NYC in a rental SUV, no moving van, and then discarded even more stuff as I moved around out here. I even sold or gave away about half of my books. I do not think that anything less drastic would have done the job for me. So maybe you shouldn't move to Alaska, but depending on the seriousness of your situation, could you consider moving within your current city? Failing that, you might need a friend or two who can force you to pretend that you're moving. If you have access to a car, start thinking in terms of how many carloads you can take to Goodwill, not how many items.

The good news is that my life has been completely transformed. I don't even spend as much money going out for a beer or whatever because I now do not feel lousy when I'm sitting in my apartment drinking beer. I've reframed the whole business. I used to think of myself as a naturally messy person. No! I'm just a person who can only be entrusted with X amount of stuff. Just like some people are never going to spend 25 minutes on their hair on a weekday morning, I, 8603, am not a person who can own more than 2 loads of laundry per season, not counting sheets, of which I have only one set. When I get down to my recommended capacity, I'm not messy hardly at all. Just like the person with the 5-minute hairdo is not ugly. They're just not cut out for elaborate hair.

So moving is my main tip. Here are some others.

* Count the number of people in your household and dole out one plate, one fork, one glass, etc. for each one. I don't even have a separate mug and glass--just a green glass mug. One frying pan, one mixing bowl. If you do entertain sometimes, put the rest of your kitchen stuff in a large box and literally tape it up. Or store the items in a "taboo" place like a clothes closet, someplace you're unlikely to go while cooking. This may sound extreme, but desperate times and all that.

* Look at your work wardrobe and pare it down to 1-2 weeks. I am not yet on the level where I can have only 1 week of work clothes. But I have 2 work skirts and probably 10 blouses. That way, the most laundry it is even possible to generate is 2 weeks, that is, 2 washer loads. If you can't do one bath towel, stick with 2, one to use and one to wait to be washed. (Maybe you have to keep a second towel for the gym.) Same with dishtowels and sheets. 2 full sets of sheets for a double or queen bed is a lot of laundry. See if you can do one set of sheets and then save some extra pillowcases. With your casual clothes and lounging-around clothes, be even more ruthless. You're only wearing them 2 days a week, if that! I have saved all my nightgowns, though, because I sweat a ton.

* Look around your house and try to (mentally) separate all the dreck into categories. Don't do any actual work yet. Many of us have talked about frank trash or obvious donations, items you actively dislike or are ruined or similar. So what's the rest of all that stuff? How about laundry, papers, kitchen stuff, pet stuff, toiletries and medicines, objets d'art, hobby supplies, keepsakes? You've got to know what you have.

* This is not PC, and I hate to do it, but depending on your mental state, consider just throwing stuff away instead of recycling it or taking it to Goodwill. When I'm down, if I recycled the way I'd like to, my house would be overrun by mice and flies, because I'd have all this unclean stuff everywhere. If you have no way of getting to Goodwill, and no charity that will pick up in your area, throw it away and don't look back. Your mental health depends on it, and if you have to go inpatient, you sure won't be recycling in there.

* Try to bag the stuff up by categories, and at least move the bag to its natural home. Washing them may be out of the question (consider throwing them away), but at least you can transport a box of dirty dishes to the kitchen. You can move a bag of toiletries to the bathroom. Laundry in a giant pile. A big bag of papers can sit under your desk.

* That's how I'd get started. It's easier if you have a friend to help, but you can make a dent even without help. You can do it!
posted by 8603 at 1:30 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]


Its never gotten so bad I needed to throw out dishes...but yes. I've had my apartment go to shit with neglect due to depression and anxiety. I've also noticed that my mood and how clean my apartment is are connected. Not sure which causes which (bad mood = dirty apartment, or vice versa), but there is a correlation.
This is what worked for me:
1) The 30 minute timer thing works. One of my big issues was getting started - it just seemed like such a huge task to do I could never muster up the energy to begin. Permission to only work for 30 minutes (15 minutes at first) was a huge relief.
2) Start with one thing. Dishes. Bathroom. Desk. Focus on that. Forget about everything else - its not going anywhere. Permission to do just one piece was also a big help. I also found it helpful to start in, say, one corner of a room and work clockwise (or counter clockwise), instead of running back and forth. Keeps focus on the task at hand, and its more efficient. You get more done in that 30 minutes.
3) One bag for throwing stuff out, one box for keeping things that belong somewhere else, and one box for donations. When the bag is full, throw it out. When the 'somewhere else' box is full, put it where its supposed to go. When the donation box is full, take it to the donation spot. Don't start another bag or box until that one is empty or gone from your place.
4) If you need to (and at one point I did), take some dedicated time off - a day, a weekend, whatever you can swing - and make that a clean out day. Mark it like a day at your job - you can't miss it or skip it to go hang out or play video games or watch tv. Give yourself breaks to rehydrate, eat something, go for a walk to clear your head, but then get back to it. For that day, that is your job. Do it for 8 hours (with breaks, remember!) and then consider your job day done. Reward yourself for working hard.
5) If you can, find a non-judgmental friend or family member to help you with a piece of it. Having someone help you sort, or give you 'permission' or gentle pressure to get rid of that swag bag from a convention five years ago that you've not opened or looked at since you brought it home...its a help. My mom helped clean out my kitchen once, and gave me tips on getting rid of built up grease stains that I would never have figured out on my own - and were frustrating me. I mean, if I couldn't get rid of them, why bother keeping the rest clean, am I right? (I was not right, but still. it helped). If they can't help in person, having them hold you accountable via text or a phone call might help (and by accountable, I mean you tell them you are going to clean X today, and at the end of the day they ask if X got cleaned...not that they shame you or make goals for you).
6) Build in a reward system for yourself. Something that ideally does not add to the mess. :) Think small, and build up. So you've managed to keep the dishes clean and put away for the past week - take yourself to a movie night. You finally cleared off your desk and organized the papers - get that game on Steam you wanted. Or maybe take yourself for a walk, or treat yourself to an ice cream, or whatever floats your boat. I tracked progress with gold stars. It was silly, but it worked.
7) Finally, it took a while to get to this state of disarray. Its going to take a while to put it to rights. Its okay to take your time and go slow, as long as you are making progress.

You are not alone, and mood and messiness do go together.

Hugs and good luck.
posted by sandraregina at 10:37 AM on October 17


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