Living in a pigsty.
November 2, 2014 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Right now my tiny apartment is filled with cat hair, dust, some trash and a general mess. I spend weekends in my room lying on my bed with my laptop because that way I don't have to see how messy everything is or trip while trying to reach something and I dread getting home during the week. I have no idea how I can fix this.
posted by Ratata to Home & Garden (32 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Unfuck Your Habitat (you can also get the app) has been a godsend for me. One baby step at a time really does add up, especially if you live in a small apartment.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:28 AM on November 2, 2014 [13 favorites]

Do you have a friend who can come help you organize and clean? I find it's much easier when you aren't trying to do it alone.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 10:29 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go on Yelp, do a search for "cleaning service", and start making calls until someone picks up. Schedule a 1-time service. It will be about $100. After they do the hard work of getting it clean, do UFYH and FlyLady and all the 100s of easy cleaning schedules on the Internet to stay on top of it. If your stuff is too cluttered for a cleaning service, do the above for "organizer" instead of "cleaning service".

I've been there, and hiring a pro was the only way I was successful in getting on top of it.
posted by bleep at 10:35 AM on November 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Go buy large, sturdy garbage bags with the plastic ties on the top. Go through your apartment from one side to the other; throw everything that's trash at the wall in front of you and everything else at the wall behind you. Once you've separated the garbage, put it all in garbage bags and then put the garbage bags wherever they go in your building.

(You can go through the same process with dirty clothes also. If you do that, it might be worth paying for wash-and-fold at a laundromat if that's an option.)

I know this situation very, very well, and things are always better when I get rid of garbage. The rest you can organize a little bit every day, if you feel like it. But getting rid of the garbage frees up space, and you need empty space to move things around so you can organize.
posted by vogon_poet at 10:38 AM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

You could hire a cleaning service, but I don't know anything about that...I'm sure someone else can make detailed suggestions.

Are you a depressive or anxious type and you tend to avoid stuff, or are you someone who just sort of...let things go until they got overwhelming? This will make a difference in terms of the speed with which you clean and in terms of maintaining cleanliness.

Here is what I would do:

1. Make a list of things that you need in order to clean - do you have enough garbage bags? Containers for recycling? Functional mop and mop bucket? Dish soap? Paper towels? Etc.

2. Go out and buy what you don't have.

3. Get a garbage bag and a recycling container and pick up all the trash and all the recycling. Go through the refrigerator and throw out all the old food. If you have plastic containers of decayed food that seem really horrible and they are hanging you up from cleaning, throw those out too. (If they aren't too horrible, wash them of course; but if it's a choice between being overwhelmed and the tupperware, get rid of the tupperware.)

4. Gather all the dirty dishes from everywhere and bring them into the kitchen. Wash as many dishes as will fit in the dish drain. When they are dry put them away and do the rest.

5. Start two (or three, depending on how you sort) piles for dirty laundry - lights and darks or whatever. As you discover dirty towels and clothes, put them in the piles. Take the sheets off your bed and put clean ones on.

4. Go through into one room with a laundry basket. Pick up all the (non clothes, non dishes) things in that room that belong in the other room. Take the laundry basket into the other room. Put as many of them away as possible. Anything that cannot go away because things are still too messy, put as close to away as possible - ie, group everything neatly somewhere where you can put them away easily later.

5. Repeat with the other room.

6. Now do an assessment - what storage do you need? Do you have a giant heap of papers and mail and nowhere to keep them? Do you have fifty million bottles of nail polish? Clutter is made up of tiny individual things. Go to Target or the thrift store (or look around your apartment for boxes that you can repurpose) and get a couple of boxes to hold papers, a couple of boxes to hold the nailpolish, etc. Gather up all the papers and put them in the box, etc.

7. You should now have all the dishes washed, all the laundry gathered and everything in the room where it should go. Also, you should no longer have giant heaps of stray things randomly lying around. Now, choose an area - perhaps the kitchen counter or the bathroom sink or the table - and put everything on the table, etc, where it should go. Repeat with every cluttered section - top of the TV, bedside table, etc.

8. Do laundry and put it away.

9. At this point, everything should basically be in its place and there should be no garbage. Now is the time to clean surfaces. Sweep the floor and mop it - don't worry about doing a perfect job, good enough is okay. Wipe down the stovetop and counters. Give the bathroom a quick once-over - again, an imperfect job is fine, it just needs to be visibly cleaner. Use a damp dustcloth to go over any surface which looks dusty; use a broom to fetch down any cobwebs on the ceiling. Use tape to pick up cat hair from upholstery.

Now your apartment should be, basically, clean.

Personally, I tend to do this kind of stuff in short bursts over a weekend, interspersed with goofing off and reading the internet. I have dishes, laundry and mopping to do today.
posted by Frowner at 10:41 AM on November 2, 2014 [12 favorites]

Well that rings some depression bells. You're spending the weekends in bed, ffs.

There's lots of techniques, but they're all going to be "a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step" variations. You just have to grit your teeth and put one foot in front of the other. I'd start by cleaning a couple of cupboards, then doing all the washing up. Every damn teaspoon. Then I'd do a pass for obvious trash, then just pick a corner and work outwards.

But the massive spring clean is actually the easy bit... the hard bit is developing habits that stop the place getting like that again (this is where I struggle). Jobs aren't finished until everything's packed away is a good habit to get into... eating isn't finished until you've done the dishes, laundry isn't finished until the clothes are in the drawers, that kind of thing. Oh, yeah, drawers... does everything you own have a home? If it doesn't, you might want to invest in some storage solutions. "Where does this live?" is always a problem for me.
posted by Leon at 10:43 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I pay about $60 for a weekly cleaning of what is probably a considerably larger space, so if you have the resources having a pro come in isn't necessarily ridiculously expensive. In my experience the pros do an exponentially better job than I do because they know what they are doing and work hard at it, whereas my cleaning is pretty halfassed because it's not a skill I've developed and one that I would rather avoid. (And trust me, there's nothing they haven't seen, so don't let that be a barrier.)
posted by Dip Flash at 10:43 AM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

UYH does the job for a lot of people. I learned how to do this stuff* in the prehistoric internet era and used Flylady, which I still recommend as long as you can just blow off the christian homeschooling stay-at-home-mom tone (and I could do that easily enough, I understand her target audience and I'm not it, but the problems we have are largely the same).

Simplest possible start: go get a trash bag and start putting trash in it. Actual trash - dirty tissues, fast food debris, junk mail. Just do one bag right now. If you feel good when you've done the one, you can do another, or maybe plan to do another in a few hours. If you're panicking too much about not knowing what to do, just set a timer for 15 minutes and do what you can in that time.

Once you get the hang of throwing out the trash, you can then do it again but with "stuff" you're "saving". Clothes you're not going to mend, broken items, things you don't use. At this point you'll probably feel better with a system like Unfuck Your Habitat or Flylady.

At the end of the day, you just do it. One thing at a time. And you treat your depression (there is a very very high correlation with squalor and depression), so it's not so hard.

*Everyone has to learn how to do these things, you're not missing a gene or anything. It's a skillset you have to acquire, it gets better with practice.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:45 AM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind that this didn't happen overnight, so it will take some time to totally fix. And any progress is progress! If it all seems overwhelming, just start out by getting rid the most obvious trash: packaging, clumps of cat fur in obvious places, stuff that doesn't require any real thought to be sure it goes in the garbage. When all the obvious stuff is gone, that's when you can start looking into organizing and processing systems, and you'll have some momentum behind you.
posted by jaut at 10:56 AM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I don't want to threadsit but I wanted to mention that there's no way I'm hiring someone to clean because of:
  1. Money
  2. I would prefer to throw myself out of the window before I let anyone see this mess.

posted by Ratata at 11:00 AM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well, if this isn't familiar...

One thing that I find helpful: Don't say "I'll finish it all today," say "I'll spend half an hour on it today."

If you spend half an hour cleaning your apartment, you've been successful. It doesn't matter how much progress you made -- although you will have made it!

Half an hour a day will add up quickly. If you want something more structured (like you literally don't know where to start after you pick up your trash), you can try something like UYH, but this doesn't need to be a Big Deal.

But also, this sounds like it might be a symptom of a larger problem. Spending your time in bed all weeked avoiding your apartment isn't good. Are you feeling okay otherwise? Is avoiding how you handle problems in general? This is something to think about.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:02 AM on November 2, 2014 [9 favorites]

Do you anthopomorphosize your things, e.g., feel sorry for stuff that you don't use or is broken, or feel that objects somehow embody/hold the spirit of the people who owned them before or gave them to you? If so--especially since you have a small place--you might find the approach set forth by Marie Hondo and described here.
posted by carmicha at 11:07 AM on November 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

The Pomodoro technique is great for taking those baby steps to clean. Simplified: you clean for a set period of time (15 minutes, a half hour) and then take a break to do something else, then take a break, then do some more cleaning, then take a break, etc.

And nthing getting checked for depression, or for low thyroid, insulin resistance or other physical problems. Tweaking my thyroid meds and getting rid of my insulin resistance (I am on a low-carb diet) has made a world of difference in how motivated and alert I feel.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:07 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Start with doing some things to prevent more mess to deal with.
Plastic cups, spoons/forks/knives, paper plates/bowls to avoid dishes which need to be washed.
Do you have a lot of books? Check them into Librarything, then get rid of the ones which are easily replaceable (ebook, cheap on amazon).
Trash basket in every room, two if the room is a bit large.
Buy a bunch of plastic shoeboxes (should be a buck apiece) and put everything that is cluttering your space into them. Just fill them so your space now has neat enclosed boxes instead of a thousand overwhelming things. You could sort them out into better long term storage later. A plastic shelving unit would be a cheap way to store them all in one neat area.
Couple of plastic hanging file folder bins for your papers. Again, just get them stored and sort later.
posted by Sophont at 11:11 AM on November 2, 2014

For now, just get rid of the trash, wash some dishes, and clean the bathroom. Bathrooms are small and provide a simple accomplishment when done.

I've been there -- best of luck!
posted by jgirl at 11:22 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Unfuck Your Habitat is genius. Small bursts of work to keep yourself from getting too overwhelmed. First up: just trash. Don't worry about anything else. Just look around, and if you see trash, put it in a trash bag. At the end of 20 minutes, take that trash bag to (wherever your trash goes, like out at the curb, or in your building's trash room, whatever) and then STOP. You did it. You had a success! Now take a break! 20 minutes at a time is all you need. Can you manage that once a day? Maybe once a week for now? When the trash is gone, maybe you can...fold some clothes? Or do some dishes? Whatever you want to address next. But only 20 minutes. That's all. Because you're not going to overwhelm yourself by thinking about everything that needs to be done. And once the pile starts getting smaller, you will be able to accomplsh more and see your work improving things. Yippee!
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:31 AM on November 2, 2014 [7 favorites]

I am a big fan of putting things in boxes or laundry baskets. Get a box -- from anywhere, as long as it has flaps to close -- and a trash bag. Start working through the smallest possible area (floor near your bed? bathroom?) throwing trash in the trash bag and STUFF IN THE BOX. If you can immediately put the stuff away, it can be put away, but otherwise the stuff goes in the box. Fill the box with stuff you don't know where to put. Now you close the lid, shove the box of stuff in a corner and start on a new box!

This gets all the garbage thrown out and the clutter out of sight. Once you've gotten that done, and vacuumed/swept/scrubbed/whatever, and you have a liveable apartment with clean surfaces and some space, THEN you start with ONE BOX and try to go through ten things, putting them away or getting rid of them. Maybe 15 things! Maybe half a box! But whenever it gets to be too much, you close the box up and put the box back.

It's not an ideal system because it's easy to ignore the boxes once you've got the junk in the boxes. But you can always just jettison the boxes if they're still sitting there after six months, and I get paralyzed by sorting the junk, so I "evade" that step but just throwing it all in the boxes until the house is clean, and THEN I start on sorting the junk.

FYI, I've been working on a big house clean-and-sort for the past FOUR WEEKS (getting after all the forgotten corners of junk that we let breed while we had little babies), and I've finished the hallway, one bedroom, and a bathroom. I'm 2/3 done with the other bedroom. Other people can do these things in a weekend; I've never been able to do that. I make very, very small goals and go after a little tiny bit of it every day. Sometimes those goals are geared towards maintenance of what I've already completed -- today, I'm going to fold and put away laundry rather than let it sit in a pile on my hard-won clean dressertop, and that will be my only house-cleaning goal! -- and that is okay! Maintaining is part of the battle and it counts! Tomorrow's goal is probably hanging a curtain that's been waiting to be hung for like eight weeks, and sorting one junk-box.

There was a period of time after my kids had outgrown the pack-n-play when we just swept up all the toys, books, magazines, shoes, random papers, clothes, etc., that were all over the living room floor and threw them in the pack-n-play and basically filled it to the top and then just IGNORED it because we were so unable to cope with life AND the clutter. You are not alone. Other people have these same problems!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:32 AM on November 2, 2014 [7 favorites]

Do you like audiobooks or podcasts? Lots of housework can be done on autopilot, and so I often make myself do it by downloading a book I'm really into and only letting myself listen to it when I'm doing a chore.

I loathe washing the dishes and this is how I make myself do it. Sometimes I even wash the last dish for too long, because I want to keep listening, and once I'm done with the dishes, I'm not allowed to any more.

You could download some long, fun work of fiction, like the Game of Thrones series, all the Ricky Gervais podcasts, or whatever floats your boat. Find something really immersive and exciting.

Remember, you are only allowed to listen to it while cleaning. If you need to think about something, like whether to keep or throw away a pair of socks, pause the recording, make the decision, and then start listening again.

If you take a break from the work, you have to take a break from listening, too.
posted by grumblebee at 11:41 AM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

All the other suggestions are good. It sounds like the cat hair/ dust may be even grosser feeling to you than the clutter though, so I'll add this potential option: Throw everything in boxes or on your bed/ couch/ futon/ whatever. Borrow a vacuum if you don't have one and use it as obsessively as you'd like. Start with a quick run through the whole place, then if you have more energy you can devote more time to doing baseboards/ furniture/ under things/ etc. if that improves the situation for you.

If there is stuff piled on your bed and you don't have the energy to sort through it now, put it all in a pile on your newly clean floor.
posted by metasarah at 11:58 AM on November 2, 2014

Sometimes I feel like this at my apartment. Earlier this week, I had dirty laundry everywhere, needed to wash the sheets and make the bed, papers all over my desk so I couldn't use it, random junk on my kitchen table so I couldn't use that, yarn collection taking up too much space in my room..

So I started cleaning a couple of things each day. One day I did laundry - just a load of clothes. I also Swiffered the kitchen and bathroom floors. I washed sheets and towels the next day, and cleaned the bathroom. Then I worked on organizing clutter the next day, and finally vacuumed the floors. Just one or two big (to me) things a day until it finally feels manageable. Still cluttered, but I don't feel ashamed for people to see my apartment and even had a couple of people over this weekend. The big hurdle for me is washing the bathtub or organizing clutter from one part of my room when I just want to get back in bed and avoid it.
posted by cp311 at 12:06 PM on November 2, 2014

Trust me, I had once been in your shoes. I was so overwhelmed. I just did one corner of a room a day.

I still battle the paper, but I can handle a stack of paper on a table versus everything everywhere.

Here is a printable checklist for your entire house. Don't worry about doing the deep cleaning - just do a daily cleaning!

Don't sweat perfection. Just do something.
posted by heathrowga at 12:18 PM on November 2, 2014

When I get in a hole like this, the way I start to make it better is not to make it worse. So even if there's already clothes everywhere, when you take off your clothes tonight put them where they should go - either in a pile of laundry, or back in the closet. Don't worry about all the other clothes for now - you've achieved something just by not adding to the mess.
Once you do feel like you can do something more, I agree with all the suggestions above to set a timer and just do 15 minutes at a time.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 12:21 PM on November 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Your situation, and your previous question, sound very very familiar to me. Procrastination, desperation, misery, mess, all of which build up and get more overwhelming, and the only response that seems possible is just to try to ignore it by whatever means necessary because nothing else will even make a dent? You already know that's not a longterm sustainable lifestyle. But it's so much a habit that it's hard to see how to break out. Here are some things that have helped me:

(1) Swiffer dusters!
Get a bunch of them so you can use as many as you need. You can scoot quickly around the house swiffer-dustering things, and it will get up the dust bunnies and cat hair under the sofa, next to the bed, on top of things, etc. It's amazing what a difference this makes (to me, anyway). You can do the baseboards, the windowsills, the ceiling corners... all these places accumulate dust and gunge, and add up to a feeling of hopeless intangible dirtiness. But you can zap it all by dusting and it feels like a fresh start.

(2) Laundry
One good way to start is to wash your bedlinens and towels, if you haven't for a while. Clean bed, clean towel.... sounds good, right? And you can achieve that with probably just one load of laundry. (And if you did a load of clothes too, bonus, but one load for linens will make a big difference.)

(3) Storage, Trash, Surfaces
These are the next steps. You need places to put everything away -- if you don't have enough space for clothes or books or whatever, you need to reduce your stuff or increase your storage. For the moment, you can do the "put everything in boxes" method, which keeps you from having to make decisions or buy furniture. And you need, obviously, to clean up trash and clean surfaces like the bathtub or the kitchen counters. These are all things you can do, a little at a time.

(4) The psychological angle
First reality check, you're not the only one, and it's not a character flaw. There are lots of us out there, with terribly messy houses and projects behind deadline, thinking we are the worst, but continuing to make ourselves unhappy by staying messy and then mulling over how bad we are to be so messy. In the scheme of things in the world, this is a small thing -- you're not morally bad, you just have a messy house, and that is okay. If we went to the Great Judge in the Sky and pled our cases, what would we say? "We have really messy houses, like really messy" and we might cry with shame.... but the Great Judge in the Sky isn't going to point a lightning finger at us for that, right? The Great Judge is going to say "so what? You're okay."

Second, it's not hopeless. It is solveable. The house can get cleaner, you can get more on top of things, and you can stop driving yourself crazy in this way. You can do it.

The way to do this is to face it, force yourself to do the uncomfortable overwhelming thing, for short manageable bursts. Do a little tiny bit at a time, and don't give yourself shit over it. Then in a few hours, do it again. Then the next day, another. So. Pick one thing. Maybe the kitchen sink. Start by spending 5 minutes cleaning up the sink - doing the dishes, cleaning the grungy stuff around the lip of the sink, cleaning the basin, whatever. 5 minutes. You can do that. Then stop, you're done, you can go back to doing online things for a while. Then later on, you can do another 5 minutes. It's amazing what you can get done in 5 minutes, and even you (even I!) can stand facing that anxious, yucky feeling for 5 minutes.

This is the trick about anxiety: it gets worse the more you avoid doing the thing.

By just doing the thing, you'll be reducing your anxious reaction, you'll be making it feel more okay to do. So every time you spend 5 minutes cleaning, you're reminding your brain/body stress reaction that it's fine, cleaning for 5 minutes is fine, it's not scary, it's perfectly manageable.

Notice: do the thing! Actually work on the problem itself, not on researching it. Don't look up cleaning systems online, or set yourself a task of figuring out the Exact Right Way to do a big cleaning project - that's just another form of procrastination... which again, it's okay, you're okay, it's not a character flaw, but it doesn't move you toward your goal of having a cleaner place. To make yourself happier and more comfortable in the medium term, you want to take actions that move you toward that goal.

Finally, maybe this is depression, or anxiety, or a result of wonky work habits, or whatever. But whatever it is, you deserve to stop feeling that way -- you deserve help, if you need it, to snap out of this pattern. You deserve to live in a house that doesn't drive you crazy, and you deserve to not feel terrible (and like hiding on the internet!) all the time. So -- in the longer term, get a medical checkup for things like vitamin-D or B-12 deficiency, thyroid issues, etc. Try exercising, even just a walk around the block. And give therapy and brain drugs a try! If they don't work, it's okay, but hey, they might work, right?

In the mean time, you might try reading the book The Feeling Good Workbook, which is often recommended here. And take a compassionate attitude toward yourself -- you are okay, you can challenge the exaggerated negative thoughts that make you feel stuck or helpless, and you can improve things in your house.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:24 PM on November 2, 2014 [7 favorites]

15 to 30 minutes a day. Set timers. Get up. Clean while the timer's going. Do this in 5 to 10 minute increments (but, lord, not all at once, with short breaks--that doesn't feel much better than going nonstop for longer periods). Then stop, if you want.

Just do it every day. I swear to you that you'll catch it all up.

This is, of course, only going to work if you know how to clean. If you don't know how to clean, there's better advice upthread, and I am not good at teaching that part. But usually, we know what needs to be done (put clothes away, clean dishes, pick things up and put them where they belong, vacuum, etc), and we're just not doing it because it seems overwhelming. Timers make it less overwhelming.

If it helps you, you can tape a piece of paper to the wall and give yourself an x for every day that you do this. It helps to see unbroken chains (a la Seinfeld).

There is a long term benefit to this method, too, in that you will quickly learn how little time it takes to clean to a basic standard. In 30 minutes a day, I can have my dishes clean, at least one load of laundry put away, and the living room picked up. The next day, since my laundry is done and the dishwasher is still not even full again, I vacuum the living room and, like, half clean off a table or something. It adds up pretty quickly* over time to a decently clean house.

*I speak in the present tense, but with a kid, this doesn't work quite as well as it did when I was single or living with my partner before kids. You don't sound like you have a kid.
posted by hought20 at 12:34 PM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had to check myself really quick to make sure I hadn't posted this! I live in a tiny place and currently I'm really busy and really stressed out, so it's incredibly easy to let it get into an almost uninhabitable state... in fact, I'm kind of sitting in the middle of a big pile of chaos. It looks like a laundry bomb went off in here, with a couple of clutter and cat hair IEDs thrown in for kicks. So I can totally sympathize.

I know I've got a busy week coming up, and today is pretty much the only time I have to get things cleaned up a bit. Like you, I get easily overwhelmed with cleaning tasks and instead of getting a significant amount of mess cleaned up, I'm liable to hyperfocus on one or two areas and have a sparklingly clean bathroom floor and, like, one really well-organized and dust free bookcase. So I set timers and attack things in waves, sort of gamifying the experience. I put on my CLEAN ALL THE THINGS playlist on Spotify (lots of 80's hits or embarrassing current pop), I set a timer for 15 minutes, and I attack a task like I'm trying to win a game show -- wash dishes like a madman until the bell goes off! Get yourself a glass of water, set the timer again, then run around picking up as much trash as you can and jamming it in a trash bag! Et cetera, et cetera. Do a couple of rounds of that, and I think you'll be really surprised at how much cleaner your place will be. And when it's a little bit cleaner, it's a little bit easier to see what else needs to be done.

I think a couple of rounds is a good place to start... you should try it today and see how it feels. If you want to check in with me after that for some suggestions on next steps, or some commiseration because dude I am totally doing this right now, please feel free! I'm happy to help.
posted by palomar at 2:28 PM on November 2, 2014

Do you have friend or family member who like to chat on the phone? I often do housework whilst chatting to my mum, and I think it helps to have something else to focus on whilst doing really boring things.
posted by kjs4 at 3:25 PM on November 2, 2014

Give yourself permission to take little steps. You don't have to fix this all in one go. For the firts month, pick one small (and I mean small) space, for instance a two foot by two foot square of worktop or floor. Now clean it until it shines. Once this small space is clean, all you have to do for the next month is keep it clean. The rest of the house doesn't matter, only this small space. Once you've proven to yourself that you can do that, then pick another spot and clean that. For the next month you now have to keep those two spots clean.

This is what I did and what helped me turn my home from a hell hole into my own little bit of heaven. I'd been through a tought time, had been in an abusive relationship, and was suffering from depression.

You can achieve the home you want, yes it will take time but you'll get there, just remember to take small steps and be kind to yourself.

I'm going to post photos of my kitchen as hopefully it may act as inspiration.
During the main clean up and redecoration
My wonderful kitchen
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 5:15 PM on November 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Tackle the mess one stage at a time. I suggest utilizing the top down approach.

TIP:I have had this problem before as well, and I have enlisted the help of a clean freak and organizer: my mother. Find someone very very conscientious regarding organization and cleanliness and ask for advise before beginning.

Do not stress out about it, it will take time and effort. I dug in by removing cats from the room and relocating them, and then digging through the items by placing them in one of three boxes: Sell/give away, trash, keep. You might also want a box for relocation.

Decluttering resources for after the cleaning phase has been completed.

Once you've gotten rid of unneeded and unused items, move the items to another room and then begin dusting them and tackling the floor. Take frequent breaks. I suggest making a trip to the thrift store, dumpster etc. after each major session.

Take brief/long walks before or after getting started in order to energize your body. Play with the cat(s), get moving and turn the computer off. Pick up a book and read if you enjoy novels or print off a few articles online that genuinely interest you. Minimizing your internet consumption will will may you more productive and you'll feel so much better. I understand this very much.

Throughout the process try envisioning the end result: the sort of living space you desire. I recommend beginning with your study area and bedroom, because after these are done you'll feel much better about your living space.
posted by bibliophilia at 8:07 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you know what motivates me to clean when I know I should but don't feel like it? Putting on shows to watch in the background like Hoarders or Hoarding: Buried Alive (though I pick the early seasons which aren't as sad to watch as the later ones).

Watching these shows A) motivates me to clean because everyone else is cleaning; B) shows me transformed spaces as a carrot while dangling the stick of claustrophobic and dirty before shots, and C) helps me see that my desire to keep this shirt I've owned for eight years yet only worn once is not dissimilar to the desire of the person on TV who wants to keep an unmatched glove with a hole in the pinky.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:58 AM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had to have a major appliance break to get me to clean. Water heater died. It is in the garage, which needed clearing out. The lack of hot water actually got me to start cleaning so that I could get it replaced because there is no way I'd take the chance that ANYONE might see the usual state of my home. Then, to keep up the momentum, I invited a non-judgemental guest. I have also promised myself a new washing machine when I get it all done (still have to clean out the washer/dryer closet and have lost some motivation).

I do not recommend this, even if it does work. Before this, I'd do a just enough cleaning when the only person to ever come to stay (my best friend) would come to stay.

So start with one big purge of trash to get your blood pumping, and one promise. Promise yourself that you will do the dishes every night. No going to bed with dirty dishes. If there aren't any dirty dishes, everything else is easier. Even if you don't do anything else for a while, the whole place is nicer when the dishes are clean. This can be incredibly hard, especially when you're depressed. I've had to forgive myself and start over on this one many many times. But it is the chore I hate the most, and it makes the most difference.

If you wake up and the dishes are clean, maybe you'll feel like doing some tidying in one area. Baby Stepping!

I'm now trying to figure out how to maintain the clean I've achieved. Depression is a bitch.
posted by monopas at 2:11 PM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also recommend UnfuckYourHabitat. And they even have an article especially for your situation:

Where to Start When You Can't Get to Everything, which starts with garbage - dishes - bathroom.
posted by timepiece at 1:34 PM on November 4, 2014

LobsterMitten's suggestions are excellent. Starting with the Swiffer dusters means you'll be clearing away a bunch of the stuff that's currently making you cringe and want to look away. (And as I know from years and years of experience with depression and clutter, trying to look away from everything that surrounds you is a fast track to paralysis and despair.) Once that's gone, you'll be in a much better place to start doing little 5- to 15-minute cleanup bursts.

I recently came across the "one soapy sponge" suggestion for dealing with what feels like an overwhelming stack of dishes. Get the water warm and add detergent to the sponge to soap it up, then wash as many dishes as you can with that one soaping. Sponge runs out of soap, you're done for now. Congratulate yourself for getting some dishes done and feel good that you're taking care of yourself by giving yourself a more supportive and more enjoyable environment!
posted by Lexica at 7:31 PM on November 4, 2014

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