housecleaning crisis redux: mental health edition
April 19, 2017 9:48 AM   Subscribe

In December I asked this question. Now things have gotten bad again, and I need help.

As you can see from my previous question I had a situation in December whereby I was traveling for a while, my catsitter trashed my apartment, and I came home to a disaster zone while also coming down with a cold that turned into a sinus infection. You all gave me wonderful, non-judgemental advice on how to contact a cleaning service for a deep clean, and I got the situation taken care of.

Now, I'm in the same situation again - except worse, and I don't have a shitty irresponsible catsitter to blame. It's entirely my fault that my apartment has become a disaster zone again. Since the last time I had my apartment deep cleaned, I got the stomach flu, then I fell on black ice and dislocated my knee, then I came down with a cold that turned into bronchitis and pneumonia. Alongside all of this I realized that my graduate school program that I began back in the fall is not the right fit for me and have been taking steps to withdraw/exploring transfer options. I've also continued to play gigs with my band, which has been stressful trying to work around my various illnesses. My ex-boyfriend has been trying to manipulate me into taking him back, and one of my friends has been behaving like he wants to date me sometimes while at other times he treats me like shit, and I'm getting tired it. My brother's wedding is rapidly approaching and I'm in the wedding party and helping with planning, all while trying to stay on the good side of his fiancee who up until recently hated my guts (and she still scares me). All of this stuff on top of each other triggered a massive depressive episode last month which I am struggling to crawl out of (working with my psychiatrist of course). I also have been fatigued to the point of barely being able to keep my eyes open over the last week, and yesterday after bloodwork I was diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiency and iron deficiency.

As a result of all of this assorted crap, my apartment is even worse than when the catsitter trashed it in December. Between illness, injury, and depression it's just been impossible for me to keep up with chores. I'm pretty ashamed that I let it get to this point, especially after how upset I was when the catsitter trashed the place before. But, I am completely willing to throw money at this problem in hopes that between that and working with my psychiatrist I can get back on track to being a functional adult who cleans up after themselves.

I live in a small town and the cleaning service I called last time, while helpful, sent a woman who was EXTREMELY judgemental about the state of my apartment, even though I explained to her that it had been trashed by someone else. It made me feel pretty terrible, and I do not want to call that service again in this situation and experience that feeling again. (Additionally, she left all of my windows open when she left and I don't have screens on the ones in the living room, so if I hadn't caught that my cat would have escaped, which gave me nightmares for a week.) . Unfortunately, that cleaning service is pretty much the only game in town. I'm not sure what to do.

Here's my actual question: Are there cleaning services that exist specifically to help people who live in mess because of mental illness? I am not a hoarder but I know that cleaning services that help hoarders tend to be very sensitive towards the fact that hoarding is a mental illness. I need to find a service that would do the same with me. Is this possible? If so, how do I find them?

Please help, I am afraid that my messy apartment is contributing to my inability to get well. Thanks.
posted by thereemix to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I found a great cleaner (who works for herself) through, which as a site seems to be more focused on human care than, say, angieslist or craigslist.

If you got vit D megadoses to treat your deficiency, that stuff is magic and you'll start feeling better very quickly (I was down to 9, and the megadose was like injected adrenline, almost).
posted by Dashy at 9:54 AM on April 19 [4 favorites]

Have you checked availability on I'd rather use an established service, but if there are no other options...
posted by praemunire at 10:13 AM on April 19

You have a lot on your plate right now. You absolutely should not have to deal with someone being judgemental about your space. Would you be comfortable calling the same service and mentioning that you wanted them to send a different cleaner? The open window things is more than enough to request another cleaner. Also, being judgey about a person's space is rude and bad business. A cleaning service wants to make their customers happy and excited to have their staff assist them.

If you just feel gross worrying about the possible judgement (and who wouldn't?), could you have someone else be there to let the cleaner in? You could give them a list of any items that needed special attention and trust that they will not be troubled by (or pass on to you) any criticism. Then you could be elsewhere knowing that you'd be coming home to a trusted friend and a clean home.
posted by annaramma at 10:18 AM on April 19 [2 favorites]

First of all, I am so sorry that the cleaner you employed was judgmental. That is so unproductive and hurtful.

My job interacts with people who have hoarding disorder, and we often recommend this site for finding cleaners with sensitivity to mental health concerns. You are not alone. Good luck in finding the right person to help you - now, and should this ever come up again in future. Life happens.
posted by pammeke at 10:18 AM on April 19 [16 favorites]

Call the cleaning service. It''s the easiest thing to do that will make you feel the most better.

Yeah, better the devil you know and seconded IF they did a decent cleaning job previously despite being obnoxious. Since you're a repeat customer, it may be possible to not be home, leave a key, payment, detailed instructions and a note to keep the windows shut.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:20 AM on April 19

I live in a small town and the cleaning service I called last time, while helpful, sent a woman who was EXTREMELY judgemental about the state of my apartment.

Well that sucks. I don't know how much money you can throw at this problem, but based on where your profile says you live, you might be able to pay a bunch extra to get a nyc-based service to come up. They tend to be very non-judgmental, due to the general 'mind your damn business' attitude that New Yorkers have.

Separately, I really, really recommend that you take a look at Unfuck Your Habitat, either the site or the book, or both. It's really good about taking things like depression and illness into consideration, and it's a refreshing antidote to a lot of the moral judgement around chores and cleaning.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:21 AM on April 19 [2 favorites]

Call the cleaning service and ask for someone different to come. If pressed, just say you weren't entirely happy with the person they sent last time.
posted by Dolley at 11:03 AM on April 19 [1 favorite]

Are you in the USA? Steri-Clean specifically works with hoarders--they even have online support group meetings for hoarders and the loved ones of hoarders on their web site. A couple of people in my hoarding support group have used them, and said they were very sensitive to their emotions and needs.

You might contact them and see if they can assist you in a less intensive way, or if they can recommend a cleaning service in your area that's equally sensitive.
posted by magstheaxe at 11:03 AM on April 19 [3 favorites]

I wonder if it's possible for you to re-frame this a bit in your own mind: expect the possibility of a judgemental cleaner, know that it's THEIR issue that their attitude sucks and that you'll survive even if they're a jerk, and be pleasantly surprised if they aren't as bad as the last time?

To me it seems like you've gone to great lengths to explain (even to us understanding strangers) that your reason(s) for the mess are "valid." Is there a way you can stop caring about that, separate the emotional part (shame) from the practical, and just solve the practical part (hiring a decent cleaner who will clean the mess)?

The truth is, it doesn't matter whether vandals came in and trashed the place, if you had physical or mental illness, or if you're just messy (I am naturally very messy and I admit it!) The place needs to get clean. Go with nicer cleaners if someone can vouch for that of course, but don't let the emotional part keep you from tackling the practical.

Can you set up a weekly or biweekly service after the deep clean? Then you'll never get to this point again and can expend your emotional resources elsewhere.
posted by kapers at 11:04 AM on April 19 [34 favorites]

I just want to tell you that the level of shame you are feeling about this is very disproportionate compared to how I would say the majority of people feel about mess. You are not a bad person for having dishes in the sink!

I would agree though that the state of your apartment is probably interfering with your ability to get well - not because it would inherently do that for anyone, but because you in particular get intense anxiety when your place isn't up to your cleanliness standards.

That's not a problem at all! Everyone has different needs for the way they need their environment to be, and for me, when I can't have control over the way my home looks, it really does negatively impact my mental health. I agree that if you can't find other options, the cleaning service with the judgy woman is still not the worst idea. But the level of judgement you're putting on yourself over this is honestly kind of heartbreaking.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:23 AM on April 19 [5 favorites]

You gotta forgive yourself for this.

The housecleaner is just a lady who cleans for a living. She's not a judge. She's a person who works a hard job, didn't realize that she was saying something that would hurt her client's feelings (because most people don't care about this sort of thing) and hasn't spent one single second thinking about your house since she was there.

You're letting her offhand remark be this terrible obstacle for you. You gotta let that go. She doesn't care; nobody cares; and even if she did, YOU shouldn't care. The only thing that matters is that your house gets clean now because it's making you agitated and sad and the solution is so easy. Just call the agency and have them send someone to clean, for money, which is what they want to do.

And you might want to make it a standing order, every week or so, to prevent this from happening again. This is why maid services exist: because lots and lots of people need this kind of help.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:40 PM on April 19 [9 favorites]

Are there cleaning services that exist specifically to help people who live in mess because of mental illness?

Yes. Where I live, there is a non-profit organization that does this for free. I haven't used them but it was something I learned about at the community mental health center. You might dig around a bit and find something like that near you. Be well.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 12:45 PM on April 19

First, thank you for asking this question and the last one.
There are many of us who are finding the answers useful.

Second, you don't need to explain yourself to those you hire to help you. I am glad that you do have the resources to throw money at the issue. Now we just need to find the right person to hire--

So, I did find this company that I think is near to you--they seem to have the right attitude, maybe you can get some confirmation via yelp or other reviews.

yes, this quote from their website, but it is a good standard you can use to evaluate...

"Here at GreenEx we offer and just flat out perform a very compassionate service, we help you step by step EVERY step of the way until you are fully comfortable and satisfied…"
posted by calgirl at 1:18 PM on April 19 [2 favorites]

"Unfortunately, that cleaning service is pretty much the only game in town. I'm not sure what to do. "

Definitely you can call and say you'd prefer a different cleaner. (Also you can say "I've been dealing with illness and injury and I'd really prefer someone who's not judgmental" and let them draw their own conclusion about the problem with the last one.) Also, if you feel more comfortable, YOU CAN LIE, say you had a terrible subletter or your college-student cousin was staying with you. (But really you don't need to explain yourself, they're being hired to perform a service.)

When I called a cleaning lady because I had an infant and a toddler and a household catastrophe and no possibility of catching back up, I felt like she was judging me the first time she came, but actually her thinky serious face was she was just judging how long it'd take to do the first deep clean. I had her come for maintenance visits for a couple years until my kids got old enough I could manage it myself again, and she was really just unbothered by almost any level of mess and very nonjudgmental; she cleans for people for a huge variety of reasons -- disability, no time, little kids, just lazy -- and she's really not there for the judging. I was judging myself, really, and letting my anxiety about hiring someone to come fix my UNHOLY, UNHEALTHY MESS convince me that she was judging me.

Also if you have local friends on facebook or another community website (like nextdoor or whatever), you can ask people for recs of trusted local independent cleaners. I found mine through friend recs, which I think most people do if it's not a service.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:01 PM on April 19 [12 favorites]

Do you have Nextdoor where you live? That's an easy way to get recommendations from neighbors. Bonus, if you hire an independent cleaner you can talk to her directly before she arrives, and tell her whatever you want to tell her to assuage your anxiety.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:27 PM on April 19

Once you find a cleaner you're comfortable and your home is tidy again: Have you considered having a cleaner come in on a regular basis? I am just a shitty housekeeper even when I'm healthy and everything is going fine - I finally gave in and hired someone to come in and clean every couple of weeks. This has dramatically improved my life and though I do tear around the place tidying up the day before she comes, I have almost forgotten what it is like to feel the intense despair and stress I used to feel over trying to keep my home clean.

Another thing - I am rarely here when she gets here. She has access to the key and lets herself in. She may think and even say all kinds of things about my place but I do not hear them and therefore they don't bother me.
posted by bunderful at 4:17 PM on April 19 [5 favorites]

I have a slightly different approach to offer. Instead of throwing money at this problem and it happening again in the future - been there, done that myself- take the initiative now to do this yourself. But, but, but - I know. I know. You have a lot going on and depression is a mean weevil that likes being an anchor instead of a buoy. Let's take this step by step.

First - you will need to put your priorities in a list that you stare at every day and work off of. Your brother's wedding planning? Needs to be near the top of that daily list BUT you need to only assist when needed, not be the main planner. Get this across to whomever is in charge of things and let them know you are not flaking but you have to regroup. Secondly, pare down your gigs because it is bringing you stress. You need less on your plate. You need to be focused on you. Third, get with an adviser and discuss the pathways to ASAP getting out of the graduate program of doom. Fourth, get your Vit D and iron topped up. Anemia brings on the sads in me and makes my productivity crawl to a halt.

Now onto the nitty gritty. How do you clean when you don't feel well? You make a plan. "Today I am going to wash all the dishes and take out all the trash. Tomorrow, I am going to hang up all clean clothes and fold the rest. The next day I am going to vacuum/dust all the things. The day after that, I am going to mop/wipe down the solid surfaces." and so on. Little steps each day to get the bulk of it in a manageable state. If that is too much for you - take it smaller. Do the dishes in the sink today. Tomorrow, do any dishes around the house. The next day, wash all the clothes. Keep breaking it down into smaller tasks if need be. The thing is, you CAN do this. It is an uphill battle convincing a depressed mind to do it but the only way to get in the habit of something is to start doing it.

When I did my first massive clearout, I was reading the Marie Kondo book that was such a sensation a while back. Her methods appealed to me in a way others had not before. Others I know have sworn by FlyLady's methodology. Whatever gathers your interest and seems like a path you could follow is a good one.

Be well and no more shame. You will have it all in hand and made better before too long. There's plenty of us out here who have either dealt with a similar situation or have family that have been in that situation. It will get better because you want it to get better. Many hugs from way down south.

And if that really, really isn't a path you want to explore currently - perhaps your psych can give you a recommendation regarding a cleaning service that may cater to situations like this. Someone local or more discreet, maybe even someone who does this as part of their personal organizing business.
posted by missh at 4:22 PM on April 19 [3 favorites]

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