Give me your best neurodivergent friendly cleaning tips and resources
October 7, 2023 4:23 AM   Subscribe

I have A(u)DHD and I sometimes struggle with cleaning. I live in a tiny studio apartment with a kitchenette and tiny bathroom, so less space to clean but more overwhelm and visual clutter as there isn't a break from the chaos anywhere I look. I'm having surgery in a few weeks and I want to deep clean and tidy the whole place in preparation (partly because my partner will be looking after me while I recover and he's disabled and can't do much housework). I've been trying every day for a week to clean up and it somehow seems worse than it was when I started every time and is now completely overwhelming. I'm a big fan of the Unfuck Your Habitat 20/10 method, but that doesn't seem to be cutting it right now for some reason. A collection of other neurodivergent friendly tips and tricks, motivation hacks would be useful.
posted by chives to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
I recently read How To Keep House While Drowning, which is basically just what you're asking for but in case you don't want to read the whole thing (it's short!) the author had a couple of tips that resonated especially with me:

1) Every space contains just five things: trash, dirty dishes, laundry, things that have a place (and are not in their place), and things that don't have a place. Deal with them in that order (and "dealing with" dishes and laundry means "putting them in the sink/laundry area", not "washing them").

2) Just put stuff in baskets. There, now it's organized (enough).

3) Prioritize safety and functionality. It's OK (though uncomfortable) if your home looks untidy. It's less OK (i.e. potentially dangerous) if it's full of trip hazards and rotting food or if you can't use your sink or something else essential.

Also, especially for a one-time deep clean and ideally while you are recovering, is it at all possible to hire someone? That way, you could just focus on putting stuff in boxes and baskets and trash bags, and someone else can actually wash the floor and sinks and toilet.

But probably just buy the book or request it at your local library ASAP!
posted by mskyle at 4:58 AM on October 7, 2023 [23 favorites]

Response by poster: Addition to add: I can’t currently afford to hire someone, although I’d hoped to do that at least for the actual deep cleaning of the kitchen and bathroom pre surgery, my cat has ended up needing to also have surgery this month and that’s wiped out all my savings. The ‘wet’ cleaning tasks and the ‘where do all of these individual objects go’ tasks are the ones I struggle with the most for sensory and processing reasons, so I was hoping a professional could help with at least the actual scrubbing, but unfortunately looks like it’s just gonna have to be me.
posted by chives at 5:06 AM on October 7, 2023

Having someone non-judgemental come over while you clean, whether they help or just sit in a chair and do whatever, can be really useful. There's also the whole body-doubling thing where they are also cleaning and you're on the phone. Ymmv as to which approach works best.
posted by hoyland at 5:14 AM on October 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

There is a very active fantastic group on Facebook related to this. The kindest and most supportive group I have ever seen on FB. People ask for and share tips and experiences that are granular and nuanced to their specific circumstances, challenges, living spaces, etc. If that is of interest, me-mail me and I will send you the name of it.
posted by virve at 5:52 AM on October 7, 2023 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I had "where do all these go" challenges when I moved, and the answer for a long stretch was "the 'I don't know where this goes' box." After I got settled, I started going through that box. Maybe something similar would help you get unstuck? If you don't get to deal with it before your surgery it's okay, because you have a clear place to go when you're looking for something.

For sensory issues with wet cleaning tasks, are you using/can you use cleaning gloves? The reusable ones dampen external sensation more than the disposable ones, and in my experience, the non-latex reusable kinds tend to have nicer linings than the latex ones (though they're more expensive). Cleaning gloves and wireless headphones reduce a lot of what I find unpleasant about cleaning.
posted by EvaDestruction at 6:01 AM on October 7, 2023 [19 favorites]

ADHD here and I highly recommend To Be Dealt With Later boxes. Contains the clutter, and if you’re up for rudimentary sorting you can make Hobby Box(es), Work Box, Book Box, Paper Box, Linens Box, etc. which helps with later retrieval.
posted by telophase at 6:35 AM on October 7, 2023 [4 favorites]

Best answer: As an ADHD person who struggles with housework, here are some thoughts:

1. Think about lowering your standards a bit. Your apartment doesn't need to be deep-clean before you have surgery, you can recover perfectly well in a home where there are dust bunnies under the bed, cobwebs in the corners and fingerprints on the refrigerator. YMMV if there are allergies or something that make a certain type of cleaning more necessary.

What would be important to me is to make sure that my spouse could easily deal with meals, trash, cat box and laundry while I am laid up. So I would focus on cleaning out the fridge & pantry if they are cluttered, streamlining laundry (maybe get rid of some stuff or box it up if you have a dirty laundry mountain that makes it difficult to find the items you actually use) and laying in supplies such as easy-to-prep food, and comfort items you will want while you recover (gingerale, applesauce, chicken noodle soup, ibuprofen, heating pad, etc.)

2. The time in my life I was most able to keep up with housework was when I first moved to my own place after I got divorced and took barely anything with me. I had just enough dishes for me, a couple of pots, a knife, a spatula, etc. A couple of towels, a few outfits of clothing, a set of sheets, one box of books... you get the idea. There was no struggle about where to put stuff because my belongings did not come close to filling up the storage space I had. And there was no clutter in the way to complicate the actual cleaning, so I could bang out a basic once-over of my apartment in an hour on Saturday morning before taking my one basket to the laundromat.

I know that is MUCH easier said than done, once you've accumulated a bunch of stuff. My current place is a wreck and in the process of trying to organize I have realized that a big issue is I simply don't have any place to put away a lot of the stuff that is lying around in piles everywhere because my closets and cabinets and shelves are full of stuff. I am currently trying to pare down my possessions so that the things I own can fit into the storage space I have.

You can donate stuff, or throw it away if you just need it gone. If you have a corner of your apartment where you could stack boxes or storage bins you could also use that to put away stuff you're not using but are not ready to part with. If you go this route I would recommend gathering like items into the same bin so you can label it and not have a bunch of "doom boxes" to deal with down the road. So for example, maybe one day you gather up all the extra dishes and kitchen gadgets you're not using and put them all in the same box & label it. Then you gather up all the craft supplies you want to store, fill up a box & label that. Etc.

3. There is some organizer (Marie Kondo, maybe?) who suggests taking all of the items out of a space to sort through, and then only putting back the things you really want to live in that space. So you'd empty out the bathroom, sort through the stuff, put back (for example) your toothbrush, hairbrush, daily toiletries and cleaning supplies you actually use, and get rid of the rest (either by donating, throwing away or putting in storage.) You just have to be careful to only do one space at a time, and only pull out as much as you can deal with in your allotted cleaning time.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:56 AM on October 7, 2023 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I have been told that those Mormon kids that go on a mission are available, and actually encouraged, to help in situations like this even for non-LDS. Worth a phone call. Yes they are required to give a little bible lesson but it might be worth it! IMO
posted by cda at 7:15 AM on October 7, 2023 [3 favorites]

A tip I learned from a professional organizer: papers should be stored upright, e.g. in one of those cardboard 'store your magazines' boxes. They take up less space that way and won't get covered in clutter. If you happen to have some colored sheets of paper or cardboard, you can use that to make dividers, but really, just put it all in.
posted by demi-octopus at 7:54 AM on October 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

I highly recommend banker's boxes as the "deal with later" boxes. Their uniformity and stackability mean they take up less visual space than other options. If you use another option, throwing a tablecloth or something on top of a stack of boxes can also help make it disappear.

RE the sensory issues, getting it done quickly might help, so completely emptying the bathroom before scrubbing it and making sure you have everything you need right next to the bathroom door is a good idea. If alcohol is a good option for you, I find a drink can help me get through housework I find miserable more easily, in part because it dulls the sensory experience.
posted by metasarah at 7:54 AM on October 7, 2023

‘where do all of these individual objects go’ tasks

I mean, how many rooms do you have? Okay, that's a half-joke answer but also, usually this question actually means "I don't not have a space for this". I have become a big fan of the technique in which you rack of a LOT of steps for the day by simply filling each hand with items and walking them to the room they belong. In that room, if they do not have A Home, drop them in a box. (If they do, put them there. If something is already there that does not belong there, take THAT out and put the stuff that belongs there there and take the out-of-place thing to the place where it goes, or the box in the place where it goes.) Pick up, walk, set down. Pick up, walk, set down.

If there are spots that you know are rabbit-hole-process-killers (like for me, organizing the contents of cabinets has to be a different day than "cleaning up"), just declare them no-go areas except to drop stuff in a box.

To level up, put a second box or bag or whatever next to the box, for trash. And then as you walk from one place to the next with things in your hand, ask yourself: do I need to keep this? Is it going to actually get used enough to justify walking it across my living space again? Do I want to move it the next time I move? Could I replace it if I had to? Is it about to expire or otherwise reach end-of-life and I am keeping it just to...keep it?

I also really like bankers boxes for this, but if you can score a set of Medium moving boxes off Buy Nothing or similar, those serve roughly the same purpose.

Up to you whether you want to add a layer of consideration to this process about "actually, WHERE do I use these?" and take them there. Like, my skincare stuff lives under my desk in a caddy alongside my supplements and morning meds - because after I shower that's where I go, or when I start my day that's where I go, and so that's where I use them. This is in part an AD(H)D object permanence problem, if I keep that stuff in the bathroom I'll forget to use it. My desk and where I sit on the couch and my nightstand are actually my primary Command Centers, and I find my stuff gets put back where it "belongs" - by my definition - because it doesn't tend to scatter much beyond arm's reach, which means I can tidy up while taking almost no steps at all.

I hear you on the wet work, but generally wet and floor cleaning has to be done last because you have to get your crap out of the way first.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:44 AM on October 7, 2023 [4 favorites]

YMMV but I started cleaning a lot more regularly when I gave myself permission to just use paper towels for everything. I used to fuss around with sponges and brushes and reusable rags, which was not only a nightmare from a sensory perspective (clingy wet rags… ick ick ick) but also created more work when I had to then wash/dry the cleaning tools! Wiping things down with paper towels and then throwing them away when they get wet and gunky is blissful in comparison. Apart from floors and the tub, I clean pretty much everything with a spray cleaner and paper towels.

For visual clutter, I second baskets and boxes but even better for ADHD is trays. Previously, my coffee table contained: two remotes, scattered coasters, a box of tissues, a tilting pile of books, a couple of pens, and a lighter. Now it contains: one tray. They do a shockingly good job at condensing clutter down into one object for “visual overwhelm” purposes while—and this is key—also keeping things visible enough so they don’t disappear into the ADHD “I haven’t seen it lately so it stops existing” void. (In the longer term, bookshelves with glass doors can perform the same function for bigger objects, keeping things simultaneously visible while still visually contained.)
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 8:49 AM on October 7, 2023 [7 favorites]

The author of How to Keep House While Drowning has a podcast called Struggle Care! It might be a nice supportive soundtrack to when you do feel up to doing some cleaning!
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:26 AM on October 7, 2023 [3 favorites]

Sorry no link, but ADHD blogger Black Girl Lost Keys has materials about cleaning, which might be a good resource.
posted by matildaben at 11:01 AM on October 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

I really like open bins on shelves, preferably covered with cabinet doors, as a midpoint between being too visually cluttered and too hidden away. If you have the money (can be fairly cheap), buying a bunch of matching bins makes it feel much less visually cluttered.

You can roughly group things by bins and by different areas/closets to make it less chaotic - for example, I have an office supplies bin, a craft supplies bin, a camping stuff bin, and other bins in a storage closet, and a spices bin, a snacks bin, and a tea/coffee bin in one section of my kitchen cabinets. Since the bins are all open, it's very quick to open the cabinet doors and drop things into the right bin. Boxes are ok for stuff that's rarely used (eg I have one for candles) but are way too annoying for commonly used items, which are usually the ones that are lying around the house. Annoying means they won't be used, so try to avoid anything that slows you down like that.

Some people prefer to remove cabinet doors for easier/more visual access but I prefer them for the reduced visual clutter and preventing dusting, which I can never manage to do.

Misc bins are great too for things that don't have a dedicated bin or if you don't have the energy to sort out the bins. If you can keep roughly similar things in different areas of your house, even if it's not neatly organized, or even if it's just all tossed into 10 different "misc" bins, it'll be much easier to find things, and quicker to put them away too since they might not have a perfect home yet, but at least you can quickly identify the right neighbourhood. Like, anything hair-related for me goes in my bathroom, so I never have to waste time looking for it in my bedroom.

If your home is short on storage space, buying tall vertical storage units (bookcases, kallax, wardrobes, etc) can work wonders. So can getting rid of stuff, of course, if you have the energy for it.
posted by randomnity at 11:11 AM on October 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

I also struggle with keeping my small living space clean. The solution for me when things get messy is the half an hour every day technique. Set a timer, stop when it goes off. There will be times when the timer goes mid task and I have to finish.

Declutter by using whatever storage container is on sale. Your space will look a lot more orderly, even if you've just stuffed things in by broad category.

This might be obvious, but I use multiple different pairs of rubber gloves for different cleaning tasks.
posted by Alex Voyd at 11:47 AM on October 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the tips, it was helpful to come back and check in with throughout the day while I was trying to get myself together. Managed to deep clean the bathroom fully, which will make it much easier to keep on top of over the next couple of weeks and it was one of the things I was most anxious about (paranoid about infection I think) so if nothing else that’s off my mind. Really appreciated the advice to lower my expectations and figure out what’s actually important in this situation.
posted by chives at 4:52 PM on October 7, 2023 [8 favorites]

I can't use any of these methods because my brain wants to use All the Methods All at Once and storage containers just beget more storage containers, so instead I do a modified "Getting Things Done" method, which is put everything in a pile in the center of the room, take one item out at a time, ask myself what it is, and either (a) put it in the doorway to go to another room where it belongs, (b) put it away in this room where it belongs, or (c) throw it out because I (1) have three of it already (2) kept it because I didn't know what it was (3) don't have any place to put it =. If I'm doing it right, (c) is about 50% of the pile and my room is magically clean but I start putting trash bags up and down the block with my neighbor's trash.

I should add that because of this method my house has, as a friend remarked today, a "very . . uh. . . spare style."

Not having much stuff sure makes it easier for this severely ADHD person to function, I'll tell you.
posted by Peach at 7:02 PM on October 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

Have you tried the Sweepy app? It’s very customizable but also provides basic guidelines if you need them. It seems to make cleaning more psychologically manageable for me.

Also my personal tip is to choose a time and day to clean and put a cap on it where you stop and you are completely done until your next regularly scheduled cleaning session. For instance, I do Saturday mornings from when I wake up and have breakfast until noon - then I am done no matter what.
posted by Jess the Mess at 1:33 PM on October 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

Something that's helped me when I was feeling overwhelmed by Need To Clean All The Things is to write each task on a piece of paper, stuff them into a jar, and then pick one at random. It got past the Analysis Paralysis and I found that once I got started on something, others flowed on.
posted by creatrixtiara at 7:48 PM on October 11, 2023 [2 favorites]

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