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Let’s talk about how to clean when you are feeling overwhelmed.
Keeping a clean and organized house when you are in a difficult season of life can be a challenge. Sometimes, it can even feel like mission impossible. However, studies have shown that a clean, clutter-free home environment where you can easily find the things you need and can comfortably relax is good for your mental health.
Your messy home might actually be making your feelings of overwhelm worse. It’s worth it to find a way to clean your home even if you don’t feel like you can.
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Cleaning is good for your mental health.
Isn’t it ironic that a clean house is good for your mental health, but most of the time, if you are feeling overwhelmed, sad, depressed, or too busy, the one thing you don’t have time and energy for is cleaning? There have been so many times where I’m feeling overwhelmed by life and say to myself, “I just don’t have it in me to clean this kitchen again!” I walk out of the messy kitchen and save the cleaning for tomorrow.
The problem comes when I feel the same amount of stress the next day, but now, I have a super messy kitchen to deal with. I regret not cleaning the mess the day before, get frustrated, and go sit down with a cup of coffee instead. The vicious cycle continues. Too overwhelmed to clean = avoid cleaning = the mess makes me even more overwhelmed.
There is a better way! Not only is having a clean and organized home better for your mental health, but the act of cleaning can also be good for your mood. Making a checklist of chores and then getting them done can give you a sense of accomplishment. Staying in motion and moving our bodies is always good for our mental health, and the momentum you create by knocking items off your chore list might inspire you to do other tasks you’ve been wanting to do but didn’t feel able to do.
Let’s talk about 10 things to remember about how to clean when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
#1 Lower your expectations.
We all love to look at pictures of perfectly clean homes on Pinterest. We’ve all saved that picture pin of that beautifully decorated bedroom with fluffed pillows on the bed, priceless antique furniture, expensive lamps, and not a speck of dust or piece of clothing anywhere.
We all watch HGTV and ooh and aah over the big reveal of the perfect living room makeover. If only our homes could look like that. Here’s the thing – real people live in your home, and when real people live in homes, those homes don’t look like a Pinterest picture.
What’s missing from those HGTV makeovers? All of the stuff that comes with people living their lives – shoes, coats, books, stacks of mail, paperwork, and kids’ school art. It’s okay if your home doesn’t look like a Pinterest pin!
During this difficult season of life, you need to lower your expectations for what a “clean home” means to you. Maybe in easier seasons of life, a clean home meant that every room in your house was clutter-free. Maybe you cleaned the dust from every nook and cranny, ran the vacuum over the carpet, and scrubbed the dirt with your mop. Every room was “company ready”. For now, it might be time to let that standard of a clean home go.
Lowering the bar on what you deem as “clean” might make you feel guilty, but cutting yourself some slack about how your house looks is necessary. It’s okay to have dusty bookshelves. It’s okay to skip making your bed. Lowering your expectations about how to clean is the first step in cleaning when you feel overwhelmed.
Now is not the time for a thorough cleaning but for learning shortcuts and cleaning hacks instead.
Did you know you could quickly clean your microwave with just white vinegar and a bowl? I put a bowl of white vinegar in the microwave, press the cook function for 5 minutes, and let it do it’s thing. When the microwave is done, I wipe the inside down with a sponge and hot water. Clean microwave with almost no effort required.
Instead of mopping your bathroom floors, take a bath towel and use your feet to quickly wipe them down after you get out of the shower.
Sometimes “clean enough” is just as good as “perfectly clean”.
#2 Take baby steps.
Sometimes, we see a problem, and we want to fix it right then and there. With a messy home, you might feel the need to clean all of it from top to bottom in one big frenzy. Or maybe the thought of power cleaning for hours makes you feel even more overwhelmed, so like me, you just sink into the sofa and look at Instagram instead. This is where the concept of baby steps comes in.
You don’t have to solve this messy house problem today. You just have to take small actions towards your goal of a clean house. Taking tiny steps will make cleaning feel way more attainable and approachable. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Small Action Step Ideas
- Make your bed.
- Unload the dishwasher and put the dishes away.
- Gather up one bag of trash.
- Wipe down your bathroom sink with a little hand soap and toilet paper the next time you’re in the bathroom.
- Clear off one flat surface.
- Hang up your clothes instead of throwing them on the floor at the end of the day.
One important thing to remember about baby steps – only choose one. Pick one action step to take today, and do that one step consistently for a week or so. Then, add another baby step to your day. Pretty soon, you will have a solid cleaning routine that won’t feel overwhelming because you built it gradually.
#3 Keep the kitchen clean.
I don’t know what it is, but when my kitchen is clean, I feel less overwhelmed and more in control. Maybe it’s because so much daily work takes place in the kitchen. It’s really stressful to cook a meal when the pots and cooking tools that you need are dirty and you can’t find the ingredients you need because the pantry is stuffed full of stuff.
For some reason, my whole house can be spotless, if my kitchen is messy, my house feels messy. Likewise, if my house is a bit messy but my kitchen is clean, my house feels clean.
The kitchen can be the most overwhelming room in the house to clean because so many daily messes happen there. Cooking and eating make a lot of mess. It feels like cleaning the kitchen is a task that never ends. Let’s simplify cleaning the kitchen by breaking it down into three areas: the dishes, the countertops, the floor.
Every day, you need to tend to these three areas. The key is to tend to them with our new lowered expectations, not with our perfectionist streaks. Tend to the dishes by doing one load of dishes a day. It’s possible that loading the dishwasher one time a day means some dirty dishes get left in the sink. That’s okay.
Tend to the counters by quickly clearing them off once a day and wiping them down with an all-purpose cleaner. We aren’t giving our counters a deep clean here. No scrubbing or detail work. Just wipe them off and move on.
Tend to the floor by giving it a quick speed sweep. Get the crumbs up, and you’re done.
#4 Do one load of laundry a day.
We’ve all stared down a mountain of dirty laundry and thought about walking away to watch a movie instead. The key to getting laundry done when you’re feeling overwhelmed is to accept that you won’t be getting all of it clean today. That’s okay! As long as everyone in the home has clean clothes to wear today, we’re going to take baby steps towards getting the laundry done by doing one load a day.
Follow this rhythm:
- In the morning, wash the load of laundry.
- In the afternoon or evening, dry the laundry.
- Before bed, put the laundry away.
Keep the loads small so that drying and putting the laundry away is easier.
One more laundry related tip – while we’re working through a stressful season, use paper towels instead of kitchen rags for cleaning.
Reusable cleaning cloths are eco-friendly and easier on the budget since they last longer. A damp microfiber cloth works well for cleaning most surfaces. But right now when we’re feeling overwhelmed, reducing the amount of laundry that needs to be put in the washing machine as a part of your weekly cleaning routine is the goal. We can switch back to reusable rags later.
#5 Don’t multitask.
When you are behind on work, it may feel like the only way to get things done is to multitask. Surely, the way to get out of this mess is to do as many tasks as we can at one time.
Multitasking doesn’t work. It just makes you more stressed.
When I’m forced to multitask, I can feel the cortisol (stress hormone) rise in my body. When you are already feeling overwhelmed, stressing yourself out by doing several tasks at once is a recipe for disaster.
Instead, do one task at a time. Don’t fold the laundry while you cook dinner while you unload the dishwasher. Do one cleaning task to completion, and then start the next. It might mean that you get less done, but it will also mean that you moved through your day in a less stressful way.
#6 Tidy any room using this method.
I recently read a great book, How To Keep House While Drowning by KC Davis. In this book, I learned a great method for how to clean when you are feeling overwhelmed. In every room, there are 5 types of things for you to put away. Spending a little time putting these five types of things away will get your house looking cleaner.
In each room, pick up and put away these things:
- Things that don’t belong in this space.
- Things that do belong in this space.
When you walk into a room and feel too overwhelmed to clean, repeat this list in your mind. Work through the list one item at a time.
#7 A messy house is not a moral failing.
Another important concept in How To Keep House While Drowning is releasing ourselves from having our self worth tied with our messy homes. Maybe as a child you were shamed for having a messy room, or maybe you were told the old saying about cleanliness being close to godliness.
Your messy home is not a moral failing because cleaning isn’t a moral issue. Having a messy house means a lot of things – you are going through a difficult season, you are going through a busy season, or you’ve put more important things above a clean home. In no way does having a messy home make you a bad person, a failed adult, or irresponsible. It just means you have other things to deal with right now. It won’t always be this way, but it is this way now. If your house is messy for now, it won’t always be that way.
#8 Pare down your stuff.
It’s possible that some of your stress is coming from the fact that you have too much stuff. Maintaining a clean home is so much easier when we have less things to take care of inside our homes.
Try a 27 Fling Boogie from the FlyLady. Put on some music that you like. Set a timer for ten minutes. Grab a trash bag and start putting things you don’t need in the bag. Move as fast as you can and don’t think too much about what you are putting in the bag. Just chuck it and move on. You will feel so much better when you have less to take care of in your home.
When your shelves, tables, countertops, and closets have less stuff to put away and manage, cleaning will be so much easier.
#9 Don’t donate – just throw it away.
This is one that might make some folks mad. Donating things that are in good condition but that we no longer need is wonderful, eco-friendly, and helps people spend less money on items they might need. In typical circumstances, donating items we want to declutter is great.
In a hard season on life, however, it is easy to fill that donation box and have it sit by the back door or in the trunk of your car for 6 months or more. Getting to the donation center might just be too much right now. When you are in an easier season of life, you can donate things. For now, let’s do what we can to get rid of the stuff in our homes that is stressing us out. The easiest way to declutter in a hard season is to throw it away.
Do you live with family? It’s possible that the home cleaning tasks have all fallen on your shoulders, and those around you aren’t putting in enough time cleaning the home. Sometimes, asking for help can be hard to do or even make you feel guilty. Don’t feel bad about asking for help!
Here’s how I get my family cleaning right along with me – I use a white dry erase board to write all of the cleaning tasks that need to be done that day. Then, I assign a person to each task. By dividing up the cleaning jobs, I feel less overwhelmed, and everyone learns that as a family, we all help.
Moving through a difficult life season is hard, and keeping up with all of the tasks on your to-do list when feeling overwhelmed is even harder. Remember these 10 pieces of advice to get your home clean when you are feeling overwhelmed.