The clean-up project: the messy person's guide to maintaining a clean, tidy home

Updated: Oct 5

Cleaning up, for many people, can be an overwhelming and daunting task. Especially when you've experienced something like depression, and while depression presents in many ways, one of the most common ways is that it prevents and hinders us from doing anything helpful for ourselves, like cleaning our homes or even our own bodies. We can be in this spiral for months at a time and often, the mess builds up around us, and we know it’s there. We know we should clean. We know. But we’re too tired. Our bodies won’t let us.


If you’ve been in that rut, and now you’re coming out of it - this post might be exactly what you need.


I’ve never had a perfectly clean and tidy home. I have suffered extremely long bouts of depression and fibro flare-ups and a general lack of will for life itself and in this, I have allowed my house to become chaotic. It isn’t unclean, it's just, for the most part, cluttered, untidy and unfinished.


The thing is, when you experience mental health difficulties, it’s not like you don’t know what’s good for you. You know that cleaning is beneficial to your mental and physical well-being. You know you’ll feel at least a little better if you clean, so why can’t you?


It’s not because you lack discipline or are lazy. It’s because, for whatever reason, your brain isn’t making the right chemicals to get you motivated, so, unfortunately, you need to do the shit you need to do without those chemicals.


If your brain won't make them on its own, force it.


I realised this a lot later than I’d hoped, but even so, I’d been in my rut for so long that I just didn’t even know where to begin! My house felt like it was upside down. Any designated space for something turned into a place for anything and there was no order. I’d often walk into a room prepared to clean and immediately feel defeated and say “nope.”


It’s not that I wasn’t disciplined. It’s that I was overwhelmed and simultaneously expecting immediate results. Our brains don’t want to expend any more energy than they need to and, in this case, the brain weighs up what the immediate benefits of cleaning are against the effort it will require to achieve the desired outcome. In my case, I had a lot to achieve - so my brain simply said “nope. That’s too much effort, with too many expectations, in too little time.”


I came to the realisation that, instead of trying to rectify my whole house, I’d do one room, one day at a time and keep that cycle repeating. As long as one room was done, I could feel accomplished and my brain could release those happy hormones I’ve been chasing.


I know, I know. When we have that urge to get our lives together, we want to do it fast and we want results now. But that’s just our brains being lazy. Immediate results are rare.

So, what can we do about it?

We all set the bar higher than we can aim for at the current moment we’re in - so take a beat and recognise what your biggest goal is. In my case, it’s to finally get my house into its healthiest, cleanest state.


Now, it’s time to break down the goal into smaller pieces.

  1. How am I going to get there?

  2. How long is it going to take for me to achieve my goal given the tools and abilities I currently have? For example, we can look at a small room and believe it will only take an hour or two to paint, but the reality is that it can take hours, or even a day or two to complete.

  3. What do I need to do daily to support achieving my long-term goal?

Now, assess your realistic abilities and the amount of effort you’re willing to put in.

  1. How many rooms do I have in my house?

  2. How much time am I willing to spend cleaning each room?

  3. How many rooms am I willing to clean in a day?

I tried many different methods and the one that worked best for me was choosing one room for each day and having a pre-made checklist of things I needed to do to achieve that “done it!” feeling. Take a look at my example below and build your own.

TIP: I like to do “whole house sweeps” twice a week. The house sweep consists of going into each room with a bag and taking out all of the rubbish. I then simply vacuum everywhere that needs it and if any other room needs particular attention and I feel well enough, I will complete that room's to-do list. It’s a great way to keep on top of things on the days you don’t feel up to doing much else.

MONDAY - LIVING ROOM

  • Take out the rubbish

  • Create two piles: what is staying and what needs to be in another room

  • Remove what needs to be in another room

  • Wipe down units and sides

  • Place back what is staying where it should be

  • Vacuum

  • Light candles


TUESDAY - KITCHEN

  • Take out the rubbish

  • Create two piles: what is staying and what needs to be in another room

  • Remove what needs to be in another room

  • Wipe down units and sides

  • Put everything in its rightful place

  • Vacuum/mop

  • Light candles

WEDNESDAY - WHOLE HOUSE SWEEP

Take a rubbish bag and collect all the rubbish from every room. Vacuum.

If I feel well enough, choose the room that needs the most attention and complete its to-do list.

  • Take out the rubbish

  • Create two piles: what is staying and what needs to be in another room

  • Remove what needs to be in another room

  • Wipe down units and sides

  • Place back what is staying where it should be

  • Vacuum

  • Light candles

Use this daily maintenance planner to kick-start your home hygiene!

Click to expand and download

I hope this helps!