How to Find Motivation to Clean During a Bipolar Depressive Episode

Are you depressed? Here’s how to find motivation to clean your house, in this post by The Bipolar Parent!

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Neglecting your environment–along with yourself–goes hand in hand with depression. When you’re suffering from overwhelming feelings and low energy, picking up around the house can rank last on your list. Trust me, I’ve been there. When I’m depressed, as I am now, I want to load the dishwasher about as much as I want to put my hand into a box of tarantulas.

But a messy house can prolong and deepen feelings of depression. Overwhelming feelings breed messes, and messes bring overwhelming feelings. The depression-messy house cycle is real, and vicious.

So how do you overcome your paralysis and start cleaning up? Read on for some tips that have helped me conquer my inactivity during my current episode and others.

How to find motivation to clean during a depressive episode - CassandraStout.com

Crank Up the Tunes

Listening to some fast or inspiring music is a psychological trick that encourages you to move more quickly. You may end up dancing your way through your chores. I blast a Pandora Radio station based on bands like Pendulum, an energetic electronic rock band, in headphones to really get going. The Pandora app is free, and there are several other free options, like Spotify and I Heart Radio.

Commit to Nine Minutes

Set a timer for nine minutes to clean. Just nine. Nine minutes is easier to commit to than a longer period. You’re not going to clean your whole house. You’re not even going to get the entire kitchen clean. But nine minutes, even if you’re working slowly, is enough time to:

  • Make your bed.Your bed, even if the mattress is small, takes up a huge percentage of floor space. All you need to do is pull up the sheets and covers. The action takes two minutes, tops, and will instantly elevate the rest of the room.
  • Throw away a bag of trash. Picking up one bag of trash from the floor will improve the room immensely. Throwing away big items, like last night’s pizza boxes and soda bottles, will have the most visible impact.
  • Unload the dishwasher. Unloading the dishwasher will take up to three minutes to complete, or five if you’re working slowly. But once you’ve started to conquer Dish Mountain, the kitchen will look a whole lot better, and you’ll have clean dishes to eat off. If you have an empty dishwasher, load it. If you don’t have a dishwasher at all, wash as many dishes as you can in the time you have left.

Take Breaks

After you’ve completed your nine minutes of cleaning, you can sit down on the couch. The feeling of accomplishment you get might spur you on to more cleaning. That’s great, but take a break first. In the long run, this actually keeps your house cleaner by avoiding bad associations and burn out.

On the other side of bipolar disorder, manic episodes strike. Marathon cleaning can contribute to mania. This kind of marathon cleaning may be great for your house, but it’s terrible for your mental health. Then you’re exhausted. And your brain begins to associate cleaning with illness. Don’t fall into that trap. Take breaks.

Reward Yourself

Rewards aren’t just for potty-training toddlers. You need to reward yourself. Teens and adults can be driven by the pleasure centers of the brain just as effectively. After a morning of cleaning, I often go out to lunch. The association of pleasure with resting after work is a powerful one for me.

Tell Yourself Why You’re Cleaning

Why do the dishes or make your bed? They’re just going to get dirty again, right? If you’re thinking of chores as pointless, you’re looking at them all wrong. Think of cleaning as being kind to yourself.

I know, I know, you don’t want to be kind to yourself when you’re crippled by low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. It’s the box of tarantulas problem again. But think of it this way: would you let your friend live in filth? You deserve a clean house, because you are a worthy human being.

Final Thoughts

Cleaning your house won’t cure your depression. But it can help. Crank up the music, clean for nine minutes, take breaks, reward yourself, and tell yourself why you’re cleaning, and you’ll have a clean house (or cleaner) in no time. And you might even feel better, too.

Related:

How to find motivation to clean during a depressive episode - CassandraStout.com

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How to Clean Your House with Bipolar Disorder and a Toddler, part II

This is part two of a two-part series.
Part I | Part II

Hello! And welcome to part II of How to Clean Your House with Bipolar Disorder and a Toddler! In part I, I described overall strategies for working through your house with a toddler tagging along. In this part II, I’ll give you a guide to tackle each room. The main strategy is to give your toddler a job, so she is helping you, not distracting you. Let’s get started!

Room-by-Room Cleaning Guide

Cleaning the bathroom is easier than you might think. When I clean my bathroom with my two-year-old, I place her in the bathtub barefoot. I then spray down the walls of the tub with a non-toxic cleaner, hand her a sponge, and let her go to town. She keeps happily entertained, and I’m able to quickly whip my bathroom into shape, including counters, sink, and floor. I must remind her several times to keep squeegeeing while I’m scrubbing the toilet, but the process works for us.

If you’re looking for a non-toxic cleaner, try mixing vinegar and water in a spray bottle at a ratio of 1:1 along with two squirts of dish soap.

spray bottle
Credit to flickr.com user Upupa4me. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

The kitchen is just like the bathroom. Give your child a sponge and a pot to keep them occupied, so you can clean the rest of the kitchen. If you have surfaces within reach that your toddler can clean–like a stainless steel fridge–give them a spray bottle of a non-toxic cleaner and a rag. When doing dishes, pull up a chair to the sink and let your kid get their hands soapy. Or have him sweep with a child-sized broom.

Or… You get the picture. There’s any number of ways to keep a toddler entertained in the kitchen while you get the rest of it clean. You take care of the hard cleaning, and let your kiddo tidy what he can reach.

The living room is more difficult than kitchens or bathrooms, but you can still keep your child working. Keep your child occupied while cleaning the living room by letting them help you pick up her toys. I keep my daughter’s toys in the living room, inside a leather ottoman. Getting her to pick up her toys requires me to stand over her and hand her blocks or puzzle pieces while telling her, “Put it back! Put it back! Yay! Good job!” The process takes effort, and time, and lots of praise.

If you don’t store the toys in the living room, corral your kids’ stuff in baskets to take to their bedrooms, or have him or her put the toys away in the living room in covered bins. If you have ceiling-to-floor windows in the living room, offer your toddler a spray bottle of non-toxic cleaner and a rag, so you can vacuum.

The bedroom is like the living room. There’s not a whole lot you can do to keep a kid entertained while cleaning a bedroom, but the feat isn’t impossible. Engage him in picking up the clothes on the floor, if there are any (there always are at my house). Toddlers are very good at putting clothes into laundry baskets. Go ahead and do a load of laundry if it needs to be done and you have the appliances in the house.

Ask your toddler to help you make the bed. Help your toddler put the books away. And if you own a pet, try to encourage the toddler to keep the animal calm while you’re vacuuming. This way, you can get the bedroom relatively tidy while keeping your child occupied.

The Bottom Line

Two common themes of cleaning the house with a toddler and bipolar disorder are patience and effort. That’s true anytime you tidy any home, but even more so with a child tagging along. But don’t get discouraged! Your babies won’t be babies forever, and you’ll soon be able to delegate chores to them that they can do on their own. Just today, my ten-year-old volunteered to clean the shower, and he did a bang-up job. As your kids grow older and more independent, cleaning the house will be much, much easier.

Good luck!

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How to Clean Your House with Bipolar Disorder and a Toddler, part I

toddler.jpg
Credit to flickr.com user LeAnn.

This is part two of a two-part series.
Part I | Part II

People with bipolar disorder often have overwhelmingly messy houses, and it’s arguably more difficult to clean when you suffer from mental illness. When we’re depressed, cleaning up is a herculean effort. When we’re manic, we’re usually too busy turning in circles to worry about tidying.

I previously posted a threepart series titled “How to Clean Your House When Your Brain is a Mess.” In it, I explained how executive dysfunction–the inability to set and meet goals and self-monitor–interferes with the ability to keep a clean house. I suggested a game plan for tidying, including tracking where your time goes and seeing if you can squeeze in a ten-minute burst of laundry duty.

Yes, there are strategies for scrubbing, but what if you not only need to clean the house with bipolar disorder, but you have a toddler to look after? Read on for tips and tricks to get your house tidy while dealing with both bipolar and a young child.

Strategy #1: How to Manage Your Own Expectations and Limits

Revisit your definition of tidy. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but when you have a toddler in the house, things just don’t stay where you’ve put them. Toys wind up everywhere, baby food jars stink up the coffee table, and fingerprints cover the windows. That’s all okay. Your kids are only little once, so enjoy them rather than constantly trying for damage control. While you may feel like your house will never be company ready, I guarantee people who like you aren’t judging you on the state of your house. As long as those baby food jars don’t have mold on them, it’s all good.

Set a time limit to avoid getting overwhelmed. I use the 20/10 method, popularized by the profane cleaning site, Unf*ck Your Habitat. Set a timer for twenty minutes of focused cleaning, and one for a ten-minute break following. With my toddler around, I rarely manage a whole twenty minutes. Sometimes our ten-minute break is more of an hour and a half of outside play. But some time cleaning is better than none. My hope is that my daughter will start to respect the timer, though I suspect I’ll have to wait a bit longer for her to really understand why the oven timer is beeping and what that means for her.

Similarly, setting a time limit helps prevent me from getting too focused on chores when I’m hypomanic. If I force myself to take breaks, I’m less likely to be turning in circles by the end of the day.

Strategy #2: Include Your Kids In the Cleaning Process

Involve your children in cleaning the house according to their abilities. Training your children to clean the house with you is incredibly important for both your sanity and their future ability to keep their own houses clean as adults. You can start young, letting your toddlers help by putting away their toys or sweeping the floor with a child-sized broom.

Don’t expect great results right off the bat. Your toddler won’t have the attention span or manual dexterity to handle most chores. Just get done what you can, and try to be realistic about how much you’ll actually be able to get done, even with “help.”

Put toys away every night. Keeping  your toddler’s toys corralled is a nightly endeavor. Take a little while before bed or whenever is most convenient to put toys away in covered bins (more on those later). Try to let your kiddo put away as many items as possible. If you label the bins with pictures–car pictures for the car bins, etc.–then your child can help put toys away with you.

Cut down on toy clutter. Store your child’s toys in covered bins, and make sure all the toys fit in these bins. When the toy bins are overflowing and the lid doesn’t fit anymore, donate some of them. Older children generally understand the concept of giving toys to other people who might not have them, but toddlers usually don’t. Involve your kids in the donation process at your discretion.

Don’t, don’t, don’t redo your kids’ work. Whatever you do, don’t do your child’s work over. That sends the message that what she does isn’t good enough for you, and she’ll get discouraged. If your toddler can’t fully make the bed, simply let her do as much as she can and move on.

Thank your child for his work. Make sure to show your appreciation for your toddler’s efforts, but don’t praise him insincerely for an unsatisfactory job. There is a time and a place for praise, such as when the job your kiddos complete is well done. If that’s not the case, simply thank your child.

The Bottom Line

Cleaning the house with a toddler and bipolar disorder may seem impossible. It’s not. The effort required is immense, true, and you need to be patient with your kid, but that’s similar to any other task you complete with children. You can do this.

Keep an eye out for part II, a room-by-room cleaning guide.

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How to Clean When Your Brain is a Mess, part III

This is part three of a three-part series.
Part I | Part II | Part III

A clutter-filled environment weighs on the mind and wears you out.  We’ve talked about why messes grow like fungi in some homes (hint: brain wiring!) as well as a few plans of attack, but what about when you’re in a mood state?

Depression

Remember Your Priorities: Drag yourself out of bed. Step into the shower, and then just stand there for a while. Take all the hot water you need. It’s okay to slump. Wash your hair, and brush your teeth. Put your shoes on. Eat something small and protein-filled (yogurt, eggs, nuts). Drink a tall glass of water.

You need to take care of yourself before even thinking of attempting chores. When you don’t feel good, the pile of dirty clothes looms like a mountain—one you can still step around on the way to bed or the computer chair.

So first take care of yourself, and then face that armful of laundry. Don’t worry about separating; just toss it into the washer. Don’t add bleach, and make sure to set an alarm when you need to change it over. Fold the clothes when they’re dry. If that’s all you can handle, crawl back into bed. Try again tomorrow, but do two chores instead of one. Then three, and so on.

Get Help: If you are able to afford it, a maid service may be a wonderful investment for you. I know a few people who pay for this privilege, and they all report that they pick up before their maid arrives due to guilt. If that what’s motivates you, then go for it!

Credit to flickr user Omnidu. Used with permission.
Credit to flickr user Omnidu. Used with permission.

Similarly, if you have a partner or roommate, split the chores down the middle. Figure out which tasks you each hate doing and which you don’t, and then discuss who takes what. You can also set a rotating schedule if you get bored with doing the same task week after week.

Speak to your partner when you feel anxious or stressed, because that will affect how much you can take on around the house.  Give them the same courtesy–they’re human, too!  And try to be kind to each other.  If a chore doesn’t get done, then it doesn’t get done. Just try again tomorrow.

Mania

Cleaning during a hypomanic or manic episode is similar to cleaning while depressed. You have to keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed. The difference is that you now have the energy to start up a new project and leave in the middle. If you’re like me, you’ll only end up irritated and turning in circles by the end of the day.

Cut Distractions: Wear some headphones while the kids are at school. Try to work on the same task for three songs, and then switch immediately to another one—regardless of the unfinished state of the first task. After two or three tasks, sit down for fifteen minutes. Drink a large glass of water as slowly as you can. Breathe. Then get back to work on the first task.

Credit to flickr user Natalie R. Used with permission.
Credit to flickr user Natalie R. Used with permission.

Put Things Away: I have a friend who only has a few color-coded dishes per person in her household. Each person washes their own and puts it away. This doesn’t work for me, because I’ll order pizza until I’m broke, but if you’re able to keep your sink empty, go for it!

Similarly, if you take a book out, try to reshelf it. Then it will be one more item not taking up space–and not just in the physical realm.  You have to remember where you left it and why you took it out in the first place, which taxes your already over-crowded brain.

Best of luck tackling your house while struggling through a mood state.  Even though it’s not so much ‘tackling’ as ‘limping to the end zone with a couple of dishes,’ any progress made is time well-spent.  Don’t be too hard on yourself!

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How to Clean When Your Brain is a Mess, part II

This is part two of a three-part series.
Part I | Part II | Part III

As we talked about in part one, most people with mental illnesses tend to have massive difficulties in keeping their homes ship-shape. The trouble lies in how our brains are wired (of course), but that doesn’t mean our struggle is futile. Here are some more ideas for tackling the mess in your house:

Credited to flickr user gcg2009. Used with permission.

Pump Up the Volume: Pop your favorite upbeat dance song in the stereo. Most articles which contain the words “How to Clean” in the title emphasize this step because it’s so effective. Music therapy is a flourishing science. In patients undergoing chemotherapy, playing music decreased both their anxiety and frequency of vomiting.

Music also stirs up motivation and affects your emotions. Sadness is triggered by minor keys and happiness by fast tempos, but a depressing song with a peppy beat triggers both. Making an enjoyable playlist can be one of the easiest ways to get pumped for cleaning.

Figure Out Where Your Time Goes: If you do nothing else on this list, track your time for a week. Some people use a logbook and others use a color chart; do whatever makes the most sense to you. Next, figure out where you can squeeze in ten-minute bursts of laundry or dishes. If you thrive on a schedule, assign a day to each room and work for however much time you can devote to it. Then, cut activities you don’t really need. According to my graphs, I spend an appalling amount of time glued to my computer chair, so that has to be first to go–ten minutes at a time.

Credited to flickr user koalazymonkey. Used with permission.

Write a List: If you have frequent access to a computer, Remember the Milk is a fantastic listing tool. You can schedule repeated tasks like, “take out trash every Tuesday”, or “Mom’s birthday every November 5th”. You can even tag them with things like home or errands. We also have a printable weekly calendar available on our Downloads page which may make this step easier.

Warning: I’ve been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)–which is uncommon in a manic patient–due to my frequent and sometimes uncontrollable listing. If you also deal with this manifestation of perfectionism, please be aware of how vulnerable you can be when setting routines in this manner. Don’t get too caught up in tweaking your list!

What About Guests? – Aha, here’s a challenge. What happens when you’ve been told that your brother-in-law will be crashing at your place in three hours and your home is a toxic wasteland? (True story.) You weep and gnash your teeth, of course!

Or you can take a look at The Emergency Clean Sweep by My Messie House, which is perfect for this situation. Unfortunately, the site is now defunct, but this is a fantastic outline for tidying up on a basic level. With instructions like, “place the bills next to your computer,” it makes far more sense than stuffing everything in a closet until the visit blows over.

In addition to following these instructions for emergencies, I occasionally challenge myself to get through as much of the list as I can during a set time limit. It isn’t a routine, but I find that when my house is just too overwhelming, I need to hit the reset button.

Thanks for reading! Stick around next time for part III of our cleaning series, where we’ll look at how to tidy the house while in the grip of a mood episode.

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How to Clean Your House When Your Brain is a Mess, part I

This is part one of a three-part series.
Part I | Part II | Part III

Also known as, “Hi! I’m Cassandra, and I Live in a Filthy House.”

That isn’t entirely true.  As it stands, my kitchen is clean, which happens roughly three times per year.  But my office is a clutter minefield, and there is an entire room in my house filled with stuff waiting to be put away.  Suffice it to say that I could normally be a contestant on a junior Hoarders.

Credit to flickr user judsond. Used with permission.

All right, show of hands: who else has scrambled to hide the–possibly moldy–dishes when surprise guests drop in?  Parents with mental illnesses, how many Legos have imbedded themselves in your feet in the middle of the night? You’re not alone, and there’s a logical explanation why.

Primarily found in people on the autism spectrum or with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), executive dysfunction is the inability to set and meet goals, self-monitor, and resist wandering off while in the middle of a project. In persons with bipolar I specifically, the wiring in their frontal lobes is so tangled that they suffer these difficulties even during stable periods. It goes without saying that their capacity to execute plans drops sharply during manic states.

It looks like clutter in the mind really does lead to clutter in the house!  Here are a few ways to tackle your piles head on:

Start small!  Most people get excited about starting a routine and try to implement everything at once, like New Year’s resolutions.  Invariably they fail because the habits they need aren’t in place.  In addition, baby steps don’t tend to work well for people with bipolar; they get overwhelmed quickly and have delusions of grandeur about conquering the routine.

Lovely Dishes
Credited to flickr user avrene. Used with permission.

Rather than assigning one room per week at first, try dedicating yourself to one thing at a time. For example, I’ve constantly struggled with my dirty dishes. I tried doing them every three days, then two, then one. Gross? Sure. But it’s what I have to do to ease myself in. Most times I still fail!

Recommended Link: FlyLady – Marla Cilley, also known as the FlyLady, has garnered a lot of praise for sending specific instructions and encouragement via email. She takes a lot of the work out of building a routine for yourself, and one of the biggest proponents of “baby steps” around. If you can handle the volume of emails without being overwhelmed, this site may work for you.

Don’t kick yourself if you make a routine and then stop following it. Just start again tomorrow, or adapt the one you have. Sometimes I’ve made routines that worked well for weeks, and then stopped when I grew bored with them. You have a lot on your plate, so you’ve learned to be flexible. Your cleaning has to be, too. Track where your time goes and then figure out where you can squeeze in a ten minute burst of laundry duty.

Recommended Link: Unf*ck Your Habitat – Billed as an alternative to FlyLady, UFYH lives by the 20 minutes of cleaning/10 minute break method (20/10). They also allow readers to post pictures of their progress. But be careful: the blog mistresses “terrifies” people into cleaning via swear words. On the plus side, the site have a positively reviewed (profanity-filled) app for the iPad and iPhone.

Best of luck whipping your home into shape! But please remember that it’s a process–one we’re not wired for. In part II, we’ll be covering other ways you can build your own time-management scaffolding.

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