How to motivate yourself to clean when you’re depressed…
On Second Thought, Maybe We Shouldn’t Have Gotten That Roku Box
Sometimes you’re not inspired to get your house together because you just want to play all day. Or there’s too much on Netflix.* Or Hulu. Or Google Play…
Those are regular motivation issues, and I address them in a previous post, How To Motivate Yourself To Clean When You’re Just Not Feeling It.
However, lack of motivation due to depression is a post all in itself.
Before we begin, let me say that if you are depressed and not under a doctor’s care, please see a doctor. And if you are under a doctor’s care, listen to them before me. Always.
“Depression Sucks.” Well Said, Captain Obvious.
All that said, I’ve been there. Depression sucks even in the best of conditions.
If you’ve ever experienced this (and I think you may have – why else would you bother to read this?), then you know that there are times when even closing the lid on a peanut butter jar is too much.
And not closing the lid on the peanut butter jar, combined with all the other “nots” that depression leads to, such as…
- Not wiping up the crumbs,
- Not picking up your dirty laundry,
- Not hanging your bath towel,
- Not doing dishes,
- Not sweeping,
- Not washing clothes,
- Not cleaning up cat barf, and
- Not doing all the other many, many things you’d (probably) do if you felt better,
…all work together to tear apart any semblance of order you created when you were feeling fine.
And when everything falls apart around you, it only brings you further down. Depression feeds the mess, and the mess feeds the depression.
How can you get out from under?
There’s Nothing More Seductive Than a Warm Bed
First, I suggest that if you can do nothing else, don’t make things worse. Don’t make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and leave the jars and bread out.** Try your best to keep the status quo.
This might not seem to matter if the kitchen is completely trashed. What difference could two jars and a few crumbs make?
But use that as your starting point. Hang on by your fingernails until you can do more.
Once you can go a step further, try some tiny goals and microscopic victories.
The “Make an Insanely Long List and Chip Away At It Two Minutes At a Time Method” Was Too Long For a Game Title – But Apparently Not Too Long for a Subtitle
To get myself to do something, anything, I came up with the Micro-Management Method.
This method is not for days when you are in a hurry or have major time constraints. This is for those times when you are:
- Really down,
- You feel like doing nothing,
- You’ve already canceled any outside commitments, and
- You can barely get out of bed (let alone get out of your pajamas).
The days when anything is better than nothing.
This is when you need very major but also very basic motivation. And kindness to yourself. Celebrate every victory.
I’ll start by saying this is a completely counter-intuitive method. Counter-intuitive because it seems like:
- A waste of the precious little energy you have to spend it making lists,
- Making lists might overwhelm you even more, and
- Making everything the same priority is ridiculous.
Then again, desperate times…
During my darker days, following this method helps me slowly, gradually whittle down the chores that seem monumental. The ones that are no-brainers on “normal” days.
List Out Every Dust Mote If You Need To – I Won’t Stop You
Make a list of every single thing you need to do to get the house functional. Even the most obvious of things. But primarily those that are necessary to get up and running again.
Break it down into chunks. Teeny, tiny chunks.
Like if you need to clean off all the horizontal surfaces in the bedroom, list each dresser separately.
Quickly number the list. It’s okay to have a bazillion things on it. Just try to make sure each task takes less than 5 minutes (preferably less than 2).
You are not going to get all of these things done. You are simply going to make forward progress. This isn’t like a regular to do list. This is a “push my way up to the surface so I can breathe” list.
Keep in mind, if there’s something you really do need to get done today, circle it. That way, it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
And Use the Big Box of Crayons. The One With the Sharpener.
Set a timer for 15 minutes and do something you enjoy first, before you even begin, like reading or looking at a magazine or coloring in a coloring book.
Don’t play on your phone, and don’t go back to bed. Just build yourself up a bit.
When that goes off, set a new timer for 30 minutes. Do as many things on the list as you possibly can. Do them in any order, even if it wouldn’t ordinarily make sense.
This is a free-flying, non-perfectionist, non-overwhelming way to make progress on your house, any progress at all.
Do not let yourself get distracted. If it is not on your list, do not do it right now.
Stop each time the timer goes off for another 15 minute break. That helps you trust yourself.
Start your break by crossing off anything you did. If you begin to feel more normal, switch to a different method during the next work period (like the ones suggested here, here, and here). But if you find yourself crashing or doing something counterproductive, go back to the timer, the breaks, and the bazillion-item list.
Alternatively, instead of setting a work timer, do a set number of things on the list. Say, 10 or 20. Count to yourself as you do each one. Don’t forget to cross them off once you are sitting back down.
Mix harder ones in with easier, quicker ones. If unloading the dishwasher seems insurmountable, do it, and then do an easy one like “put shoes on” (yes, you can get this basic) or “move the laundry from the washer to the dryer.”
See how small these chunks are? I’m telling you, this is for when you flat out cannot get yourself to do anything.
Okay, I Can’t Stop You From Thinking It But Please Don’t Do It
Do not even think about putting the words “clean kitchen” anywhere near this list. Even if “clean kitchen” is a 15-minute job on a regular day. Instead, break it all out:
- Dishwasher top
- Dishwasher bottom
- Counter 1 clear
- Counter 1 wipe
- Counter 2 clear
- Counter 2 wipe
- Counter 3 clear
- Counter 3 wipe
- Counter 4 clear
- Counter 4 wipe
- Stovetop clear
- Stovetop wipe
- Sink unload
- Sink clean
- Sweep floor
- Put broom away
Extra Credit If It’s Raining
You are cleaning one itsy bitsy piece of real estate at a time. You can clear one section of kitchen counter and wander upstairs to wipe out the master bathroom sink, getting mental credit for two jobs completely done instead of barely making a dent in two much larger jobs.
And now you have two tiny areas in your house that are a little better than before. Good job!
Obviously, this is not for the days when you are busy or are trying to be efficient. These are for those days when you could easily talk yourself right back under those snuggly covers.
A Note About Timers
Set a timer for this method, but don’t try to beat it. You don’t always have the mental energy to beat a timer. This time it is a strategy for containing your work time and break time. Even if you choose a set number of tasks instead of a set time, the timer will help you stay on track and remember what you’re supposed to be doing.
Where Are You, FEMA?
Just so we’re clear, I’m not telling you to feel guilty about your house being declared a disaster zone. And I’m not telling you to fix it.
But when I’m feeling this way and desperate to dig out, this system has worked for me over and over. It works for me in deep depressions and in moderate ones.
Sometimes that tiny sense of accomplishment is all you need to spark a bit of light way, way, way down in that tunnel.
You will get to the light. I promise. And I hope you get there soon. We miss you.
*Clearing our Tivo queue used to feel like an accomplishment. Now that we stream, the queue never clears. We feel so unaccomplished now. If you have a Tivo, go ahead, clear the queue. Then give yourself a gold star. You deserve it.
**You will notice a peanut butter sandwich theme here. In my worst depression, which lasted for 18 months straight (I know, right?), I did the absolute minimum. Which included slapping together a pb&j every day to eat in bed and leaving the mess out for someone else (aka my husband, who stuck with me anyway) to deal with. See, I told you I get it.
Not to mention, PB&J is amazing.