Welcome to another Wellness Wednesday, readers! Today I wanted to share the first part of a two-part series on my mental wellness journey. In part one, I’m going to talk about ways to keep your living space clean and healthy even during bad mental health days. In part two, I’m going to share quick and easy recipes to avoid eating Peanut Butter straight from the jar for 4 days straight.
So, some background…
I’ve never been a particularly clean person. I like the process of doing laundry… but hate putting it away. I love to clean counter tops… but not remove the clutter from them. No matter what, washing dishes is my least favorite activity. But when I was a senior in college I went from living in a moderately messy space to a downright unhealthy one. Not just cluttered or unorganized, but downright filthy dirty. I experienced pretty serious major depressive episodes in my final year of college; I was over-committing to classes, work, and extracurriculars, so when I got home, I just wanted to crash.
When my mom came to pick me up at the end of the year, she wasn’t angry–she was scared for my health. I decided I needed to make some changes so that even when I was feeling low, I could still keep my living space clean. After many trial-and-error runs, here are the strategies that have worked for me.
Throw your expectations in the trash. Then take the trash out.
Maybe some day you will have the support, care, and resources possible to have a Pinterest-perfect home. Now is not that time. You might still have clothes on the floor sometimes or ignore the dishes in the sink. That’s okay. Find strategies that work for you and stick to them. Don’t try to hold yourself up to an impossible standard.
Evaluate your living situation.
My apartment in college didn’t have a dishwasher, so my dirty dishes would often stay in the sink for days (much to my roomates’ dismay). Now, for my own purposes, I know that I can’t live in a unit without one. Carpet is harder to keep clean than laminate or hardwood, but I don’t mind vacuuming so it’s not a priority. I need under-the-sink storage so that I can stock up on things like soap and toilet paper to last me through the bad days. If the laundry room isn’t in my building, it’s not getting done. Really evaluate how your living space can meet your needs, not the other way around.
Evaluate your belongings.
Don’t buy clothes that need to be dry-cleaned. Don’t get dishware that you can’t put in the dishwasher. Get three trashcans per room if that’s what helps you keep things from piling up. If you need to get some extra spoons and forks so that you don’t run out–do it! Get 2 laundry bags: you can separate whites and darks and just throw it all in the washer and press start. I only by white sheets and towels so that I can bleach them if they get too dirty. Think about ways you can make your days smoother.
Get storage without lids.
I studied psychology for 5 years and couldn’t tell you why I find it easier to put my clean and folded pants in a small basket than in a drawer, but I do. They live in the pants basket now and it’s actually helped me put my laundry away in a timely manner. Pick up some storage cubes, baskets, or trays to help corral your belongings!
Get rid of your junk in one day…
- Call a trusted friend to come in and help you (ask them to bring garbage bags or boxes if you don’t have any).
- Start by tossing actual garbage. (I see you, corner of gum wrappers, Amazon boxes, and dirty tissues.)
- Go through that fridge and throw out anything that’s gone bad.
- As you sort your laundry into whites and darks, see if there’s anything you need to get rid of in your closet–shirts that don’t fit, things you never wear, etc. Put gently worn items into bags and bring them to your local homeless shelter, halfway house, or LGBTQ youth center that day. This is where your friend’s support can really come in handy: they can call to make sure the donation center is open and accepting clothes and then help you bring them over! If it’s got holes in it or large stains, just toss it.
- Search the bathroom and get rid of empty bottles, makeup that’s expired, and old toothbrushes. Grab your dirty towels and shower curtain and put them into the appropriate laundry piles.
- Start tossing miscellaneous items at the end of the day. Do you really need old school assignments? Or all of that old nail polish? To summarize Marie Kondo: if it doesn’t bring you joy, toss it.
You will likely be exhausted by this point, so thank your friend for their help and rest.
…And actually clean the next.
- Open your windows to let clean air in.
- Start with laundry, including your sheets. To help get sheets super fresh: wash on hot, add a half cup of baking soda or some OxiClean to soak up any oily reside. Dry with wool dryer balls, rather than dryer sheets, which will dry them faster and leave them fresher for longer. Go to a laundromat and get all of your laundry done at once if you can. If your laundromat has a their own wash and fold service, use it.
- Put dishes in the dishwasher or put some gloves on and clean them by hand. Put on some music or a podcast if that helps.
- Vacuum/sweep floors.
- Use a bathroom cleaner that you can leave on and rinse off. (I like Scrubbing Bubbles).
- Put your stuff in the aforementioned storage. This is a good time to call your support friend so that you don’t get caught up in looking at old photos or camp t-shirts. You can enjoy those things after your space is clean.
- Wipe down counter tops and tables.
- Dust if you can.
- Make your bed with your freshly cleaned sheets (also a good time for your support friend).
- Take a shower and REST.
That might seem like a lot for two days, but carving out two days exclusively devoted to cleaning your space will make sure it actually gets done. Use the Pomodoro method if you have to take breaks. It also makes it easier to do smaller cleaning projects if you’re starting with a space that’s already mostly clean. I have to do this process about every other month to make sure my space is healthy. I’ve also found the Unf*ck Your Habitat Weekend challenges to be extremely helpful.
Don’t forget your car and your office.
Don’t let guilt ruin your right to live healthily.
This is a big one for me. When things would start to get messy, I would often start to feel guilty about not cleaning. This, compounded with my depression, became a weird unnecessary shame spiral. Let go of that guilt!
I want to add a controversial note here: don’t let others’ guilt ruin your right to live healthily either. By that I mean: if you need to use disposable coffee cups instead of reusable tumblers because you know deep down that you’re not going to clean it properly or take it out of your car–do it. If you need two sets of things to keep one set in your office and one at home–do it. If you need to take time off from work, class, or social engagements in order to live healthily–do it. And if anyone else tries to comment on those boundaries, you can tell them to kindly go clean their rooms.
Much love, and I’ll see you again on Friday!