Yellow hazard sign lying on the floor. The text on the sign says cleaning in progress.

Surviving self-isolation part 2 – targeted tidying

As I said last week, I’m focusing my next few blog posts on strategies that help me cope with being an ADHD brain stuck at home, trying to minimise my stress while also maximising my ability to actually get things done.

This week: self-care through targeted tidying.

The existential horror of a messy house

Even before I was stuck here, home has always been a bit of a fraught space for my brain. Home is where my heart is – but home is also where my everything else is.

Mess is one of the great downfalls of the ADHD brain. I have a lot of interests, which generates a lot of clutter. I’m great at starting things (including getting out everything I need), but terrible at finishing them (including putting everything away again). And I struggle constantly to engage my interest-based nervous system in mundane chores like laundry and dishes, so it’s easy for those to pile up.

At the same time, like many ADHDers I am a hopeless perfectionist. Combine that with emotional hyperarousal, and a messy home isn’t just annoying – it’s actively distressing.

Mess feels like failure. It feels like a billion things I still have to do, all piling up on top of me. It feels like I’m a lazy pig living in a disgusting pigsty. It feels like a never-ending road paved with broken glass stretching out in front of me.

Melodramatic much? I know it is – but that doesn’t stop me feeling it.

Usually when I go to work I can leave all of that other stuff behind, literally out of sight, out of mind. Now that I’m home 24/7, it’s a constant scratching at the edges of my awareness. Even if I lock myself away in my workspace, eventually I have to leave to get lunch or a drink of water – and there it all is again, the mess and the stress.

So how do I keep it from pulling me under?

Low effort, high impact

I haven’t found a perfect fix. But I have found that it helps a lot to think about what aspects of my mess are particularly distressing to me, and focus my efforts on keeping those under control.

For me, that means doing the dishes every night.

The kitchen is where my day usually starts. Sure, I open my eyes in the bedroom, but I haven’t really declared myself awake until I’ve rolled out of bed, walked out to the kitchen, and started thinking about breakfast.

If I walk into the kitchen and am immediately confronted by a pile of dirty dishes, my day feels ruined before I even start. There’s something particularly depressing for me about the inevitability and yuck-factor of dirty dishes, the added pressure on the already fraught question of feeding myself.

But by the same token, a clean, empty kitchen counter first thing in the morning is an immediate boost to my mood. You did that! it says to me. You haven’t even started the day and here’s an achievement you can already point to!

So I’ve been building a habit of washing the dishes every night straight after dinner. Every night. Even if there are other chores I didn’t get to today, even if the rest of the house looks like a bomb hit it, even if I’m tired and just want to watch TV.

Doing the dishes every night doesn’t fix all the other stuff. But it’s a relatively small job (*cough* when done regularly *cough*), and getting it done has a big impact on my mood the next morning.

Choosing your battles

If you’re anything like me, your home will always contain more things that “need” doing than you have the time or ability to do. But if I’m honest (and kind) with myself, most of them really aren’t as urgent as my brain is telling me.

My life won’t fall apart if I don’t get around to emptying that suitcase for another week, or if my craft projects are taking up half the dining table, or if I dress myself out of the clean laundry basket for a while. Yes, it would be nice to have all those things taken care of – but not if that means I run myself ragged trying to keep up with an endless to-do list.

Self-care while I’m stuck at home means accepting I can’t keep on top of everything that bugs me about my living space, and targeting my tidying to focus on the items that will give me the biggest outcome for the smallest input.

What aspect of your living space stresses you out the most? And what’s one thing that, if you did it every day, wouldn’t take much time but would make a measurable improvement to that stressor?

Making the bed? Decluttering your workspace at the end of the day? Getting those clothes off the floor?

Let me know what targeted tidying would help you the most, and how you’re going to work it into your daily routine.

Featured image by Oliver Hale on Unsplash
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