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 three–part 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.