bipolar parent

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?


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.


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!

bipolar parent

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.

bipolar parent

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.