How to tackle the dishes when you’re overwhelmed and completely engulfed by depression

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dishes-197_1920 1. In the immortal words of Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Don’t Panic (and always know where your towel is).

Your mood and apathy have been getting the better of you and now, looking at the utter pigsty surrounding you is making you feel worse, but instead of motivating you to clean it, it’s making you feel like going back to sleep, isn’t it?

That’s because you’re looking at the whole mess, thinking about cleaning it all, and imagining how long it’s going to take and all the effort you’re going to have to put in. Stop it. That’s like a toddler with armbands contemplating joining that synchronised swimming team practising over in the big pool. So go and get a glass of water, and drink it instead. It will hydrate you ready for the next steps.

2. Don’t look at all these steps at once.

It will have the same effect as looking at your Impending Mess of Doom, and de-motivate you. Seriously, go and do step one, then come back. Get a piece of scrap paper if you have to, to cover up each step until you’re ready to tackle it. This should reduce this elephantine-consuming task to ‘one-bite-at-a-time’, and stop you from thinking about the next step before you’ve completed the current one.

3. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

Moods get bad. Depression affects life. Life creates mess. Even the most neurotypical person gets messy. Feel good that you’ve decided to take one small step towards getting it liveable again. It looks like crap, but so what? When it’s clean, it’ll look better. Then it’ll get dirty again. That’s life. That’s logic. Blaming yourself for not having done anything about it sooner won’t clear the mess up, not will it help you to clean the mess up. And it won’t stop the mess from happening again either. So try your hardest to block that feeling out. It’s an annoying tetris piece trying to fit in somewhere, but it’s the wrong damn shape and it’s going to ruin your almost-finished line.

4. Decide on a reward.

What are you going to do when you are done? Drink a cup of coffee, take a nap, watch a favourite film? Anything you like. Incidentally, ‘done’ doesn’t necessarily mean finished – you’re only going to do what you can now, not the whole thing. The key point to bear in mind is that doing something and not finishing is better than doing nothing at all because you want to get it all done and know you can’t. Perfectionism can run alongside many mood disorders, and it can give you an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach to life – which ironically, mostly places everything you want to get done firmly into the ‘nothing’ category. You don’t have to prepare your reward now, but promise yourself you absolutely will have it; you’ll deserve it.

5. Organise your mess.

If the sink is too full to run water, first remove things from the sink. Rinse the sink. Then begin filling it with hot, soapy water. Whilst it fills, look around for like items and group them together – cups, mugs and glasses, small plates, large plates, cereal bowls, cutlery. Once you have put like with like, everything’s going to look twenty times better even if you do nothing further today. Don’t wash up yet. Look for the crustiest plates and the mugs with dried-on tea stains, and put them into to your hot water to soak. Chuck all the cutlery in whilst you’re at it.

6. Throw away the rubbish.

Grab a bin bag and walk around chucking all the rubbish into it. If your bin needs emptying, do that, too. If you can, clear yourself a draining/ drying space and ready a drying rack or put down a clean teatowel.

8. Wash your first batch.

Cutlery in the bottom to soak. Then -glasses, cups, mugs, plates, bowls, cooking utensils, pots and pans. They might need some soaking if they’ve been around for a few days. If so, put them in the water, and go and get another glass of water, and drink it. Feel proud of how you’re doing. Empty the sink when the water gets cold and/ or grotty, and refill with fresh soapy water. Begin again. Repeat until the dishes are clear.

9. Repeat step 8 until the dishes are done.

Don’t be worried about taking breaks in between. If you’ve left it a while, it’s going to take more than one batch of washing up to clear it all, and as I stated earlier, I don’t want you to overdo it. Take breaks between batches. If one batch was enough, stop for today. You can always get back to this tomorrow. The point is that you started. I achieved cleaning my entire kitchen this week, but it took all week. I couldn’t bring myself to do it in one go – it took me all day to do the washing up, as there was so much, for example. I made a pact with myself that I would clear/ wipe/ wash three things every time I went to make coffee. So in other words, I batched it. In very very small batches. But it worked, and I didn’t feel like I’d burned out by the day’s end.

No, I’m not going to tell you to dry stuff and put it away.

Don’t overdo it. Dishes can dry perfectly well on their own if left to drain for a while. Look at that clean stack like the spoils of war. Simper with quiet pride over it until you have the energy later in the day (or tomorrow, I’m not judging – although don’t leave it longer than the next morning or you’ll be in the same pickle again, pickle) to put it away.

10. Wipe the floor.

It doesn’t have to be a huge job. You’re just completing everything by getting any remaining crud away from underfoot. Get a disposable wipe and just spot clean the worst bits, if you’re feeling too tired by now.

You’re done! Well done you for getting this far. If you didn’t manage more than the first few steps, who cares? You did a little; don’t underestimated that huge achievement (and I very much know how much of an achievement it is), celebrate it. Go and enjoy your reward, guilt-free.

11. (I know, I said 10, but this is a bonus step). Don’t do any of these steps.

I mean this. If you are feeling too despairing and too lethargic to do them, don’t. I highly encourage you just to try and do five minutes though, as even that will help. However, I know it’s not always possible. If you’re having one of these days, don’t read a post like this and then feel like shit because you ‘can’t even manage that’. Wait until you’re having a better day. I give you permission – as long as you are tender and nice towards yourself today as a result. Go back to bed and create a huge nest with the duvet, and I’ll speak to you again tomorrow.

Refer back to this list anytime you need to – although I strongly suggest you become a fan of Unfuck Your Habitat’s blog and follow her method of 20/10’s as often as you can as I’ve found it’s one of the best ways of keeping on top of things, and seeing other people in the same boat can be really motivating.

Anyway, I hope this post helped someone, at least a little.

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