By Donna Gregory Burch
Disclaimer: One of the most important things I've learned about fibromyalgia, ME/CFS and Lyme is there is a wide spectrum of disability among our patient groups. Some of us lead pretty normal lives in spite of the pain, fatigue and other symptoms, and some of us have symptoms so severe that we can't get out of the bed, much less clean a toilet. Given that spectrum, it's impossible to come up with tips that apply to everyone. So, in reading these, I ask that you apply the tips you can use based on your abilities and ignore the rest.
I really believe my obsession with having a clean house is one of the reasons I developed fibromyalgia. You see, like so many of you, I had a self-diagnosed case of perfectionism long before I developed fibromyalgia.
I love a clean house. I love it almost as much as I love cake and cats and the ocean shore. A clean house makes me feel more focused, more accomplished. (Yep, I know that makes me sound like a total control freak.)
I've struggled with how to maintain a home that I can be proud of while having fibromyalgia. It's taken me a while to figure out a cleaning routine that works for me, and even then, there are days when I can't follow it due to symptoms.
During those times, I do what I can do, and I leave the rest for another day. I'm learning to be ok with that. It’s probably one of the hardest lessons fibro is
So, let’s get started with the tips…
Cutting the clutter
Get rid of stuff
When you have fewer things, there are fewer things to care for and clean. Look around your home. Do you need all of those knickknacks on your side tables collecting dust? Do you need the fancy dishes that you no longer use for entertaining? So many times we become prisoners of our stuff. Yes, stuff is nice. Yes, we paid good money for it. But stuff also needs care, and that takes time and effort that those of us who are chronically ill might not have. Try to keep tabletops, cabinets, drawers and closets as bare as possible. Less stuff equals less to clean and maintain.
Assign everything a home
When items have a designated area, you're more inclined to put them away. For years, I battled a stack of papers that would collect on my dining table. I finally realized everything in the pile pretty much fell into the same categories. I made folders for each category, and filed them away in a file-folder holder mounted on a kitchen wall. Poof! No more stack of random papers because now they have a home. Look at the areas of your home where clutter tends of collect, and if there are items that don't have a home, find one or create one.
Sort mail immediately
When I get the mail from our mailbox, I go through it right away. I toss all junk mail into the recycling bin. I put my bills in my bill folder (see above). I put magazines on my coffee table. (More on that later.) I put my husband's mail in a special folder designated for him. Anything else that requires action is put into my "to do" pile on my desk in my home office. Mail is insidious. It never stops, so it is best to slay the beast right away instead of letting it breed.
Magazines are full of daydreams – places we want to visit, food we want to eat, things we want to buy – but the reality is they are dead trees cluttering up our homes. The same can be said for catalogs and newspapers. Do you really read all of the periodicals that creep into your home every month? Probably not. I hardly ever pick up a magazine or catalog anymore. Why do I need to? I've got the Internet! Everything that I could ever possibly want to know is online. If I want to look at pretty pictures and dream, there's always Pinterest. I’ve reduced my subscriptions to my two favorites – Country Living and Southern Living – and my coffee table is much neater because of it.
Implement a no-shoes rule
Having everyone take their shoes off upon entering your home drastically cuts down on the amount of debris that dirties your floors. I've struggled to get my hubby to follow this rule, but when everyone in the household does it, it's great for extending the cleanliness of your floors.
Baskets are your friend
I have a basket in my living room for my throw blankets. I have baskets on each set of stairs to toss in things that need to go to a different floor. I have a basket on my coffee table for my TV remotes. Baskets (and other organizers) are great because they corral clutter and give it a home. And while cleaning, you can just pick up the basket, wipe under it, put it back into place and you're done.
Make your home as user-friendly as possible
If you're planning future home purchases, look for products that require less cleaning, maintenance and effort. Hardwood floors are easier to clean than carpeting. Shades are easier to maintain than cloth window-coverings. Rolling laundry carts are easier to manage than stationary ones. A lighter vacuum is easier to navigate than a heavy one. You get the idea.
Do a little every day
I have a bad habit of trying to clean my entire house every Sunday. I did this for years when I was healthy, but I can't do it anymore. Over the past year, I've started dividing my cleaning tasks up by day. I rotate from room-to-room, so that my house generally stays fairly clean.
Do some things every day
A few years ago, I committed to doing certain things every single day if at all possible: I empty/load the dishwasher, wipe down the master bathroom sink/counters, do a quick pick-up throughout the first floor and do one load of laundry (if there's one to do). I admit these don’t always get done, but I try my best to do them even if I’m having a bad day symptom-wise. (Sometimes my hubby helps.) Forcing myself to do the dishes and laundry prevents them from piling up. Doing a quick pick-up every day keeps the first floor relatively tidy. Wiping down the bathroom sink/counters reduces the frequency of having to clean the bathroom. Doing all four of these tasks generally takes me around 20-30 minutes each day.
Find your best time
I tend to have more energy in the morning and early afternoon, so that's the best time for me to clean. Figure out your most functional time, and schedule cleaning for then.
When you're chronically ill, you usually have a limited amount of energy/effort before you're spent and done for the day. Before you start cleaning, make a list, prioritize the most important things that have to get done and then do those first. Chances are, you won't finish your to-do list, but hopefully you'll at least get the most pressing tasks done.
Do as many things as you can sitting down to conserve energy. Sit down to fold laundry. Sit down to peel potatoes. Sit down to clean off your desk. If you can do something in a sitting position, do it because it saves energy for other activities.
I know it's tempting to keep cleaning if you're having a good day, but force yourself to take regular breaks or you will pay for it later. Use a timer if you need to. It's important to find the balance of activity and rest that works for you. Also, look at the big picture. If you're going to clean in the morning, then keep your afternoon free so you can rest and recover. Avoid overscheduling yourself.
Keep supplies where you need them
A few months ago, I got tired of lugging cleaning supplies up and down my stairs, so I put together a caddy with cleaners, microfiber cloths, dusters, etc. that I keep on my second floor. I also tucked a few essential cleaning supplies under the sinks in my kitchen and other bathrooms. Now I have everything I need where I need it. It saves me extra steps and the effort of lugging supplies from room-to-room and floor-to-floor.
Cleaning the shower
For me, cleaning the shower is one of my most dreaded tasks. It takes a lot of energy, and it's yucky and wet. Thanks to a tip that I found on Pinterest, I now keep a refillable dish scrubber containing dish soap and white vinegar in my shower caddy. Every couple of weeks, I use it to scrub down my tub and shower while I'm taking a shower. When I get dirty and sweaty, I'm already in the shower, so I can clean up immediately!
Draft your kids (and other household members)
If you have kids, then assigning them chores is a great way to teach them responsibility and skills they'll use later in life. I grew up with a mom who had fibromyalgia. I swear she didn't clean a bathroom after I turned 10 years old. You know why? Because I was cleaning it! I also did my own laundry, packed my lunches, vacuumed, dusted and cut the grass. Doing chores as a kid prepared me for taking care of my own house later in life. Even little kids can do their part by picking up their toys and putting them away. Your kids won't appreciate doing housework now, but they'll see the value of it when they are older, and you'll appreciate having less to do around the house. (If you have a significant other or other household members, they should do their part around the house as well.)
I know this isn't possible for everyone due to financial constraints, but if you have disposable income, consider hiring a cleaning service to come in once or twice a month to do the heavy cleaning, like bathrooms and floors. It may not be as expensive as you think.
Consider getting a robot vacuum
Our home has dark hardwood floors, which show every speck of dirt and pet hair. Shortly after moving into our home, I gave up the one-woman battle of trying to keep the floors clean and invested in a Roomba. Yes, they're pricey, but that little robot is worth every single penny that I paid for him. If he died tomorrow, I would have his replacement ordered by the end of the day. Seriously. I run my Roomba probably 2-3 times per week. I only have to pull out my regular vacuum cleaner about every six weeks to vacuum behind the dog's crate and under the sofa cushions. Vacuuming is one of the most strenuous household chores for me, so I'm happy to delegate it to Mr. Roomba.
Lower your expectations
If you're a perfectionist like me, then your husband probably isn't going to load the dishwasher the way you would. Your kid’s definition of clean is going to be different than yours. Even if you're still able to clean, you're probably not going to be able to do as thorough of a job as you did before you became sick. You're going to need to set new expectations for what's acceptable, or you will drive yourself crazy with unrealistic expectations.
Don't be hard on yourself
You'll never get it all done. Even when you were healthy, you still didn't get it all done. I know I've already said this once, but it's probably the most important takeaway: Just do what you can, and leave the rest for another day. Trust me, Martha Stewart isn't going to knock on your door and ask to inspect.
Donna Gregory Burch is founder of FedUpwithFatigue.com, a blog dedicated to helping others live better with fibromyalgia and ME/CFS. In 2014, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia after several years of unexplained pain and fatigue. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in publications throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She currently lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.