Spring Cleaning with A Chronic Illness

Motivating your family to help with household cleaning can be challenging. For people living with a chronic illness, it can be difficult to ask for more help, or even tempting to forgo rest and say, “I’ll just to do it myself”. However, when managing symptoms, going to medical appointments, and practicing self-care, keeping your house clean may require the whole household to pitch in. As we escape Winter and move into the time of Spring Cleaning, follow these tips and tricks for getting your family to help with household cleaning.

Talk About It

Even if your illness allows you to do some of the housework, set expectations for your entire family to be involved. Start by talking to your family about your concerns, explaining how your illness is impacting your ability to do certain things, and asking them to commit to doing their part to keep the house clean. By setting early expectations of all family members, you can avoid a cleaning disaster when your symptoms suddenly prevent you from completing the routine chores. For those of you who are no longer able to participate in household cleaning, these same conversations will allow your family members to step in, helping you to improve the family’s household habits.

But how can they help?

When talking to other adults in the house, make clear requests. “Can you help me tidy up today?” may seem clear to you, but is probably too vague for someone who is not used to cleaning up. Instead, provide family members with clear questions, such as “Could you do a load of dark laundry today, please?” or “Would you mind unloading the dishwasher tonight?”. Give your family members enough time to finish the task, rather than expecting them to always clean-up “right now”. By making clear, manageable requests, and asking at the right moment (early in the day, rather than right before the big game), you can show your family what cleaning tasks are most helpful to you when managing your illness.

“Wait, let me show you….”

Now the tricky part: Once you’ve made the request, don’t micro-manage. If your spouse “loads the dishwasher all wrong”, you’ll have more luck if you let them do it their way, rather than stepping in to correct them or take over. Sometimes, especially on difficult days, it doesn’t need to done perfectly, it just needs to be done. That being said, if a family member has never done something before, show or explain how to do it, then let them give it a try. If you’re the only person who knows how to empty the vacuum bag, no one else can empty it for you!

Okay, but what about my kids?

Even young kids can pick up their stuff! If you’re dealing with a chronic illness, you may not have the energy to constantly ask your kids to pick up after themselves, much less do it yourself. However, try to give your kids clear directions on what needs to be done, as well as clear consequences and rewards for the task. Establish firm expectations for your kids, and praise them for helping out (even if they don’t make the bed as well as you do). Overtime, your kids will become better at tidying up after themselves, meaning you won’t always have to ask them. Just like you shouldn’t jump in and load the dishwasher for your spouse, you also shouldn’t continue to do things for your kids that you’ve repeatedly asked them to do. If you slowly limit how much you clean up after your family, eventually, your family members will step up!

Let’s Make This Easy

To keep your family motivated to help with household cleaning, make it easy for them! If the toilet paper is in a closet down the hall, your spouse might not be as likely to change the empty roll. However, if you ask someone to move the extra toilet paper to the bathroom, it becomes a lot easier for them to finally replace the roll! Similarly, put storage bins or baskets in every area that usually get messy: Use them to collect toys, extra newspapers, mail, etc. If you’re not feeling well enough to go around and pick up toys, your partner or kids will at least have an easy place to put things.

“Why are the scissors always on the counter?!”

If your family doesn't know where things go, they probably won’t put them away. Show or tell your family where items are stored, and teach kids to put things away when they leave the room. If an item is constantly being left on the kitchen counter, your family might want it to be kept in the kitchen. If moving something to a more logical place will lead to easier clean-up, ask your family to help you do so. Having a home for everything will make it easier to keep your house organized, and will help your family members do their part.

“Honey, where’s the vacuum?”

When it comes to the scrubbing and mopping of household cleaning, no one wants to lug supplies from room to room. Make cleaning easier for yourself, and everyone, by keeping basic supplies near every room. If the glass-cleaner and paper towels are under the sink, your partner is probably way more likely to clean the mirror. When managing your symptoms, it may also be easier for you to do a quick clean-up if you don’t have to go through the whole house to find the bleach. For your family members, if the vacuum is in the hall closet, rather than stashed away in the basement, it’s also a less demanding request to ask someone to give the carpet a once-over.

Make It Happen… Slowly

Routines don’t happen overnight, and that’s okay! Help your family to set up a new cleaning routine, and try to be patient as the new schedule becomes familiar. Changing your family’s cleaning habits will take time, and household cleaning cannot take the place of managing symptoms, sticking to treatment schedules, and practicing self-care. When you feel up to it, start by making a check-list of the things that need to happen every day, every week, and every month. Indicate essential and nonessential tasks, and post the list in a common area. If you are the only one who knows all of the cleaning steps, your family won’t be able to help. Instead, show your family exactly what needs to be done each week or month, and determine who will accomplish each task.

Have fun!

Set aside a day (or morning) for family cleaning! Only take on the tasks that you can handle with your illness, and if you need to sit-out, rely on your family to support you. Establishing a designated time for cleaning will help the family to become more aware of their messy habits, as well as make house cleaning feel more routine. If possible, offer a reward for the group’s hard-work, such as a movie after an hour of cleaning up the kitchen. Even if the whole family takes just fifteen minutes between dinner and dessert to clean up one room, you can accomplish a lot by the end of the week!

Every Day, Throw Something Away

When balancing your disease with the needs of your family, small steps are key. On particularly bad days, cleaning the whole house is overwhelming. Instead, wait until you feel able, and then take small steps to clean your home, focusing on one room or area at a time. Slowly declutter your house: every day, throw something away. If you only have the energy to organize one cabinet today, that’s still progress! Small steps can lead to major cleaning victories. At first, your family members may also be more willing to do quick, easy cleaning tasks, like wiping down the counters, rather than spending an hour vacuuming the whole hours. Over time, your family will build better cleaning habits, allowing you to take more time to practice self-care.

Be Appreciative, But Maintain Expectations

Lastly, say “thank you”. Praising your family members for helping out around the house can go a long way in maintaining good cleaning habits; thank them for their hard work, and show them how much you appreciate what they do. However, when you give praise, also maintain your expectations for everyone to help out!

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