Having a chronic illness often leaves you with little energy for cleaning. But that doesn’t always mean you have the luxury to leave it up to someone else.
If you want to make cleaning with a chronic illness easier then you will need to adopt a strategic cleaning system and not an intensive one. Although this requires more planning and research – it’s a lot less manual labour.
Cleaning can leave the healthiest people with aching backs and tired muscle. It’s not an easy exercise by any means but it’s necessary.
Not only is a clean home a pleasure to have but it helps keep you healthy too. So if you want to do a lot less painful work and still have a clean house that you feel good about – you’ve come to the right place.
I love having a clean and organised home – I even have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to being a neat freak. But I just don’t have the energy or pain threshold to tolerate hardcore cleaning anymore.
The combination of my CRPS, Fibromyalgia and Raynaud’s Phenomenon means that I’m aching, stiff and swollen before I’ve even started scrubbing.
There are times when I knelt to the floor to pick up something that I dropped – and as I bent down, I realised I din't have the strength to stand up again. All I could do was sit on the floor and wait for help.
Until I started to take these sedentary moments to sit quietly and breath – they would often lead me to tears and frustration – usually with my fists slamming into the ground (which only made the pain worse of course).
Overall, I just feel exhausted (physically and emotionally) if I need to clean the old-school way. So adjusting my cleaning strategies was just something I needed to do to survive and create my new normal life.
Clear the Clutter Out Your House (and Your Head)
Interestingly, a reviewed study showed that if you feel rested and happy in a clean home – you’re not alone. It really does help keep your stress hormones in check and balance your mood.
Studies show that by cleaning your house regularly can:
- Kill harmful germs – Something that’s very important if your chronic illness leaves you with a compromised immune system.
- Keep the indoor air clean – and therefore prevents breathing problems like allergies or asthma from being triggered.
- Give you peace of mind – A survey conducted on sleep showed that people who sleep in clean sheets and a tidy space report to have far better sleep than those who don’t.
And of course, cleaning helps you stay organised. Something that I find very important for my mental health.
How to minimise clutter immediately
Keep surfaces clean and empty all the time.
For example, the minute you do the grocery shopping – put the food away. Otherwise, ask a family member to help you if you’re tired. When mail arrives – sort it immediately.
Or if you’re working on your desk – stack the papers back in their folders the minute you finish. No matter what you put on your surfaces, try to reserve enough energy to finish the activity too.
The more consistent you are, the less there will be to clean or dust.
Clean up small things as you go about your day.
Just like keeping your surfaces clean, it’s so useful to adopt a “clean as you go” methodology. It’s something my grandmother showed me as a child when she taught me to cook (and then clean).
Keeping up is easier than catching up. Once again, this is a great way to avoid using big spurts of energy to clean up big messes in one go. Something you really can’t afford to lose when you’re chronically ill.
Make sure everything you own has a home.
Everyone has those drawers with random stuff in them. When you’re chronically ill it’s usually filled with random medication boxes, scripts, doctor’s business cards and an unread self-help book you were gifted.
When things don’t have a home, they pile up and cause clutter quickly. But if you designate a space for all the items that you need, it stops you from hoarding whatever you don’t need.
It’s one of the best ways to keep your space clean and to declutter your mind. Something super important if you have brain fog and easily forget items or misplace them.
Channel your inner Marie Kondo.
What I love about this method (and the reason I have adopted it myself) is that it distinctly tells you not to focus on getting rid of the things that you don’t want. Instead, it challenges you to look forward and envision what you would love your living space to become.
She believes that tidying is about looking forward and fundamentally changing the way you look at caring for your house.
I think this is so important for anyone with a chronic illness to look into because it helps evolve your mindset and attitude towards cleaning into something positive.
It’s no longer about putting your body through pain to do a chore – it’s about helping create the sanctuary you need to restore your energy and recover.
Organise your weekly routine.
Creating a weekly routine is another near fool-proof way to help you keep a clean home when things like brain fog and limited energy levels prevent you from doing too much.
The reason why a routine works is because it allows you to space your activities out, shop smart (not often), and of course, keep on top of what you need to do.
If you want to create your own chart. Here’s an example of how I’ve spaced my routine out to suit my energy needs and physical limits:
Invest in Automated Equipment
Automated equipment takes the burden of doing energy-draining activities away. And if you’re not sure whether it’s the right investment for you – remember that you have a limited number of spoons per day.
So if you don’t have an extra pair of hands to help you clean (or even if you do) it’s worth seeing how your equipment can work for you.
You can then use that time and energy for work, time with your family or even going for a walk – anything that focuses on your self-betterment instead.
The three automated cleaning devices that I cannot live without are my:
- Washing machine; and
Cleaning and robotics
Cleaning the floors and windows are two other big tasks that I’m lucky enough to have help with.
These are two of the most difficult things to do and if I didn’t have help, I would definitely consider automating these processes too.
I’ve heard raving reviews about certain robotic window cleaners and robotic floor cleaners.
But just like a washing machine or dryer – both of these robotic machines are pricey (averaging between $160 - $400 per item). So you need to think things through before making a purchase.
Once again, if you’re not about making such a big investment. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Does my condition leave me with little energy for intensive tasks like cleaning windows?
- Does my condition leave me with physical limits that make such tasks inaccessible?
- Do I need to reserve my energy for work and other commitments?
- Does my body suffer from undertaking big cleaning tasks?
- Is it more expensive to hire a cleaning service in my area?
If you answer “yes” to some of these questions then you should consider seeing what current robotic technology can do to help you.
Here is some peer-reviewed information that will give you a realistic and practical approach to choosing the right devices for your home.
Robotic window cleaners:
Robotic floor cleaners:
Explore Assistive Equipment Options
If you need to pick things up from the floor, gravity isn’t going to do you a favour and allow the items to float back up into your hands. However, you don’t necessarily need to bend down either…
That’s where assistive equipment comes in handy.
Assistive equipment is designed to make your life easier. It should be there to support your body when you have to do unavoidable manual tasks.
Cleaning items to swap for assistive alternatives
Cleaning item to ditch: Household mop
Chronic illness-friendly alternative: Steam cleaner
This alternative is a pleasure to use because it’s lightweight and doesn't require you to lug around a heavy bucket with water and soap.
It also uses heat and steam to clean the floors – so you don’t need to use harsh chemicals to disinfect your space.
Cleaning habit to ditch: Balancing acts
Chronic illness-friendly alternative: Assist grabber stick
There’s nothing worse than reaching on your tiptoes or crouching down on all fours to pick something up.
Grabber sticks are cheap, light and easy to carry around the house. Cleaning up and decluttering becomes a breeze if you have one.
Cleaning habit to ditch: Bucket of detergents
Chronic illness-friendly alternative: Cleaning trolley
It’s not worth putting added pressure on your body, especially if you have chronic pain – and a cleaning trolley is a fantastic solution.
You can wheel supplies around from room-to-room and ensure that everything is kept in one place as you go about your errands.
Cleaning habit to ditch: Standard vacuum cleaner
Chronic illness-friendly alternative: A light-weight vacuum cleaner
A vacuum cleaner is another heavy item that does have easy-to-carry alternatives.
A light-weight vacuum cleaner is easier to move around and pick up – effectively putting less strain on your body.
Cleaning product to ditch: Duster
Chronic illness-friendly alternative: Dust buster
If you’re like me – dust is a big allergy trigger. Using a dust buster can help resolve the issue because it’s easy to hold and quick to use.
So you can easily do a 5-minute clean-up every day – just within the space that you’re using.
Cleaning product to ditch: Excessive bathroom scrubbing
Chronic illness-friendly alternative: Dehumidifier and drill brush
Humidity means you need to clean a lot more often too – a frequent problem in bathrooms.
A dehumidifier comes in handy because it slows down the frequency that you need to clean a space and it prevents toxic mould from forming.
You can also save yourself a lot of energy by using a drill brush in bathrooms to make your tiles squeaky clean!
Cleaning product to ditch: Basic pots and pans
Chronic illness-friendly alternative: Semi-automated cookers
Slow cookers and pressure cookers are amazing kitchen items that make cooking a breeze.
Depending on how useful you find these machines, you can also extend your purchases to a rice cooker and even industrial mixers if you like to bake.
Find products designed to save time
Beyond using assistive equipment to limit how much pressure you put on your body, certain products can stop you from over-exerting yourself or from spending too much time in cleaning-mode.
I love making systems more efficient where I can – it’s played a large role in how I’ve learnt to “save my spoons” every day. That goes down to the very products I choose to clean with.
A bit like saving money – every penny counts. Yes, these are definitely not massive energy “savings” but they will help you nonetheless.
Here are my favourite product tips for you
- Use all-in-one pods for laundry and avoid needing to measure out multiple cleaning detergents.
- Keep sanitising wipes on stand-by in the rooms you use every day. That way small spills or accidents can be quickly cleaned without needing any detergents.
- Keen an every-day shower cleaner in your bathroom. You can give your shower a good spray after every use and it’ll lift any scum.
Protect Yourself From Overexertion
It doesn’t take much to slip and fall when you’re cleaning the shower. Or even to develop allergic reactions from the harsh chemicals that touch your skin – both of which have happened to me!
I learnt the hard way that it’s really important to be kind to it while you clean. However, I’ve also been given so many suggestions about how I can protect myself – most of which were more of a nuisance than assistance.
One thing I’ve never managed to do is wear protective goggles while I clean. I sweat, my eyes get itchy and the goggles are filled with steam – so I end up taking them off anyway.
Anything that makes the cleaning process more frustrating doesn’t fix the problem in my opinion – it just stops you from getting the job done properly.
Here are the protective solutions I’ve found to be the most useful and that will benefit you too:
- Rubber gloves – to protect your hands from harsh chemicals and temperatures.
- Non-slip mats – to stop any theatrical falls from happening.
- Adjustable stools – to allow you to sit and clean where it’s feasible. This way you can sit when doing tasks like folding, to conserve your energy ( you can keep this in your cleaning trolley).
- Natural detergents – to prevent your exposure to toxic chemicals.
The best natural detergents
I’m a big fan of natural cleaning products. Not only because they’re usually a lot cheaper but they really do help keep your environment as healthy as possible and keep you safe.
Natural detergents are a great alternative regardless of your health. But if you have a chronic illness then I would strongly recommend it.
It doesn’t take much for harsh chemical exposure to trigger an eczema flare or leave my joints feeling swollen and tender. If this sounds like you then you should definitely consider using:
- White vinegar – is a powerful acidic disinfectant that works stains, rust or any clumpy build-up (like the residue found on oven trays for example).
- Baking soda – should be a household staple. It’s a mild surface cleaner that you can use daily and works well at absorbing any odours in the air.
- Pure lemon juice – works similarly to vinegar. However it doesn’t have much of a shelf like. I like to use it when I’m cleaning the kitchen and my cooking utensils because, unlike vinegar, it absorbs strong odours and leaves a clean, neutral scent.
Cleaning Tip 1: I like to use vinegar and baking soda ingredients to create an all-purpose cleaner by mixing: ½ cup of white vinegar, ¼ cup of baking soda and 4 cups of hot water in a spray bottle – give it a shake once it settles and then freely.
Cleaning Tip 2: A halved lemon also doubles up as a “sponge” that you can use to scrub stubborn stains.
Only Do What You Have To Do
We all set certain expectations of ourselves and of our homes – trust me I know. But if you have a chronic illness, you need to know where to draw the line.
My mother would kill me if she heard me right now – but it’s okay if you don’t do a perfect job. Things change when you have a chronic illness. Your wellbeing is more precious than an immaculate house.
Not everything has to be done in an instant.
Not everything is worth killing yourself over.
Save your energy and time for work, moments with your family or friends and anything else that feeds your soul. Most cleaning efforts can be halved if you adjust your house rules a little.
I understand that working through your feelings of overwhelm and guilt are hard when you're chronically ill – especially when you need to do basic tasks like cleaning. If these issues resonate with what you're going through right now – take a look at these articles:
13 cleaning habits that reserve energy
When you wash dishes by hand – let them drip dry.
Don’t fuss over-drying and polishing unless it’s really necessary.
Let the detergent sit on a surface before you wipe up.
A little patience here will save you a lot of scrubbing. It will loosen most grime on its own and take half the time to wipe up.
Place dirty pots in hot water and soap on the stovetop.
You can do this after you finish cooking. Once the water boils you can rinse it out. I find this solution more effective than soaking because it’s faster and lets grime break away with almost no effort from you.
Dry laundry methodically to avoid ironing.
I’m really not a fan of ironing and have found a few ways to cheat this chore. My favourite way to avoid ironing is by making sure that my laundry dries crease-free on the drying-rack.
Line baking dishes with parchment paper and keep them clean.
Do this before you cook anything in the oven and it will save you so much time that you waste with soaking.
Avoid having shoes in the house.
This will help keep your floors cleaner for longer. Try to keep a shoe rack by your entrance where you can swap your ‘outside shoes’ for ‘inside shoes’.
Hire help or be resourceful.
Full-time help is an exorbitant cost – but when it comes to big chores (like cleaning the floors properly) it’s worth seeing if you can’t use a cleaning service.
Otherwise, use your kids or family to help you out – you can always strike a bargain and return the favour in your own way.
Keep wipes and a dustbin in all the main rooms that you use.
It’s much easier to clean up when you have basic cleaning materials around you and you don’t have to go out of your way.
If you have a multi-story house, keep a basket at the base of each staircase.
Collecting items and carrying them in one go saves you a lot of time and energy that it would take to do multiple trips.
Keep the relevant cleaning supplies you need on each floor.
This will stop you from lugging heavy products around – especially up and down the stairs where accidents are more prone to happen.
Find logical cleaning systems to work by.
One of the first things I was taught is that you should dust all surfaces first before cleaning the floors – otherwise you knock dust onto newly cleaned floors.
Have extra cupboard basics.
Things like extra underwear, basic tees and sweatpants will help you avoid doing laundry all the time. If you time things right (and don’t have small children), you can limit laundry cycles to once a week.
Take a minimalist approach to home decor.
The less stuff you have out, the less dust will collect and the fewer things need to be cleaned and tidied up.
If you are in a little less pain, it's easier to put on some music or a series while you clean to make the time go by faster.
Remember the most important thing is to be patient and kind to yourself. Your body is fighting hard and everything you manage to, big or small, is worth celebrating.
And if you've got any tips you'd like to share with me – I'd love to hear them!