House Work with Chronic Illness

When you have chronic illness, you often find that you don’t have as much energy as you’d like to have and you have to start making choices about how and when you are going to use that energy. One challenge that I frequently hear people with chronic illness talking about is having enough energy to get their house work done. There is no perfect equation that will make this achievable for everyone, but there are things that you can do to make reaching this goal more possible.

Have Realistic Expectations

Make sure you have realistic and meaningful expectations. We grow up with many “rules” about house keeping that aren’t as important as they are often given to be and often don’t have any real meaning ascribed to them. Examples include: laundry doesn’t have to be done daily or even folded, dishes can sit dirty for a day without causing harm, housework doesn’t have to be done every day and many others. Make sure your housekeeping rules are focused on keeping your household safe and healthy rather then meeting ridiculous social expectations. Also make sure they work for your household. Discuss these kinds of expectations regarding house work with those that you live with. What things do each of you think are truly essential tasks and how often do you feel these things need to be done?

There are always plenty of people available to judge us and tell us when they feel that we are not meeting the standards that they have in mind. Try to let all of that go. The opinions of people that don’t live in your home, simply don’t matter. If they live there and are looking for things to be changed, then they need to contribute and brain storm towards making those changes. Don’t let people who are not contributing to the house work dictate how that work is being done. If they are helping with the house work, they get a say in how the work is done, but it is important that you set boundaries for how you complete tasks. If you don’t have the spoons for washing and drying the dishes, then you need to draw that line. They can either dry them after you’ve washed them or accept that they will be air drying until tomorrow when you have more spoons available to use for putting them away.

No Comparing

Know that no one is what they seem on social media, so don’t compare yourself to these imaginary worlds. No one shares real life, it’s always filtered. So, don’t try to achieve the perfect homes you see in the photos of
others. Those are imaginary places. People take pictures in ways that best reflect their spaces. This often leads to the illusion that other people’s houses are spotless when they are just as disordered as our own homes.

Don’t even compare your home to those houses that you visit. It is likely that they are only inviting you over when they feel that their house is presentable. It is not likely that their house is always in the prestine state that you see it in when you visit. Additionally, people find creative ways to hide their messes when people come over. Dirty dishes can go into the oven or dish machine; putting them out of sight while the company is visiting. So, again, all might not be what it seems.

But let’s say that their homes really are spotless all the time and do look just like you see them in the photos are when you visit. So what? How does the state of their home have any bearing on the way that you choose to keep your home? Everyone has a different level of resources available to them. What is completely reasonable and “doable” for one person or family might not be for another. There is nothing wrong with this nor does it make one family less than the other. Each family and each home is different. As such, each should have different standards. Would you start keeping your milk and eggs in the middle of the kitchen floor just because you saw that others were doing so? Not everything others are doing is worth replicating in our lives.

There is no Perfection

Forgive yourself for not being perfect and know that you don’t need to be.

Please, read that sentence again. Focus in on the second half of it: you do not need to be perfect. Your home does not need to be utterly spotless in order for all the people living within its walls to be happy and healthy. You don’t need to have everything in complete order and alignment for the people living there to be healthy and happy. Part of living is messes and clutter. That’s part of what makes a house into a home.

So, keep in mind that not only is perfection not achievable, it’s not desirable. You don’t want your home to become like a museum where everyone living their is afraid of living because messes and clutter are treated with such revulsion and hostility. You want your home to be a place that people can relax and ease into the surroundings. That happens when there is a balance of things. When there is enough mess and clutter for people to feel that it is safe to move around in the space, but that it’s clean enough to keep them healthy and organized. Look for balance rather than perfection.

Give yourself permission to be human. You will make mistakes. Things will be missed or go undone. Socks will be mismatched and buttons will be losted. Dirty dishes will slide by and get put away with the clean. None of this matters. All the people living in your house will be alright.

Get Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone needs help in different ways and different times in their lives. There is no shame in this. You don’t loose points for not doing it yourself.

It is important to make sure that everyone living in the home is contributing a fair amount towards the well being of that home. Are they working and bringing home money towards the house hold? Are they going to school to better themselves for future contributions? Are they helping with the house work? Be sure that everyone is carrying a fair amount of the burden for the house hold. Only those who are living in the home together can really make the decision if the workloads between individuals is evenly divided.

If the work load isn’t even, it is important that you have a discussion with those that you live with in order to draw knew boundaries and expectations that everyone can agree to and everyone feels is fair. If everyone is contributing a fair amount and important things are still not getting done, consider drawing on outside resources. Asking friends or faimly to help with the house work even once a week can go a long way to helping close that gap. If your finances allow it, consider hiring a cleaning service to help.

And the entire time that someone else is doing the work, remind yourself that it doesn’t matter who washed the dishes. What matters is that your family has clean dishes to eat out of. Society often puts value on us being productive to the point of being self destructive. It isn’t sustainable. And there is little value in living your life this way.

Organize and Plan

There are many ways that you can go about organizing and planning your cleaning. The actual system itself isn’t important. What is important is that you have a routine to your cleaning that will allow you to plan for that cleaning when you are budgetting your spoons for the day. When you are scheduling events for your week, like doctor’s appointments and soccer games, it is helpful to know if you will also need to be doing house work on that day. This will make planning your activities more realistic and more successful. You can either skip the soccer game or plan on doing the house work on another day. Either way, you’ve budgeted for your spoons and thus are less likely to run out.

Create a check list for each room with every task that needs to be done in order for that room to be clean, as you define it. Schedule a day for each room. Rotate through the rooms so you are only doing one room at a time or even half a room if it’s got a lot of needs. This way you can track where you are in the project if you need to take breaks and you can distribute the work over the entire week. This makes it possible to break your choress down into tasks that are more managable in size and energy costs.

Draw Clear Boundaries

Draw clear boundaries with family and friends. They don’t get to tell you how to keep your house. Don’t engage in unconstructive conversations about your house work. If they make comments that point out how you are not meeting their social expectations of house work, simply redirect the conversation with something like “We do things differently in this house, but it works for us.” You can even take a more direct approach and simply state “I don’t want to discuss house keeping.” Either way, make it clear that it’s a no fly zone.

However, be open mindedd to constructive conversations. If they make useful suggestions or offer to help when they see something that doesn’t meet their social expectations, this is a converdation worth engaging with. This is a person who may become a house work ally. If they see a stack of unwashed dishes and say, “I rinse and put dirty dishes in the dish machine through the day, then run it every night,” that’s someone who is interested in helping you out rather then judging you.

Pacing and Prioritizing

One essential thing to always remember is that we only get so many spoons to get through our day with. There will be times that there simply are not enough spoons to do everything. This is when pacing and prioritizing becomes essential. Do the house work that cannot wait. Make sure you have clothes for work tomorrow and the kiddos lunch boxes are clean for school. Let the things that can wait, wait. A day of unwashed dishes or laundry will not cause your household to fall apart, nor will it cause those living in your home any kind of trauma.

There will also be times that we will have to choose between doing those dishes and reading our kiddos a bed time story. Remember that the thing most essesntial to a child’s psychological well being is to feel loved by their care givers. If house work can wait, go spend time with your loved ones. We only get this one life. And we only get so many spoons. Let’s make sure we are spending those spoons where it is most imporant.

A Final Note

It is your house and in the end whatever the people living there says goes. Even with the house work. Don’t let social expectations bully you into doing things that are not what is best for those living within your home.

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