Monday, July 6, 2015

Cleaning With Chronic Pain

If you have chronic pain (and especially if you're a parent with chronic pain) it can be extremely hard to keep your home clean. Messes pile up, and it gets overwhelming. I've dealt with this issue in my own home. I'm a work-at-home mom, so I have the time to clean most days, but I'm often in so much pain (or have no energy because of that pain) that even simple tasks seem impossible. I've come up with a few strategies that help me get the urgent tasks done, and I'll share those below. I'm lucky that I have a great husband who understands my limitations and helps as much as he can. But for the days where he doesn't have the time or ability and I have to choose between cleaning through the pain or living with a huge mess, these tips have helped a lot.
  1. Try to do as much as possible sitting down. It takes a little creativity, but I've found ways to do a lot of chores from my bed or a comfy chair, which keeps my joints from screaming at me for the rest of the day. A high stool to wash dishes from is a must-have for me -- otherwise my husband is stuck doing them every night when he gets home. To fold laundry, I sit on the bed with a pile of clean laundry in front of me and a basket beside me. As I fold each item, it goes in the laundry basket to be put away later. I sit at the table to prep dinner instead of standing at a counter chopping. I sort my laundry before washing it by piling it all on one surface, sitting down next to it, and tossing each load into a separate pile.
  2. Work in bursts. What I've found helps me the most is if I don't do the overly physical tasks all at once. I try to do ten minutes of hard physical chores -- scrubbing countertops, picking up clutter, putting away dishes -- and then rest for at least twenty minutes. To keep from wasting time, I'll do sitting-down chores in between hard chores. For instance, in ten minutes I can unload and reload the washing machine, then hang clothes to dry and gather clean clothes off the line to fold. I then take twenty minutes to fold laundry and possibly sort out a couple more loads. My next ten-minute blitz is putting up that basket of folded laundry. In this way, I can be productive without straining myself too badly.
  3. Take preventative measures. In order to make it easier to clean the house, I try to keep it from getting as messy in the first place. When I'm making dinner, I have a trash bowl on the counter to toss everything into so there aren't packages and vegetable scraps sitting around after dinner and I don't have to run to the trashcan every ten seconds. I try to keep a trashcan in almost every room, and I love clutter baskets. It's where we dump all of our clutter instead of leaving it laying around -- it's much easier to carry a small basket through the house putting things away than it is to pick up clutter from every surface and place it individually.
  4. Take days off. Listen to your body -- when your pain level gets to be unmanageable, it's time to let the chores slide for a day. When I refuse to take down-time when I know I need it, one day of overworking myself often leads to three days in a row of barely being able to stand. I much prefer to take a day off when I need it -- which is usually every two or three days for me if I'm being careful the rest of the time -- than to ignore those cues and become physically unable to do what needs doing. In the long run, your house is going to be messier if you run yourself into the ground because the recovery period can be so long. So don't take out the trash, use paper plates, and toss something in the microwave. It helps a lot.
At the end of the day, this isn't just about taking care of the house. It's also about taking care of yourself. If you have chronic pain, there WILL be days when you can't even manage ten minutes of cleaning. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory. Don't let those days make you feel useless or hopeless, and definitely don't push yourself beyond your limits. Love yourself and realize it isn't your fault. But on the days when you have just a little bit of energy, a few modifications to your routine can go a long way.

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