Cleaning and Chronic Illness

Updated: Jan 24

Author Madeline Shonka is 23 and has lupus and narcolepsy with cataplexy along with a large sprinkle of ADHD and OCD.



People often underestimate how difficult it is to 'adult' with chronic pain and chronic illness. It's easy to feel defeated or inadequate when things that should be simple, like keeping your house clean, are extremely difficult. My mental health requires me to feel in control of my space, everything must have a place and remain clean. Without these my mental health followed by my physical health hop on the downward spiral. This ultimately all ends with my least favorite thing in the world 'The Depression Cave' and I convince myself there is no way to fix my messy, chaotic home followed by lots of analysis paralysis. Living on my own and managing all that comes with it has taken me a lot of practice especially when my physical limitations vary. A year ago my arthritis began significantly impacting my hands and learning to accommodate was emotional and hard. I had never struggled with things like washing my dishes or holding a vacuum. As a recovering germaphobe, I knew I had to figure out some hacks to keep my house clean, despite my pain, low energy, and tendency to feel overwhelmed. Here is what works best for me, hope it helps!


First, I think cleaning and avoiding the depression cave starts with some baseline organization. It is easier to figure out where to start when everything has a place. This begins with getting and staying organized and I always use the buddy system when things have gotten out of hand or I have just moved somewhere new. Find a friend to keep you company, help, or give opinions when you are stuck. Most importantly, a buddy makes it is easier to avoid crying while laying in the middle of a pile of your entire wardrobe because you emptied your entire dresser and now are overwhelmed (speaking from experience). Having a buddy not only distracts you from the work you are doing but allows you to be social while being productive (fewer spoons).


I like to try to purge and organize my home every three months. Try to use containers and labels to sort things into categories, dollar tree is great for this. Tackle one space, room, or drawer at a time depending on your energy. Each week I pick a small area of my house to revisit and make sure everything is where it belongs and that nothing is old or expired. This on average takes me about 15 minutes once a week. Creating organizational habits that are bite-sized is essential. It allows you to conserve energy and avoid flaring pain. For cleaning, I rely heavily on processes. I like bite-sized chores because it conserves energy. Try keeping cleaning supplies around the house to make chores easier. A toilet bowl brush and cleaner in each bathroom, a duster in each bedroom, and if you can afford it a vacuum on each floor of your home (again, I buy many of these items at dollar tree). This saves time and most importantly energy! Before I learned this hack it often took a spoon or two to locate and carry cleaning supplies or I would avoid small tasks because it meant having to go into another room to get things.


I think it's easier to clean with a scheduled method rather than cleaning the entire house all at once. For example, Monday I clean my bathroom it takes me about 20 minutes. I keep under my bathroom sink a small pack of Clorox wipes, toilet bowl cleaner, Windex wipes, and shower spray. Without much effort I am able to quickly spray down the shower, dust, wipe the mirror and counters, clean the toilet and then rinse the shower. Done! On bad pain or energy days, I may break those into even smaller tasks. For example: go to the bathroom in the morning and wipe down the mirror and counters, come home from work and clean the toilet, get ready for bed and clean the shower. I have created similar processes for my kitchen, living room, and bedroom. Tuesdays I clean my kitchen, Wednesday I clean my living room, and Thursday I clean my bedroom. It takes about 10-20 minutes to clean each area. On the weekends, one day I mop and vacuum all the floors and the other day I do laundry. I plan each task and day around when I have the most energy. This has really helped me stay on top of keeping a clean home especially when my arthritis pain is flared.


Last piece of advice: try to find cleaning supplies that work for you and your pain! I add pieces of pool noodles to my vacuum and mop to make them easier to grip, I prefer cleaning wipes because I don't have to have a firm grip. Try to purchase things like vacuums, mops, etc. based on their weight and the required grip to use different models. What works best for you?

Check out the FREE weekly cleaning template I made just for you when you subscribe or download HERE!


Micro-Cleaning Planner
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