This is the second in a series of blogs discussing interventions in the different areas of daily living. Last week's blog was on grocery shopping, and this week we are discussing housecleaning. Most of the time, people have had the opportunity to learn housecleaning skills in the past. Frequently, they have been unable to learn or perform these skills well due to physical, cognitive, or affective barriers. I will describe some of the interventions that I have found helpful in this area.
It seems that in the past few years, the number of people I have seen for problems related to housecleaning has increased. I'm sure people are not getting messier. I have two theories - one is that more people with poor housekeeping are being noticed due to the ongoing spraying for bedbugs in many apartment buildings in our city. For those of you not familiar with bedbugs, you may want to find our more, as they are likely coming to a building near you soon. However, when a building is sprayed, tenants are required to clean up their places, move everything away from the walls, etc. For many people with too much stuff, they are unable to follow through with the requirements and they get in trouble with the landlord.
My other theory on why housecleaning is becoming more of a problem is that our society seems to be producing more and more stuff, and so more stuff in entering people's homes. The advent of computers seems to have greatly increased the amount of paper in our lives. Our city has a free giveaway weekend twice a year where residents leave things they do not want near the curb so that anyone who wants it can pick it up. I watch people going along picking up everything they believe is "valuable" and I wonder if they will be my next client. People are now required to have much more skill at sorting, organizing, and getting rid of stuff than they used to require.
When physical problems are a barrier...
It is amazing how many people cannot bend over and clean their bathtub. I made it one of my regular questions to ask people if they could do this, and I was surprised at how many people could not. All it takes is a bad back, knee, hip, or arm, or obesity and this task becomes very difficult. A long-handled cleansing pad can make a big difference. Regular use of daily shower cleaner can help, as well as using a soap scum remover spray that does not require much scrubbing.
Endurance is something that often limits housecleaning. I usually recommend breaking down the tasks into smaller ones that can be done more frequently for a shorter period of time, and with lots of breaks. For example, vacuum one room, take a rest, and then vacuum another room. Saving housecleaning for the time of day when a person is most energetic can be helpful as well.
If a person is physically unable to be independent with cleaning, sometimes outside assistance is available. Here in Manitoba, sometimes people can receive assistance through Home Care, Community Home Services, paid cleaning services, or through friends and family.
When cognitive deficits are a barrier...
Sometimes people are unable to remember all the different steps, and the order of the steps, to perform a task. I have found checklists that break a task down into all the different steps can be helpful. Checklists can also be helpful for indicating how frequently an area needs to be cleaned, setting goals, and tracking how often they are being cleaned. I have found that if I help a client use a list a few times, I often find ways that it needs to be modified because it is not as clear as I thought it was. After finding a checklist that works, you can laminate it and then the client can use a washable or dry-erase marker. If you do not have access to a laminator, self-adhesive vinyl (often available at dollar stores) can be used.
When people have trouble with memory and/or categorization, creating a space for everything and labeling it clearly can be very helpful. I love big white labels with a Sharpie. Colorful post-it notes are great too. You can label places for important things like keys, wallet, and glasses, but also things like plates, sweaters, books, etc. For some people, especially if literacy is low, pictures work better than words. Catalogs can be a great source of pictures, or you can draw your own.
One common barrier that the client does not always mention, is not having the correct products to clean. It can be important to go through each area of the home with your client and develop a plan for how it will be cleaned, with what products, and to make sure he or she has those products. Creating a checklist of cleaning products that your client can check whenever he or she runs out can also be helpful.
When affective issues are a barrier...
Many people do not enjoy cleaning. If you are struggling with emotional issues that leave you feeling like you just want to hide under the covers all day, the last thing you are going to want to do is to start cleaning your house. Setting small, achievable goals, and external rewards (e.g. having a cup of tea after) can sometimes help. Setting a timer and committing to work on cleaning for 15 minutes is a lot more achievable than saying you are going to clean your whole house. Another popular one is to put on your favorite song and agree to work for the duration of the song.
For ideas on dealing with clutter and attachment to objects, check out my Conquering Clutter blog.
Working on housecleaning seems to never be easy. However, with a little creativity and hard work, improvements can be made that can have a big impact on your client's quality of life. I hope some of these ideas are helpful, and I would love to hear what other people have found works for them.