Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 6/3/2022
Many types of depression can rob you of your motivation to do things that make up your normal life, whether it’s spending time with your friends, taking part in your hobbies and interests or just keeping your home clean and organized.
When depression takes a toll on your ability to do normal daily chores, it’s easy for your home to go from tidy and well maintained to, well, something of a mess.
As mess accumulates, taking action can feel more and more difficult — an issue that all too often drags down your mood and further affects your quality of life.
The good news is that dealing with a messy house isn’t as intimidating as it can seem, provided you adopt the right mentality and focus on taking small steps to improve your living environment and general wellbeing.
Below, we’ve explained how to get motivated to clean when depressed, whether you’re dealing with a temporary negative mood or suffering from clinical depression.
We’ve also shared some simple but effective cleaning and organizational tips that you can use to turn your home into a tidy environment that helps you feel better and make real, measurable progress towards recovery.
When it comes to cleaning up, few things are as demoralizing as looking around your home and realizing you’ll need two, three or even four hours (or worse yet, the entire day) to properly deal with all the mess you’ve built up.
Some symptoms of depression can make this feeling even worse, such as fatigue and a feeling that doing anything, even small, is hopeless.
One way to avoid the daunting feeling of a big clean-up is to deal with small tasks as they come up instead of letting mess accumulate.
For example, instead of letting dirty dishes build up in your sink over the course of several days, try to clean dishes and dry them with a dish towel right after you use them. This means that you end up with a few dry dishes to put away at once, not a huge stack of dishes to clean.
Other small things you can do include:
Putting dirty clothes into the laundry hamper as soon as you change out of them, instead of letting them build up on the floor.
Organizing mail, bills and other documents as soon as you receive them to avoid piles of confusing, poorly organized documents.
Wiping your kitchen counter, shower and other wet surfaces after you use them, instead of waiting several days or weeks to clean.
Put simply, try to take care of small problems when they’re still small problems, not after they’ve grown into major annoyances. This simple change can stop messes from accumulating and keep your home looking clean and organized, all without any multi-hour cleaning sessions.
There’s no denying it — cleaning is boring, and the sadness, emptiness and irritability that all too often develop with depression can make it even worse.
One simple way to make cleaning and organizing your living space easier is to distract yourself with music. Try putting on a relaxing playlist in the background while you organize your clothes, clean the bathroom or organize your bedroom to provide some extra motivation.
Alternatively, if you’re experiencing a lack of motivation because of your depression, try listening to something upbeat that fills you with energy.
Although research on the effects of music on depression symptoms is limited, some people with depression report that they feel calmer, less anxious and more comforted when actively listening to music.
From going to the gym to learning a new language, many seemingly daunting tasks become a lot easier when you make them part of your daily routine.
It’s easy to procrastinate when you’re depressed, and constantly reassuring yourself that you’ll clean house “tomorrow” can all too often result in nothing getting done.
To make taking action easier, try making cleaning a daily task to which you devote 10, 15 or 20 minutes of your time, whether it’s to do a load of laundry, keep your personal space neat or just take care of other daily chores.
Setting aside time every day can make keeping your house clean much easier, often with just a few minutes of daily work. You may be surprised by how much you’re able to get done within an hour of getting home, or just before you settle down to read a book or watch TV.
Depression can affect your ability to make decisions, meaning simple things like deciding where to start cleaning can suddenly become surprisingly difficult.
To help yourself find motivation and make cleaning an even simpler process, try to create a daily cleaning checklist that lists everything from making your bed to folding your clothes, washing the dishes and taking out the trash.
You can do this with a written to-do list that you keep in a visible location at home or by creating a repeating list using a to-do list app on your phone.
If you live with your partner, family or a friend, try creating a shared list so that you can take care of cleaning up together. This might help you to get things done when you’re dealing with severe symptoms and don’t feel like you can take care of everything by yourself.
Better yet, try cleaning together. Spending your time around other people is an important step in the recovery process, and cleaning your home together can be a good opportunity to bond with your partner, family member or friend and vent about things that are bothering you.
Not only can having a daily list make it easier to keep track of what needs to be done around the house, but it can also give you a sense of satisfaction once the day’s tasks are done.
Cleaning is often a time-consuming task, and balancing it with other aspects of your life can be a serious challenge when you’re depressed.
If you can afford to hire someone to help you clean your home, don’t be afraid to do so. Using a cleaning service can free up your time so that you can focus on your career, going to therapy or just spending quality time with your friends and family.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a form of psychotherapy that’s often used to treat the cycle of depression.
A major part of cognitive-behavioral therapy is learning how to identify thoughts, feelings and behaviors that have a negative impact on your wellbeing, then learning how to change these self-defeating behaviors.
CBT is often used to help people with depression. Some scientific research suggests that as well as improving the signs of depression, CBT may also help to improve motivation and stop procrastination.
For example, one study published in the journal Behavioral Therapy found that students with severe procrastination experienced improvements after taking part in an eight-week course of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
If you currently meet with a therapist, try to talk with them about your difficulties with cleaning and staying organized. They may be able to help you develop skills for cleaning and keeping your living space organized.
If you don’t currently take part in psychotherapy, consider talking to your primary care provider about a mental health referral or meeting with a mental health provider in your area.
You can also find a therapist and meet virtually to discuss depression, anxiety or anything else that’s on your mind using our online therapy service.
Finally, it’s important to accept that you’ll have both good and bad days while you recover from depression, especially if you have persistent or severe depression.
Motivation can come and go, especially when you’re depressed. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your daily life and don’t think you can stick to your normal cleaning routine, don’t feel like it’s a bad thing to put your feet up and take some time off.
This could mean letting your kitchen, bathroom or bedroom (or all three) get a little messy over the course of the day while you focus on personal self-care, or just skipping your daily cleaning routine for a day so that you can spend time on other things.
You’re human, and no human is perfect. If you don’t feel like it’s the right day for cleaning, take some time off to rest and relax, then set aside a few extra minutes the next day to catch up on the things you missed.
Depression is a serious mental illness that can affect your daily functions, and it’s common for depression to go hand in hand with a messy house.
If you’re struggling to find the motivation to clean while you’re depressed, try using the tips and techniques above to make the process easier.
If your depression symptoms are severe, persistent or starting to affect your personal wellbeing, it’s important to reach out for help. You can access qualified help using our online mental health services, including our online psychiatry service.
If appropriate, you’ll receive medication to control your symptoms, help you to maintain a normal daily life and make progress towards recovery.
Want to learn more about coping with depression? You can learn effective strategies for dealing with depression, anxiety and other common mental health concerns with our free online mental health resources and content.