A healthy mind in a tidy house

Time to come clean.

I can’t.

I’m rubbish at keeping my own house clean. That was an unintentional pun, by the way. Coming clean was intentional. Rubbish wasn’t.

I hide my rubbish. I hide this.

The funny thing is, I took these pictures after I’d already vacuumed and mopped the ground floor. I’ve sort of ordered them by progressive messiness. I hadn’t cleaned the ground floor in over two months. Had to do it now, because my dad is coming over to pick up some stuff this Wednesday. Can’t let him see how bad it is. I’m showing it to the internet. Can’t show it to my dad.

(The picture of the cat hair? My entire living room was like that. Upstairs is still like that.)

Another funny thing is that I’m actually pretty good at the physical act of cleaning. I know what to do and how to do it. I was a professional cleaner for two years. Old ladies with a life’s experience of housekeeping gave me compliments on how well I kept their house clean. I’m good at it. And very thorough.

Which is where the autism comes in, I suppose.

Not only do I have problems with executive function, actually getting to the point where I can start cleaning and not overanalysing all the things I need to do and becoming completely paralysed from all the choices involved, I also have a problem with doing a half-arsed job. I look at a household chore and picture what the end result needs to be. And then I want to make that happen. I focus too much on the end result. And with housekeeping that means I usually end up feeling either overwhelmed or like I haven’t accomplished enough.

Because housekeeping is far more about doing a little bit each day and not worrying about getting it “done”.

And I can’t do that. Once I start, I need to finish it. I need to reach that end goal in order to get my dopamine hit. My happy buzz. My sense of achievement. My reward.

So instead, everything about household chores seems designed to make me feel like even more of a failure than I already feel I am.

And that’s when you get those pictures.

There’s two reasons why I can finally be honest about this. Firstly, I hope this will make someone else on the spectrum feel a bit better about their own mess. You’re not the only one. There are many of us who struggle. When you’re struggling, it’s no good beating yourself up about it: you need to find other ways to cope. I’m still working on it, but I think that admitting to myself that I won’t get that satisfaction from cleaning, that I won’t need to do it perfectly because there’s no reward anyway, will help me in that.

Secondly, this is not the worst it’s ever been. The worst would need a trigger warning for contamination OCDs and probably a hazmat suit.

The title “A healthy mind in a tidy house” is a play on the Latin Mens sana in corpore sano, which means a healthy mind in a healthy body. This is taken to mean that a person is only healthy when he is occupied both intellectually and physically.

Update: I’ve managed to make some progress!