Cheerful young Asian woman smiling while cleaning the window, glass surface using sponge

Spring Cleaning with a Twist: Neurodivergent Strategies for Tidying Up

Ahh…Spring. Finally. As the weather starts to get warmer out, and birds begin to sing, many of us feel the familiar urge to declutter and refresh our living spaces. Yet, for those of us who identify as neurodivergent or as an individual on the spectrum, the concept of spring cleaning can often feel like a tall mountain to climb. From grappling with oppositional defiance to navigating sensory sensitivities, there are unique challenges that we may encounter along the way. However, with the right tools, approaches, and understanding, spring cleaning can become a manageable task but also an empowering experience.

Navigating the Challenges:

  1. Oppositional Defiance: It's not uncommon for individuals on the spectrum or who identify as neurodivergent to experience oppositional defiance when faced with tasks they perceive as mundane or overwhelming. The key here is to acknowledge these feelings without judgment and find gentle ways to work through them. Perhaps start with the smallest, least intimidating task and gradually build momentum from there. Remember, every small step forward is a victory worth celebrating.
  2. Time Agnosia/Procrastination: Time can be hard to track, making it challenging to gauge how long tasks will take or to prioritize effectively(especially when we have no interest in the task or chore.) Combatting procrastination may involve breaking tasks down into bite-sized chunks and setting achievable goals within realistic timeframes. Consider using visual timers with sound alerts or scheduling apps to help anchor your sense of time and keep you on track.
  3. Executive Dysfunction/Lack of Motivation: Executive functioning difficulties, such as planning, organization, and decision-making, can significantly impact our ability to initiate and sustain cleaning tasks. One helpful strategy is to create a visual or written checklist outlining each step of the cleaning process. This not only provides a clear roadmap but also serves as a tangible reminder of progress made. Additionally, incorporating small rewards or incentives along the way can help bolster motivation and make the experience more enjoyable. Also, it feels so good to cross things off with a pen on paper doesn’t it?
  4. Sensory Barriers: Sensory sensitivities can pose significant challenges when it comes to engaging in cleaning activities. The thought of touching wet or dirty surfaces, or being exposed to strong smells, can trigger discomfort or even distress. To mitigate these barriers, consider incorporating sensory-friendly tools and strategies into your cleaning routine. This might include wearing gloves or using cleaning products with mild or pleasant scents. Creating a soothing environment with calming music or diffusing essential oils can also help to create a more sensory-friendly atmosphere.

Empowering Tools and Approaches:

  1. Dedicating a Clean Space: Designating a specific area in your home as a "clean zone" can serve as a focal point for your cleaning efforts. Start with a small, manageable space, such as a countertop or desk, and gradually expand from there. Gradually can mean within the day, or the week, or the month. Move at the pace of self care and what feels manageable. Having a designated clean space not only provides a sense of accomplishment but also serves as a visual reminder of the progress you've made.
  2. Task Breakdown: Break down larger cleaning tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. This can help to prevent overwhelm and create a sense of achievement with each completed task. Consider using visual aids, such as checklists or diagrams, to help structure your cleaning process and keep you on track. For example, If my sink is full of dishes, I might commit to washing the cups today, and tomorrow or later this week I can do the plates, etc. 
  3. Identify the Objects' "Home": Establishing a designated place for each item in your home can streamline the cleaning process and reduce decision-making fatigue. Take the time to identify where each item belongs and make a conscious effort to return it to its rightful "home" after use. This not only helps to maintain organization but also fosters a sense of order and control within your living space. What if it doesn’t have a home? We all have that one drawer or bin…If not, it’s ok to create one!
  4. Sensory Considerations: If sensory sensitivities are a concern, be proactive in addressing them by incorporating sensory-friendly tools and approaches into your cleaning routine. This might include wearing comfortable clothing that you're not afraid to get dirty, using gloves or other protective gear, and choosing cleaning products with mild, non-irritating scents. Experiment with different sensory strategies to find what works best for you and helps to create a more comfortable and enjoyable cleaning experience.
  5. Body Doubling: Enlisting the support of a friend, family member, or therapist can provide invaluable assistance and encouragement as you navigate the challenges of spring cleaning. Whether it's through virtual check-ins via FaceTime or in-person support, having someone by your side can help to keep you accountable and motivated. Alternatively, consider listening to familiar podcasts, music, or TV shows in the background to provide a sense of companionship and comfort as you clean.

Embracing the Journey:

Spring cleaning isn't just about tidying up our physical surroundings; it's also an opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery. By approaching the task with patience, compassion, and an open mind (I know it’s hard), we can learn to navigate the challenges of cleaning in a way that honors our unique strengths and struggles. Remember, progress is not always linear, and it's okay to take breaks, ask for help, and celebrate even the smallest victories along the way. Process with curiosity and kindness towards yourself by acknowledging and accommodating your individual needs and preferences.

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