Too depressed to do housework? The cleanliness of your home is usually one of the first things to suffer when you’re in an emotional black hole.

In fact it’s a time when all the basics tend to be neglected– sleep, rest, food and housework. Depression affects our perception of the world and everything in it, making it all feel difficult and like an uphill struggle.

Neglected homes are a common sight for Roberto Garritano, founder of cleaning company Twinkle Clean: "I'm still amazed by the amount of mess and dirt some people live in. But often there are things going on in their lives that lead to them neglecting their homes, and the sense of shame that comes with it”.

That shame just perpetuates the depression – and the neglect. “When we’re depressed our mental attitude also tends to be fraught with self-criticism, making things even more hard work, and we soon get behind. This adds to a pressurised feeling of not coping, resulting in unmanageability and low self esteem,” says health and confidence expert Rhona Clews.

So why does it happen in the first place?

“Our avoidance of the basics is actually an attempt at avoiding the difficult feelings we’re experiencing,” says Rhona. Not opening the curtains means not having to face the day. “Except in fact avoidance makes the difficult feelings even more hard to manage”.

The impact of this can be pretty devastating. When we feel low about ourselves and don't know what to do about it we also tend to feel angry and negative and take it out on our environment and those around us. “It's almost like ‘I am suffering and so must everyone else!’” says Rhona. And it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. Neglecting the basics of self-care has a hugely detrimental impact on our mental state and self-esteem, and the filthier the house the more depressed we feel – so we can face tackling it even less. “If we stop taking positive actions on a daily basis, we soon start to feel negative and ‘behind’ on things and life starts to fall into chaos”, says Rhona.

What’s the answer?

It’s easy enough to say ‘start cleaning your house’, but harder to actually face it, especially if it’s descended to pigsty levels of cleanliness. Here are some ways to tackle it.

  • Just do a little to start with. Researchers in a 2008 study found that just twenty minutes of housework a week helped improve people’s moods and helped treat the symptoms of depression.
  • “Stop seeing cleaning as one big task”, says Roberto. “Break it down into lots of little tasks and you will quickly feel it is much more manageable”.
  • Rhona suggests creating a simple schedule. Begin by identifying three manageable basics you can cover each day. You might not be able to tidy your whole home, but you can begin with opening the curtains and making the bed and clearing away cups of tea etc.
  • Roberto says: “Share the cleaning - if you live with your family or a flat mate you should write a simple cleaning rota. The key is to keep it simple and try and make it fun by playing music while you clean”.
  • And share it equally. A US study found that an unequal share of housework causes depression in both men and women if they are doing the lion’s share (although it’s usually women).
  • Picture what the house will look like all clean and shiny - I suggest doing this before you start. The satisfaction you feel when your home is all clean and tidy outweighs the perceived challenge,” says Roberto.
  • Hire some help, if you can afford it. Book a professional cleaner for a few extra hours the first week or two to tackle the backlog. “When your home’s been cleaned it’s like a weight has been lifted,” says Roberto. “I truly believe having a clean environment and maintaining a simple and effective cleaning routine is beneficial for mental health".