Let’s say you have severe ME/CFS, and you’re married to someone who has a full time job, is your sole caretaker, and because of the severity of your illness, is also chief cook, bottle washer, launderer, yard maintenance guy, and additionally, the one who puts the food in front of the cats and takes care of the product of the other end. It can lead one to feel as if one is not really doing much to help around the house except for making sure the couch doesn’t somehow float away.
But you want to help, so you pledge to yourself to help keep one bathroom clean. And that’s the truth of the matter: you can’t really clean a bathroom, but if you can function upright for about twenty minutes a day, total, most of the time you can use two or three or five minutes of that to keep one very small bathroom clean. Mostly.
You don’t try to clean it all at once. Of course you can’t, in two or three minutes – but you can get it done in that time over the course of a week by attacking one thing a day.
I picked up this divide-and-conquer method from using FlyLady some years ago, when I was housebound but still working and while significantly ill, much more physically able than I am right now. Her approach of doing a little at a time rather than my historic habit of trying to go at everything in an occasional overwhelming, discouraging, unpleasant blitz is not only helpful to housework haters; it’s good for the sick and low-energy among us, too. Over time, I’ve adapted her approach, making small tasks even smaller so they’re manageable for me. I do my cleaning on my way to bed, because that’s my best time of day.
So this is how you keep a bathroom clean:
Since you can’t do a lot of walking, it’s vitally important to have your tools at hand. Under the sink is a spray bottle containing a mix of water, vinegar, and Dr. Bronner’s, a can of Bon Ami, a scrubby sponge, a roll of paper towels, a pack of alcohol wipes, and a pair of work gloves – loosely fitting ones, so they’re easy to slip on and off even with low energy. (You may notice that none of these items have added perfumes, which is necessary for those of us who are sensitive to smells. The alcohol wipes aren’t quite as good as glass cleaner, but I haven’t been able to find a glass cleaner or glass wipe I can tolerate.) A toilet brush is in a holder next to the toilet.
The other thing necessary for easy bathroom maintenance is a well-ordered linen closet. In the linen closet, there are neat stacks of hand and face towels, and a large stack each of facial washcloths and “presentable” washcloths. On a tray that can slide out, making it easy to access, there are rolls of toilet paper, boxes of paper cups, a stack of backup bars of soap, and other things needed at hand but which are less presentable, like tissues, toothpaste, toothbrush, and a bottle of mouthwash. The less that there is to sit on the counter in the open in such a tiny bathroom, the less there is to fuss with when cleaning.
With all that in place, you’re ready to go.
Monday is mirror day. Get out an alcohol wipe, and use it to wipe the mirror clean of smudges and spots. Take a paper towel and buff the mirror dry. The rest of the week, make assiduous effort to avoid spotting the mirror with splashes so as not to need to do it again before the next Monday.
Tuesday is toilet tank, seat, and bowl day. Fetch your spray bottle from under the sink, along with the roll of paper towels. Spray the tank and seat down and wipe. Spray the inside of the bowl, scrub, flush, and then go lie down, because trying to use your atrophied back muscles to bend over and scrub like that for half a minute was exhausting.
Wednesday is wall day. This particular bathroom has seven walls, counting three of them as the tiled bathtub enclosure, and includes two doors. Pick the particular wall or part of a wall it’s been the longest since you addressed. Spray with aforementioned cleaner, and wipe as best as possible. Do at least half of this sitting down, because bending over is Bad News for your heart. If you’re having a bad day, this can always be skipped, or if you had a bad day during another part of the week, you can skip doing a wall and do whatever you missed previously. On Wednesday, also change out your facial washcloth.
Thursday is toilet exterior day. Sit down on the floor and spray the base of the toilet with cleaner. Wipe. Once in a while attack the baseboard and wall behind the toilet while you’re down there.
Friday is floor day. This is another that can be done sitting down, but is also the thing that takes the longest. Grab a couple of washcloths (there are always one or two that have been used for one bath lying around), spray the floor in front of you with cleaner, and working backward, wipe the floor toward you. This could not be called extremely thorough, but as long as it gets done every week or two, it keeps the dust and hair situation on the dark laminate floors pretty well under control. Take a stab at a baseboard in the process if you can manage it.
Saturday is sink day. When you have a bath, you take the soap dish into the bathtub with you and scrub it with a washcloth after soaking it, and you keep a presentable-looking washcloth on the countertop all the time so you can wipe down splashes on the counter and faucet each time you use the sink, so this task doesn’t take a ton of effort. Spray the counter and faucet with cleaner and wipe, then sprinkle Bon Ami in the basin, go over it with a scrubby sponge and rinse.
Sunday is surface day. Pick something that hasn’t been sprayed and wiped for a while – a windowsill, tub edge, towel bar, part of a light fixture, the cabinet fronts, top of a door, etc. – and go to town. This is a day that can be skipped if you get to this point in the week and need a day off, or need to make up a day you didn’t catch in its regular rotation. On Sunday, you also change out your hand and face towels, your facial washcloth, and the washcloth you keep sitting on the countertop.
Now, at this point you may say, “What about the bathtub?” And there’s the rub. (Sorry.) I cannot really effectively do the bathtub. The combination of force, angle, and exertion needed is more than I can afford to expend. So Chimp does the tub itself, using Bon Ami.
The handy thing about a schedule like this is that if you can mostly follow it, the bathroom doesn’t ever get away from you, and even if you miss a day and never get to make it up over the course of the week, two weeks going by on most of this stuff is still not the end of the world.
The rest of the house may not get cleaned as often as I would like, but I content myself that there is little possibility of being able to make a difference for the entire house by spreading the energy I have across it, since just getting to some rooms is more than I can do on a regular basis. So, as in so many other things, I try to forget about what I can’t do – in this case dispatch the dust bunnies that are surely rampaging elsewhere – and be satisfied with my clean little bathroom.