I’ve canceled plans with guests because I was embarrassed about letting them see the state of my apartment. I’ve kept jeans on at the pool because my legs had gone weeks unshaved.
Of all the challenges that come from my neurodivergence, my struggles to keep up with the routine maintenance on my body and home have been my biggest source of shame. Taking care of ourselves and our spaces is often treated as the hallmark of adulthood. To fail at those tasks can mark you as immature (or worse) in other’s eyes.
Whether it’s caused by executive function issues, physical pain, motor skill challenges, fatigue, or something else, maintaining proper hygiene can be a constant battle for folks wired differently. While I still have room for personal improvement, there are a few lessons I’ve learned that make the fight a little easier.
Choose Low Maintenance Options
Confession time: I hate showers. That makes me sound super gross, so I want to clarify that I do bathe…but if there were no consequences to skipping a shower, I probably wouldn’t.
My shower is loud and makes an awful screeching noise, but even as a kid I disliked the post-shower feeling of moisture on my skin, the tangles in my hair, and the sticky feeling of putting on new clothes because no matter how much I towel-dry I still feel that dampness.
But what I hate most is the wet hair. My hair is thick and holds water like a desert cactus. Blow-drying can take over an hour and if I air-dry, I chave to sit with a soggy head for a full night.
So how do I deal with what I now believe is a sensory aversion to showers? For years, I just put up with the misery of it; it was better than being the girl who didn’t bathe. However, I recently came up with a way better solution: I chopped off my hair.
It sounds obvious, but just choosing a short haircut has massively decreased my discomfort. My skin stays drier because I’m not continuously dripping. I can now towel-dry my hair and be out the door in fifteen minutes. This also means I don’t have to fight through pain and fatigue from tics while I style my hair.
Switching to low-maintenance options can significantly reduce the amount of effort you and your home require. Is dusting a struggle? Opt for minimalist decor with fewer tchotchkes to wipe down. Do dirty dishes overwhelm you? Try meal prepping with limited cookware to cut down on the need for pots and pans during the week and during prep time. Do tremors or tics interfere with shaving? Try a depilatory cream like Nair.
I view these changes as reasonable accommodations for my hygiene– small adjustments that make it easier for me to perform the essential functions of my day.
Break Down Chores into Smaller Tasks
I think most neurodivergent people have been advised to break down tasks before, but I feel it bears repeating because, in my case at least, it really does help with domestic chores.
Cleaning my kitchen makes me anxious. There’s the stove, the microwave, the oven, under and behind appliances, the cabinets, the floor, the refrigerator, the dishwasher. So. Many. Things. And they all require some level of regular cleaning. It’s too much.
Do you know what doesn’t make me anxious? Wiping down the knobs on my stove. Rinsing the turntable in the microwave. Cleaning the racks in the oven. Throwing away leftovers. Emptying the drain in the dishwasher. All of these tasks are on the above list, but on their own, none feels overwhelming. Doing these chores individually also keeps me from exhausting myself physically and needlessly exacerbating chronic pain.
I’m not good at breaking down these tasks in the moment. I look at the room and I see everything that needs to be done at once. I’ve found it helps to make a physical list of the subtasks involved in any overwhelming care project. As an added bonus, I feel a sense of accomplishment that encourages me to keep going as I check off each item.
Ask for Help
Sometimes these changes still won’t be enough. If you find yourself in a situation where doing it yourself is just too much, remember that it’s always okay to reach out for help.
I have unruly eyebrows and I feel better about my personal appearance when they have been shaped. To save money, I used to handle my brow routine myself. However, since the emergence of my tics, I’m every bit as likely to pluck my skin as I am a hair. The only accommodation I can conceive is to let them run free, an option with which I am not comfortable. Instead, I decided to pay someone to do them for me.
There are a lot of home and personal care chores that can be outsourced. Maid services, pet care, laundry, beauty treatments– if you have the means, you can hire someone to do all of these tasks for you.
I don’t have the means, so I thought I was stuck. While brow services are cheap, legs are another story. As I mentioned earlier, controlling a razor can be difficult, too, and more dangerous than the tweezers. Having recently left traditional employment, $50 waxes just aren’t a part of my budget.
It was a frustrating dilemma, so I just continued to butcher my legs. I didn’t even realize how stubborn I was being until my husband offered to shave my legs for me after noticing a fresh cut. My mom suggested hair removal creams, which was the option I ultimately chose, but my husband’s offer was an important reminder that there are people in my life who are willing to go above and beyond to help me. My mom even offered to pay for the cream and eyebrow waxing. There was no need for me to choose between pain and my routine. Only my pride was holding me back.
Remember the Difference Between Unsightly and Unsanitary
With Pinterest, Instagram, HGTV, and other outlets bombarding us with images of perfect bodies and perfect homes, it’s easy to feel like you’re not keeping up. It’s perfectly normal to feel embarrassed about your home not being spotless or your hair not looking runway-ready. This frustration is something even neurotypical people feel. Neurodivergent folks, however, are more likely to have difficulties with balance and priorities in their maintenance routines as well as have a harder time shrugging off those feelings of inadequacy.
There may be an afternoon where I get hyperfocused on the idea that all of my clothes need to be in the proper drawers. This project isn’t necessarily bad– organization is generally helpful— except I may have three-day-old dishes sitting in the sink, a food-crusted kitchen floor, and a dirty litter box in my bedroom.
The difference between the first task and the list of tasks is that messy drawers are unsightly, but they are not unsanitary. Food waste and cat droppings, however, are unsanitary. They pose a health risk if neglected and create harder to solve problems, like mold and odors. Even if your mental health is sensitive to clutter (like mine), you need to prioritize the unsanitary over the unsightly.
I find balance in my routines by keeping this difference in mind. For example, imagine it’s the end of a bad tic day and I’ve spent the evening overstimulated, but my apartment is a mess. The grease splatter and boiled-over soup on the stove need to be cleaned up before I go to sleep; the junk mail on the side table does not. If I’m running late to work because I couldn’t stop researching indie comic books, I need to brush my teeth before I leave. I don’t need to put on eyeliner.
Sometimes my brain wants me to do all the things, but my body can only handle two. Reminding myself about the difference between unsanitary and unsightly helps me to make choices when I can’t prioritize intuitively and saves my body the trauma of trying to complete all my tasks when a couple will suffice.
Keeping up with care routines will likely always be a struggle for me, but I’m getting better at it. Every day I find new ways to get my chores done and the results show not only physically, but through my mental health as well.
How do you handle chores and housework? Share your tips in the comments!