Updated: Aug 23, 2022
If you always feel behind, I can guarantee that you either have too much on your plate, you downplay your own needs, or you have unwavering expectations of yourself. For me, for nearly my whole life, it was all three. The good news is that life doesn’t have to feel like a pit you can’t claw your way out of. There are numerous tools to radically change the way you view yourself and your circumstances, and Adaptive Cleaning is one of those tools.
Adaptive cleaning starts with the basic premise that you do not always have the same energy or bandwidth. You may have waves of depression, which fluctuate your life from smooth to staggery. You may have autoimmune diseases where you accomplish a lot on some days and on other days struggle to get out of bed. Plenty of people feel bad all the time, whether physically or mentally, and watch helplessly as everything around them becomes more chaotic.
I created this system because I went to bed exhausted every day and woke up just as exhausted. I felt like I was working all the time and not getting anywhere. Quite often, I would get so discouraged I'd stop trying to make progress.
My first step was to stop setting idealistic expectations for myself. I realized I was sold the idea that we are supposed to achieve the same amount every day, no matter how we feel. It’s such a hustle culture, American dream, women can do it all, vibe that was destroying my life. I decided that trying my hardest to do everything was not working and determined to only do what I had the capacity to do- no more bullying myself! I began to pay attention to the boundaries my body and mind were pleading for that I'd long ignored.
Well, magic happened. Because my to-do list only had 4 things on it, I could check them off. I did that for a week before I decided to add 2 more tasks, just small things. I was able to check those things off too.
I began to notice how the unbending expectations I had for myself were the direct cause of my feeling ashamed and how that shame made me not want to do anything at all. When I allowed myself to create a list of to-do items that I had physical and mental access to, I began feeling capable and confident. I began to trust that what I decided to do, I could actually do.
Every few weeks, I'd make a new list with a few more items on it. Then, I'd downshift to a simpler list if I had a bad day or week. I ended up with low, average, and high capacity lists, and because my lists are flexible, I am able to make progress without overlooking my needs or getting stressed out.
I want to show you how to make your own low capacity list today, and I'll go over average and high capacity lists in the coming weeks. I have digital planners and printables in my shop that provide this framework, but I also want to explain it here, so everyone has access.
Just a reminder before we begin that being at low capacity ("LC" from here on out) is simply when your resources are limited. "Resources" include time, energy, physical health, and
mental health. Okay, these are the steps I took, starting from a place of complete overwhelm.
LC-1 This is where to begin if you are surviving & nothing else. It's okay to start small, to have a list for caring for yourself. If you can, add something like "throw trash away" or "put dirty laundry in the hamper." Then check off what you do and be proud of yourself for brushing your teeth or getting dressed. Some days that IS an accomplishment.
Once I felt comfortable and wasn't struggling to complete tasks, I added a few more.
LC-2 This list adds a few more basic cleaning tasks. There is no pressure to start heavy cleaning. At this point, you want to focus on the priorities, like dealing with trash, getting dishes into the kitchen so you can start the dishwasher/unload it, & get some clean clothes going.
Once I felt comfortable and wasn't struggling to
complete tasks, I added a few more.
LC-3 This list may add a few more items, but you can also include a tiny bit of what I call "sprint cleaning." This is just deep cleaning that I work on quickly, for very short stretches of time. (I have all my deep cleaning broken down into "sprints" that take anywhere from five minutes, for LC times, to forty-five minutes, for high capacity times.)
Once I felt comfortable and wasn't struggling to check things off, I made a weekly list too. This was so helpful to me because as the weeks went by, I began associating certain days with certain chores. For once, my plants were being watered regularly!
You can jump into the "Weekly Schedule" when you have the bandwidth for it. Weekly tasks are things that don't have to get done every day, like ordering groceries. The weekly LC list focuses on big impact things like wiping down the bathroom (for me, this makes a big difference to my mental health), having clean towels, and getting food in the fridge. The same principle applies as I mentioned above- do a quick job and move on. The point is not to have a spotless bathroom but to get in the habit of cleaning the priorities. If there's a voice in your head telling you the job isn't worth doing if it's not done well, tell that voice I said "shut up."
Finally, if you want to make yourself a sprint cleaning list, feel free. Because we aren't making this about perfection, we don't need to feel overwhelmed by all the work there is. It is a big job to deep clean the oven, for instance. But it's quick and easy to scrub the stovetop, wipe down the exterior of the oven, or remove the heat knobs to clean.
When you feel very comfortable with the LC daily and weekly tasks, you can make an "average capacity" list. But please always remember- if you are at average or high capacity one day, and something hard happens, like a depressive period or lack of sleep, go right back to your LC list. The point is always to select the list which will respect your current capacity. If you do this, cleaning won't feel "all or nothing," and you can continue to make progress. Small progress is FAR better than being frozen by the idea of "perfect cleaning."
I will be back next week to break down the way I made my average capacity lists. I hope this helps and that you'll let me know if you have questions!