Spring cleaning simplified
Tips for straightening up and getting organized while keeping your MS in check
by Robert Lerose
While her four cats — Penelope and Mishka, and kittens Salem and Elvira — provide a “fascinating and fun” diversion from her multiple sclerosis, Stacia Sweigert must also factor feeding them and cleaning their litter boxes into her routine.
As a teenager, Sweigert began experiencing numbness in her feet before being diagnosed with MS in 2008 at the age of 23, when she began experiencing double vision as well. Today, she lives with severe fatigue, spasticity in her legs and vision problems. Nerve damage also causes her limbs to jerk uncontrollably, affecting her ability to move around.
Sweigert maintains a large living space in her parents’ Pennsylvania house, including a bedroom, television, refrigerator, microwave and, of course, her cats. Often, she can’t get to everything in one day.
“Stuff has to wait sometimes. It’s an endless cycle of never really crossing the finish line,” she says. “I use my good days or the first two hours after I wake up — where I have a decent amount of energy — or the energy I get at night out of nowhere for some reason to get a little bit done at a time.”
Spring cleaning can be an exhausting and stressful time, both the physical labor and unrealistic self-expectations. “Many of us tend to think about spring cleaning as you have to do it all at once on the same day and crank it out. That can lead to overexertion or overdoing it,” says Rebecca Cunningham, assistant professor of clinical occupational therapy at the University of Southern California.
Sweigert lays out goals for herself the night before, breaking each one down into micro-steps. To stay organized, she painted one wall in chalkboard paint, just like blackboards in schoolrooms, where she writes her to-do list in chalk to stay motivated. More important than crossing off those tasks, she says, is getting enough rest, not punishing herself for not doing enough and not being embarrassed to ask for help. “Other people have messes, too. There’s more strength in asking for help than not,” she says.
Tips for safe cleaning
“A little preparation can go a long way when we’re talking about managing a condition like MS,” says Marie Curtis, an occupational therapist at UNC Health. To prepare for managing MS and your spring cleaning, here are suggestions from the experts.
Taking small bites
From working as an elementary school teacher to being a foster parent to working currently part time as a bookkeeper, Jeanne Phaneuf Champagne has crammed many lives into her 68 years. After being diagnosed with MS in 2013, the Arkansas resident has “learned to embrace” walking with a cane for balance, and arranging her life to deal with cognitive challenges, heat sensitivity — and housecleaning.
Champagne divides her modest-sized house into five parts —kitchen, bathrooms, east and west sides, sheet changing — and cleans one section per day. “That gives me weekends to catch up should I have an impossible day,” she says.
For example, an easy day might involve a light cleaning of her office, guest bedroom and bathroom, which doesn’t get used much, or she might skip a week. “I don’t have hard and fast rules, but I do have guidelines that make cleaning more manageable.”
Along with her “incredible” husband Dennis pitching in, Champagne’s guidelines include being flexible, spreading out the work over time and taking small bites out of big projects — part of her plan for “sorting out unreasonable self-expectations and not overly committing,” she says.