Edmonton volunteer tidying up for people with mental health issues, other challenges

Kelly Bartley likes to clean. 

That hasn’t always been the case; in the past, she said, her mental health was so poor she couldn’t do basic chores.

“I remember when my anxiety was so bad that I physically could not force myself to do my laundry or take the dishes out of my room,” Bartley said in an interview this week.

“I’d be crying because my room is disgusting … I just felt like garbage.”

Bartley is no longer in that headspace, she said. But while home off work for a few weeks before starting a new job, the Edmonton woman decided that instead of killing time, she wanted to help other people who feel like she used to. 

She took to Reddit, Instagram and her personal social pages to volunteer her services as a free, non-judgmental cleaner to those in need. She offered to clean entire houses or just one room, or to tackle other tasks.

“I enjoy cleaning and I know how helpful a clean and healthy environment and can be,” Bartley wrote on Reddit.

“I also know from firsthand experience how easy it is to fall behind or not be able to keep your space clean when suffering from mental health disorders and how overwhelming it can be.”

Lending a helping hand

24 hours ago

Duration 1:58

When Kelly Bartley found herself with time on her hands, she decided to put those hands to work – offering free cleaning services to those in need. 1:58

She said she couldn’t promise “a sparkling clean spotless home” but could do “all your dishes, dusting, floors, baseboards, tidying, and leave your living space as nice as I can.”

Since making the post on March 10, Bartley has had requests to clean around 45 homes from people struggling with their mental health or dealing with physical challenges.

“I thought I’d be helping two or three people,” she laughed as she showed CBC message after message she’s received.

She cleaned her first house on March 11. She said she was told the owner had been suffering from depression and hadn’t cleaned in three months.

Bartley found dirty dishes in the sink and other mess in the kitchen of a home she visited. (Submitted by Kelly Bartley)

The same kitchen after Bartley washed the dishes and tidied up. (Submitted by Kelly Bartley)

“Most people I spoke to, they said one of their biggest anxieties right now is that their house is disgusting,” Bartley said.

“They judge themselves for it and are embarrassed, and they just don’t feel safe and comfortable in a space that they’re supposed to feel safe and comfortable in.”

A helping hand

One of those people is Stacie Brayton. The 44-year-old was diagnosed in 2018 with Goodpasture syndrome, an autoimmune disease that attacks the kidneys and lungs.

She’s been on dialysis for four years, something that can be both physically and mentally draining.

Brayton said she usually only has about an hour and a half of energy a day, not nearly enough to clean her five-level townhouse.

“Before I got sick I could do the house in two to three hours by myself,” she said.

It feels like a huge weight off my shoulders.– Stacie Brayton

“Now I can only do a flight of stairs a day. It’s so discouraging … you wake up every day and you’re just so overwhelmed.”

Brayton reached out, and on Monday, Bartley cleaned her home.

“It feels like a huge weight off my shoulders,” Brayton said as she looked at what Bartley accomplished.

“That’s four years of stress off.”

Not cleaning very common, psychiatrist says

Dr. Pierre Chue, a psychiatrist in Edmonton, said it’s “very common” for people struggling with their mental health to fall behind on little tasks like cleaning until they become overwhelming messes.

He said that may be a sign to seek help, which could include therapy, medication or other treatments.

“With mental health subtle things change, often pervasively over a period of time,” Chue said.

“It can be difficult to recognize that things have gone wrong, and then it becomes almost impossible to reverse that through one’s own attempts.”

Bartley is going back to work soon, but with so many houses to tackle she said she plans to continue volunteering to clean houses a few times a week.

“I just kind of want to help them get to a base point in their lives where it doesn’t cause them stress anymore,” she said. 

Friends and a cleaning company have offered to volunteer as well. One person even made a donation for gas money and cleaning supplies.

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