This Student Cleaned Unlivable Homes & The Results Were Heartwarming

Sai Leigh - December 8, 2022
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The Cleaning Industry: Helpful or Unreachable?

The cleaning industry isn’t new, although it has previously been a luxury for most people. And for good reason; a good cleaning team costs a pretty penny, but can be life-changing. Some specialize in the area of deep cleaning and either handle issues like rodents and bugs themselves, or have connections in that area of expertise. Very few companies specialize in homes bad enough to be linked to “hoarding,” which mental health crises can look like if left untreated long enough. We can thank social media and reality TV for the bad connotation with hoarding, although people like Brogan Ingram are trying to shed a compassionate light on the issue.

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The Extremes of Uncleanliness

Hoarding is a type of disorder characterized by difficulty getting rid of possessions due to a “need” to save them. These items may or may not serve a purpose. Some forms of hoarding may look like collecting. For example, someone who saves every single newspaper in their living room for the last fifty years. However, hoarding can have serious consequences, ranging from destroying relationships to exacerbating health issues.

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Surprising Links to Trauma

Even the thought of cleaning can trigger trauma for some. Cleaning can connect to negative mental health in surprising ways. A study using fMRI scans showed that people with a tendency toward compulsive hoarding had activity in the same region of the brain responsible for processing damaging experiences. At the mere thought of throwing out even junk mail, for example, these individuals are re-experiencing trauma in their brains.

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Getting Her Hands Dirty (Literally)

Brogan began the next step in her journey by focusing on locals who needed help cleaning their homes. Sometimes it was as simple as cleaning out an overcrowded, dirty fridge. Other individuals had rodents nesting in their home. Brogan took it all in stride and learned as she went. She soon found out just how rewarding it could be, especially when families were involved. “I’ve seen children come home to clean houses, and it’s almost like they’ve never seen their house clean before.” For many families, including those with single parents, the situation can spiral quickly.

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How Bad It Gets

You can view Brogan’s latest volunteer cleaning jobs on her TikTok, @nottheworstcleaner. In reality, she’s far from the worst! Brogan makes this kind of cleaning look easy, but it’s not. Many of the homes she comes across are heartbreaking. In one recent post, she revealed that it was clear the homeowner was reusing toilet paper and, in some cases, items like sanitary pads. Of course no one in their right mind would want to live like this, but that’s the point Brogan tries to make with her content: these individuals are not in their “right minds” and struggle daily.

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It Could Happen to Anyone

In this same post, she wrote: “Today’s cleaning was really hard on my heart. Reach out to family, friends and neighbours because you never know who’s living like this behind closed doors.” And that’s true. While we like to think we know our friends and family best, in reality, many people keep their mental illnesses hidden. It’s important to recognize the signs of struggle and be willing to offer a compassionate helping hand, with no judgment.

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Signs and Symptoms

So how can you tell someone is having a hard time? The American Psychiatric Association says to keep an eye out for the following signs and symptoms: sleep or appetite changes, drop in functioning, increased sensitivity, unusual behavior, increased absenteeism, worsening performance, withdrawn and apathy. If you notice any of these symptoms in your friends, family members, neighbors, etc. – reach out to a mental health hotline for support.

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Selfless Care

What Brogan Ingram does is absolutely stunning. This psychology student has really taken the initiative to clean houses not just superficially, but in a way that truly gives those struggling a fresh start. In a recent video, Brogan wrote, “I will be back as many times as needed to continue deep cleaning every square inch and ensuring this woman can finally live comfortably without fear of being kicked out.” She regularly keeps these promises and works tirelessly to give her clients a new beginning.

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The Poverty Connection

That’s another part of the mental health crisis that needs to be taken into account. Many people suffering from mental health disorders live in poverty and are tenants, not homeowners. A spiral into depression could result in these individuals losing their only home and living out on the street, only worsening their living conditions. As a recent study stated, “Poverty is both a cause of mental health problems and a consequence.”

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Breaking the Cycle

In fact, poverty in childhood is an immediate cause for stress, and children will carry that stress into adulthood. As we’ve said before, this stress then turns into a vicious cycle of struggling to overcome mental health illnesses while living a functioning life. If poverty and mental health disorders continue into adulthood, they can lead to suicide. It can be extremely hard to break the cycle.

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Going Above and Beyond

Brogan also goes above and beyond when it comes to making a difference in these people’s lives. Recently, she noticed that one of her clients, an older man, had little to no clothing in his home. Brogan went to a thrift store and purchased sweaters and shirts for him, going so far as to bring the clothes to a laundromat to be professionally cleaned. There’s no doubt that having clean, comfortable clothing at hand made a huge difference in this man’s life.

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A Variety of Messiness

Let’s take a closer look at some of the situations Brogan deals with on the regular. To start with, there’s just general messiness. This usually takes the form of trash piled up in living areas, and Brogan sorts through everything to determine what needs to be thrown out and what can be salvaged and kept. As you can see in her videos, the variety of items in a home is fascinating and, sometimes, confusing.

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Finding Humor in Trauma

Obviously, she has to be careful, as some items might have sentimental value. But Brogan also brings humor to these posts, chronicling strange things she finds while cleaning. She’s come across completely unidentifiable objects as well as everyday items like multiple cellphones. Kids’ toys are often lost among the mountains of trash. While mental health is no joke, it can soften the blow for some and make the situations more relatable.

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Everything But the Kitchen Sink

She also deep cleans kitchens, dedicating entire videos to before-and-after shots. Deep cleaning involves not just getting rid of trash, but also eliminating bacteria, dust and germs. Brogan throws in tips about how to get your home extra clean, including the often-seen Scrub Daddy products that she uses at each free cleaning. Videos show the young woman scrubbing out utensil holders, refrigerators with caked on, moldy food and discolored counter tops.

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The Realities of Cleaning

The before-and-after photos make it look so easy. But keep in mind that even the smallest tasks can involve some deep, deep cleaning. This fridge, for example, took Brogan and a friend nine hours to clean. That in itself is a daunting task and should put things into perspective. What might seem like a quick and easy job (thanks to Brogan’s easy to consume social media) may actually be insurmountable to people living in those conditions.

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Hygiene Central

Unsurprisingly, bathroom videos get some of the most attention from her followers. It’s not hard to imagine just how bad bathrooms can get, since they’re the epicenter of hygiene. From crusty toilets to toilet paper that’s been reused over and over, Brogan keeps her cool while tidying it all up and getting it as close to clean as possible. These videos are both satisfying and disturbing, but keep in mind that they’re also embarrassing and stressful for those living in these conditions.

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Why She Does It

Brogan has managed to create a platform where she not only brings mental health problems and the importance of cleaning to light, but she’s totally transparent in her process and personal opinions. One of the most common questions Brogan gets is why she offers to clean houses for free. Obviously it’s a huge time suck for her and she has her own family to take care of. Most people can barely manage to clean their own homes, much less the homes of several other people a week-but Brogan finds a way to make it work.

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Healing Isn’t a Transaction

But she’s up front about not wanting people to see cleaning as a “transaction” and fear asking for help because they’ll be unable to afford it. This would only steer people away from seeking help and continue the cycle of uncleanliness and poor mental health. By offering her services for free, Brogan creates a safe place for people to choose to improve – with a little help. The more we stigmatize these situations, the less people will ask for the help they need and the longer these cycles will go on.

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Community Matters

Brogan has pointed out that “If you’re struggling to take care of yourself, you’re not going to take care of your environment, and it builds up fast.” One of the best things we can do is keep an eye on our friends, family and neighbors, and offer a helping hand or listening ear as needed. Sometimes all it takes is a safe space to feel overwhelmed for someone struggling to start on the right path. By building trust with others, we can create a community centered around healing instead of judgment.

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Calling Out Her Critics

In a recent post, Brogan encouraged her followers in this way: “If you’re someone leaving horrible negative comments and you’re so concerned, go help someone in your area! It could be your friend, family, loved one or neighbour struggling like this. Compassion goes a long way.” Brogan isn’t shy about calling out her critics and challenging them to pitch in the fight. It’s part of what makes her a truly generous and selfless person. Unfortunately, Brogan regularly defends herself against negative individuals on social media trying to shut down what she does for others.

Finding Control Again

One thing we haven’t gotten to yet is the effect cleaning has on your sense of control. Many people feel out of control in life, while others feel like they have it all in hand and figured out. But feeling a lack of control can be scary, and when your surroundings get overwhelming, this feeling can be amplified. Cleaning can give people a sense of ownership and control over their immediate environment. A study at UCONN revealed that in times of stress, many people turn to cleaning to help them feel in control.

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Staying Mindful

If you think that’s impressive, wait until you hear about the connection between cleaning and mindfulness. Surprising, right? You’ve probably heard of mindfulness in terms of being present and meditation, so what does cleaning have to do with it? A study published in the Mindfulness journ`al proved that washing dishes can be used as a meditative process. In the sample of 51 college students, those proven to be “mindful” dishwashers felt inspired, less nervous, and more focused while on task. Just another reason to find time to clean a few times a week.

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Motivational Numbers

Let’s take a quick look at some more cleaning stats, and maybe you’ll be motivated to clean up a mess you’ve been ignoring these past few days. For starters, 70% of dust is made up of dead skin flakes—that alone should be enough to make you want to get dusting and sweeping! Cleaning for 2 hours will burn 200 calories, so you don’t have to feel bad about skipping a workout to get your home clean. While it might seem okay to slack now and then, remember that the correlation between mental health and cleaning is a rabbit hole that is easily to fall down.

Finding Balance With Your Other Half

Half of couples living together fight about cleaning. Who is going to do it, when it’s going to get done, and who does what. Check out this article from NPR on how to fairly split up household chores. Quick tips include sitting down to write out a list of necessary chores, outlining the essentials, and noting expectations for when the chore(s) should be completed. Obviously, stress related to cleaning can (and does) negatively affect couples as well as individuals.

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A Moment for Reflection

Chances are (and we hope) you’re now thinking about your own mental health situation in relation to how often you clean, or how your surroundings affect your mood. If you’re interested in finding a cleaning service near you, use this cleaning cost calculator to find the average cost of cleaners in your area. If you decide to go this route instead of cleaning your house yourself, make sure you have a transparent conversation about what each service includes.

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Take Small Steps

Looking for easy ways to get started toward healing? It’s all about the small steps, not the big ones. Take a look around you at what can be done right now. Making your bed, for example, might seem useless or not like a big deal at all—but change doesn’t have to be big. Commit yourself to cleaning and/or organizing one small area (like a drawer, or closet) a day or week, and soon you’ll be creating the healthy habit of regular cleaning. One more item Brogan consistently recommends is a chore chart to keep everyone in the house on track.

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Ways You Can Help

Looking for ways to support those struggling with mental health? Check out this site to find out what you can offer, both emotionally and practically. It may be as simple as listening or as involved as attending appointments with professionals. Whatever path you choose to take, you can make a difference in the lives of others and help them begin to heal. Make sure to stay compassionate, non-judgmental and take a page from Brogan’s book!

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