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How My Neurodivergence Affects the Way I Clean the Litter Box

published on
May 21, 2023
Hayley Williams
Table of Contents
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I have struggled with mental and physical health issues my whole life and have recently come across the term neurodivergent, which for me, accurately describes how my brain works. It's what allows me to be creative and also comes with its share of struggles. One of those struggles when it comes to cats is cleaning the litter box. This is my personal experience with cleaning the litter box and navigating things like sensory issues, executive dysfunction, depression, and so on.

If you want more practical tips, I’ve written a guide on common barriers to cleaning the litter box when you struggle with mental health and some solutions to work through them.

There have been some really tough seasons in my life when I have struggled to get out of bed, eat and take care of myself. My cats were there through it all, with that being said – they need care too. I’ll cover things like how I talk to myself now when I’m struggling to clean and what tools work best for me to have a functional litter box cleaning routine that meets my cat's needs.

How I feel about cleaning the litter box

When I first got Luna I knew nothing about litter boxes. My cats growing up were outdoor-only. I quickly learned that there were things that made litter boxes hard for me to clean. 

Some of my barriers to cleaning the litter box

  1. Visuals - I am a very visual person and lots of visual clutter in my environment can be very overstimulating. However, if something is out of sight, I don’t think about it. I need that visual cue to prompt me to take action and remember to do something. So litter boxes have to be aesthetically pleasing to leave out so I can remember to clean them.

  1. Litter tracking - This ties into the sensory side of things too. No one likes litter on the floor underfoot. And for me having litter on the floor that I can see is very stressful because it’s distracting and I can’t focus because I need to go clean it.

  1. Starting the task - My brain is really good at talking me out of cleaning the litter box because it feels too difficult for a myriad of reasons. I don’t like discomfort so I avoid it.

  1. Distraction - If I don’t have a routine and I’m really focused or busy with something I may forget to clean the litter box entirely. That’s why I need a trigger in my routine to start a pattern of behavior like cleaning the litter box. So my trigger is putting the cats in the office before bed. So before I leave the office and shut the door I remember to clean the box as part of the routine before I shut the door.

How I deal with the thoughts and feelings that come up

What’s helped me the most when coping with anxiety thoughts, depression seasons or any discomfort, has been time and self compassion. Speaking to myself with compassion has not been easy but I start by validating my feelings.

“I hear you. Cleaning the litter box is hard.” And then following with a coping statement. “Cleaning the litter box is hard but you are capable of hard things.”

Lastly, I’ll often give myself the next step like telling myself all I have to do is pick up the scoop. From there it’s like, “well you already have the scoop in hand might as well scoop the whole box”.

Other times, what’s highly motivating is not having to clean poop out of the tub or knowing that Leon is really struggling with the litter box being clean enough.

How watching my cat's body language helps me clean the litter box

One of my big mental shifts was realizing that Leon is a very sensitive being like me. I have seen him sniff the litter box and recoil. And sometimes Leon immediately runs off and starts yelling and running around like he’s in a panic about not having a clean place to go.

When I realized that a clean litter box was one of the most important things in his world and the strong smells were bothering him, it shifted my priority from the stressors I was feeling to the way he was feeling overwhelmed. 

It was highly motivating because I know what it feels like to be flooded by something in my environment and I’m the one responsible for controlling his environment.

To further help me understand how he feels, it helped me to think about the thought process behind flushing the toilet after we finish using the bathroom. We wouldn’t want to use it again without flushing. But instead of a lever or a button, cleaning the box is the flush.

How I clean my litter box now

It’s taken me a lot of trial and error and I’m constantly making improvements and adjustments to my litter box cleaning routine. After a recent move, I put the litter box in my office where I’m at 80% of the day. Which means I’m more likely to clean it when I see or smell it. Here are some other things that have been game changers for me.

A top-entry litter box from Modkat

I got a Modkat litter box as a Christmas present during college and have never looked back. The only upgrade I’ve made is getting the XL vs the original Modkat. They have a tarp like liner inside the box that protects the sides and is easy for me to replace or take out and clean in the tub vs trying to maneuver a giant litter box under the tap for deep cleanings. I think it keeps clumps from sticking more so too.

What’s helpful about the product that helps me function

A low dust, low tracking litter from Tuft + Paw

I recently switched to Tuft + Paw's Really Great Cat Litter. The large pellets don’t stick as much to my cat’s paws so they don’t fling it further afield. I can literally go weeks now when I just don’t have the energy to vacuum around the litter box and there may be 5 pellets total on the ground outside the box. Before with my last litter it was like literal glitter on the ground after a few hours.

What’s helpful about the product that helps me function

Litter disposal bin from Litter Genie

When I first had cats I would scoop dirty litter into a plastic grocery bag or a dog poop bag. As a pet sitter I discovered litter pails. Similar to what parents use for dirty diapers. Purchasing a Litter Genie was game changing and the experience of disposing of the litter was night and day in terms of ease and smell reduction, plus it matched my litter box.

What’s helpful about the product that helps me function

Using a rug instead of a litter mat

Litter mats are pretty common but in my experience these things are impossible to clean. It does too good of a job catching litter. Once it’s there, it’s there to stay. Same with stains like when a cat inevitably vomits or accidentally poops or pees outside the box. They’re also kind of ugly to me so for those reasons I decided to get a durable rug instead that I can just use a vacuum or carpet cleaner on.

What’s helpful about the product that helps me function

A handy small vacuum

Even though I have a low tracking litter, my cats always manage to track some pellets outside the box. I keep a handheld vacuum next to the litter box to quickly pick up stray litter on the lid and around the box and pick up tufts of fur too so it’s not underfoot and allows for more time between deep cleanings and having to bring out the big vacuum.

What’s helpful about the product that helps me function

You may have seen a common theme in this post that visuals are important for my functioning. If this is something you deal with, you can also read my post on styling your litter box where I go into the more visual elements of my litter box setup.

Litter box cleaning may look fifferent for you

Lastly, I just want to reiterate that this is my personal experience with cleaning the litter box and my barriers to cleaning. Yours may be different and that’s okay too.

I hope this helps you along your journey to a more functional home with cats. Comment below if you’re struggling to clean the litter box. Let me know what your barriers are and what you’ve tried to work through them.

Disclaimers: This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please talk to a mental health professional if you’re struggling. I am also not a cat behaviorist or a licensed veterinarian. If you think your cat has an underlying health condition causing them to eliminate outside the litter box please find a licensed veterinarian.

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