Cut the Clutter: A Practical Plan to Get Organized with Chronic Illness

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 29 March 2021
  • 10 minute read
Cut the Clutter: A Practical Plan to Get Organized with Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions

This blog post contains some affiliate links to resources you may find helpful, at no extra costs to you. All opinions are my own. 

Clutter has the sneaky habit of creeping up on you. It feels like you’re only just done with your big spring cleaning and just a few busy or tiring days later, there are already piles of paper, toys and dirty clothes lingering around the house again.

But when it’s a mess, it can be overwhelming to start getting organized, especially with chronic illness in the mix. Who needs more items on your to-do list when you’re already struggling to get through the day? But over time, decluttering your closets and streamlining your home life has several benefits.

Why you want to get organized with chronic illness

Basically, being organized can save you precious energy in the long run. The less clutter, the less stress you have over searching for your keys or that important file you need right now. Cleaning also becomes easier when you don’t have to clear the kitchen counter first or move boxes and toys of the way. Not to mention that it’s not great for your respiratory health when your old collection of vinyl or comic books is only gathering dust.

And it’s not just physical clutter. Running out of food or over-the-counter meds when you’re too sick to go to the shops is pretty inconvenient. You also don’t want to overburden your already fogged up brain with trying to remember to-dos and appointments. What’s more, for many of us with chronic illness, pacing is an important aspect of getting things done. And managing your energy becomes a lot easier when you’ve planned out your day and week.

But most of all: when you spend a lot of time in your home, it should be a safe, supportive space. Somewhere you can retreat, relax and recharge, not feel stressed, guilty and visually reminded that your work is never done.

Now you don’t have to label every jar in your pantry or color-coordinate your closet, unless that’s your thing. Being organized where it matters in your life is enough. You can always donate old books or sort out the garage whenever you have extra energy – but that’s a bonus. Start with what makes the most difference in your daily life.

Cut the Clutter: A Practical Plan to Get Organized with Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions
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How to Start Getting Organized with Chronic Illness

Countless of blog posts, books and programs have been written about how to best organize your pantry, closet or workspace by people much neater than me. What we’ll focus on, is how to actually execute the process of organization when you struggle with pain, fatigue and other symptoms.

1. Set priorities

The first step is focusing on what you should organize. Having a closet full of unfolded clothes looks untidy, but if it doesn’t bother you, don’t start there. If you have limited energy and mobility, ask yourself, what really matters? What would make my daily functioning less chaotic and more effortless?

For example, if you can’t stand yet another hamper of unfolded towels and clothes, see if you can streamline your laundry process or create a capsule wardrobe. Or when you’re too tired to cook a healthy dinner most nights, you could prioritize meal planning and prepping over sorting out your kids’ toys.

Also, what do you need in case of emergencies? Your health situation could make it more likely you need to visit a hospital, claim your insurances or collect social benefits. In that case, having your medical documents, insurance papers and finances sorted, can reduce a lot of stress during already upsetting times.

So make a list of the home life areas you’d like to start organizing and start with the space or home routine that has the most impact on your health and happiness.

2. Make a plan that works for you

When it comes to organizing, everyone has their own success strategy. You can tackle one drawer a day or clean out all your closets in one weekend and be done. You can declutter stuff per category, Marie Kondo-style, or go room by room.

Honestly, I don’t think it matters that much what your organization process looks like. What works best for you depends on your health condition, living situation and the mess you’re in. Whatever strategy you choose, make a concrete plan of attack to reduce overwhelm and allow yourself to pace. Break tasks down to bite-size chunks to be able get them done and check them off your list.

And don’t forget to keep the end result in mind and make the process fun! Turn on some motivational music, listen to a captivating audiobook or ask a friend for moral (and practical!) support.

Cut the Clutter: A Practical Plan to Get Organized with Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions
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3. Limit strain on your body

Doing chores can be a quite a workout. Things like carrying boxes and rearranging cupboards may be a challenge for your aching body. So how can you get organized without putting too much strain on your body?

Ask help from housemates with heavy lifting, reaching high places or bending. If you have to do these things yourself, try to work ergonomically:

  • Bend your knees when picking things up from the floor, and support your pelvic muscles if that’s an issue for you.
  • Use a solid, non-slippery stool to place items on the top shelves.
  • Sit or stand in a comfortable position when sorting things. Relax your shoulders and back in between.
  • Make use of tools like an extendable duster, cordless vacuum, grabber and lightweight mops.

And don’t forget to take breaks, preferably before you need to. Stop before you become too tired, dizzy, nauseous or in pain. It can also be helpful to gently stretch and take a warm shower afterwards to relax your muscles.

4. Consider getting help to kickstart your organizing

When you have a mountain of housework to tackle, it can feel pretty daunting. Especially if, after a day of hard work, it still looks like you haven’t really gotten much done.

To kickstart your organization, consider asking family members, friends or even a professional to help you out. While you do the sorting, someone else could give the cupboards and closets a good scrub. Your helping hand can also literally take some weight off you by bringing your old belongings to a charity shop and take out the garbage bags.

Seeing real changes and having support may be just what you need to start with a clean slate (pun intended).

5. Don’t forget your digital life

We spend a lot of time on our electronic devices, telecommuting, connecting with friends, getting online doctor consultations and ordering groceries. It’s easy to gather digital clutter too, from too many unread messages and an overload of apps on your phone to a download folder that’s gotten out of hand.

If that’s the case, upgrade your digital life. Spring clean your inbox and your desk top, sort your files and delete programs you no longer use. Do make backups of important documents and emails.

And while you’re at it, take a closer look at your digital habits. Remove what doesn’t nurture your soul: unsubscribe from newsletters, unfollow people who drain you or delete apps that suck away your time and attention.

A Practical Pla to Gte Organized with Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions
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Things to Consider When Getting Organized

Accessibility: How can you make everyday living easier?

It almost sounds too logic to mention: put the things you use most often in places where you can easily get them. But when your daily rituals change – due to having kids, getting a new job or becoming chronically ill – you might forget to also change the way you organize your home.

For example, if you spend a lot of time in bed, do you have helpful and comforting items on your night stand? Do you carry your meds in your purse for emergencies? And when living in a two-level house, would it be convenient to have certain products on both floors to limit walking the stairs?

Don’t just make your home look tidy, but think about accessibility and comfort too.

Set your surroundings up for success.  

Your living environment has a stronger influence on your daily habits than you may realize. So while you’re busy reorganizing your surroundings, try to think of which healthy habits you want to implement. For example, if your goal is to cut back on caffeine, swap your coffee machine for a high-performance blender. That’ll make it more likely you’ll grab a vibrant green smoothie in the morning instead of an espresso.

Cut the Clutter: A Practical Plan to Get Organized with Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions
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… And How to Stay Organized with Chronic Illness

Tidying up is one thing, but staying somewhat organized is a whole other challenge. What are some energy-conserving ways to keep things running smoothly around the house?

1. Develop routines

Creating helpful housekeeping routines is the easiest way to keep stuff from piling up and prevent overwhelm. Yes, it may feel boring, repetitive or too much work at first. But soon, you’ll be doing your chores on autopilot, saving you energy and mental strain.

Things like weekly meal planning and Sunday evening prep sets you up for a more smooth-running week ahead. You could also create a household schedule, dedicating chores to certain days of the week to manage your energy wisely. But little habits like tidying up before or after dinner and putting dirty cups straight into the dishwasher help to tame the mess too.

Pro-tip: If your symptoms and energy levels are unpredictable, fluctuating day by day, try to leave some buffer time in your planning and organization. That way, if you aren’t able to do your daily chores on a given day, you won’t feel like you’re ‘getting behind’.

2. Use a planner

To me, planning is vital part of being organized with chronic illness. Writing down my to dos unburdens my brain, makes it easier to pace my energy and helps me avoid last minute stress packing bags, getting birthday presents or going for medical check-ups. There are tons of beautiful paper planners and digital apps to help you stay on top of everything, so get one that supports your needs!

Cut the Clutter: A Practical Plan to Get Organized with Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions
Top image by Andrea Piacquadio via

3. Organize naturally throughout the year

Make organization a natural part of your life by tying decluttering to seasonal occasions. After a long winter being cooped up indoors, spring is a perfect time for deep cleaning and refreshing your decor. At the start of a new season, go through your closets and see what no longer fits, which clothes you need to repair or buy new. When it’s time to pay your taxes, organize your paper work, administration and digital folders. You get the idea.

4. Mind what’s coming into your home

Anyone who has kids knows, it’s tough staying organized when you have school work, new drawings, toys and sticks coming into your home every week. And it’s not just little ones who are guilty of this! Even if you’re not a shopaholic, you may find bills, receipts, coupons and takeout menus piling up. You can limit this stream of paper by switching to digital versions and putting up a ‘no printed advertisement materials’ sticker on your mailbox.

If you want to reduce the amount of new stuff, you can also consider the philosophy of essentialism or embrace the strategy of ‘one thing in, one thing out’.

And finally, be smart about the things you do buy, whenever possible. Will it contribute to your goals and organized way of living? For example, if you struggle with laundry, it might be helpful to get iron-free shirts and not delicates that need hand washing.

When you already have limited energy, don’t let your belongings own you.

What helps you to get organized – and stay that way – despite chronic health problems?

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