Housekeeping Hacks 101: How to Get Chores Done with Chronic Illness:

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 26 September 2016
  • 3 minute read
Getting Things Done with Chronic Illness: Housekeeping Hacks 101 | The Health Sessions

It’s probably one of the most common dilemmas of the 21st century: “How do I get everything – work, family, household, social life – done with the limited amount of time and energy that I have?”

This problem only becomes more pressing when you suffer from health problems. Because how do you juggle making a living and taking care of your loved ones when your inner battery only charges up to 50% every day and runs out of energy much quicker than everyone else’s?

Basically, there are two broad strategies to tackle a mile-long to-do list when you’re worn out:

  1. Find ways to recharge your battery better – e.g. improve the quality of your sleep, eat nutrient-rich meals or gradually increase your fitness levels.
  2. Experiment with life hacks that help you do everyday things more efficiently.

Now there’s lots of advice on this website (and in my ebook!) on getting healthier and more energetic, but let’s face it, some days you just have to make do with the tiny bit of power that you have left. That’s why I want to share a series of tips on how you can do more with less energy in all areas of your life, starting with the inescapable job of running a household.

How to Do More with Less Energy: Housekeeping Hacks 

From hanging your clothes to dry to making dinner and wiping the kitchen counter – what’s a 5-minute task you do during commercial breaks for healthy people can take up all of a spoonie’s energy for the day – if they’re physically able to cook and clean in the first place.

Now obviously, hiring a cleaning service or enlisting help from family members would save you a lot of heavy work. But that isn’t always an option. What’s realistically possible for you depends on your personal situation and health status, but here are general tips to keep a relatively clean and organized home if you’re chronically ill.

1. Have Supportive Systems in Place

Human beings are creatures of habit; we do a lot of everyday tasks on autopilot. So why not create a few helpful new routines that will make your daily life easier?

  • Automate away. Thanks to technology, many routine tasks can be set up on a schedule, from paying your monthly rent and utility bills to refilling your prescriptions or ordering groceries. So find out if there’s a service or feature that will do recurring jobs automatically for you.
  • Simplify your meal planning. Meal planning is an excellent way to limit tiring trips to the supermarket, but it can be daunting to figure out what’s for dinner. To make things easier, you could collect a month’s worth of healthy recipes for each season and use that to create a weekly menu. If that’s too much hassle for you, you can also build your own personalized template with seven days worth of delicious dinners.
  • Make a spreadsheet with the grocery items you buy regularly. That way you’ll never forget to buy milk again.
  • Keep cleaning supplies on each floor. Having a bucket with spray bottles, microfiber cloths and sponges at hand wherever you need them saves you from needlessly carrying items up and down the stairs. 
  • In that spirit: place baskets at the bottom of the stairs to collect things that need to be taken upstairs.
  • Create smart cleaning routines. Clean rooms from top to bottom, so you won’t knock down dust from higher cupboards and shelves on recently vacuumed floors. See if the ‘cleaning-as-you-go’ approach – doing a little something every day to keep things tidy – works better for you than deep cleaning the whole house once a week. Experiment with other energy-saving tricks, like hanging your clothes instead of folding them, sorting dirty laundry in separate hampers and collecting all used home textiles (towels, rags, (table) cloths, bed sheets) in one go.
  • Consider a “no shoes indoors” policy. It drastically reduces the amount of dirt and germs tracked in. 
  • Organize your surroundings. Your momma was right: having a place for everything and everything in its place works. Find a home for those items typically lying around the house: your wallet, power cords, incoming mail… Try to put things back where they belong and you’ll never have to fret again where you left your keys. 

Getting Things Done with Chronic Illness: Housekeeping Hacks 101 | The Health Sessions

2. Try Minimalism – with a Back Up Plan

An organized and clutter-free home is much easier to clean and maintain. A minimalistic decor could help with that: the less stuff you own, the less likely your rooms and closest are to get messy and filthy.

Now minimalism isn’t about only owning 100 things or less; it’s about getting rid off superfluous stuff that ‘crowds’ your life:

  • Adopt William Morris’ philosophy: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” You could even take it a step further with Marie Kondo’s signature quote: “Discard everything that doesn’t spark joy” – although you’d probably quickly run out of trash bags and tampons if you take this too seriously.
  • Limit the flow of paper coming into your home. Unsubscribe from (local) papers or magazines you barely read and look into city-issued stickers that say “no printed advertising materials” if your country has such as system. Also see if some of your recurring mail, such as monthly phone bills and bank statements, can be viewed digitally or send via email.
  • Try to keep counters and other flat surfaces clear and clutter-free. This is by far my biggest challenge, especially with a toddler at home. But things pile up quickly, just lying there collecting dust. And as the mountain of stuff grows, getting started with cleaning becomes even harder. So try to put things immediately in their designated place or do a quick round of tidying up before you go to bed each night.
  • Experiment with a capsule wardrobe if you have a closet full of clothes you barely wear. As The Every Girl puts it, a capsule wardrobe is a mini wardrobe with versatile pieces you absolutely love to wear. You could limit it to 33 items for every 3 months or make up your own rules. (A capsule wardrobe can be easy if you mostly wear sweatpants because you’re ill, but in that case, please do keep some clothes that make you feel beautiful for days when you are able to go out!)

For much more ideas on getting started with decluttering, check out these helpful tips from Becoming Minimalist and Zen Habits.

Important side note: When you have chronic health problems that flare up unexpectedly, a minimalistic lifestyle should come with a slight twist – having enough ‘back up’ items for bad days. For example, an extra pair of underwear and a fresh set of clothes saves you a lot of stress when you’re too sick to do your laundry. It also helps to have a healthy freezer meal at hand, a pantry stocked with your favourite staple items and a back-up supply of soap, toilet paper and over-the-counter drugs.

Getting Things Done with Chronic Illness: Housekeeping Hacks 101 | The Health Sessions
Save these housekeeping hacks for later! Photo by Celine Verhoef.

3. Embrace Ergonomics and Energy Management 

How you move, sit and stand can either hurt you or protect you from strain and pain. Ergonomics focuses on how to perform everyday activities in such a way that you can function optimally, even if you suffer from physical limitations.

  • Do chores in an ‘ergonomically correct’ way. To overcome physical limitations or minimize pain, you might unknowingly adopt awkward postures that aggregate your symptoms. So pay attention to how you carry your body as you’re dusting high shelves or mopping up the floor. For example, try to keep your shoulders relaxed, use a step to reach spaces above your head or bend through your knees when lifting something off the ground. Stand firmly on both feet, hip-width apart, while you’re doing the dishes and rotate between different chores to avoid injury caused by repetitive motions. Think of housekeeping as a workout (which it is!) that needs to be performed with body awareness.
  • Have a cleaning ‘schedule’ that takes your energy levels into account. Spread your chores out over the week, so you don’t exhaust yourself by scrubbing the tub and vacuuming the entire house in one go.
  • Build in buffer time. Don’t leave things like grocery shopping and laundry until the last minute, right when you run out of food and clean clothes, that just adds unnecessary stress. Also, don’t plan too many cleaning sessions in a row, but leave enough time for rest in between.
  • Find ways to conserve energy. Sit down while you’re peeling potatoes or folding towels. Grab a stool during cooking if you have trouble standing. Consider home deliveries when going out to the shops is a tiring ordeal for you.

4. Use Assistive Equipment 

Having a helping hand when you suffer from pain, fatigue, weakened muscles or other symptoms can improve your independence and energy levels.

  • Put your appliances to work for you: the dish washer, dryer, a programmable slow cooker. You could even consider investing in smart helps around the house like a vacuuming robot.
  • Use supportive tools to make daily activities easier: stools, non-slip mats, long handled gardening tools or kitchen equipment specially designed for people with limited mobility and strength. Google which helpful aids are available for your specific health problems.

But probably the most important household hack for people with chronic illness is this: Don’t set your standards too high. Reaching a basic level of hygiene, with the bills paid in time and your family nourished, is already a massive achievement during your sick days.

In no way is this a complete list of household hacks. On the contrary: I’m always looking for more tips and tricks on doing household chores in such an efficient way that there’s energy left for much more exciting things! So please share your best household hacks in the comments. 

How do you get more done with less energy? 

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