Less But Better: How to Make Minimalism Work When You’re Chronically Ill 

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 16 May 2019
  • 3 minute read
Less But Better: How to Make Minimalism Work When You're Chronically Ill | The Health Sessions

Minimalism is trendy – and understandably so. Over the past decades, our desire to consume has grown as welfare levels increased. But the Marie Kondo craze shows that many of us now have a luxury problem: we have so much stuff that it’s causing mess and stress.

And it’s not just our homes that are overloaded; our schedules are pretty packed too. That’s why more and more people are decluttering their lives to reclaim their time and freedom.

Sounds great, but how do you make minimalism work when you have limited energy and mobility? Take a look at how you can live better with less when you’re chronically ill.

The Upsides and Downsides of Minimalism When You’re Chronically Ill

A more conscious way of consuming has many benefits. Buying less stuff is better for our planet, it saves money and having less possessions means spending less time (and energy!) on tidying and cleaning.

But minimalism isn’t a competition about owning as little as you can. Ultimately, it’s about removing the excess from your life and living better with less. As a spoonie, you’re forced to focus on the things that matter. Every day, you have to prioritize, say ‘no’ to activities and be mindful about how you spend your limited energy. In a way, doing more with less is a natural consequence of having serious health problems.

However, minimalism has some downsides when you’re chronically ill. Owning less items may mean less clutter, but it also means you have to be fit enough to regularly wash your pared-down wardrobe, go grocery shopping to stock your minimalist pantry and repair broken essentials. That usually isn’t a problem when you’re healthy, but what do you do when you’re too sick to get out of bed and there’s no food and clean underwear left?

Is there a way to reap the benefits from minimalism without getting into trouble on flare-up days?

Less But Better: How to Make Minimalism Work When You're Chronically Ill | The Health Sessions

Minimalism with a Back-Up Plan

Chronically ill or not, chances are you have superfluous stuff in your life, things you don’t really need. Whether it’s digital clutter, a closet full of old clothes or simply too many appointments on your schedule, there’s probably an area in life you could simplify.

But there’s one key to minimalism with chronic illness: having a back-up plan.

When symptoms can flare-up at any time, without a warning, you don’t need the additional stress of not having your coping essentials at hand because you got rid of everything that didn’t spark joy. Here are 5 ways you can minimalize and still have a back-up for sick days.

1. Clothing

If you love fashion and shopping, having a minimalist wardrobe may not sound appealing. But paring down your clothes and accessories helps keep your closets organized, saves you time deciding what to wear today and reduces your ecological footprint.

A capsule wardrobe is a small collection of timeless pieces of clothing, complemented with seasonal items. For example, Project 333 challenges you to only wear 33 items for 3 months. But the actual number doesn’t really matter. If you’d like to minimize your wardrobe, it helps to stick to your favourite colour scheme, so you can easily mix and match. What’s more, you should choose quality over quantity. Your clothes will have a better fit and stay in good condition for longer – which saves you some shopping trips if you’re not mobile.

The drawback of a capsule wardrobe? You can’t skip laundry day without running out of decent clothes to wear.

The Back-Up Plan: When creating a minimalist wardrobe, keep a separate drawer or shelve with 1-3 extra sets of clothing for sick days. That way, you can still change into clean clothes when you’re too ill to do your laundry. Make sure your back-up underwear, pajamas and loungewear all feel comfortable enough to wear in bed.

Additionally, if your illness requires unexpected trips to the hospital, you could consider keeping a packed hospital bag at hand for emergencies.

2. Food

Are your kitchen cabinets filled with half-empty boxes of pasta, spices you rarely use or incomplete sets of tableware? Over time, many of us accumulate a lot of appliances and kitchen utensils on our countertops. But the truth is, you don’t necessarily need a waffle iron and ice cream maker – a few cooking essentials will do. Which appliances save you time and energy in the kitchen will differ from person to person, but as a general rule, limit tools with a single function.

When it comes to cooking, meal planning is a smart strategy to limit trips to the grocery store. To keep things simple, you can create a personalized template with a week’s worth of healthy dinners.

The Back-Up Plan: Running out of food when you’re too ill to go to the supermarket can be stressful. It helps to cook double batches of food on good days and store one portion in the freezer. Also stock your minimalist pantry with a few items that allow you to whip up a healthy dinner in no time, like one-minute rice with frozen veggies, soup or tortillas with beans and corn. Finally, low-effort cooking strategies like one-tray meals, foil packets and Crockpot dinners don’t require much cooking supplies either.

Less But Better: How to Make Minimalism Work When You're Chronically Ill | The Health Sessions

3. Household

An organized and clutter-free house is much easier to maintain. You can create a minimalist living environment by purging your junk drawers, designating a spot for every remaining item, keep surfaces clear and limit the flow of paper coming into your home. Part of your book and movie collection can be stored electronically instead of taking up space.

Lots of people hang on to excess things for the unlikely “just in case”. But what if in your case, those things turn out to be lifesavers when you do need them?

The Back-Up Plan: Have a back-up supply of soap, toilet paper and over-the-counter drugs. Seasonally check the perishable date of painkillers, cough medications and other home pharmacy products, so have you something to soothe your symptoms when you get sick in the middle of the night. Also set up automatic reminders to renew your prescription drugs, giving you enough to to pick up your meds before your pillbox’s empty. In that spirit: illness-related costs can pile up pretty quickly, so keep an emergency fund for unexpected bills.

4. Kids

Staying organized when you have kids at home can be a day-job. Especially toddlers and teens have a talent for creating a mess in minutes. When it comes to playing, kids don’t necessarily need a lot of toys. Ideally, your home holds a toy for each of the 5 developmental areas:

  • Constructive play, like building blocks or a marble run.
  • Motor play, from a football to fine-motor activities like stringing beads.
  • Cognitive play, like puzzles and educational games.
  • Creative play, such as drawing, Play-doh, making music and dancing.
  • Social play, like board games, dress up clothes and role playing toys.

Rotating toys every few weeks keeps things fresh and interesting. But how do you keep your kids entertained without tons of toys when you spend a lot of time at home?

The Back-Up Plan: If you’re a chronically ill parent, save something ‘special’ for when you’re not feeling well. That doesn’t have to be a new toy – just something they enjoy but don’t play with every day. Having cool stickers or a beloved video game to turn to on sick days will make you all feel better.

Less But Better: How to Make Minimalism Work When You're Chronically Ill | The Health Sessions

5. Mental diet

Our modern world offers us an abundance of options. As amazing and privileged as that is, too many choices can be overwhelming, causing stress, anxiety and decision paralysis. One happy side effect of a minimalist lifestyle is that it reduces the amount of decisions you have to make. No more standing in front of the closet wondering what to wear today – your capsule wardrobe only offers a few choices.

You may not realise it, but your mental diet has a significant impact on your health and happiness. Now that we’re bombarded with information all day long, it’s important you ask yourself how much and what kind of mental input you want to consume. How do the books, television shows, news papers, podcasts and social media feeds make you feel?

You might also discover you need more time for quietude and daydreaming to recharge mentally. If that’s the case, embracing a minimalist lifestyle with less obligations, more buffer time in your schedule and unplugging occasionally could bring you more peace of mind.

The Back-Up Plan: Marie Kondo is right about one thing: it’s good for your soul to be surrounded by things that ‘spark joy’. The same goes for doing things you enjoy. It’s perfectly ok to have guilty pleasures that lift your spirits, like watching trashy TV. Keep a coping box with comforting items that cheer you up to turn to when you’re in pain, sad or lonely.

When you’re living with illness or disability, a minimalist lifestyle can benefit your daily life in various ways. Just make sure you have a back-up plan for bad days.

How do you make minimalism work when you’re chronically ill? 

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