Clutter and Illness By Doodle



We all have different reasons to keep on decluttering. I think ultimately, decluttering facilitates living in the moment, open to new opportunities because you have physically and psychologically made room for them.

But it’s all too easy for us to bury our heads in the sand about aging and illness and the effect too much clutter has on our lives when unexpected illness and disability strike.

I’m only 50, but have experience of how quickly and unexpectedly we can become ill or disabled, because it happened to me in  my 20’s, leaving me drained of energy for a decade  and then in my 40’s, I had a sudden onset arthritis that left me crippled over night, not able to dress myself or even eat as my jaw was affected. I didn’t know if I would ever walk without sticks again, let alone drive. And once you have lost mobility and often energy, life becomes much harder to perform the simplest tasks, or indeed access anything stored in attics or under the bed. When putting your socks on uses up a day’s energy, then de-cluttering is going to go way on the back burner.

Fortunately thanks to medication my life is currently on an even keel, but it certainly highlighted for me I needed a clutter free home to aid mobility but also to avoid the frustration of not have the strength or agility to sort stuff that I knew needed sorting. It also reminds me that in old age, I won’t have children to help sort and clear and do practical jobs as we are doing with my in-laws and my own parents.

If I get to the stage of needing to go into a care home, I don’t want to face having to sort a life time of stuff then. If we need to sell up and to get a home without stairs, I don’t want to not be able to do that because I haven’t the energy.

I still get easily overtired, so the simpler I can make my life, with a place for everything and everything in its place the better. For people with low energy for whatever reason, Colleen’s one item a day is a perfect way to declutter. And every time I get rid of a few more things, I feel a little lighter, physically and mentally.

I wonder how many of you struggle with ill health that means you have to go slower on this declutter journey than you would choose.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter something from the guest room.

Eco Tip for the Day

When all else is equal between one product or another choose the one with the most eco friendly packaging.

For a full list of my eco tips so far click here

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  1. My mom has talked with me about her struggles with going through so much paperwork since my step-dad died. She said she sat on the floor for hours and shredded documents. )She told me this after the fact or I would have told her she could have dropped it all off at a shredding place. 🙁 )

    I don’t have any children so there will be no one to go through my boxes of “treasures” later.

    Doodle’s post has reminded me of some things. We are presently in our first home (since 2000), and I really, really never want another home with stairs. Yeah, I’m only 46, but stairs are a pain in the hiney. Our home was built in 1904 and has very narrow doorways. Not remotely handicap accessible. It’s not that I want a bigger house, certainly not! I’d just like a more functional home. You never know when you may become incapacitated and need to use a walker or a wheelchair. To reference back to Doodle, there is no time like the present to declutter your home of unwanted/unnecessary items.

    • Michelle, I can relate to what you mom has gone through. When my father died the paperwork and other things that needed to be taken care of were never ending. I thought I would never get it all gone through. Plus in the 20 years since that time getting my mother to realize that less is better took enormous patience and was quite a drain. My take on Doodles post is that we need to consider our energy and what children (or someone) will have to take care of when we are gone.

    • Hi Michelle – I grew up in a bungalow so still find stairs a bit of a thrill, lol, but not when every step was agony!
      Off topic but it reminds me of my strict house rule -nothing is ever to be put on the steps to be ‘taken up later’ – an accident waiting to happen.
      Whenever we next move, I will certainly be very conscious of choosing somewhere with older age in mind.

      • Hi Doodle – oh yeah “accident waiting to happen”, especially since our steps are not as per city code. Very narrow and very steep. I fell down them head over heels right before Christmas and ended up in physical therapy for a couple of months. Yikes!

        Hubby is wanting a basement (I guess so he can store more junk?!), but I have seen way too many homes with the laundry in the basement and I absolutely do not want to be hauling laundry baskets up and down stairs.

        • Too right Michelle – I think you can foresee only too well what it would mean.
          We don’t need ore storage space, we need less stuff!

          I fell down the stairs about 5 years ago, all the way form top to bottom: I was so lucky to escape injury. I never go up or down now without a free hand to hold the bannister.

    • Hi,
      I felt moved to contribute a comment here. What a wonderful point to raise and one that we so often are unaware of until it happens to us. I recently injured my eye and during the duration of this sudden and painful event was struck by how much easier this was to cope with after several years of dedicated decluttering.

      The housework did not pile up, I could navigate this new simple clean house with one eye, I knew once I could get to it that the catch up would be so much easier.

      Life throws so many curve balls that living a simpler, easier existence as far as external environments go, makes it all the more possible to deal with whats happening inside. Be it illness or emotional upheaval.

      Thank you for this blog. It has been of so much daily strength to me on my decluttering journey. Keep it up!

      • Thanks Sarah and welcome to 365 as I believe this may be your first post? You are right about life throwing all sorts of curve balls and every one of them will be that bit easier to handle if we have a handle on our stuff.

  2. RA has robbed me of energy. My experience aligns with Doodle article, simpler is all,I have energy to deal with. I set up systems and amount of possessions based on my bad days, not my higher energy good days.

    • Gail, I so understand what you mean. I have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and a a body full of osteoarthritis. My energy levels are low more than they are high. Having things wo you have to expend little energy is a real blessing.

    • Sending you my sympathy Gail – I think I is not generally known by the healthy how exhausting inflammatory arthritis is – it’s not just about the pain (which is draining enough).
      I definitely work my whole life around managing my fluctuating energies.

    • Gail – my sympathies for your illness. “I set up systems and amount of possessions based on my bad days, not my higher energy good days” struck a chord with me and will be going in my quotes page in my iphone. Someone close to me is unwell, has been for over a year and it looks like its going at least another year. I have been trying to find a way to vocalise this exact philosophy as my role as a support person, so that when my full attention is required, I’m not pelted by all the figurative juggling balls that I have dropped. Thank you. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

  3. I did not know your story and thank you very much for sharing it. There are so many people I wish I could influence to do what you have done. Their lives are so much harder with all the stuff everywhere. We have downsized to a smaller home and 1/2 of the stuff we had and continue to downsize as we aim towards retirement in a couple of years. We don’t want stuff to bog us down or our kids when we are gone.

    • Thanks Connie. I guess we can only keep working on our selves and thereby set an example.
      But it is so frustrating when we see others making their own lives harder than need be eh?

  4. Doodle, you are so right. This is a great post. I am dealing with this right now as Mom ages and is able to do less on top of me being disabled and not able to do much. When Mom is gone there will only be me to go through all that we still have. When I am gone it will be a couple of friends who have to do it. So my plan is that when it is just me there will be very little for anyone to have to dispose of.

    • Hi Deb J, and thank you very much.
      I too experienced Chronic Fatigue in my 20’s so you have my every sympathy for the impact that has on life and choices.
      Your love for your mother, demonstrated through your patience shines through so much.
      It is a tough call isn’t it, balancing the needs of others against such real and practical needs of slowing down and incapacity. In this case for both of you.
      I have mentioned before that my husband is a hoarder or ‘my work in progress’ 😀 I keep working on my own stuff (fortunately as we only married in recent years there is still a natural division between my stuff and his stuff) and I am working on having as little as possible of my own so I can cope with any future crisis. Like your mum, I do see little breakthroughs happening.

      • Yes, balancing the needs of others with you own needs can be hard. But love overcomes the frustration and makes it okay. My mother has moved along a lot since her heart situation back in October.

  5. I can completely relate to this! I’ve been struggling with Systemic Lupus, a sleep disorder and food allergies for many years, and trying to get the most basic things accomplished can seem like a monumental task. I have to pace myself by breaking up chores and errands into a little bit each day. That helps get the basic cleaning and errands done most weeks, but moving beyond that into deep cleaning, decluttering, and organizing is quite a challenge. We have to just try to be patient with ourselves, and be glad for the steps we can take on our ‘good days.’ No use doing too much one day and winding up sicker for the next few days.

    • That’s a tough combo too Rebecca.
      Pacing is the mantra isn’t it indeed! I have also developed excellent ‘saying no’ skills over the years so that I have the energy to do what I most absolutely love or absolutely must), rather than waste it on socially accepted norms.
      One of the reasons I was originally drawn to 365 was it is a great way of de-cluttering by proxy when I didn’t feel up to doing any of my own.
      I like your division of essential jobs over the week and recognising the occasional breakthroughs in de-cluttering and organising on top of that are to be prized.

  6. Doodle, what an insightful article! I am almost 62 years old and have no children. I am currently in the process of going thru more things because of the very reasons you mention. My only niece is a minimalist and won’t want my antiques. I have way too much furniture and glassware. I have enjoyed it, but it is time to let go. I have already learned during my husband’s recent recovery that
    I had to remove some furniture to be wheelchair accessible .

    So glad you currently have your own health on a somewhat steady course.

  7. Thank you for this post Doodle, and I’m glad to hear that you have got your health problems under control. What you have said here is really the heart of the purpose of decluttering for me. I had a wake-up call almost 2 years ago when I was involved in a car accident. I was driving my kids to school, same thing as I had done for years, and another driver ploughed into us. My left wrist was broken and my right wrist was burned by the airbag, so for a few weeks I really couldn’t do much of anything. During my enforced rest I found Colleen’s blog and the lightbulb went off in my head. Since then hundreds of items have been donated or recycled and I have gained time, saved money and found a new peace and freedom in not being attached to burdensome belongings. You just never know when life is going to change and all these stored belongings don’t give much comfort when things get difficult.

    • Thanks Christine – a perfect example of the unexpected and immediate need to have less stuff! So glad it wasn’t worse for you. I love you have found a new peace through detaching from your belongings.
      I suspect quite a few of us found Colleen’s blog during much needed rest time for one health reason or another. I have found the internet a wonderful tool to break isolation and make friends with both shared interests and different life experiences to mine.

  8. I’ve never really thought about how illness and clutter relate to one another. Great eye-opening post Doodle. Thanks for making me think more about how the clutter around me affects my life and energy level. Glad to hear your health is more stable these days.

    • Thanks Shoeaholic. I think ill health can make you very sensitive to energy depleters that are easier to ignore if well. I have definitely found clutter and disorder depletes my energy.

      I am grateful that there are meds that are able to help me – though I never know from one month to the next if they will continue to work or my body will reject them. Fortunately, I find with a little work and a lot of luck of personality I do not worry about my future health, while able at the same time to be practical about possible deterioration.

  9. This is a great post Doodle, thank you for sharing it and your story with us all. These are the sorts of things the people don’t think about. And as your story suggests, ill health doesn’t always wait until a person is old.

  10. Doodle,
    Great post. I was reminded of two statements as I read it.
    #1 Be prepared. (The Girl Scouts motto)
    #2 Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
    This thing we call life, just seems to go at warped speed as we age. In 8 months, we will be back in the Christmas season.
    I try to always remember that what I purchased back then (which could be 40 years ago or 1 month ago) was the perfect decision for me at that time. But time passes, people change and we need to let go so our homes don’t become a museum of our lives.

    • Oh Kimberly – did you have to bring up that season that can make lots of folks want to pull their hair out?? ME ME ME! Nah, really, I’m getting better with that. 🙂 But I love your #1 and #2!

      Sometimes I get wrapped up in the preservation of good times that I forget to “live in the now” and end up with the “museum” you mention. That is something that I need to stop. Thanks for the reminder.

    • I like the expression – ‘a museum of our lives’! I shall be using that with clients I think. Because it calls up the image of a musty hoard that keeps us looking back not forward.

      • Doodle – when we tackled our ceiling storage/attic area the first time……we likened it to an archaelogical dig.

        • Love it love it love it: from now on, expeditions into our attic will be referred to as archaeological digs! (I met my husband on an archaeology course – can’t think why I did see this obvious similarity) 😀

  11. I love the way you, Doodle, Deb and the others with such problems stay so upbeat. I think attitude has a lot to do with how effective treatments are. Some people just seem to give up. It is also very good that you and the others have learned to pace yourselves. I have had a knee problem since high school and eventually had a torn meniscus in that knee. The operation left that knee undependable or “unstable” the rheumatologist calls it, so some days I get around all right, some days I need a cane, and occasionally I barely get around at all–just do the bare minimum on those days. So I do feel for all of you and realize your situation is much more serious than mine. I can remember a real bad stretch I went through and how frustrated I felt when I just couldn’t do much. So 365 was a whole new idea–I had just been organizing stuff instead of shedding stuff. Not that I hadn’t donated some over the years, but never with the idea of just keeping what we loved, used, and needed. And it is funny how you can go through one time and the next time you are so surprised at how much is still left–and how much of that you are willing to part with. So I wish all of you the best. You are certainly doing the right thing by taking care of yourselves, decluttering when you can, and pacing yourself all the time.

    • Thank you Nana. I thinking learning hope to cope positively with disability and illness is a bit of a journey. Part of that journey for me has also been to allow myself to express the pain and suffering of it at times rather than hold it in. Having the occasional wail gives me strength to go forward. Your knees issues certain sounds like it brings it’s own challenges for you.
      I like your insight into the difference between organising and actually shedding: it is easy just to think you just need more and better storage (though good storage can really help). We always tell clients not to buy more storage until after their sessions with us , as they won’t need as much as they think.

  12. I have a friend who is wheel chair bound. Today she mentioned that she wants and needs to declutter but cannot do it by herself. I am thinking of offering my help. Having had to deal with clearing my parents’ home, which in all fairness was not all that cluttered, I have had plenty of experience.
    The reason my parents’ home was relatively clutter free was that they had to clean out their parents’ homes in the same four month period. At that experience, they began to remove junk from their place because they didn’t want us to have to deal with what they had to do. I have always been thankful to them for that. And that makes me motivated to pass on that same gift to my children.

    • I am sure with all you have learned Willow, you would be a tremendous and understanding help for your friend.

  13. Through illness or aging, most of us will have to deal with this sooner or later. And if I am one of those who goes from “in motion” to “drop like a stone”, I don’t want my kids suffering the consequences. One of them has health issues of her own, and that would be the worst thing I could leave behind. Good post, Doodle.

    • Thanks Jo H. Yes, looking to the reality of the future and our sure and certain demise at some point, I think it is an act of real love to sort your affairs, make a will and de-clutter for your loved ones you will leave behind.