Day 247 Decluttering due to illness

What Illness Taught Me About Decluttering

Guest Post by – Donna Tressler The Sound Of My Own Wheels

Recently I watched the 2010 Messiest Home in the Country episode of Clean House, which featured a family of four living in a home filled with an incomprehensible amount of clutter. There was a lot of finger pointing in the episode – particularly at the father who “guilt shopped” while he traveled for work, but the thing that struck me as interesting was how illness (the mom was a thyroid cancer survivor) had played a roll in the accumulation of the family’s clutter. Serious illness has a profound affect on people and we all react differently. For this family buying more stuff was the answer to their pain. For me, it was just the opposite.

In 2001 I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Initially I was euphoric to have an answer to all the health issues that had plagued me for months, then the reality of living with an incurable (but manageable) illness set in, and I went into denial. I didn’t take care of myself as well as I should, and eventually I went into a flair up of the disease that lasted 16 months.

It was a horrible time in my life and by the time I came out of the flair up, I was physically and mentally exhausted from trying to maintain my job, my house, my marriage, and my relationships with family and friends. It took nearly two years to completely regain my former self, and during that time I began looking for way to improve the quality of my life. In addition to taking better care of myself and managing stress (which is a huge factor in my illness), I looked for ways to simplify my life in the event that I suffered another flair up.

Eventually I realized that the less stuff I have, the less I would have to maintain if I did get that sick again. I’d like to say I had an epiphany and instantly went on a decluttering mission that got rid of every unnecessary item in one fell swoop, but life is rarely that way. Instead it has been a continuous journey of looking at each area of my life with fresh eyes. I began by getting rid of things I didn’t use, clothes I didn’t wear, books I would never read again, and have continued on from there. I’m constantly revisiting a cabinet, a closet, a shelf, and asking what can go from this area?

As I have pared down, I have found that there are several methods that have been most effective for me in getting on, and more importantly staying on, the declutter path. My methods work for existing items in my house and items that I contemplate buying.

  • I ask myself if I got “that sick” again, would I want to deal with this item
  • I ask myself the questions on the Declutter Decision Making Guide here on 365lessthings
  • I ask myself how many hours of working/commuting it would take to pay for the item

Someone once said “life is what happens while you are making other plans.” For me that’s a whole other blog post, but by sticking with my trifecta of clutter busting methods, I have managed to mostly stick to the trail and continue on the decluttering path, which in turn simplifies my life, helps manage my stress and thereby my overall health. It’s a win-win situation.


More things I won’t need to iron yay!

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Continue reading with these posts:

  • Mini Mission ~ Friday 22Dec2017 Declutter a couple of old shabby shoes that you no long choose to use.
  • How little we really need Every time I go on a long vacation I am reminded of how little one really needs to live a comfortable and functional lifestyle. My husband and I often stay in Airbnb places when on […]
  • Getting the stuff out of your home It has come to my attention, both through comments on my blog and through real life experience, that one of the issues people have with their clutter, once they finally decide to be rid of […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. All of us could use this wonderful perspective if only we would remember that life can change in the blink of an eye.

    This is one of my driving motivators, after seeing a dear relative’s life changed forever by a stroke. He went to the hospital and hasn’t been home since, and that was over three years ago.

    A sobering approach – but it can be a highly effective one. Nice job!

    • Hi Jo – thank you. You are right, life can change in an instant. We learned that all over again a couple years ago when my husband’s mom was rear-ended in traffic and suffered a head injury. She has fully recovered now, but it was a long process, and the accident happened at the most inopportune time (as if there was a good time). She and her husband were in the process of selling their house and moving to a new house in another state and dealing with what to do with all their stuff, and if that wasn’t enough she was transitioning from a daily commute to being a telecommuter. It was a sobering and eye opening experience for all of us that has had lasting affects.

  2. Oh do I ever relate to this one! My flareups are from lupus, and can be triggered by stress or a cold or too much sun or hot weather–or nothing at all. There are tons of things I used to to and would still do, but I no longer have the strength or mobility. This actually made it easier to declutter–it made a lot of decisions for me. I want everything I can’t use outta here, so that no matter what the future holds it’s not going to be a burden either to me or to my family. The resulting serenity of less mess has turned out to be so helpful to reducing stress and making my home a real haven when times aren’t so good.

    • Hi Meg,
      sound like you know how to look on the bright side and good for you. Having a comfortable home sure makes thing feel better at times of stress and eases your mind about the future for your family.

    • Meg,

      It sounds like each of us one by one have found the path to making our illnesses more manageable – by clearing out the clutter and obstacles that surround us – and just leaving the good stuff in place.

  3. Oh how I understand this one. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, Irritable Bowel, Diabetes and Multiple Chemical Sensativities. I had to leave my great job and my wonderful paycheck and go on disability. I learned that many things cause me to stress now that didn’t before becasue of what these diseases do to me. I have always been a neat nic but am even worse now because clutter (both physically and mentally) cause brain fog and can up my pain and exhaustion levels as well. So I have learned to declutter, declutter, declutter.

    • Hi Deb J,
      I feel for you. All those issues makes me feel like a big sooky la la, but depression is despression no matter what causes it I suppose I should be too hard on myself. I hope you have more good days than bad.

  4. Deb J, I feel for you, you certainly have your plate full. I started with irritable bowel, then “graduated” to Crohn’s Disease. I have always thought it was ironic because diabetes and heart disease are prevalent in my family, yet I got something completely unrelated.

    For a long time after I was diagnosed, basically up until I had my daughter, stress was a huge factor for me. I was easily stressed or irritated, my coping mechanism had gone on hiatus. Having a child when I thought I couldn’t has given me a new perspective that has significantly changed my ability to cope with stress. I am much more like my previous laid back self. However, I find I have developed a “keep it simple stupid” philosophy and have an increasingly low tolerance for clutter and unnecessary stuff. Much like you the physical clutter becomes mental clutter as well, makes me feel distracted and tired, and therefore has to go.

    • Hi Donna,
      it is funny having children had the oposite effect on me. I often tell people I am still suffering from post-natal depression and my kids are 21 & 19, unfortunately I am usually only half joking. I love them to death though even if our daughter has no sense of humour about us sitting by the Bay of Naples sipping a glass of vino with Mt Vesuvius across the Bay. She is just slightly jealous. We are having fun taunting her though it makes the vacation even more special. Thanks again for your post you are a great help.

      • Hi Colleen – hey I have no sense of humor about you sitting by the Bay of Naples – jealous! Oh, so jealous! I hope you are enjoying it enough for all of us.

        Seriously, having children has an enormous affect on a woman’s body and emotional state. It affects us all differently and profoundly.

  5. Though I am not as ill as you Donna, finding out I had severe Anemia sure didn’t help with my second go around with decluttering.
    It amazed me how even dropping something on the floor didn’t bother me anymore. As far as I was concerned it could stay there forever.
    It has been a year and I am so much better, but still need to go slow.

    Certainly hoping the “third time” with be the charm and I will finally get this place cleared of all the excess.


    • Hi jilly,
      welcome to 365lessthing. I am sorry you have been unwell. I can sympathise at the moment because leading up to my vacation I have a few issues and was afraid I wouldnàt be able to go. All is well now thank heavens. I hope you manage to stay well and work on your decluttering I am sure you will feel even better with less clutter around you. Good luck!

    • Hi Jilly,

      I am slightly anemic b/c of the Crohn’s and have to take iron supplements. I know what that condition can do to your body. It’s exhausting! Do take it slow, every little bit helps and keeps you on the road to where you want to be. I’m still miles from where I would like to be, so I try to remind myself to look around and see the progress I’ve made and not what I still need to do.

  6. Just read this dear woman’s post re owning/maintaing stuff while dealing with chronic illness. Before purchases, I have frequently askd myself ?#3, the #hours of my life a purchase requires. But I did it for budget reasons not for clutter control. Thanks for flushing out that whole issue.
    I have RA & I have gotten rid of items because I can’t use them anymore( some clothes are too doggone hard to fasten!). Bless Donna’s heart for sharing her journey with us

    • Good point Gail. It does amuse me at times when people say my clutter is overwhelming and I don’t have the time to deal with it. I have rarely heard anyone complain about the amount of time they spent acquiring it in the first place. What they don’t realise is it can be just as enjoyable getting rid of it as it was accumulating it if you are keen enough to see it go.

      Smart move getting rid of things you can’t manage to manipulate with RA. These things aren’t much good to you if you can’t use them and for the most part I guess you are finding you didn’t really need them anyway.