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Planning a Clutter Cleanout?

Getting organized can be overwhelming, especially if you are also managing a health condition. Get tips for making progress at your own pace.

woman sorts clothes into plastic bins

Facing the chaos of our accumulated stuff – from piles of mail to worn-out clothing – makes many of us weak in the knees. Getting organized is a big job, but experts say reframing how you think about the task can be a productive first step.

Instead of focusing on the short-term hassles, focus on the long-term benefits like having a current list of your medications – paper or electronic – that you can easily share during a doctor’s visit; knowing your keys are in only one place and you never have to search for them again; and making space in your garage for an actual car.

“By thinking about how achieving a less cluttered space can improve your physical and emotional well-being, you might be more motivated to begin and persist in your efforts,” said aid Davina Tawari, a medical social worker in Toronto. “Similarly, if you find you aren't using an object anymore, think about the joy or pleasure it could bring to someone else in need once you let it go.” 

Decluttering often requires an emotional adjustment because it’s hard to let go of items we are used to having around us. It’s helpful to reframe decluttering in a positive light. Instead of losing possessions, focus on gaining space. Your soon-to-be more orderly environment can reduce stress. It’s also safer.

“If you have a disability and accessibility is important to you, making your space more organized will help you navigate your environment more easily,” Tawari said“Overall, being in a more organized home may help you feel better about your living situation and will increase your comfort.”

Start with the low hanging fruit. Those early successes will help keep you on track.

“Begin with less complex closets, such as hallway closet rather than your bedroom closet. Tackle smaller sections of paperwork, such as the papers on your desk rather than years' worth of financial documents,” she said. “Once you start making some momentum, it will be easier to keep going and build upon your gains.”

Tawari recommends setting a timer to prevent overdoing it. “Make sure you take breaks along the way to hydrate, eat, and relax,” she said.

Tiffany Matthews, a board-certified patient advocate in suburban Philadelphia, sets alarms on her phone. As a caregiver, she routinely builds in extra time – typically 15 minutes – for a given task, in case she needs a break to respond to an immediate need.

“I set my phone for all my tasks because I easily get into what I am doing and will lose track of time,” she said. “I try to be as flexible as I can as well because I have a daughter with chronic illness and I have to attend to her needs as I am needed.”

Corinne Segura, who has a chronic illness that requires bed rest, lets her fingers do the walking, ordering online and having supplies delivered to her home in Canada.

“I keep a master list for each store – Amazon, the pharmacy, the supplement store – and every 15th of the month I go through the list and do all of the monthly orders,” she said. 

Segura also has a helper who comes to the house and helps her stay organized. That gives her the ability to focus on what she can do best.

“I have found that my time is best spent on online work, so I have help with physical tasks that would take so much more out of me than online work does,” she said.