Clutter isn’t something we do, it’s something that happens when we don’t manage and maintain our stuff. Living with a chronic illness, particularly when symptoms can be unpredictable makes it hard to keep up with the regular tasks that keep our lives organized and clutter free. It doesn’t take long until clutter start to make it harder to live well in the spaces we inhabit.

filled bookcase and edge of children's desk and chair

The usual decluttering strategies doesn’t work as well when you are hindered by symptoms like fatigue and chronic pain. It is not usually possible to make it a large short-term project and breaking it up into small longer-term chunks runs the risk of chaos building up quicker than it is possible to clear the back log.

Decluttering one room at a time runs the risk of just shifting the clutter around the house coming full circle or ending up with an unusable junk room. Removing things that hasn’t been used for 12 months is not always realistic as sometimes needed and wanted items aren’t used because they are inaccessible. Doing a quick tidy up of non-emotional things is an energy intensive task because of the mental effort it takes to sort things and turns out not to be easy or quick.

The following decluttering strategy works well for me because it allows me to not only take into account the emotional impact of getting rid of sentimental items, it also lets me to do it in small manageable chunks that doesn’t drain my energy at a reasonable steady pace.

Decide what to do with unwanted items

I dislike throwing things away that end up in a landfill somewhere and often put off decluttering because I don’t feel up to the task of rehoming these items. The solution to this is to decide, but not implement, where unwanted items will go.

1. Use up what you have

Some of the clutter is useful items – pens, cleaning supplies, a cupboard full of beauty products or long life foods. I put these together by type and make it a priority to use up one item at a time. It means clutter hangs around longer, but it saves money in the long run and I feel better about using things up than simply throwing it out. In addition, I also reuse as much as possible – junk mail becomes crafting supplies, t-shirts cleaning rags, cardboard can make so many useful things. I cap what we keep – one drawer for paper, on box of cardboard etc. to avoid cluttering up the house instead of decluttering.

2. Ask a friend to handle the second hand sales

Most people know someone who loves the process of turning unwanted items into cash. I pass items on that interest them in quantities they are comfortable to accept and we share the profit. I supply the stock, they supply the labour and we both benefit from it.

3. Donate to charity or just give away to family and friends

There is more to life than financial gain and passing on unwanted items to others who do want them is something I enjoy doing. If you struggle to get around or to carry things, some charities offer a collect service and will come and pick items up at your door.

4. Recycle

Many items can be recycled and even if the local council does not pick up certain items, a recycling centre nearby usually has a wider range of items they accept.

5. Bin

Becoming more green is easier in an organized house. I tend to feel that once I have done all the above, it is better to complete a decluttering project by biting the bullet and just getting rid of everything unwanted that is left and aim to produce less rubbish on a regular maintenance basis instead.

Once I have decided what to do with my clutter, I don’t actually try to combine it with the decluttering process. I simply sort into keep and get rid of piles. I then tackle the get rid of piles as a second project afterwards.

open wadrobe organized clothes

Pick a simple category and follow it through

Most of us declutter one room at a time, but in a disorganized house there is a bit of everything in all rooms. I find it easier to sort and clear by category instead, starting with the least emotional, which is usually also the smallest category.

Mine is stationery. I have little emotional connotation to pens, envelopes and rulers and yet every drawer that I open seems to have a pen or small notepad in it. I follow up with kitchen cupboards (getting rid of foods past their use by dates and things accumulated that we never cook or eat), then clothes and bags.

Allocate limited space and declutter in reverse

This has been the most useful approach. I pick a category and dump all items into one big pile. I then choose a finite space – a drawer, cupboard or box. I then sort through and pick out the items that I want to keep and put them back in the drawer/shelf/cupboard. I feel as if this allows me to hopscotch over the emotional issue of getting rid of sentimental items because I am not placing myself in a position of choosing what to let go, but what to keep.

Pair down the total number of items

I struggle to get rid of potentially useful things. I see the potential in scrap paper, old toys, t-shirts and paperback books. I could make a cards, wrapping paper, rags, a clock out of a book, putting all of these things together for little or no cost. It is hard to eliminate things that I feel still have value, that I might need in the future and would then cost me money to buy again. It is difficult to decide what has future value that I will actually make use of and what does not. My solution is to keep a bit of everything.

We don’t need five boxes of Duplo, one small box will do. We don’t need thirty finger puppets, fifty t-shirts, a cabinet filled with various screws or twenty-seven empty cardboard boxes. Apartment Therapy lists 13 items in 12 (Okay 13) More items you probably own too many of: Mugs, reusable shopping bags, spices and condiments, crafting supplies, rags, wrapping paper, containers, underwear, socks, t-shirts, pens, screws and magazines. It’s a good list to start with.

It is not that hard to pick your 8 favourite mugs (or however many will fit on your mug shelf comfortably) and get rid of the rest. Decide on a good number, pick your favourite set and let go of the rest.

six thumbnails of shelves and drawers filled


I find it useful to take pictures of much loved items and save those digitally instead of saving every physical items. I have taken some artistic shots of baby toys and action shots of my daughter wearing her favourite clothes over the years.

We also scan in all paperwork and do not keep hard copies unless they are needed as original items. We favour digital games, digital books and digital media in general. Storing things digitally makes it easier to find them and they do not take up physical space.

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