Top 13 Ways to Manage a Big Organizing Project With Chronic Pain and Fatigue

You want to work on organizing and get your house in order but are facing a big obstacle: you are already out of energy and chronic pain limits your abilities.

What you need to do is to implement Energy Conservation Mode.

It’s unpleasant to hear, but simple: if you need energy to work on something extra, it’s gotta come from somewhere. You either have to get more energy (let me know if you figure that out) or spend less energy somewhere else.

A popular metaphor in the chronic pain and fatigue community is The Spoon Theory.

Imagining your energy as a concrete object you have a finite amount of (like a handful of spoons from your utensil drawer), can help you keep the balance if you’re planning a big project. It can also help other people understand how you’re having to manage.

You can also think about it like a financial budget. For a short time, you’re tightening your belt so you can save up for a vacation or pay off a debt.

If you’re feeling resistance to implementing some of these suggestions, ask yourself: Is what you’ve been doing so far working?

1. Cut Back

Think about what obligations can be cut back or let go of for a while.

Do this without guilt. You don’t need to explain to others why you can’t make that meeting, outing, or party. Don’t volunteer for anything.

2. Lower Your Standards

Lower your standards for general housework for a while

An ex of mine didn’t clean the bathroom for a whole year, and they survived. Sweep but don’t mop. Forget dusting. Forget vacuuming.

It’s temporary, and once you’ve gotten in a state of readiness for organization, the regular housework will be much easier to do.

3. Protect Your Spoons

Do. Not. Ignore. Signs. You. Are. Out. Of. Spoons.

This is the quickest way for you and your project to crash to a halt.

4. Prioritize Your Self-Care

Don’t skip your exercise routine, health care, pampering, and anything else that keeps you well and mostly functional.

5. Start Low and Go Slow

Start small and increase your effort gradually.

Like, really small. If you’ve got to tackle a disorganized kitchen, start with your utensil drawer and sit down to do it. (The drawers usually come out, too. Take the whole thing to the table.)

6. Accept Your Limitations

Get OK with the idea that you will be slower at this than other people.

You don’t have to like it. Just accept it. No one will know how long it took unless you tell them.

7. Get Some Help

Whether it’s a professional organizer or your best friend, having someone to assist can save you a ton of energy. Your helper can make sure you don’t overextend yourself, or do things that are likely to make pain worse.

8. Deal With The Kids

Have someone watch the kids if they’re young enough and put them to work if they’re old enough.

Having to supervise or otherwise care for your kids while you’ve got your hands full with an organizing project can slow you down significantly.

If they are too young to help you, get someone to babysit. If they are old enough to help, look for ways to put them to work. A lot of organizing tasks can be made into games (scavenger hunt, sorting races, find all the things that don’t belong in here) Have little prizes as rewards, after all–they’re still kids.

If it’s your kid’s closets you’re working on, pro organizer Lisa Woodruff has a podcast episode all about that.

9. Prepare Ahead

Get some meals batched in the freezer.

Eliminate the need to manage some of your regular meal preparation tasks for the duration of your project by preparing some meals. Use your slow-cooker or Instapot and make multiple servings so that you aren’t scrambling at the last minute or relying on junk food for sustenance. If you’ve got friends or family that cook, ask if they would gift you with a favorite meal.

10. Get It Delivered

A lot of things can be delivered today. Take advantage of that even if you don’t usually need to, like for groceries. You might even get lucky with a discount or waived delivery fee on your first order.

Use Amazon, Instacart, Peapod , or delivery services from the stores you shop at. You might even have the type of friends who would bring you something on one of their routine errands.

11. Get It Picked Up

Instead of schlepping donations to the thrift store, call a pickup service. Salvation Army, Amvets, Goodwill, Vietnam Veterans, Arc, and Habitat for Humanity all offer pickup services at the time of this writing. You can use donationtown to find who picks up near you.

12. Pace Yourself

Set a timer to help with pacing and obey your breaks.

Depending on the task, you might be working for 25 minutes and resting for 5, or working for 5 minutes and resting for 25. Any way you need to do it is ok.

Taking a break BEFORE you hit your limit is key here. Don’t wait until you feel awful to rest. Keeping your energy on an even keel is what you want to aim for.

13. Alternate

Alternate sitting and standing tasks.

Sitting and standing tasks, hard and easy tasks, fine motor and gross motor. Give your body variety to avoid wiping out.

BONUS TIP: Take Pictures

It might seem slow and you’ll sometimes feel like you’re not getting anywhere. The pictures are your reality check. Look back at how it used to be and feel proud of your progress. Even if it’s just one utensil drawer today.

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