Managing House Work with a Chronic Illness (And While Living Alone)

It’s a Saturday morning and I’m going through my list of house and home-related tasks that need to be done. It’s been a particularly full work week and so many of the household tasks that I try to space out during the week haven’t been done yet. My list includes laundry, sweeping and vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the washroom and groceries. It feels a little overwhelming.

I am currently in a one bedroom apartment in downtown Toronto. It gets very dusty in my space and with my allergies, it needs to be swept at least thrice a week although usually I can manage a once-a-week thorough dusting.

This isn’t to dismiss the work of people who have families or have multiple people in a household. Often times, there’s more laundry and dishes to do and hopefully the burden of housework doesn’t fall to just one person (especially females in the household). However, I have been thinking about the challenges of trying to manage a household as a single person when living with a chronic illness.

There is a baseline level of work that comes with any space, but as I live alone there are limited options for division of labour.

Anything that requires extra bending like taking out the garbage, carrying laundry to and from my shared coin-operated laundry facility (although thankfully it is in my building), vacuuming and changing bedsheets to name a few can bring on joint pain (especially in my knees and hips) or exacerbate it. And when I am frustrated and in get-it-done mode, I don’t take enough breaks and end up wearing myself out even more. When I’m tired, my ego is especially prone to bring activated, and I have to catch myself before I go down the rabbit hole of feeling sorry for myself and upset at my body for betraying me and being less functional than I would like.

Here are some of the strategies I use when approaching my housework (and these tips still apply no matter what your household situation looks like):

  • Space tasks out throughout the week.  I try to do groceries on Tuesdays, laundry on Wednesdays and cleaning on Fridays. This sometimes shifts based on my week. But this is much more manageable than trying to squeeze everything in on one day. It also generally frees up my weekend which feels great. Additionally, I have found that when I let my laundry pile up, the effort to do two loads versus just one load is more than doubled and exacerbates fatigue. So now I try to do at least one load every week, no matter full up my laundry basket is.
  • Mindful housework. I try to be present and mindful while doing chores. It’s an opportunity for me to grateful for my home, appreciative that I am even able to live on my own and take care of myself and provide for myself – as challenging as it is sometimes. Also, the KonMari method has helped so much with how I approach folding my clothes.
  • Stretch! This is a new one that I’m learning to incorporate into my movements. I may not be running a marathon or getting ready to lift weights but my body sometimes doesn’t know the difference. Stretching mindfully before and after (even during) laundry loads, grocery shopping (I don’t have a car) and cleaning has been helping.
  • Keep it fun. Playing music and listening to podcasts is another thing that helps me get into flow of doing what needs to be done.
  • Ask for help when you need it/ be easy with yourself. This is a big one. I sometimes have not-so-great days. And that’s okay. I have learnt to be okay with ordering food (from my gluten-free, dairy-free go to spots) more than I usually would during the week. I am learning to be okay with my place not being as clean and tidy as I would like it sometimes. That means that some weeks, my kitchen floor just doesn’t get steamed/ mopped because it isn’t a priority.  I am also learning how to receive help when people offer it and ask for help when I need it.

If you found this article helpful, please take a moment to share it in any way using the buttons below! Together, we can raise awareness of what it’s like to live with a chronic illness and explore what it means to reclaim our minds, bodies and lives.

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Nadha Hassen

Founder at Thyroid Transitions
Nadha is a health researcher, writer and consultant based in Toronto. A "thyroidless thriver", she strives to support people at all stages of their thyroid process. She is currently a PhD student and received her Master of Public Health (MPH) from the University of Toronto, specializing in Health Promotion.
Posted in Lifestyle, Mindful Living, Tips, Strategies and Resources.

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