I was recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. I am usually pretty private about personal things but I’ve decided to share this. I know I’m not alone in this so let’s talk about homemaking with chronic illness. Obviously there are many types of chronic illness, each with their own challenges but all effect our ability to keep up with housework, cooking, shopping and everything else the homemaker is responsible for.
Challenges of Homemaking With Chronic Illness
Each chronic illness has its unique symptoms but fatigue is one that is almost universal. I have Sjgören’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease which attacks the moisture-producing glands. While dry mouth and dry eyes are major markers of this disease, it effects the entire body and can cause chronic pain and profound fatigue.
Honestly, I find the fatigue to be the most debilitating symptom because it affects my ability to accomplish the things I want and need to do. If you haven’t experienced this, the best way I can describe it is that it’s like the recovery phase of the flu. Your fever may be gone but you are still achy and the least bit of physical exertion is exhausting.
So how does this effect homemaking?
- It means that I can’t spend 4 or 5 hours cleaning the house from top to bottom like I used to. I miss the days of having everything spotless all at once but if I were to try to do it all in one go I’d be utterly unable to do anything for a few days afterwards.
- It means that some days are better than others and I feel almost normal. It’s tempting to overdo it on those days but I’m learning to pace myself.
- It means prioritizing household tasks and lowering my standards in some areas. I do still iron my pillow cases most of the time, however. 😉
- It means paying attention to my body and the times of day I feel the best. Most productivity gurus advocate rising early and getting major tasks done in the morning. But mornings are rarely a good time for me. I often feel better early afternoon and sometimes get a little energy surge in the evenings.
- It means cutting myself some slack over the state of my closets. I’d love perfectly neat and organized storage spaces…and I DO still intend to work on those areas…but given a choice between tidy living spaces or clean closets, I’ll choose the living spaces.
So let’s get down to specifics. What are some homemaking tips for those dealing with chronic illness (or temporary situations such as pregnancy or recovery from surgery)?
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1. Keeping up is easier than catching up
I actually learned this back when I was working full time as a hospice nurse and had two young children. If I let things get out of control it was really difficult to find the time and energy to catch up. This is even more true now.
2. Minimum Maintenance
This is a term I learned from one of my favorite homemaking books, Totally Organized: The Bonnie McCullough Way. The basic idea is that you spend 5 minutes in each room, every day, just doing the most obvious tasks. This keeps things from getting out of hand and helps the house look neat most of the time.
3. Daily focus
Since I no longer can devote a whole day to cleaning house I now divide up the cleaning over the course of the week:
Monday: wash sheets and remake bed
Tuesday: clean master bathroom
Wednesday: clean downstairs/guest bathroom
Thursday: clean out fridge, make menu and grocery list
Friday: grocery shopping/errands
Saturday: vacuum and dust (David has said he will start vacuuming.)
Sunday: water house plants
4. Make use of little moments
Even a few seconds or minutes here and there add up. Each time you go to the bathroom (which may be often if you are drinking enough water – ha!) do one tiny task: straighten towels, wipe the mirror, do a quick swish and swipe of the toilet. Keep cleaning supplies in each bathroom for this purpose but if you have young children, be sure to keep them out of reach. Or better yet, just keep a spray bottle of diluted vinegar for these quick wipe-downs.
As you walk through the living room, fluff up the pillows on the sofa. While waiting for the kettle to boil, wipe out the microwave or wash a few dishes. Pick up that bit of fluff on the carpet. Empty a wastebasket. Doing these things regularly keeps the house looking tidy and allows you to put off bigger cleaning sessions.
5. Two Minute List
Keep a “Two Minute List”. Write down small household tasks that can be done in 2 minutes or less. Challenge yourself to do a few of these each day. You can read more about this idea here:
6. Use a timer
One of the more useful tips I learned from The FlyLady is to use a timer for household tasks. Consider how much energy you have, set the timer for the amount of time you think you can manage and then give yourself permission to stop when the timer goes off.
7. Labor saving devices
Every homemaker deserves household tools to make her job easier but labor saving devices can be especially important for someone dealing with chronic illness. Consider kitchen appliances such as a slow cooker, Instant Pot, rice cooker, etc. to make meal preparation easier.
While nothing smells better than line-dried laundry, a tumble dryer is a huge help when energy levels are low. And while I don’t have one, I know many swear by their Roomba. If I didn’t think our dog would freak out I’d be very tempted to purchase one.
I try to do a load of laundry every day. I may not always do the entire cycle of “wash – dry – fold – put away” in one day but I do at least part of it. This is much easier than allowing laundry to pile up until it’s an overwhelming chore.
9. Meal planning
Try to plan a weekly menu but also have some super easy go-to meals for those nights when you just aren’t up to much cooking. One of my favorite quick meals is quesadillas and homemade tomato soup. The soup isn’t much harder than opening a can although you could certainly keep canned soups in the pantry for this purpose.
When cooking something that freezes well, make extra and stock your freezer. A purchased frozen pizza or other entree tucked away in the freezer can be a real godsend when you are having an extremely difficult day. By planning ahead you can still feed your family without resorting to take-out. But there’s no shame in that, either.
I love to watch grocery hauls on YouTube and am fascinated (and a bit envious) by the fact that some people live where they can have groceries delivered. If that’s an option for you, do it! Our Walmart does have pickup service but I don’t shop there. Instead, I do almost all of my shopping at Aldi. I like the fact that the store isn’t huge and if I choose a non-busy time I can do my weekly shopping in about 20 minutes.
To help avoid shopping for certain items, I recommend the Subscribe and Save service on Amazon. There are lots of items you can have delivered on a scheduled basis. Some of the items we have delivered routinely are toilet paper (by the case), dog food, shampoo, vitamins, and Earl Grey tea bags (also by the case).
I also highly recommend Grove Collaborative for cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, supplements and skin care products.
Ask for and accept help. This one is the most difficult for me. I want to be able to do it all myself. My husband works very hard at his job all week and the last thing I want to do is ask him to help me with the housework. But the thing is, he is more than willing to do so. If I ask.
He always helps me with the dishes after dinner. I do my best to clean up as I’m cooking and since I start with a clean kitchen it usually only takes us about 10 minutes to clean the kitchen together right after we eat.
I did open up to him recently about how awful I’m feeling much of the time lately and he offered to start doing the vacuuming on Saturdays. That will be a huge help.
If you have children at home encourage them to help out. Picking up after themselves and having a few regular chores are good for them and can be a big help.
If you can afford it, consider hiring cleaning help. I had this for a short time back when I was a hospice nurse and developed severe allergies and asthma. I’m very allergic to dust and my allergist strongly urged me to be out of the house when it was being dusted and vacuumed. My allergies and asthma are much better controlled these days so this isn’t something I’ve done since that year back in the mid-90s. However, I may revisit the idea at some point.
Whether you have a chronic illness or any other situation that makes housework challenging, I hope you’ll find some of these tips helpful. I’m still navigating these waters so if you have other tips or suggestions I’d love to hear them!