How to do housework with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome

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Discover practical tips and strategies to effectively manage housework with chronic fatigue. Learn how to set realistic expectations, delegate tasks, establish routines, and prioritize self-care. Transform your home into a clean and welcoming space, minimizing the impact of chronic fatigue.

A photo of a person trying to do housework with chronic fatigue. They are sitting on a sofa holding their head in their hands. Clothes are flying around the room.

Housework with Chronic Fatigue

How to manage housework efficiently with chronic fatigue: tips from an experienced homemaker

Living with chronic fatigue can pose significant challenges when it comes to maintaining a clean and organized home. In this article, I will share my personal experiences and practical tips on how to effectively manage housework despite the limitations imposed by chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and fibromyalgia. By implementing small changes and adopting a strategically planned approach, you can create a clean and comfortable living space while conserving your energy and minimizing the impact of fatigue. You will soon discover that good housework with chronic fatigue is possible!

Understanding the struggles of housework with chronic fatigue

Living with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and fibromyalgia often leads to difficulties in maintaining a tidy and clutter-free home. The accumulation of disarray can result in emotional distress and social isolation, as individuals may feel embarrassed about their living conditions and avoid having guests. I have personally faced similar challenges, but through trial and error, I have discovered strategies that have significantly improved my home and my overall well-being.

I personally experienced feelings of guilt, blaming myself for being lazy or inadequate. This self-blame is a common response to the challenges faced by individuals with chronic fatigue, as societal expectations often equate cleanliness and orderliness with personal worth. However, it is essential to recognize that chronic illnesses such as ME/CFS and fibromyalgia significantly impact energy levels and physical capabilities, making tasks like housework more difficult to accomplish. Overcoming self-blame and shifting the focus towards self-care and realistic expectations are vital steps in finding effective strategies to manage housework while living with chronic fatigue.

Identifying the housekeeping problems with chronic fatigue

As my health declined, I observed that my husband seemed unable to provide substantial assistance with housework due to his demanding work schedule and his own health issues. Traditional gender roles and societal expectations also played a role, often dictating that the primary responsibility for housecleaning falls upon women, leaving men with less experience and time to dedicate to these tasks. Additionally, my husband had taken on the role of tending to the garden, which required his attention and further limited his availability to help inside the house. This division of labor, while unintentional and divided on traditional gender lines, contributed to the challenges we faced in maintaining a clean and orderly home.

The gradual decline in the cleanliness of our house became evident through various indicators. Piles of unopened mail accumulated, and instead of promptly sorting through it, it began to form cluttered stacks. Once a functional space, the bathroom vanity top became overcrowded with an excess of bottles and miscellaneous items, making it difficult to use. The refrigerator was filled with expired food: slime and mold slowly took over. Laundry went increasingly unwashed for days, and changing our sheets became less frequent. 

Closets and storage areas gradually became disorganized, making locating and accessing items arduous. These signs of disarray accumulated over time, slowly transforming our home into a chaotic and overwhelming environment. Eventually, I resorted to hiring a house cleaner. Still, even with their assistance, the clutter and mess continued to build up, leading to their eventual resignation. My husband and I struggled to comprehend why I couldn't keep the house clean and organized, which resulted in self-blame and added to our embarrassment.

It's important for me to acknowledge my privilege. Not everyone has the financial means to hire a professional cleaner. While hiring assistance can be beneficial, it may not be a viable option for many reasons, most commonly financial constraints. Many individuals with chronic illnesses face additional financial burdens related to medical expenses and treatments, making it challenging to allocate funds for external help. I get this. Therefore, finding alternative strategies and solutions becomes imperative for those unable to afford professional cleaning services. 

The first housework chore with chronic fatigue isn't want you think

Achieving a clean and organized home while managing chronic fatigue requires a multifaceted approach. The first and most crucial housework chore you need to prioritize is looking after yourself. While acknowledging the limitations imposed by chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and fibromyalgia on your capacity to do housework, striving for the best possible healthy you within those limitations is essential.

One crucial step is seeking medical assistance and treatment for your ailments where possible. Consulting healthcare professionals who specialize in managing chronic illnesses can provide valuable guidance. Addressing conditions such as sleep apnea, hypothyroidism, arthritis, asthma, allergies, and fibromyalgia can profoundly impact your overall well-being and energy levels.

For example, treating sleep apnea, a common comorbidity of ME/CFS, with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine can significantly reduce daytime sleepiness, enhancing your ability to tackle daily tasks, including housekeeping. Similarly, managing hypothyroidism through appropriate medication can alleviate fatigue, mental confusion, and depression, enabling you to approach household chores with more energy and clarity.

Furthermore, addressing arthritis and finding strategies to prevent further joint injury can help you navigate physical tasks more comfortably. Managing asthma and allergies can improve your overall energy levels and reduce the impact of environmental factors on your health. Educating yourself about fibromyalgia and learning coping mechanisms can also contribute to better understanding and managing its symptoms.

By prioritizing your health and treating underlying medical conditions, you lay the foundation for a more manageable approach to housework. Taking care of yourself is the essential first step toward creating a clean, organized home that aligns with your capabilities and energy levels. Remember to be patient and allow yourself the rest and recovery you need when fatigue sets in.

"Learning to rest before exhaustion sets in and incorporating regular meditation or short rest periods can make a significant difference when tackling housework with chronic fatigue."

First things first: tackling clutter

Dealing with clutter is a common challenge when doing housework with chronic fatigue. Still, there are effective strategies to regain control over your living space. Drawing inspiration from various sources, including mine, here are some concise yet powerful tips to help you tackle clutter and create a more organized home. Remember, it's important to avoid overwhelming yourself by attempting to reform everything immediately. Start with one area and gradually expand, focusing on progress rather than perfection.

  1. Start small: Focus on one area or room at a time. Breaking down the task into manageable portions prevents overwhelm and allows you to progress steadily.
  2. Sort and categorize: Develop a systematic approach by sorting items into categories such as keep, donate, sell, or discard. This helps you make informed decisions about what you genuinely need or value.
  3. Clear surfaces: Keep flat surfaces clear of unnecessary items to create a sense of space and tidiness. Establish designated spots for frequently used items to prevent clutter from accumulating. 
  4. Utilize storage solutions: Invest in practical storage solutions such as bins, baskets, and organizers to keep belongings organized and easily accessible. Consider vertical storage options to maximize space. I love having small attractive storage boxes in most of my rooms to quickly place clutter in when it all becomes too much!
  5. Let go of sentimental attachments: While it can be challenging, be selective about sentimental items. Keep only those that truly hold meaning for you, and find creative ways to display or store them without creating clutter. When struggling to make decluttering decisions, try the 20/20 decluttering rule that says you should consider letting go of an item if: you can replace it for less than $20. And you can replace it in less than 20 minutes.
  6. Create a routine: Develop daily or weekly habits to maintain a clutter-free environment. Spend a few minutes daily tidying up and putting things back in their designated places. Movement is good for you, so think of this as a way to get your steps in: I do!
  7. Digital decluttering: When you want to rest and watch some Netflix, extend your decluttering efforts to digital spaces. Organize files and folders on your computer, delete unnecessary emails, and declutter your digital devices to enhance productivity and reduce digital overload.
  8. Seek support: Enlist the help of family members or friends to assist with decluttering projects. Their fresh perspective and support can make the process more enjoyable and efficient (more on this later).

Remember, decluttering is an ongoing process, and it's essential to be patient with yourself. Progress may be gradual, but each step towards a clutter-free home contributes to a more peaceful and organized living environment.

Housework with chronic fatigue is all about taking small steps

Breaking down larger tasks into manageable small steps is crucial when doing housework with chronic fatigue. Here are two additional examples that illustrate the effectiveness of dividing housework chores into small steps: 

Kitchen organization: If your kitchen feels overwhelming, start by focusing on one specific area, such as the pantry or a single cabinet. Dedicate a day or even just a few minutes to declutter and reorganize that particular space. Sort through expired food items, remove duplicates, and arrange the remaining items in an orderly manner. By breaking the task into smaller segments, you can gradually transform your entire kitchen without exerting excessive energy all at once. 

Cleaning the bathroom: Cleaning the entire bathroom in one go can be daunting for someone with chronic fatigue. Instead, divide the task into smaller steps. For instance, on one day, focus on cleaning the sink, faucet, and countertop. The next day, tackle the toilet and the surrounding area. Then, move on to the shower or bathtub on another day. By spreading out the cleaning tasks, you can manage your energy levels and still achieve a clean and hygienic bathroom over time. 

Remember, adapting housework to your energy levels is crucial. Prioritize tasks based on importance and break them down into small, achievable steps. By consistently making progress, even in increments, you'll create a more manageable approach to housework that accommodates your chronic fatigue. 

Acknowledging your housework achievements

It's essential to celebrate your efforts and accomplishments, even if they may seem minor compared to what other people can achieve. Recognize that living with chronic fatigue requires immense effort, and every action taken toward maintaining a clean and organized home deserves acknowledgment. Shifting your focus from self-blame to self-praise will positively impact your psychological well-being.

Asking family to help with the housework

With my newfound understanding of progress through small steps, I successfully involved my family in the housekeeping process. I recognized that even family members who don't live with me can provide valuable support. I reached out to them, explained my situation and told them how their help would make a significant difference. For instance, I asked if they could spare a few minutes during their visits to assist with tidying up or organizing a specific area. By asking them to do small tasks or time-limited activities, it became more manageable for them to contribute. And I made sure that these were chores I really didn't have the capacity to do myself.

To express my gratitude and appreciation for their assistance, I made it a point to thank them sincerely. A simple gesture like sending a heartfelt note, preparing their favorite meal, or finding a thoughtful way to acknowledge their help goes a long way. Recognizing and acknowledging their efforts not only reinforces their willingness to contribute but also strengthens our bond as a supportive family unit. Together, we witnessed the effectiveness of breaking tasks into smaller steps and celebrated the progress we made, regardless of the different approaches we took.

Moving towards a more simple home

As I learned to be better at housework with chronic fatigue, I had an epiphany of sorts. While I was getting better at decluttering, I was ignoring the elephant in the room. I had too many large possessions, like old sofas, that were hindering my housekeeping efforts and restricting my living space. This, in turn, made housework with chronic fatigue more difficult.

By carefully evaluating each possession and parting ways with items that do not serve a purpose or bring joy, you can create a more manageable and clutter-free environment. In my journey, I encountered a significant challenge when downsizing. Prioritizing what truly matters and recognizing that possessions can hinder housekeeping and restrict your living space becomes crucial. By carefully evaluating each possession and parting ways with items that do not serve a purpose or bring joy, you can create a more manageable and clutter-free environment.

Being efficient at housework with chronic fatigue is possible. You can transform your home into a clean and welcoming environment by setting realistic expectations, delegating tasks, establishing routines, practicing self-care, pacing yourself, and recognizing and celebrating your efforts. 

Remember, discipline is not a burden but a means of caring for yourself. With persistence and a strategic approach, you can create a comfortable living space and regain control over your life, ensuring your home remains a sanctuary for you and your loved ones.

Article by
Jessica White

Jessica White, the author of "How to do housework with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome," lives with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), as well as a chronic neurological condition.


"Learning to rest before exhaustion sets in and incorporating regular meditation or short rest periods can make a significant difference when tackling housework with chronic fatigue." | © Garfield K - / Adobe Stock