How To Stay Organized With Chronic Pain 

Have you ever done a bunch of organization only to feel a month later like you’re completely disorganized again? I know that I have done this.

In my last post I wrote about how to organize with chronic illness. Now, I want to share the systems and things that help me stay organized.

It’s easy to put everything into bins and sort stuff, but it’s way harder to turn that initial sort into ongoing organization and maintain those systems. Here’s what I have learned about how to stay organized with a chronic illness and the systems that keep me on track.

Handle Items Once

Whether or not you have a chronic illness, your time and energy are really valuable. One hack I’m so glad my mom taught me is to think of ways to handle things only one time.

The example she gave me is to only touch the mail once. So when I grab my mail from the mailbox, I’ve created systems to be able to handle it right away or put it in the place where I’ll take the next action step. 

So right inside the door (or when we’ve had a garage), we have places for a shred pile and a recycle pile.

In fact, I set a pile on top of the shredder to be shredded. Before kids I used to just leave the shredder permanently on but I can’t do that with little fingers.  

And then nearby, there is an inbox for both my husband and I. And below, there is a to file box. If something looks urgent he and I will email each other to remind each other that there’s an important bill that can’t wait.

Another way that I only handle things once is with laundry. Instead of having one laundry bin in our room, I invested in taller skinny laundry bins that are upright so they take up less floor space. (They also have wheels so they’re easier to move around the house.) 

In our bedroom, I can presort the laundry loads into bins for:  

  • whites
  • hang dries 
  • colored clothes

Then, in the laundry room, we have a bin for towels to hang dry. Kids just have one bin per room. (Because I don’t buy my kids white clothes or fancy clothes that need to be hung to dry.)

So when I get changed, I just toss my dirty clothes into whichever bin they go into and then I can just dump them into the washer.

Just kidding! I can’t dump a bin straight into the washer with kids. You never know what they might throw into your laundry hamper so I still grab the pieces one by one and set them in for now. But I only sort once.

Even if I am getting changed in a bathroom or in a different place than my bedroom, I still walk to put the clothes in those bins instead of dropping them on the ground.

Another way that I only handle things once is that I do not decant my items in the pantry or in the bathroom. I don’t have the extra energy usually after shopping to put items away in a special micro organized way.

Sure, that means I have to have a little bit less inventory because the boxes take up more space, but we only have what we use now in our pantry.

There have been seasons where all I’ve been able to do it after my husband carried the groceries inside is put perishables in the fridge, I had to leave the non perishables on the kitchen floor and put them away the next day because the act of shopping itself just took so much out of me.

Use An Inbox And To File Box

Consider what the less urgent things are that don’t need to be filed right away.

Be sure to put your inbox and your file box where your most used entry is. If you put it into a home office that’s not near the door you come in (or the garage entry), you’ll be less likely to use it. 

Before we had a garage, our paper recycle was a nice tan decorative box that we just kept the lid open on and dropped paper into it. It sat right by our shoe rack inside our front door. When we had company, we flipped the lid shut.

Depending on our space, we’ve used a hanging paper organizer or a tray to catch the less urgent to file papers to deal with less than once a month. 

Another trick for staying organized is to have a drop zone.

Use Drop Zones

When my brain fog got really bad, I lost my keys frequently. I had no clue if I left it off in a coat pocket? A hoodie pocket? Did I put it in my purse? Did I leave it in my backpack?

It was infuriating until I saw an organizational video on YouTube that said to create an intentional drop zone for items like keys and sunglasses.

In the same way, be sure to set up drop zones for your family near your most used entrances to store items like:

  • Key rings
  • Coats
  • Bags and purses
  • Sunglasses
  • Mail and papers

I was lucky enough to inherit a cedar chest storage bench that is now by the front door that we use for items like backpacks that can be dropped in as kids come in and then I close the lid when they’re done.

It’s also nice for guests so they have a place to sit down when they want to put their shoes on or off.

At our current place, we have a hanging paper organizer and I put an S hook for each set of keys on the bottom to hang.

Use Hooks

Right next to the drop zone, use a hanging zone with pegs or hooks.

When I’m in a lot of pain, I tend to just throw things over the back of a chair. Even if you don’t have chronic pain when we’re in a hurry or just functioning on autopilot, it can be hard to remember to put items like coats on a hanger. 

I’m so glad that I learned from Cas from Clutterbug how to use hooks and pegs to my advantage where people naturally drop stuff. 

Yes we have long-term storage of off-season coats in a coat closet, but now we have put pegs and hooks in the garage at both adult heights and kid heights.

I’m much more likely to put something on a peg or a hook than put it on a hanger. Even though I don’t like the cluttered look of it, I like the look of things up on pegs more than I like having coats thrown over the backs of kitchen chairs.

When my wrists or elbows are flared up, it’s so much easier to use a hook or a peg and it’s easier for kids.   

Make Sure Everything Has A Home

What homeless items are floating around your house? 

I learned that if I don’t assign a home to everything, piles start to build up in different places because it leaves me in a position where I have to make extra decisions about where to put things. And I can be a lazy decision maker. 

I have also found that if I start to have things pile up, maybe I don’t actually need them. I have some close people in my life whose love languages are gifts and I love the gift but I’m trying to get better at passing things on or donating them if they aren’t a good fit for me. If items are just left around, that extra clutter creates stress for me.

Read more here about how I manage stress with chronic illness.

Look around and see what homeless items you need to give a home to.

Keep A Maybe Box

Because I struggle with decision fatigue, I’ve set aside a “maybe box” to temporarily rehome homeless clutter.

A maybe box contains items that I am not sure if I want to keep or not and I give myself the grace to decide later.

However, when I’m ready to decide, I know where all the items are (instead of being scattered around the house.)

Right now, I keep my maybe box next to my donate box in the garage so it’s easy to move what I’m not going to keep into the donate box when I’m ready to drop that off.

Another name people use for this is a quarantine box. Some folks like to quarantine an item for a set amount of time to see if they actually use it or not.

Get Things Off Floor

I realized that I dreaded vacuuming because there were so many items that I was pushing and moving around whenever I needed to vacuum and it wasn’t worth that extra energy.

Have you ever noticed in a hotel that almost everything is attached to the walls? The lamp, the bedside table, and even the hairdryer hang on the walls.

That’s because it’s most efficient for the hotel workers to not have to lift and move things while they are cleaning.

I love my house plants. but I realized the plant stands were getting in the way of cleaning.

So I slowly started moving most of my plants to hang from the ceiling or to put them on wall attached shelves.

We were lucky enough that the old owners of our new house left us the mop and broom organizer attached to the wall to get those off the ground too.

Consider what places you can use floating storage so that the ground is easier to clean.

Use Macro Organization

In my all about how to organize with chronic illness post, I wrote about macro organization. My big takeaway was to use large category bins without lids that have big labels.

This makes it so much easier to stay organized, because I can just look at the label and toss the item into the bin. Not having to set things into little compartments or open drawers or containers makes it much more likely that I will put things away. 

And an unintended bonus of this is it also makes it easier for the rest of my family to put things away.

Are There Stairs In Your House? Use A Bin Or Three

When we lived in a townhouse one of the best Pinterest hacks I implemented was to put a bin at the top of the stairs and a bin on the bottom of the stairs.

If it was on the inside of the staircase, it was ready to be carried up or down. If it was on the outside of the staircase it was still being filled up. (Our staircase wrapped around but you could easily select right or left instead.)

If you struggle to go up and downstairs or if you just want to be efficient, you can simply drop items that need to be taken upstairs into this bin to carry up the next time you go. Some people will even put a smaller bin for each member of the family on the first few stairs as a signal for them to put their items away that go upstairs.

Rolling Carts

I have a narrow rolling cart that I first bought when there was a big gap between my fridge and the counter in a small apartment. I used the three shelves as my pantry and it housed all my non-perishables at the time with cooking oils on top. 

Now that has turned into my supplement bin. 

Even though I prefer hidden organization, whenever I’m trying to build a new habit or even when there’s things that I need to remember to do daily, it’s best for me if I have those things out. So now that cart holds my medications and vitamins to help me remember to take them. 

And I like that it’s on wheels because I can keep it out by the kitchen table to remember to take supplements with meals but I can easily wheel it into a closet and stuff it away when we have company coming over. Because I do not want my health conditions to be the entire topic of conversation and you’d be surprised at how keeping medications and supplements out on the counter can turn into an accidental conversation piece. Eek! 

Now I have a rolling cart as well because our new house doesn’t have a pantry. So I got a wider rolling cart that is has more basket like shelves with holes so that my items get airflow like onions and potatoes and apples.

Think of the kind of rolling cart you’d see for like a bar kit. Some people also use these rolling carts for crafts and hobbies.

This is especially helpful for piles that tend to migrate around the house.

The Night Before

Because I struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome I’ve had to recognize what times of day I need to save my energy for my brain to work and what times of day I can do physical activities. I’ve learned that my optimal routine goes something like this: 

  • wake up make a hot drink and prep any perishable food items (here’s how my meal planning has evolved over the years
  • sit down for 20 to 60 minutes to do my devotions, any journaling, breathing exercises, and read a book before doing any work
  • get up and do any food prep or laundry after about an hour of sitting for an hour or two
  • work for 6 to 8 hours only getting up once an hour to use the restroom and refill my tea or water
  • spend about 15 minutes up on my feet doing dinner prep
  • eat dinner
  • bedtime routines for the family

I found that if I try to do work in the evenings it gets me really wired up and I have trouble sleeping. Even when I used a blue light blocker on my screen or wore blue light blocking glasses, it wasn’t enough. I really needed to downshift my brain.

So during this time before I wind down for bed, I make sure that I walk around very slowly but I do the following tasks before bed:

  • fill water bottles for the next day 
  • put leftover dinner into glasswares and into lunch boxes 
  • pick out clothes for the next day
  • pack my bag and kid bags

And then if I have any energy after this I might do a five or 10 minute pick up. But I don’t push myself because I might cause a flare.

It’s just not realistic for me to commit to a five or 15 minute pick up every night.

But when I do these actions slowly the night before and with ease, it enables my mornings to go much smoother and I’m able to put things away in the morning as I go with my renewed morning energy.

When I first started doing this, I set an alert on my phone to go off soon after the kid’s bedtime that would prompt me to do this before I sat down for the night. (I also use an alert to remind me when to go to bed so that I don’t stay up too late.)

Then, I will usually enjoy an audio book or a breathing meditation or body scan to drift off to sleep.

Chronic Pain Friendly Organizing Hacks 

The end of seminary, I had a job as a nanny that paid more than my first job out of seminary per hour. The family was quite well off, and they had their kitchen redone with these new trendy Halfmoon drawer pulls. 

I realized I was starting to dread putting the dishes away because I had to turn my wrist and pull from the underside of the drawer. I was used to reaching with my fingers forward and then curling them down for a knob or a pull. But the half moon shape meant you could only pull from the bottom and it was painful to have to turn my wrist and pull.

Do you have any organizational items in your house that you need to switch out to make it easier on yourself? Items like drawer pulls aren’t that expensive.

Another solution that was really helpful to me was getting a trash can that had a foot pedal to lift the lid. I don’t have the energy to take the trash out every day, so I wanted one with a lid to hide anything that might be stinky. I also saw some models that when you wave your hand above, they opened but I just couldn’t justify spending $80 on a trashcan.

Use Wands 

Before I got married and my husband became the dish doer, I really struggled to do the dishes. Even though I would presoak, it was hard to scrub dishes. Then, a family I babysat for had a dish brush with a wand. It made it a lot easier to scrub dishes. 

Because I struggle with fine motor skills, I now use cleaning tools with wands. Even though I would love to be able to wipe with a microfiber cloth, I just don’t dust if that’s all I have. So I bought a duster with a wand and even though I hate that it’s disposable, I know that dust is bad for my health and I’m more likely to dust with the wand. Same with the dishes, I buy dish brushes with handles because it’s easier for me to hold a handle than it is to hold the sponge.


Because I’ve had issues with bone grinding on bone or grinding cartilage I’ve learned to use cushions strategically based on what body part is flared. If I’m having a really bad flare in my ankles and feet, I will do the dishes kneeling on the kitchen chair, but in order to avoid giving myself a knee flare I will use my office chair sacrum pad to kneel on.

Don’t Let Go

One of my meal planning hacks is to use a garbage bowl. I tend to grab the largest dirty dish and put it on the left side of my cutting board.

I keep the knife in my right hand and I don’t have to let go of the knife repeatedly when I remove the trash and cut food with my left hand. Scraps go into the garbage bowl and the food I’m prepping goes into whatever I’m going to cook it in.  

How To Stay Organized With A Chronic Illness 

What hacks will work best for your situation? Consider how you can:

  • Handle items only once 
  • Use paper organizers by the door 
  • Create intentional drop and hang zones 
  • Give homeless items homes 
  • Keep a maybe box
  • Use macro organized bins 
  • Roll carts around 
  • Prep the night before 

And if you struggle with chronic pain, consider tools to make organizational and cleaning tasks easier like: 

  • Using wands 
  • Having cushions 
  • Setting up prep so you don’t have to repeatedly let go and grab 

What systems help you maintain your organization? What did I miss?

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