Donna Gregory Burch
Lately I’ve been wondering if our material possessions could play a role in our fibromyalgia symptoms. My ruminating started a few months ago when the KonMari craze was at its peak. My YouTube feed was flooded with stay-at-home moms holding their ice cream scoops and lacy camisoles and asking, “Does this spark joy?” Seeing t-shirts folded into little rectangular packages and then filed vertically in a drawer fed into my obsessive-compulsive nature. Some of Kondo’s teachings do seem a little silly to me (like emptying your purse every night), but I can appreciate her overall intent. I’ve always tried to live by the rule that everything in my home has to be either beautiful (i.e. brings joy) or useful in some way.
Then I started binge-watching HGTV’s “Tiny House Hunters” where potential homebuyers tour teensy, weensy homes for sale – some of them less than 250 square feet! More than once, my hubby and I looked at our living room and realized that was some people’s ENTIRE house. We wondered aloud if we could ever live in a space that small. We’d probably end up killing each other, we concluded, but I think we both came to the realization that our 2,300-square-foot home is way too big for our needs. We love our home, and we don’t have any plans to sell, but if I’m being honest with myself, sometimes it feels like a big energy drain. Too many rooms to clean. Too much stuff to maintain. Too many closets to organize. Just too much …
(To be clear, I am not a hoarder. I’ve always been a neat, organized person, and my hubby and I probably own less than most households.)
Those of us with fibromyalgia are usually sensitive to bright lights, strong smells, abrasive sounds and other external stimuli. But I think visual clutter can be just as stressful, and lately I’ve felt overwhelmed by my ever-growing to-do list and all of our physical possessions. It just feels like too much to maintain.
As it turns out, I’m not alone in this internal struggle. According to TheBalancedLifeOnline.com:
“Studies show a direct link between the amount of physical possessions in a house and the stress level of the female homeowner. One study done at UCLA found that the more stuff was in a woman’s house, the higher her level of stress hormones. This same study also found that women subconsciously relate how happy they are with their home-life and family to how they feel about their homes. So the more clutter and chaos in the home, the less happy the woman is with her family and her life.”
We all know stress is a common trigger for fibromyalgia symptoms, so could our possessions be contributing to our illness?
They definitely could be adding to our cognitive difficulties. A Princeton study found that visual clutter affects one’s ability to focus and process information. As if our brain fog wasn’t already working against us!
And then there’s the obvious: It takes time, energy and money to clean and maintain all of our stuff. Battling fibromyalgia and Lyme disease, I have limited mental/physical energy and financial resources. Do I really want to waste those on managing my material possessions? The easy answer is no.
So, for the past few months, whenever I have the energy to do so, I’ve systematically been going through every closet, drawer and bin in my home and downsizing. I’ve revisited some areas two, three, even four times, continuing to pare down to essentials. Do I really need that hairdryer diffuser? I haven’t used it in years because it makes me look like Richard Simmons. Out it goes. Do I need the Boyd’s bear my hubby gave me for Valentine’s Day three years ago? Yes, it’s cute, but I stopped collecting stuffed animals decades ago, and it’s just sitting in a box getting dusty. Maybe it would spark joy for some little boy or girl…
I’ve also been trying to figure out ways to pare down my daily tasks and decision-making. I’ve read that mega-successful people like the late Steve Jobs choose to wear the same outfit every day. Why? Because it streamlines decision-making, so they can channel their energy to more important tasks. I’ve been watching capsule wardrobe videos on YouTube and wondering if I could feel joyful with a wardrobe of all black and grey. Probably not, but I am thinking seriously about cutting my closet down to just a few coordinating tops and bottoms. Sometimes it seems like our stuff generates too many choices, and frankly my foggy brain doesn’t feel like making that many decisions anymore. I just want simple, easy, uncluttered, uncomplicated. I don’t want to use my precious mental energy figuring out what shirt goes with which pair of shorts, and where are the matching shoes and accessories.
I’m determined to get rid of the unessential in our home – both physical and mental. We have a storage room on our third floor, and it’s half full of stuff that I’ve priced and boxed up for an upcoming yard sale. What’s left will be donated to charity. I’m hoping my stripped down closets and kitchen cabinets will become less of a stressor, and that in turn will help calm my overactive nervous system.
Maybe one day I can talk my hubby into building a semi-tiny home of our very own…
Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia on her blog, FedUpwithFatigue.com. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.