How Our Stuff Might Be Making Us Sicker

How Our Stuff Might Be Making Us Sicker

Donna Gregory Burch


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

“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, 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.

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Authored by: Donna Gregory Burch

Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She was later diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. Donna covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia and Lyme on her blog, You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. 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.

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For anyone battling a chronic illness, lowering stress levels in as many ways as possible is key. However, some may be too sick to get rid of clutter, unfortunately. Thank you for the article.

Great minds, I’m a single older woman and have decided to make this move and will only be keeping bare necessities. Both my parents have passed and was nominated to take care of their 42 years of stuff, although I like a lot of their things they are also weighing me down which is causing me so much stress. It’s a huge project and have no help I am determined to get it done no matter how long it takes. Thanks for sharing your story, although I don’t think it will be a cure for Fibro it sure can hurt to be less stressed.

Debra Wallace

It has been 6 years since I gave up my home to live with my son and his wife. It was hard going through everything that accumulated for 45 years. Sold or donated everything but my bed, dresser, TV and table and 2 bookshelves and hope chest. Kept some kitchen stuff and memorabilia from my kids growing up. Moved into 1 room and bathroom. Definitely a shock at first. I have 2 cats for 12 yrs. and they were cramped but there was outside. I had a patio to myself. We lived there 5 years. In February we decided to move. Found a nice place in the country. I have two rooms and a bathroom all connected at one end of the house. When it came time to pack I couldn’t believe how much stuff I still had that had been packed 5 years. All of it went except a few treasures and my crystals. I figured if I had not needed that stuff in that long I didn’t need it at all. It was easier the second time. Feel much better with bare minimum. I always ask myself do I need it or just want it. At 64 there is not much I need or want. When my cats are gone I will not get another animal. That is a lot of responsibility.


This is a wonderful article! I’ve actually turned into a minimalist as well. Having to sell my equestrian estate several years ago to pay for my medical care and lower my bills due to my inability to work, I became a budding minimalist at first out of necessity and then by choice. Going from a 5,000 sqft home to one barely 900 was huge for me. At first I was angry being forced to sell my things and then I realized I didn’t miss all of the things that were now in storage. The sentimental items are the most difficult to part with but there are many ways to remember loved ones without carting around their possessions. My OCD does much better as a minimalist. I’m so much happier I feel free from the items that controlled my time. I highly recommend giving minimalism a try. It’s wonderful.


Honey, you’ll have more oxitocin and endorfin in your brain because you’re so satisfied when throwing something away and have a nice, clean, tiny apartment! Those are hormons as you know and they reduce pain, so please – I’m poor and paying high rent, owning nothing. Severe pains because of fibro, spinalis stenosis and arthritis, several other problems… Just don’t say everything helps everyone!!!

Martha Arntson

I just wanted to say that I absolutely LOVED your post! Incredible how much it sounds like ME!
Most days now I feel overwhelmed just getting up in the morning and knowing how much I “should/could” do in my house and end up doing the bare minimum because I am so fatigued and foggy I can’t focus on those things I want to do anymore.

I don’t have fibromyalgia, just chronic pain in my lower back/legs and my neck area.

We bought our home 14 years ago, while we still had son’s living at home. It is about 2,900 sq. feet of living space, but…most of that is just empty bedrooms now. They all still need cleaned and maintained and it’s basically just me that does it. My husband is 74 and a recovering alcoholic (which changed our lives drastically). Since becoming sober 7 years ago he lost his sense of humor, fun, focus, and his ability to start and finish projects. Thus, I live in a house of “unfinished projects”.

It is something I need to address, I need to scale down but I am not sure where to start. I’d love more input from you as well as anyone else who feels stuck in their “stuff”.

Thanks again for the post!

dian lovejoy

This one is beside herself with joy, finally in writin, what she has felt an bein beggin her hubby t’listen, he is a minor hoarder, but our home, especially yon garage which she loathes goin into, but must, t’washer an dryer are there, it is horrendous, he gets so upset when approached. When she read this a few moments ago…headed t’him before he left for work an read it t’him, there it was in black an white. She doesn’t sleep at night just uses what wee bit of energy she has t’try an dig away at this monumental task…..thankye from t’bottom of this one’s weary heart, be safe an blessed yatahii.


I am often grateful that I live in a small apartment, but there is certainly eye-clutter which I should manage better. My parents like to gift me kitchen appliances, but I have the smallest of kitchens and instead store these items on top of a cabinet. Perhaps they could at least take up residence in my storage space in the basement. I am grateful to my parents, but clearly, I am also overwhelmed.

I am single and live a simple life. I find it a necessity. I don’t believe I could be married, and certainly could not keep up with a child/children. Our illnesses impact us in tremendous ways.

And now I wonder, if I have to give up pain medication, will I no longer be able to work? (something I never take for granted – my ability to continue to work!) There is new stress in my life above and beyond what there ever was.

I’m sure that is draining us all as well in whatever form the concern has taken.


What do you do with all the stuff you don’t love? I hate to throw away ‘trinkets’ and things that have some value (when I bought it), but don’t feel good enough to go through the process of selling everything online or even donating.