Minimalism with Chronic Pain

Although I’ve enjoyed quite a few perks of life with less , it has become even more of a necessity as someone living with chronic pain. The whole goal for me was more time and energy for things that matter most, and when you have significantly fewer spoons than a typical person that becomes even more important. Nothing reminds me of this fact more than during a flare. This past week, at least 4 vertebrae stopped moving correctly and my pelvis re-rotated, making my symptoms significantly worse than they had been for the last few weeks. I’ve been doing all the “right” things, but all it takes is a little extra stress and *poof* all the symptoms get worse. I went from an hour of cardio and strength training daily to making it my goal to move as little as possible (doctors orders). Not exactly the news anyone hopes to hear.

Although handling chronic pain in general is stressful, it would be a lot more stressful to face these types of flares if I didn’t already live as simply as I do. Because I practice intuitive eating and simplify food prep, my fridge is full of easy-to-prep food and grab-and-go snacks that I enjoy. I already have a small, simple home, so with a couple trips to the sink and a quick wipe down my cleaning for the day can be done. There are no corners to dust or leftover messes to handle. With a capsule wardrobe, all my clothes match, so any clean pants and clean shirt are good to go when I have to get dressed and take my dog out. Everything I need is easy to access, easy to use. There are no spoons wasted on digging for that one utensil buried in a drawer or trying to figure out where the hair product I actually want is. My entire beauty routine fits onto my counter in plain view.

Actually starting minimalism with chronic illness is a bit harder, as most things with chronic illness are. It’s hard to find the spoons to sort through all the products under the sink when you barely have the spoon to use one (if that). I viewed it as a modified version of the one touch rule. The one touch rule is, from the moment you use it until it makes it to where it goes, you should only have to touch it once. Basically, don’t set anything down if that’s not where it’s supposed to be. Don’t drop your jacket on the bed when you know it goes on the coatrack by the door. When you take off your jewelry and unload your pockets, put it all away instead of in a pile on your nightstand. Simple enough, right? Not always, but it’s a great default setting.

I applied this to decluttering by going through things as I had to anyway. For example, I was trying to find a good necklace for a new sweater with a different kind of neckline, so I quickly went through the necklaces I had and sorted them into keep and get rid of. I had a couple statement necklaces from my mid-teens that are no longer part of my wardrobe that were easy to get rid of, and a couple items I was keeping out of guilt that I will literally never wear. I set them aside and will be passing them on to some young ladies who will wear them far more than I will. I’m now down to 5: a jade piece, a bar necklace, a small cross necklace, a long necklace with a few charms, and a black metal necklace. All are simple, minimal, and fit into how I want to look now, not what I thought was cool 5 years ago. I took the same energy I was already using to choose a necklace, and quickly evaluated a few I would never wear again in the process.

It makes progress a lot more sporadic than a more specific KonMari-style plan of attack, but it also makes minimalism a lot more attainable for those of us who barely have the energy for everything that’s already on our plates. Even though it was sporadic and difficult and is still a process (you don’t want to know how many bars of soap are still in my stash or how many kinds of tea are in my kitchen), it helps me maximize what I can do in order to save me energy the next time I do that same task. Next time I’m walking out the door and want to throw on a necklace, I’ve got 50% fewer to look over before I pick one. Is it the biggest life-changing thing ever? No, but it makes life a little simpler, a little easier, gives me that sliver of a spoon left in my day. For me, that’s enough to make it worth it.