Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Get Rid of Clutter and Think More Clearly

Writer, ms.about.com

I, like many other people with multiple sclerosis, struggle with cognitive dysfunction.

Some days are worse than others, of course – those are the times that following a familiar recipe seems as difficult as building a combustion engine from scratch. Conversations seem to be in another language, with it taking so long for me to formulate a response that the topic has usually changed, often more than once. On these days, I feel like I am viewing and interacting with the world from inside a phone booth, with walls between myself and the rest of my environment.

I utilize all sorts of mental aids in my quest for functionality. Sticky notes, organization systems, electronic calendars and reminders all come into play. I try to function in a world that is increasingly becoming geared to the multi-tasker.

What really slows things down in my fuzzy-headed existence, however, is clutter. I'm talking about stuff, the kind of stuff that just happens as a result of life. I have six-year-old twin girls, so it is possible to look around and find tiny Barbie shoes, tiny kid shoes, a goldfish cracker or two, school backpacks, Lego blocks, beads that fell off of a half-finished necklace, markers and several pieces of paper with failed attempts to draw Pegasus unicorn creatures. All of this can occur within an hour of the girls being home from school while I am trying to cook dinner.

We also have two adults living in the house with these little people. My husband might leave his shoes in the hallway or walk away from the kitchen, sandwich in hand, with all of the fixings still on the counter. I am not innocent, either. I blame my flighty brain on things left in truly bizarre places (recent head-scratchers include milk in the laundry room, one shoe on the kitchen counter, a wooden spoon on top of my dresser).

All of this is perfectly normal, of course. However, clutter can be a mental drain. You focus on the stuff scattered about and start thinking about how you wish it was gone, you wonder how it got there, you think about who to ask to clean it up, etc.

We all need a quiet place to rest our eyes, yet many of us don't have that. Let's regain (or create) it by tackling the clutter.

Here are some tips:

  • Talk to your family. Explain to them that it makes your brain work more slowly when clutter is present. Ask them to help you keep things neat. 
  • Spend 15 minutes a day getting rid of clutter. Set a timer if you need to, but just pick an area and go to work, preferably at the same time every day. If you do this for a week, you will make good progress. 
  • "Quarantine" your clutter. If it seems overwhelming, grab a large cardboard box and pile stuff in there, then put the box out of sight. You will know where it is if you need it later. It will be much easier to sort it in a week, as you can sit in one area and make piles of stuff to "keep" or "throw away," rather than picking things up one at a time and trying to put them in proper places at that moment. 
  • Look at ways to prevent clutter. We recently installed a shoe rack on the back of the closet door near the entrance to our house, eliminating all sizes of shoes from the floor. A big bin is great to collect toys at the end of the day – sorting can happen later. Make it easy for everyone to help. 
  • Once you get rid of all the junk that is not supposed to be there, take a hard look at what is left. Try "quarantining" any decorative items that are not serving a function. If you still miss them after a couple of weeks, bring them back out.

Trust me, getting rid of your clutter is one of the best things you can do to help your brain. It will also make you feel better about your surroundings (and your family, if they are clutter offenders). Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

25 comments:

  1. When I couldn't find the TV remote and my husband found it in the fridge, I know my cognitive function was tanking! Now I use my phone calendar to remember my to do lists, appointments, and even to schedule rest times. Otherwise, I get so busy trying to catch up with the world that I don't rest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I try the same things. The problem is remembering to look at the phone and remembering what it was you were looking for in the first place. I do find it helpful having everything in one place that is usually with you all the time!

      Delete
    2. I try the same things. The problem is remembering to look at the phone and remembering what it was you were looking for in the first place. I do find it helpful having everything in one place that is usually with you all the time!

      Delete
  2. I am only beginning to come to grips with this cognitive issues stuff. I tend to internalize everything until I explode and my family wonders wth is going on! We are a go go go family and my illness hit our family hard because I didn't want to go go go all the time anymore and no one , including myself, knew why or what had changed. I only knew I felt jumbled and fatigued whenever there wasn't order and quiet. I love your description of " following a recipe some days is as hard as putting together a combustion engine.". That made me laugh because it is a perfect description of how hard the simplest tasks become..... Sometimes. ..... The "sometimes" is what is so hard to deal with because you can't plan for it. The unpredictability of it is a set up for all manner of trouble personally and professionally. I have a great family and they try really hard to understand, but i always end up feeling either guilty for holding them back, or left out when they go without me. Thank you for your discussions and helping me feel not so alone. (diagnosis August 2010 but experiencing symptoms for 5+ yrs....48 yrs old)

    ReplyDelete
  3. wow difficult to comprehend a house without clutter. But thanks at least I know I'm not crazy-although sometimes I feel that way. I always worry when I start to feel an aruption coming not outside but inside like I could burst. I'm not the same anymore and if I can't understand and accept the changes then I don't feel like anyone else can either. Sometimes things are so hard to explain or just coexist with this illness. I want to be out there doing more...but don't.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow I can totally relate to this! I have a husband and 5 kids (ages 3 up to 12) and they are all clutter offenders!!! And the clutter really is overwhelming, exhausting and seems to make the fog I deal with so much worse! So glad I'm not alone!!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. TriciaBT
    I feel as if I wrote these comments myself! I hate this illness no one understands and I get tired of explaining it

    ReplyDelete
  6. This was a very comforting article...how do you get your family to understand without them thinking you are using your MS as an excuse?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Talk to your family about MS and explain to them what you are experiencing. For me I talked to the doctor who diagnosed me and did my readings on the disease to better prepare me on explaining it to my family and colleges. It seemed to help me out much and allow them to understand the disease.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Excellent suggestions. I have "brain fog" more than not and looking around at the clutter in my closet particularly, makes things so much worse. As my adult kids are now on their own, I find "our" clutter belongs to both my husband and I but I am tasked with cleaning the clutter but I can't get motivated. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I've said for ages, even before MS that I couldn't function with clutter and mess. If there is mess around, my mind feels messy!!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks so much for all of your insight. I too hate this disease, because I could do everything and anything and keep things straight. Now I am trying to clean the clutter from my table. I hate filing anyway, but it just piles so fast. My mind feels like a jigsaw puzzle when I try to sit down and get a grasp. Attention span is definately not what I was used too. Trying to learn to leave the "I used to do this". Have had MS for 15 years and still think I can do things I used to and hate that I cannot.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Well I have had it since I was in my late 20's but was just diagnosed with it since I just had a bad enough episode to make it deffinate. I always said I was blond clutsy and my kids used to laugh and say I was just getting oldtimmers but it was this crazy stuff the whole time. I do understand the fog and clutter. My husband and I are going through and stripping the house little by little as I can and symplifying just to get and keep the clutter and the work down. If I can no longer use something it is going to my kids, friends, or my favorit thrift store. One thing I have had to realize is that my good time is a precious jewel and I will spend it doing things I LOVE to enrich my life and the lives of those around me. I am determined to remind myself that I have MS but it does not have me. Joy is my strength and yes at times it is hard to find the joy in this but the Lord and laughter got me through 10yrs of fighting cancer and I know it will help me to accept the things I can't change now.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Wow, so many others with the same issues I have. I don't feel so alone! My biggest clutter problems are with piles of paperwork, magazines I don't have enough time or energy to read, and sentimental items from my past, including furniture, books, pictures, extra dinnerware and glassware, etc. I almost don't want to get out of bed sometimes because it all overwhelms me as soon as I leave the bedroom and walk into another room. I always tell myself what I need to get accomplished each day and usually get to maybe one of those things because I am distracted all day long and have trouble finishing anything! Cognitive issues are the reason I had to stop working, but since I don't have visible symptoms it's hard for many to understand why I can't work and why I receive SSDI. And, yes, it's a pain to have to explain it to anyone who doesn't get it. The good thing is I have finally become so sick of the situation that I am finally motivated to do a little more each day!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can very much relate to this entire post. I was dx April 2010, had to leave job in Oct 2010 for cognitive reasons. I used to be a neat freak, but no longer have the energy. I now have piles of things-I think the bills are the worst. I make a daily list of things to do, but never accomplish them because other things come along. then I have to go nap. I also have developed fibromylgia, so there is pain all the time. I forget everything-have little sticky notes everywhere. Invisible symptoms make it impossible, and everyone tells me,"you look so good". I find myself jealous of other people that can do all those things I used to be able to do (run up a staircase, have a clean house, write a list and be able to read it, etc...) I have a progressive form of ms. I don't explain it to anyone anymore, I just say I have "multiple sclerosis". it seems to have more of an impact than saying "I have ms". I walk with a cane, so at least people see why I have a handicapped placard. luckily for me, I have a very supportive family. my Mother moved in with my husband and 16 yr old daughter to help us out. I told my therapist that I can't be the person I used to be anymore, and now I don't know who I am. Every part of my life has been impacted by this stupid, evil disease. her reply is something I didn't expect, but I think it was helpful. she said "you can be anyone you want to be". I am working on that now. being the person I always wished I was.

      Delete
    2. DLG you hit the nail on the head! I am the same way and couldn't have said it better myself. I have good intentions, make lists, and think about projects I'd like to accomplish. Also the sad thing is the more I look at what has to be done, the less that gets done because I'm mentally overwhelmed then fatigue sets in, and so on and so on. I have piles of stuff to visually remind me what to do. For a long time I thought I was just a visual person. I also tend to procrastinate.

      Delete
  13. Thanks for this article. I can't stand mail. I am so so sick of mail. It is my number 1 clutter offender. I now pay everything in auto payments and hardly open any mail but I don't throw the bills away, I shred them so I end up stacking them in a bin to "someday" sort through. I have magazines I want to read stacking up that I never get to and finally throw away. Argghh!
    I can't tell you how many times I have cried when my son hands me more mail. I keep saying that mail should be outlawed.
    I have a pile of things to put in a yard sale but since my front yard is a hill, I never have one. I put clothes in a bag in my garage to go to Goodwill but it never gets there because I want to go when I can get a receipt. Arghhh!
    I am ready to just start throwing things away and the heck with it. "Things" are not worth stressing over and ruining my health.
    Joyce (dx 9/15/05)

    ReplyDelete
  14. My name is Meagan and I am professional organizer. I write a blog with very short, easy to read articles on how to organize in small pieces. My whole motto is "15 minutes a day!" It is free and I am happy to answer posted questions. www.cleartheclutterprofessionalorganizing.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  15. I have such a hard time remembering the most simple things. I am newly diagnoised, but because I was misdiagnoised in 2003 I've been struggling with this, knowing something was wrong,but not knowing what it was. I make lists and put them on the fridge, along with my kids stuff. I look every day at what has to be done. This helps

    ReplyDelete
  16. It's hard enough to beleave that so many people has ms and that we all share the same symthoms that has us trying to make sense of whats going on with our minds and bodies. I was diagnois back in july of 2010 and still havent come too terms with the disease. Everyday is a challage from waking up to going to sleep. Im 47 with two sturling businesses also a wife and 2 young kids 3 and 7yrs it's a task but i keep going. as time gose by I see my cognitive reasoning starting to get the best of me and im trying to organize my self and things around me to keep me going in the right direction. So thanks for everyone who shared there post because we all need to know were not along in this fight keep on fighting fam and may God help us overcome or mental state of minds.

    ReplyDelete
  17. These posts were helpful AND provided an opportunity to "vent" on this subject to folks who "get it." In addition to frustrations others mentioned (especially the paper wars) I am frustrated because I'm in a power wheelchair just about all my waking hours, so I can't do anything about organizing by myself (except my own mail...sometimes). My dear husband does just about everything -- laundry, cooking, dishes, home maintenance, running a one-person business, and my personal care (which is getting more demanding), so it doesn't seem fair or reasonable to ask him to do more. Our finances are limited, so hiring someone is out (except 3 hrs./month for a homemaker for disability/seniors), and like everyone else our friends are busy. What gets us through is a BIG sense of humor and an advanced case of "house blindness" (when something stays in the same place for 48 hours, it becomes virtually invisible). Thanks for sharing, and "listening."

    ReplyDelete
  18. Getting rid of the clutter has not been an easy thing for me. It's just my husband, 2 dogs and me at home. My husband has his own health issues. The cognitive clutter is what bothers me the most. I have known that I have had problems with forgetting a few words here and there. The big problem came when I became overdrawn on my bank account on 2 check books. Not only that but also forgetting to pay some bills. When my cognition is a little clearer and I realize it, then I have to play catch-up. My husband is aware, but is not interested in helping with taking over the check book. So this is added stress and frustration. My clutter also comes from my husband's clothes left in the living room on the sofa, on the floor, papers on the kitchen table, pill bottles on top of the microwave that also belong to my husband. Then there's the dog's toys all over the floor. By the time afternoon rolls around, I need a nap. I just can't take it any more. It just wears me out.

    ReplyDelete
  19. WOW!!! I laugh a little as I read this, I see myself in this article. I work in a smallbusy restraunt and we have alot of regulars. My first flare happened right in the middle of my shift so my coworkers and regulars saw it all, I dropped trays of food and drinks, I ran into tables because I couldnt see or balance..ect. Now that we all know whats wrong we laugh when I lose my train of thought and mix up orders or forget where something is. They call me Swiss cheese Brain! I havent explained the particulars to my kids yet(all boys, twins age 8 and a 6yr old) but they know Im sick and cant do the fun things we used to do and I forget things sometimes. We went to the movies last week and I asked my fiancee to put something in the car while we grabbed snacks. He asked for the keys and I couldnt find them! My youngest dumped my giant purse on the counter and went through everything, one of the twins checked our coats and my fiancee went to see if I locked them in the car. All of a sudden the other twin gets a big grin on his face and says "Mom, are they in your hand?" Sure enough, I was holding them in my left hand! My face was so red! Glad the kids got a laugh! Mom is such a geek sometimes!

    ReplyDelete
  20. The cognitive issues are hard to deal with. After moving 8 times, I have dwindled my belongings down to 6 rubbermaid boxes and two laundry baskets, and a few items in my car to move to my new apartment. It will be nice to move out on my own again after living with my parents for 7 months. Just keeping things in order and living out of a laundry basket has been tidy enough for me. I live by the calendar on my phone...it helps me alot. I haven't been completely diagnosed, but I suffer many of the symptoms of mS...dymelination of the gray matter, psychosis, and depression..I'm happy however, to have found this site, it has sure helped me understand what I am going through learning and hearing other people's stories.

    ReplyDelete