Creating a peaceful, orderly environment can mprove your ability to cope with another’s illness

“Yard by yard, everything is hard. Inch by inch, everything’s a cinch” Unknown

I find amazing clarity and newfound energy after cleaning my office and organizing files. Sounds kind of simple, but the truth is caring for the space we live and work in profoundly impacts our ability think clearly, act rationally, and generally feel better about life. I know when I take the time to dress well and put on make-up before facing the day, I feel like I can take on the world. Well, the same thing happens for me when I prepare my environment, and have things around me that add to my life, instead of detract. Is your home the best it can be? This doesn’t mean fancy or perfect – it means a living space where you feel nourished instead of drained. Write down the things that are not so pleasing to you. Maybe it’s the kid’s messy room or the T.V. blaring 24-7. Maybe it’s a disorganized workspace or even the idea of friends dropping by unannounced. You don’t have to have House & Garden home in order to make your home a beautiful retreat. Make a list and little by little make your space and the way you use it pleasing to you. It is true that taking care of your environment won’t change the fact that you have a family member living with mental illness. But it can empower and energize you. Creating a calm, clean, organized environment can provide the mental rest and inner resources you need to face this ongoing challenge.

Here are a few of my suggestions for simplifying your life:

1. Declutter! Imagine walking into your kitchen and there are files all over the counter, a week’s worth of newspapers, and old mail piles on the kitchen table. Picture having to pay bills or get ready for a meeting in that space. Does that energize you? I know it would make me feel like running back to bed or out the door! Having a tidy, welcoming place to conduct your life is important.

2. Organize! Create systems to handle everyday business. A good example is the snail mail and email that pours into our lives everyday. Here’s my system. I take 3 minutes to review the day’s mail, throw away what I don’t need, put priority items in a bin on my table, and put “items of interest” in another bin. The same goes for my email. I have “folders” set up into which my mail automatically feeds and houses itself. This allows me to read mail at my leisure, and keeps my “in box” from filling up with unwanted or non-priority stuff. Small practices like these create room in my mind for other, more important things. They allow me to control my environment in little ways that make me feel empowered.

3. Value your time! OK, this is a biggie. But it’s especially important when you’re dealing with mental illness. You may need extra patience and energy to care for your family member. Create space for this, too. Review your life routines and drop what you can to protect some time and reduce your stress level. Take stock of things you do out of habit. Decide if something is truly what you want to continue doing. If not, stop it! Just because you’ve had a birthday party for your friend for the past 10 years does not mean you MUST do it this year. Ask yourself if something fits into your values and priorities list, and if it’s nourishing or depleting to you. Remember, you’re trying to change your environment to support you better, so you can support your family member. That means minimizing stress and chaos wherever you can. Once you stop doing things you don’t really need to, start incorporating things you enjoy into your life. What brings you most pleasure during the day? Which activities express your values and create joy in your life? Again, they don’t have to be big or fancy – they just have to please you. Begin by scheduling them more often. Remember, you must make room for these pleasures by eliminating unwanted activities. Another way to value your time is to hire people to do the time-consuming things that don’t require your participation. For example, maybe food shopping, house cleaning, or dog walking. By hiring appropriate help, you are free to do things that are more important to you.

Take consistent action in the ways I’ve suggested above, and you will feel better in difficult circumstances. Creating a peaceful, orderly environment will reduce stress, improve your outlook, and offer you some control over your life, even when you feel you have none.