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Cleaning out Migraine

We all know that migraine attacks can equal dishes left in the sink, mail unopened, and clothes heaped up high in the hamper. It’s hard enough to keep on top of chores when feeling well, but add the debilitating symptoms of migraine and it can be nearly impossible. This April we are doing a spotlight on spring cleaning, and I wanted to share two stories about how environments have affected people with migraine disease.

Adopting a simpler lifestyle

Last spring I adopted a new lifestyle, partially to help keep up with chores, called “minimalism,” though it could simply be described as owning less stuff. I spent many weekends going through things, selling items, donating, and recycling. I simplified my wardrobe (even shoes, *gasp*!), bookshelf (I’m not going to read all those books again!), changed how I deal with paperwork (only file what I need, shred the rest), and now own far fewer things. I’m also more selective about what I bring into my life. If you came to my apartment you wouldn’t necessarily think that I was a minimalist. I have plenty of art on the walls, a fun collection of cups and mugs, and cat toys strewn about. You’d probably just think my place looked clean and tidy (besides the cat toys!).

Clean and tidy?

I’m not sure why, but it’s easier to keep things in order when you have, well, less things to keep in order. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but it’s a perhaps-quirky lifestyle that suits me perfectly, especially since I’ve never been super organized: tax season would always be a search to find all the paperwork, and getting dressed in the morning involved a flurry of throwing clothes around in my closet until I found something that worked. So getting rid of excess opened up extra time in my life for the things that matter. And now, though there is definitely catching up to do after I recover from a migraine attack, it’s far less overwhelming.

Talking to other migraine minimalists

I reached out to the community of people embracing minimalism, thinking I’d find more people with my same story: less stuff + fewer chores = less overwhelm. I did find some people who shared this story, not just with migraine but with other health conditions, but I also found someone with a unique and remarkable story.

Too much stuff = migraine attacks?

Susan from Ontario told me how her migraine attacks began. She had just moved in with her husband who was an avid collector and comic book reader. “I just felt totally overwhelmed by his house and how full it was… the floors were full of comic books and things piled high to my hip,” describes Susan. It was then, at age thirty, she experienced her first migraine attack, and the attacks continued at about 1 or 2 migraine attacks a week plus tension-type headaches 5 or 6 days a week. She tried to organize her husband’s things, but could not keep up with it all. Eventually she started to live apart from him during the work week to shorten her commute, and finally they divorced. But Susan’s migraine attacks did not abate. Though she no longer had her ex-husband’s things to deal with, she wasn’t sure where to start with her own possessions.

Less stuff = fewer migraine attacks

About five years ago Susan was talking to a friend who had adopted a minimalist lifestyle. It peaked Susan’s interest, and so her friend shared the tools to effectively get rid of things she didn’t need. Slowly, Susan cleared out each room in her home, and her migraine frequency went down to only one attack every month or two and far fewer tension-type headaches. “The number of migraines… has gone down tremendously since I embarked on trying to minimize… it’s having a powerful impact on my life,” explains Susan, and I can hear the joy in her voice. Though she hadn’t expected her attacks to lessen, she’s pleasantly surprised and plans to keep going through areas of her home such as her office and basement. For now, Susan says, “I think by the owning less stuff, you’re more open to some deeper thoughts… like volunteering, spirituality, and nature. It opens up a door to some amazing things.”

Happy spring cleaning!

If you are interested in trying to de-clutter and live more simply, I thought I would share some of my favorite resources:
The Minimalists
Courtney Carver
Leo Babauta
Joshua Becker

Also, check out some articles on spring cleaning and migraine on our site:
Spotlight: Spring Cleaning
Five Low-Scent, DIY Replacement Recipes for Household Cleaning Products

I would love to hear – do you have a similar story? Please share in the comments below!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • mrst53
    2 years ago

    I know how you feel. I live in a 3 br house with a spouse who is Mr. Clean and expects me to be the same. We have been married for 43 years and have argued over the house for that long. After my Mom died, I got tired of the mess and I had my best friend come over and help me get rid of stuff. If you have a friend, have them help you slowly. Pick one room at a time. Don’t try to do it all in one day. Most of us with migraines do not have the strength or the energy to even try to do in one day. On top of the migraines, I also have Fibro, which. makes me hurt, so do what you can, when you can, and do not expect to do too much. We just can’t

  • Amanda Workman moderator
    2 years ago

    Your idea about having a friend help is an extremely good idea because sometimes we keep things ‘just in case’ and a friend can help us realize we may not need to keep it. Your point on one room at a time is also extremely import, it is too easy to overdo it and then feel miserable for a few days afterwards, especially with Fibro. You definitely have to go about it slowly but it definitely feels good to clear out some of the clutter.
    Amanda Workman ( Moderator & Contributor)

  • H
    2 years ago

    It is so hard to keep up with everything when you feel awful. I suggest buying some paper plates and bowls and even cups and some plastic silverware for those days when you can’t handle one more thing. Also, try to do just a little more on those days when you feel better. I drink ginger tea every morning and some mornings, I chop a little extra ginger and freeze it in a small freezer bag. I prefer fresh ginger tea, but for those mornings when I can barely walk into the kitchen, pulling the bag out of the freezer is a lot less daunting than chopping the ginger. I also chop up vegetables and freeze them so I can throw them in a skillet and stir fry them if I am not feeling well, because I tend not to eat well when I am having bad days and that exacerbates everything. I have started to use Target and Petco/Petsmart and and their auto delivery programs for everyday items so I don’t run out of things like paper towels, toilet paper, laundry detergent and pet food. Chewy’s will even deliver cat litter, which is great, because lifting heavy things sometimes gives me migraines! I have found that using the auto delivery programs is sometimes even less expensive than buying the items in the store! It is awful having to drag yourself out of the house because you are out of household necessities. I guess I just am trying to make life easier on myself when I have to by using paper plates or kitchen shortcuts or having things delivered. I hope each of you can find things that make life easier, because our disease makes life way too hard.

  • Amanda Workman moderator
    2 years ago

    H –
    Shortcuts are a major help on any day, especially the days you feel really badly. Even on the days you feel good you do not want to go overboard which would cause you to feel bad the next days but those little things you mentioned are huge helps. I know some places even carry healthy frozen meals so if you cannot cook at all, you can still have a healthy meal. I have to say I LOVE your idea of keeping stir fry items in the freezer, I may borrow that from you! Thank you for reading Lisa’s article and commenting!
    Amanda Workman ( Moderator & Contributor)

  • kateymac
    2 years ago

    I, too, find it IMPOSSIBLE to keep a clean home with this illness, and I only live in a one-bedroom apartment! I can’t seem to vacuum, clean the bathroom, or EVER wash the kitchen floor. Then the every-day things like dishes and laundry, which pile up when not done, are VERY difficult to keep up with as well.

    Even when the pain is low, the fatigue and weakness that is part of this illness makes it impossible to ever fully catch up. I can manage little bits, here and there, but I never get all the way.

    And the other task – the minimizing – well I’ve been dreaming of that for quite a while. I do think it will help, but the stars really need to align for it to happen: I need to get someone to help who is strong. I need a vehicle that will carry the stuff – maybe a van rental? I pretty much need to do it during open hours at the town dump. AND I need do get all of this to happen on a day that I can get out of bed.

    Ok – I can already imagine a few ways around the above list for the minimizing project. For instance, I could gradually mark the things I want out, when I’m having good moments – stage 1. Stage 2: I could get TWO people who are willing to lug it out of here for me, WITHOUT me if I’m too sick. Stage 3: I can then schedule them with a van they can pick up whether I’m in bed or not.

    This place is a mess. I may still not keep up with my laundry very well, but I just might feel less generally overwhelmed if I don’t feel like I may drown in my “stuff”.

    Was this comment too long???

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi Kate,

    I LOVED your comment, and it certainly wasn’t too long! It’s great how you figured out possible solutions. You might even try the local minimalism group in your city. I’m part of mine, and we help each other out with ideas and support. You could see if your city is listed here:

    Also, feel free to post here about your journey!

    And don’t feel bad, I only have a 2 bedroom apartment, so not much bigger, but it’s so hard to handle all the upkeep!

    Be well,

  • Luna
    2 years ago

    Have been working on getting rid of unnecessary things for a few years. Lived here for 40 years now. It is freeing to have less but the stress of all those decisions can be daunting also. Have already done a lot so now I just tackle an area or whatever when the mood hits. I always have a sack or box ready to drop things in that I finally am able to part with. Sometimes it is difficult to decide what is unnecessary versus what I might need in the future. It is really frustrating to get rid of something one hasn’t needed in years then just a month or so later say that sure would be handy right now. The worst part is spending time looking for it because I forgot I disposed of it.

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi Luna,

    Yes, that’s a tough balance to strike! Hopefully you’ve learned from it along the way!

    Be well,

  • Tamara
    2 years ago

    3 days in bed …. and bad migraines back to back for weeks …. I have used every Tupperware or items I could as a bowl for cereal (one of the few things I can stomach during a prolonged attack. Now the entire kitchen is piled high with dishes (too small of a place for a dishwasher) … can’t move without severe pain and nothing to eat cereal in …. so you rinse off one dish and continue on. I wish I had a partner to clean for me 🙁

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi Tamara,

    I’m sorry you’re going through a rough time! I’ve definitely been there with the dish rinsing… Not fun! Sending you lots of love.

    Be well,

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