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A few months ago I wrote this review of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It fit so perfectly with my desire to live an uncluttered, minimalist lifestyle that I wanted to begin immediately.
The book recommends decluttering items in your home in a specific order. Clothing, Books, Papers, Komono (a fancy word for “random stuff”), and finally, Sentimental.
I tore into my clothing right away. And at first it was easy. I’d done a pretty dramatic closet purge a few months before, so I wasn’t really dealing with an excessive amount of clothing. Many people describe the “shock value” they get from piling all their clothing into one place, and I didn’t experience that. I quickly found two large garbage bags of items that definitely did not fit the criteria of “joy sparking” items. I donated those. Then I filled a bag of items to send to Thredup. My closet was emptier, but I didn’t feel the “click” that Marie Kondo describes when you have finished a category. I ignored it and moved on to books.
Books weren’t much more difficult than clothing. We have a great library system here, and I figured any that I really regretted parting with could easily be replaced for a couple bucks at Goodwill. I donated two boxes.
Then we moved.
And it turned out we had multiple boxes of books and clothes in storage.
So I began again. First clothes, then books. I got rid of a lot, but still no click.
So I tried to figure out why. Was the book wrong? Or was I doing something wrong?
I went back to my closet and started a third time. I held each piece of clothing in my hand and waited for one to “spark joy”. And none of them did. Not one. single. piece. Now if I was a different sort of person, I might assume that my wardrobe simply wasn’t doing it for me, and chuck the whole thing. But a little voice in the back of my head wasn’t satisfied with that, and I kept hearing it ask “so what does spark joy for you?” An excellent question. And one I should be able to answer. So in order to determine my joy ‘baseline’, I went around the house picking up my favorite things. (Scientific, I know.)
I held my wedding gown. I held the photo album of my oldest son’s babyhood. I held an autographed novel by Gore Vidal, my engagement ring, a poem my husband wrote for me, and my iPhone. I even picked up my dog. And I felt nothing.
And I think I figured out the problem.
I have Dysthymia.
What is Dysthymia?
Dysthymia is a mild, longterm and persistent form of depression. And one of the classic symptoms of Dysthymia is an inability to experience joy.
Did I just blow your mind?
I will admit that after I had this realization, my first thought was, “well, I guess this is pointless. Time to give up. Good one, Kelley. You can’t even declutter right.” And then I pulled myself together and tried to figure out a new approach. Because, Dysthymia be damned, I will be a KonMari graduate.
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So How Do You KonMari When You Have Dysthymia?
1. Start With Easy
Some stuff will be really easy to get rid of. The stuff you bought because it was cheap, but you never used it. The gifts you kept out of guilt. Broken stuff. Stuff you don’t use regularly that you can replace in under 20 minutes, under $20.
2. Do it in Short Spurts
Are you struggling with low energy? Don’t feel like you have to declutter in long, exhausting sessions. Try setting aside 15 minutes a day. If 15 minutes is too much, try 10. Or 5. Set a timer and focus on this one thing. You’ll see progress faster than you think, and that can be very motivating.
3. Try out Different Feelings
If nothing “sparks joy” to you, try to see if you can evoke another good feeling. Relaxed? Calm? Peaceful? Safe? Envision what that feeling really looks like in your home environment. Try to really see it in detail. What are you doing? What are you wearing? For example, I envisioned myself curled up on my couch at the end of the day with a book and a blanket. When I went to my closet, very few of my clothes were conducive to that scenario. That’s when I realized I’d kept a few things because I felt like they were too nice to get rid of. Not because they made me feel how I wanted to feel.
4. When You Can’t Decide, Put it in the Sentimental Pile
Here’s another symptom of depression that can be a stumbling block in your decluttering journey. Indecisiveness! It’s okay. Baby steps. The Sentimental category comes last in the process for a good reason. By the time you’ve done clothes, books, papers and komono, you’ll have given your decluttering muscles a workout and you’ll be ready for the most difficult stuff. Chances are, once you get back to the things you couldn’t decide on, you’ll see them a lot differently.
5. Be Nice to Yourself
Don’t beat yourself up like I was doing to myself. It’s pretty much the least productive thing ever. Remember, you’re trying to do a good thing that’s going to help you and the people you live with immensely. It will take as long as it takes. It’s not a race.