Tidying Up with Depression

Marie Kondo’s hit Netflix show Tidying Up has inspired people around the world to declutter their homes and help makes their lives less stressful. If you’ve seen the show, you’ll know that the process of tidying up can take days and often ends with dozens of bags of unneeded clothing, books, and tchotchkes removed from the house.

Cleaning out old clothes and knick-knacks does more than free up square footage—it can also be a means of self-care. A decluttered living room can give you the breathing space you need to relax, just as a decluttered kitchen can help alleviate the stress of cooking. It can be difficult to think clearly when so many items are competing for attention. It’s especially important to keep things tidy in places like the bedroom, where restful sleep is critical for mental health.

But when someone is struggling with depression or anxiety, it can be difficult to find the energy to complete a television-worthy monumental overhaul that ends in those dozens of bags taken out for donation. Try these tips to make the process easier:

  • Start small. No one says you need to tidy everything up all at once. Try starting with a smaller area but one that gets used daily, like your car, work space, or a bathroom cabinet. Even if the square footage of your cleared space is small, you’ll notice the impact every single day.
  • Start with less sentimental items. Sentimental items like old letters, trophies, or mementos from past relationships can be the hardest items to get rid of because of how much emotional weight is wrapped up in them. If you start with these, you may soon get bogged down in memories and find it hard to find a decision-making rhythm. Instead, begin with items that hold less emotional value and can be
  • Set a timer. “Sort for 15 minutes” sounds much less daunting than “sort your entire house.” Even 15 minutes a day can help cut down on clutter and will leave you feeling accomplished. Soon enough, those 15 minute sessions will snowball into noticeable differences.
  • Try to frame it as an act of appreciation for yourself, rather than a tedious chore. In Tidying Up, Marie Kondo often begins the process by first thanking the house for what it does and what it means to the occupants. In the same vein, take a moment to thank yourself for undertaking the decluttering, which is a task that while difficult, can leave you feeling less stressed and more clear-headed.
  • Use the buddy system. If you know that you’ll struggle, try enlisting the help of a good friend or family member to keep you on-task and motivate you. Even if they aren’t helping you physically, having someone to prompt you about whether something is worth keeping or not can help move the process forward. Just be sure that your friend won’t try to talk you into keeping things that you’d rather donate.
  • Make it exciting. “Exciting” might be a stretch, but if you can afford it, it may help you to purchase containers that are functional but stylish to employ your new methods of folding and storing. If you like the containers you’re using, you’ll be more likely to use them. Just remember that the containers themselves are less important than what’s stored inside of them.
  • Reward yourself. Ideally you wouldn't reward yourself with something physical that will take up more space in your home, so try rewarding yourself with an experience. Maybe there’s a new restaurant you've been wanting to check out, or concert you’d love to see.

Please be advised that the information presented here is for information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. All readers are encouraged to discuss any issues or concerns they may have with their behavioral health providers.