Minimalism, or “it only hurts the first time”

The first time I heard about minimalism, I’d just been diagnosed with Cyclothymia. After a long, long period of increasing exhaustion, listlessness, and lack of concentration, I finally got myself to go to a psychiatrist, who proceeded to send me to three other doctors just to make sure it wasn’t something else. Everything came back negative, including a near perfect haemogram.
In the end, my doc gave me pills that really helped, but pills aren’t enough if you’re a mess in all other branches of your life.

There are different versions of depression.

After the initial shock, I realized I needed to have a good, hard look at how I was living and how it affected me. My hormones might wreak havoc on my mood, but my living situation was the driving force behind making it into a real problem.
Here’s what you need to know about my Cyclothymia: I’m not depressed like you hear it on the news, blogs, or TV. I’m not sad or suicidal, no crying fits, no “this will never end”. Not all sufferers of depression are like that. There are different versions of depression. Some people, like me for example, get listless, exhausted, aggressive, nervous, sleepless, driveless, caught in that moment of “shit, that’s too hard for me, maybe I should stop” and “shit, my life is going down the gutter and I don’t know how to change it”, until nothing gets done anymore and you’re so overwhelmed you can’t breathe.

So how did my home, my living situation, become part of that problem?

I spent too much money on stuff.

I don’t like to go out (there you have it, another symptom), so I prefer to order online. This means I spend a lot of time in my home, and I buy a lot of stuff with very little available money. There’s this hope that this or that item will solve all my problems, that I just need to get this or that and I’ll finally be able to fix me, fix my apartment, make my life run smoothly again. At the same time, I get very weird about throwing stuff out, because “I don’t have a lot of money, I can’t replace that thing if I throw it out and then realize I need it!”
I’m not a hoarder per se, I throw away my trash and I don’t let things stack up everywhere, but I’m fairly close. At the point of my diagnosis, I had three big shelves full of books, at last count over 800 of them, and I had read all of them at some point. Read them once, then never again.
I kept so many books because throwing them out felt like such a waste.
I also had a whole three desks in my living room, one for my PC, one for studying, one for sewing. All three ended up being used as space to put stuff, so I couldn’t even use them.
This pattern repeated itself in every room, crammed up with usable stuff I never used.

On days of exhaustion, I couldn’t even wash my dishes.

With stacks of stuff everywhere, cleaning was a bitch. This became especially problematic, since my phases of high energy were limited to a week every two months, whereas my exhaustion days slowly increased to three weeks, with phases of vague “I’m still functioning, yay,” in between.
On days of high energy, I managed to clean for hours and get everything ship-shape. On days of exhaustion, I couldn’t even wash my dishes. I would rinse them, stack them, and leave them there until I ran out of cutlery or plates. And when I put them in the dishwasher, I left the clean stuff in there for as long as possible, because it just was too much work to put them away in my stuffed kitchen.
All the things everywhere got dusty. The stuff also made it hard to swipe, vacuum, anything at all, and since I was so effing exhausted, it just got worse and worse. Dust bunnies everywhere, books everywhere, furniture everywhere. Just thinking about it makes me tired all over.

If I wanted to keep writing books, this had to stop.

And then, one day, I sat in my living room, took a good, hard look around, and decided: This doesn’t work for me anymore. Why did I even let it get to this point? This doesn’t make me happy. This isn’t healthy. No stuff in the world could turn this mess around.
If I wanted to keep writing books, this had to stop. I love writing, storytelling, making my thoughts fly where my body can’t, so why did I do this to myself?
I’ve always thought things through all the way before I act. I thought a good two months about how to best clean up my act before I realized that thinking wouldn’t change a thing. I would have to start somewhere, to jump right in, and hope it would get easier with time. God, did I hope it would get easier! And to find a way to deal with my mess, I searched the web. And found minimalism.

Those first few days were the hardest days of my life.

I won’t tell you what minimalism is in detail, there are enough pages and blogs on the web if you’re interested. To summarize: Minimalism is the art of looking at items and asking yourself, “does this thing make me happy?” If the answer is no, you give it away, sell it, throw it out, just get it out of your life. If the answer is yes, you find a place for it. A place where it’s appreciated the way it’s supposed to be.
Minimalism allowed me to decide, “no, you don’t need that, don’t lie to yourself. There will never be a time or place where you need a cocktail shaker, or three pans, or that box of bamboo steamer baskets.”
Those first few days were the hardest days of my life. But I got through them, made myself a masochist just for the purpose of digging myself out of this things-hole. I was both hard on myself, and on my home.
And it worked.

Clearing stuff out of my life made me feel powerful.

I started out with my clothes, but I wasn’t stupid about it. At first, I just discarded things I absolutely wasn’t using anymore. Stretched out shirts, pants that were too small for me, threadbare socks, and so on. Then I let it rest for a few days, just to start all over the next month.
In the first month, I didn’t notice the difference in my energy levels, but in hindsight, the change had already happened. I should have been exhausted and unable to keep it going, but that first round of clearing stuff out of my life made me feel powerful. And that first wave of power and energy kept me going, until one day I realized that my one remaining shelf was almost empty, I could fit all my kitchen utensils into my kitchen, my piles of dishes were easily cleaned away within minutes, and I could move freely through my apartment.
Even on my worst days, I now know that I could clean up within an hour. I know that I can handle the mess and that it might be bad at this moment, but it won’t be in a week. I don’t drop down into that hole of “it will never end,” and I sleep like a baby. Which helps with the exhaustion, to the surprise of nobody but me.

Don’t let your stuff rule you.

The takeaway from this is simple: Don’t let your stuff rule you. It doesn’t make you happy, it just keeps you where you’re already at. If you can’t look at your surroundings and say “this makes me feel a little better,” don’t think it will ever help you dig yourself out of the pit. Things won’t change unless you change things (hardy-har).
If you’re in that dark place right now, please be assured: It only hurts the first time, and the reward is so, so worth it!

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