Never before in human history have people owned as much stuff, let alone had access to as much stuff as they do now. It’s hard enough for a healthy person to deal with, but if you are struggling with clinical depression, the daily work of “stuff management” can become absolutely overwhelming.
How clutter contributes to depression
Shame cycle: Organizing is not just a physical task, but a cognitive and emotional task as well. It takes a lot of energy, which you do not have when you are depressed. Consequently, you might avoid sorting through your things, which allows the clutter to build. You then might beat yourself up for not being able to do “such a simple task”, which worsens your self-esteem and increases your depression. The more depressed you are, the less likely you will be able to muster the energy to deal with all of your stuff.
Self-Isolate: To make matters worse, when the clutter build-up gets bad enough, you might feel so ashamed of yourself and your space that you do not allow anybody to come over. This is self-isolation, which can make you feel even more depressed. Depressed people spend more time indoors, which means more time staring at their clutter while that negative feedback loop plays in their heads.
Self-Medicate with Shopping: If you are depressed, you might even try to self-medicate your depression by buying yourself something new to cheer yourself up. And that might work in the short term, but soon enough you may realize that all of that shopping is just making the clutter problem worse. It just feeds the shame cycle.
What professional organizers do to help depressed people
Get support: The first thing I encourage a depressed person to do is to get support. Hire a professional organizer, who will figure out the fastest, most efficient way to clear your space while working within your limitations and your needs. Get an organized and COMPASSIONATE friend or family member to sit in on the organizing sessions with you and the PO so he or she can learn how to be a support to you in between organizing sessions. You need a cheerleader.
Clear large amounts of space to boost morale: The first thing a professional organizer is going to do is to start building up your morale, so you can start believing that you can do this work. Your PO will help you believe that you can have control over your living space. So what I do is ask myself, “what is the biggest impact we can make while doing the least amount of work possible? How can we clear a significant amount of space with little effort?” Usually that means clearing really large things out of the way first – furniture, exercise equipment, stuffed animals. Seeing clear space start to appear right away has the effect of energizing clients. And when I can energize my depressed clients, we can build momentum, which is what we need to continue with the rest of the project.
Set realistic goals for project completion and maintenance: If you are depressed, any organizing system I put into place for you needs to be as simple as possible to minimize your energy output. For example, it’s probably not realistic to put a shoe rack by the door and expect you to line up your shoes on it each day. But it’s no effort at all if we put a basket beside the front door so you can simply throw your shoes in. It might be difficult to fold your clothes and stack them on shelves. So instead, I might encourage you to set up a basket for each type of clothing and tell you to toss each piece of clothing in, unfolded, by type.
Do a little bit each day: Doing something will make you feel better than doing nothing. Set a timer for 10 minutes, grab two boxes – one for donations and the other for trash — and start clearing your space. If you do even that much each day, it will make a tangible difference. Depressed people tend to engage in all-or-nothing thinking, meaning they think they have failed if they haven’t completely decluttered their space. Instead of aiming for perfection, aim for progress. Heck, that’s a good mindset for us all to adopt, whether we are depressed or not.
Work during peak energy times: If you know that you feel your worst during the evening, don’t attempt to start your organizing project then. Figure out when you feel your best, and schedule a short organizing session then.
Depression can be a devastating illness that effects how well you are able to maintain your living space. You don’t have to try to figure out a solution to this on your own. A professional organizer can coach you through this difficult time, allowing you to live in a space that will help improve your mood, not worsen it. If you live in the Portland-Metro area, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for help. You deserve to live in a space that heals, and I can help you get there.