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Tidying Up. Wednesday January 27, 2016

Oh, I have the soul of a minimalist, but the habits and outlook of a hoarder.

My house is cluttered; strewn and littered with papers, miscellanea, objects trouvé; I like to think it's the sign of a creative mind with many interests...

When I am well, this clutter amuses me, or at least does not bother me enough to do more than occasionally tidy up. Just sometimes I will decide that enough is enough and declutter using Marie Kondo's excellent methodology from her book 'The Life Changing Magic of Tidying' (I'll come back to that later).

When I'm ill however, then all this clutter is just one more reminder, or rather ten thousand individual reminders, of what a useless person I am. I am messy, untidy, cluttered and unclean. It's as if the disordered state of my home reflects the disorder and dysfunctionality of my mind and I desire nothing more than to make a clean sweep.

And this is where I have some hard won advice for you all.

Never, but never, declutter when you're depressed!

The reason for this is very simple and where I come back to Marie Kondo.

The basis of her philosophy is simple in the extreme. Only keep those items which bring you joy, or which you may not dispose of for legal or practical reasons. You may be sure that my tax records for the past seven years do not bring me joy, but I am required to keep them for that long.

It's easy to know if an item brings you joy: you look at it or touch it, and listen to your feelings.

When you're keeping things "just in case" then the emotion attached to those items is a sort of low grade anxiety. When you're keeping something because "It was a gift and I feel I can't get rid of it," then the feeling is one of nebulous guilt. Books you "ought" to have on your bookshelves ooze tension and that dress you bought in the sale because "it was a bargain," but which you've never worn, emits shame.

None of these items actually have a place in our lives or our homes and yes, they should go, so that we are left only with those possessions that bring us joy.

So why not do this when depressed? Surely it would make us feel better.

Because when we are depressed, even if we have the energy to declutter, we cannot feel our emotions accurately. We are often unable to distinguish the joy.

I have decluttered when well, and decluttered (twice) when ill. I have never missed one item I discarded when well. But I have made emotional (and financial) costly mistakes when decluttering while ill.

So live with the mess if you're ill at present. Wait until you're really well and you can feel properly again. And then look up Marie Kondo. You'll be glad you did.

A Moodscope member.

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment below.

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Mr A non Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 1:05am

Mary When i am ill, ANY emotions and feelings i normally have for Family,friends. member's of the general public, pet's and innanimate object's is around zero. My wife is a total minimalist (i occaisonally buy a daily paper and it is usually in the recycling bin before i have looked at it).I am a complete hoarder(My domain is my shed).Our difference is a constant battle of will's.When i have'nt been to well on occaisions she usually joins me in MY shed, and will persuade me to get rid of things, which although work perfectly well, either take up to much space or we havent used in ages.I reluctantly agree to take item(s) to the tip.Several weeks later in a better frame of mind i always bitterly regret my actions as i then hear of someone, willing to pay £30-£40 for the item i discarded,So i totally agree,don't make any rash decisions, about anything,unless you are in a stable state of mind Goodnight all, i have to be up at 5-45

Mary Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 8:19am

Absolutely Mr A Non - especially your point about not being able to feel anything at all while ill...

LillyPet Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 9:17am

I really feel for you Mr A. I really hope you find a way forward with it. I'm rooting for you! LP :)

Mr A non Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 1:07am

PS Forgot to say 'Absolutely brill blog'you've written

Mary Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 8:18am

Thank you Mr A Non! Minimalists just don't understand hoarders, do they? Fortunately my husband is even more of a hoarder than I! We have just had a spirited debate about which of our spare three bookshelves we should donate to the doctors' surgery! We have at last settled on one, because they other two might come in handy one day....

Gill Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 6:14am

Thanks for this. When I'm feeling low I tend to want to throw everything out! I will remember this blog. Good advice xxx

Melanie Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 7:31am

Hi Mary, thank you - great advice - I got rid of my old car recently and have been struggling retrospectively with the decision - I think it was because I felt very busy and pressured and therefore did not really make the decision myself but let circumstances - the insurance was due immediately after a minor break down and my mechanic was keen to have the car - make the decision for me. Have a great day, XX

Lou Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 7:54am

Great blog and an excellent thought. Thank you.

Sarah Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 8:19am

Thank you Mary for your great advice. I completely agree, after my Mother died I sold most of my jewellery when feeling very low, which was a mistake. I had taken 3 months of daily clearing her house of clutter and everything had to be gone through as some very nice things were mixed in with bags of old bills from a previous house. I didn't know about Moodscope then. Sarah ( yellow rose)

Joanne Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 8:21am

Mary, It's uncanny how I recognise your blogs from the first few words, before I scroll down to see who wrote them, and I am always right. You never fail to lift my spirits and sunlight seems to pour out of your words. I know you don't always feel that way yourself, but you have a great gift for writing - thank you for sharing.

Anonymous Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 9:20am

Me too. Hear! hear!

Mary Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 11:39am

Thank you both. I am very deeply touched by your kind words and value them greatly. Writing for Moodscope helps me through the dark times and this community never fails to support.

Anonymous Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 8:53am

I often try to compare my feelings when I'm down with the feelings I would have when up. I say to myself , if you were having a good day, would you react the same? I think the answer is yes but much more intensely and with total confidence I was doing the right thing. So as for decluttering, I have never regretted throwing things away when done on a down day.But I agree with you Mary when you say that when feeling good, you don't care about clutter.When I am down, my control urge sets in and I have to clean. At least I have control over something then. Julx

Mary Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 11:41am

I do know what you mean. You can look at the clear space and know that there is nothing in that clear space to reproach you. But - also I find there is nothing in that clear space that brings me joy, either.

Another Sally Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 9:05am

Hi Mary, like Joanne I recognise your blogs and read on avidly. Thank you so much for the topic in this blog. When I am away for a few days I make lists of the changes I am going to make when I get home, but when I am surrounded by my clutter I cannot seem to make decisions. I love the bit about keeping things "just in case" . I have wedges of newspaper cuttings of interesting articles, that may come in useful. I know I will never remember them when I need them.
I think I will write your blog out and keep that piece of paper to refer to when I am ditching the others!
I feel lighter already. Thank you.
Another Sally

LillyPet Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 9:10am

Mary, your writing is a beautiful gift!
This is a constant drain in my life. It feels that I'd need to take a year out to address it. No work, no family, no dating even! Just head down and focus on this jumble of a nest of mine and my wellbeing. Everything else to "talk amongst yourselves" for a year till I get it sorted!

Since thats never gonna happen and what I'm doing ( little dribs and drabs here and there, drops in the ocean!) isn't working, it feels like some bigger, more purposeful action needs to be taken.
I'm usually the biggest fan of a small steps approach, but your blog has hit the nail on the head Mary!
When I'm not in a good place small steps are essential. When I'm in a good place I need to be careful not to blitz it as much as I physically can and push myself to exhaustion and backache!

I'll plan how I can make some time and plan a managable chunk that would make a real difference. The constant weight of it as a major to do in my life is more draining than the clutter that youve described so perfectly itself. An in your face reminder everyday that things are not as I want then to be.

Rather than focussing on what I dont want, I'll focus on what I do want, storage, easy access, space, places that are easy on the eye and mind!

Thank you for a very inspiring blog Mary. I'll just make a start and see how it goes. LPxxx

danielle Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 10:45am

LP i am sorry to hear it is bothering you. I read a blog by a wonderful crocheter - its called Attic 24 for anyone who loves yarn! but she described how she hated cleaning and how to tackle it in small bits. I think it would work just fine for decluttering etc. She wrote a list of the rooms she wanted to do and would do one per week in small bits. I think she even spilt up the tasks so clean floor monday in bedroom, change bedding in bedroom tuesday and so on. Another thing I try is to do priority lists, anything that must be done today labelled A, label things with B if they are 'better done today', C is for things that 'can wait'. This really helps me to see the important things as when i am ill my brain thinks there is sooo much to do and must do it all at once - for example must clean whole house, must sort out whole garden, bedroom needs decoration, have long list of cooking and sewing and all must be done today!! this is my brains favourite way ! but it doesnt have exhaust and make you feel bad when obviously it doesnt happen. sorry if these things dont work or help but could be worth trying. xxxx

Debbie Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 5:39pm

Hi Danielle - before my 4 months away from work, if anyone had told me that I was going to get that time away from the day job, I would have said - 'Great; an opportunity to clean and clear all the corners I haven't been in for years'. My first week of sickness was spent cleaning the lounge to within an inch of its life! 4 days to clean one quarter of the room each day! After that, I felt no better at all. So I thought that I'd like to walk. For the next 4 months, when I felt low, I put on my walking boots, put my headphones on with loud rock music - and I walked. By the end of that time, I even had the sense to turn around half way and walk home again, rather than ringing my husband after 9 miles and asking him to come and pick me up, as I'd literally just walked in a straight line! I took the advice of Dr Tim Cantopher who wrote Depressive Illness; The Curse of the Strong. Do what you want to do which makes you feel better in that moment. Before reading the book, I would have given myself a good talking to on feeling a bit low, 'Now, come on, get up, go to Samba Drumming, you know you will feel better when you get there'. But I didn't - if I felt down, I would just do what I felt I wanted to do. And if that meant sitting there and doing nothing, then that's exactly what I did. Don't overload the limbic fuse again. As to the hoarding, I'd love to be able to declutter, but I just can't do it! I can't let things go. I really want to, but the attachment I feel for things is too strong. Why can't I do this? Where can I understand how to do it? It doesn't seem to matter if I'm well or not - I just can't! Does anyone know of any good sources of self help please? thank you all and Mary, you're a star!

LillyPet Thu, Jan 28th 2016 @ 6:47pm

Thanks Danielle and Debbie! No need to apologise Danielle :) They're really good tips. Thank you! LP xx

Anna Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 9:17am

Love this Mary! It made me think of two things: One was that a few years ago a noticed my depression got so bad that I wasn't picking up clothes, emptying bins or doing the dishes. Yes I know, disgusting. And what was worse, the more things piled up around me the more desperate and frightened I felt. After that bout I resolved to get a cleaner. A small price to pay to know that my house will never get into quite such a state again.

The other thing it made me think of was something I can't help regretting (despite being a firm believer in no regrets, I struggle with this one). I kept a diary between the ages of ten and 20. Ten years and 27 fat notebooks full of the keys to my past. Every friendship, first loves, family disputes. Everything in black and white. A therapist's dream. Then one day when I came back from university I had the strange thought it my head that if I threw them all away all that rubbish in my past would be gone. I ceremoniously carried them to the dustbins and poured calamine lotion over them to stop anyone lifting them out.

We must always check our wellness before discarding things. Totally agreed. Thank you. I am a big fan of your blogs :-)

danielle Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 10:47am

Anna i started writing a diary a year ago. I tried writing daily but usually its weekly or twice a week but i just love flicking back and reliving happy memories its a great pick me up when low xxx

Mary Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 11:45am

Oh Anna - I think we've all been there. When it's a real effort - I mean, a *real* effort just to get out of bed and, once out, to stay out, then picking up clothes and doing dishes is impossible. Well done on getting a cleaner. Not possible for all, but definitely a good thing if you can.

Anonymous Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 9:57am

Dear Mary,

Thank you! Your blog today has such resonance for me. I know I am very lucky. I work from home and use our dining room as a space. I also have a so-called study - in reality not much bigger than a cupboard - in which I have two bookcases and a tiny desk. The desk is ergonomically disastrous so, I have taken over one of my daughter's bedrooms as they no longer live at home full-time. This is now full of paperwork, boxes to sort, old diaries and the rest...

Your words about clutter ring so true. It is a source of huge contention amongst my family too that my clutter has mushroomed to the extent that sometimes they have nowhere to sit at the kitchen table either. I feel so anxious and overwhelmed whenever I try to shift the piles of stuff and would love to be able to ask someone to help but am too frightened that they would toss everything into a black sack.

I try to imagine myself suddenly uprooted and transported to a desert island and being able to take only a couple of tiny possessions. However, at the moment I'm not well and all I can do is to close the door and wait for the family to lose interest temporarily. We are moving house soon so it is imperative that I get on top of the problem. Help!!

Apologies to all for my self-indulgence. Thank you as ever for your insight.

Go well!

Leah Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 10:19am

Anon 9.57am, I can so relate to your story . When you are well, try to do one small box at a time, or allow yourself 15 mins and if you feel ok you can do another 15 mins. Small steps otherwise it is too overwhelming. also if you can explain to your family that when you feel will you will start. Take care and be kind to yourself. Let us know how you are going.

Mary Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 11:53am

Hello Anonymous, Oh I too occasionally long for a desert island - just so long as it had wifi and I could take my laptop! A professional declutterer will never demand that you throw things away, but she will make you realise how little you need certain things. If in doubt, interview them first. I know a couple of good ones in Cambridgeshire if you're local to me, but there is an association of professional declutterers and organisers which might be worth investigating.

Leah Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 10:05am

I like to see myself as a collector rather than a hoarder. My children say I am one box away from passing the audition for a Hoarders TV Programme.

The trouble is what one person sees as joy another sees as clutter.

I agree with not making decisions about anything when depressed.

I have 3 books on coping with clutter and I can't find one in my mess!!

Thanks for making me not feel alone though I am not a minimalist in my soul I expect it is cluttered too.

danielle Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 10:53am

Leah your post made me laugh at myself! My OH parents are definitely hoarders and I view myself as definitely not a hoarder. However, through recent weeks I have discovered I am a secret hoarder!! I am blinkered to it completely. I still cannot believe I am a hoarder so I think collector. A few examples - I have balls and balls of wool which are waiting to be made into projects, they will get done at some point, I have the same with fabric and craft items, books, scarves (over 30!), 8 teapots, endless cherished mugs, 42 varieties of tea (i kid you not!!), 10 different choices of duvet cover. I think the difference I see is a collector has things which they use regularly and the things are useful - I can tell you i wear all the scarves, use all the teapots, use all the mugs etc. Whereas a hoarder has things which are no longer useful and dont get used? maybe this is an odd theory in my attempt to justify to myself that I am a hoarder?! I dont know! xxxx

Mary Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 11:56am

Danielle, you hit the nail on the head there. A collection is either used or organised and displayed in such a way that it brings joy. A hoard is usually disorganised and of no or limited value. For instance, my husband has many pieces of wood in the garage, and they tend to get used on ad hoc projects around the house and garden. He also has a box of miscellaneous and absolutely outdated computer peripherals in the loft: absolute clutter!

Soulmansblue Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 10:21am

Hi Mary,

Cool blog!
I just happened to read it a little too late today to be able to take your sound advice. Leave it until you feel better, I've just hovered!

I could have left it for one more day, but I've been doing that and I decided that no matter what today had to be the day. No one more days for this chore!

I hope that you are doing fine and that you are thinking of yourself and not of everyone else. You have to put yourself first sometimes.

Kind Thoughts


Mary Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 12:01pm

Ah - cleaning and hoovering is allowed, SMB; even encouraged if you feel up to it - I remember posting a mini-blog on my Facebook page a little while ago on the joy I felt having actually accomplished the task of deep cleaning my bathroom! And - I think, by admitting that you are a man who hoovers, you may have made a few of our female members sigh in deep appreciation! Go well, my dear.

Norman Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 5:42pm

Hovering?! Sometimes I struggle just to get out of bed...

susan Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 10:27am

Hi Mary, the paragraph in which you link emotions to particular items is really helpful. The 'just in case' one that produces anxiety is the one that takes me prisoner. I will be more attentive to this in future. I'm very good at de-cluttering, due to lots of experience with moving house, but it's still a project in the works--probably always will be:) xx

Mary Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 12:04pm

Oh me too. I just realised I had moved about 15 pots of sample skincare creams (from a range that I no longer either stock or sell) from my studio up to my bedroom "just in case" I should want to use them! Fortunately I have caught myself and out they will go! "Constant Vigilance!" as Professor Moody would say.

Dave Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 10:45am


Mary Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 12:07pm

Indeed Dave, that is an issue for many of us with bi-polar. While it's a topic I would love to address in a blog sometime it's not actually in the remit of Moodscope (we deal specifically with depression) and I'm not sure I'm qualified. I wish you well in finding a solution to this.

Anonymous Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 2:53pm

Hello Mary. I have just read what you have said about Moodscope being all about depression and bi polar not being in the remit of Moodscope. I don't understand. Did you mean to write this? If I get your meaning correctly, this is the first I have heard of bi polar being excluded form the remit. I think I must have misread your comment? Julia

Caroline Ashcroft Moodscope Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 3:32pm

Bi-polar is included in the remit of Moodscope and I'm sure you're not the only one Dave that is buying items you don't need or can't afford when you're on a high! Perhaps one of our other members can give you some tips on how they keep this in check. Or, if you'd like to write a blog on it Mary, I think it could be helpful. Caroline

Norman Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 10:58am

I imagine Loyd Grossman saying, "and who lives here?" Time was I'd be invited back to a woman's home and while she made sorted the drinks I'd check out the books and the records to get a feel for the real person. Nowadays I see "homes" that look like IKEA showrooms, with no personality at all. If your home doesn't say "Mary lives here" then where does she live?

Is decluttering while depressed a rejection of the self by the depressed person? Discuss...

Mary Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 12:11pm

Interesting idea Norman. I'll have to think about that one. My brother has a plaque in his kitchen which says simply "Please excuse the mess: we live here." All too many clues in my house, Norman. No secrets here. Well, no secrets anyway - everything in my life comes out in these blogs!

danielle Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 10:59am

Hi Mary another wonderful post thank you. I have written back to Leah above about being an 'in denial hoarder' or 'collector' as i like to call it :) I have certain things which I collect, teapots (8 of them), mugs (too many), tea (42 varieties), scarves (oveer 30), wool (a whole room full), craft supplies, the list is endless. These are all things I really enjoy, my favourite things. With other things I only have as many as is needed, tuppaware doesnt interest me, neither do plates, neither do teatowels or pans, neither do ornaments or pictures for the wall. Yes i have some but only what is needed. so am i a hoarder? i guess it depends how you define it? I also do what Dave describes above and when feeling low buy things from my favourite list. Its like having those things around make me feel safer like a cuddle. My OH calls it nesting, like I need my safe nest. Weirdly I need to know the things are there- but also physically there, I will bring wool downstairs, and books, and a cup of tea and my favourite blankets. I might not do anything with them but their physical presence makes me happy. That and obsessive cleaning. My psychiatrist would have a field day! xxxx

Mary Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 12:13pm

Not a hoarder. Absolutely not. These things give you joy. If you had 267 bits of tupperware (some without lids and some lids without bottoms) then you would be a hoarder. Breathe a deep sigh of relief, my dear. Dr Mary assures you that you do not have hoarderitis!

Angela Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 11:25am

Thank you Mary, and everyones comments. It's SO reassuring to hear I am not the only " collector " :)

Mary Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 12:14pm

And you have no idea Anglea, how glad I am to hear from all of you that I am not the only one either! ;)

The Gardener Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 12:28pm

We had something on these lines last week - this one seems to have provoked even more posts. Then, Mary, I think, when I asked where 'clutter' comes from, having had several major 'culls' she said it breeds in dark corners. Leah 'one person sees as joy another sees as clutter' and they all end up weekly at car boot sales! I've never seen a book on coping with clutter - would have thought it impossible to be clear-minded enough to write such a thing. My house move is a logistic and intellectual exercise. The one we inhabit is listed, a rich noble put in brilliant wooden pannelling in 1719 - so all decor and furnishing needed to 'complement' the setting. Now I have no architectural features to sanctify - just loads of space. Kitchen getting all the accolades possible and fills with coffee drinkers, joy. But our bedroom is another exercise. As well as Mr G's major health problems he has poor sight. BUT my decor now respects his favourites, he knows they are there. Before our marriage we acquired Japanese wood-cuts of 1850 for ten bob each. They will have pride of place in our bedroom. So, all the rest of the decor is minimalist - that is to say primary colours, and absolutely NO clutter - no little tables, knick-knacks - just clear and calm. A 'first' for me.

The Gardener Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 12:34pm

Just seen Another Sally on newspaper cuttings. My husband kept scrapbooks in the late 30's and during the war - marvellous stuff. My diaries (30 years) have headlines of papers from wherever we were travelling at the time. We were in India when Sadam Hussein was executed - headlines in Delhi Times 'we have lost a friend'. Start a scrapbook with them, always trying to persuade grand-children - many of whom travel a lot - to keep a diary. But (this from a bigoted old woman) all their energies go on social media, which will not last like newspaper cuttings.

Caroline Ashcroft Moodscope Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 2:25pm

Great blog Mary. You've just prompted me in to clearing and putting in order a couple of filing drawers and I feel much better for having done it. Unfortunately, I have to climb over all the clutter in my office to get to the drawers!! It's a start...

Graeme Wed, Jan 27th 2016 @ 7:32pm

This is such excellent advice, Mary. I have thrown away writing, momentoes, jobs, business and friends while depressed. I was tidier but sadder in consequence.

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