Even though there are symptoms which the vast majority of people with chronic depression share, everybody’s got their own personal “bouquet”. In mine, lack of energy features very prominently. To the non-depressed reader, it might sound either very lazy, or pleasant even if I write that I don’t have the energy for anything but sitting on the sofa and watching TV, or browsing the internet, or playing computer games. The truth, however, is that these occupations are not thoroughly enjoyable, but merely a way to pass time. Plans one might have harboured when going to bed suddenly appear impossible to fulfil, turning into insurmountable obstacles when waking up.
There’s hardly a person who does not feel tired and worn out once in a while, consequently putting off all chores. But, for the non-depressed person, these feelings usually vanish quickly, and they go back to vacuuming, cleaning, grocery shopping, mowing the lawn or doing the dishes. For me (and many others out there), nothing changes after a day or two of rest… In fact, it can be like that for weeks or months even.
For about 90% of my adult life, I have lived with the dishes piling up in the kitchen, my entire desk hidden under stacks of paper from the previous year(s), and the bookshelves covered with thick layers of dust. Both my flat and my behaviour lived up to the stereotype of the messy, absentminded professor.
I don’t really like living like this, but whatever little energy I had usually went into whatever was the most necessary at that moment. The last time my entire flat was neat and tidy lies a good ten years back in the past. After my husband moved in and there was someone to share the chores with, things improved visibly, but there still are piles which I have not touched in years.
About two months ago and after a particularly lethargic summer (completely drained from the exam), I found Cynthia Ewer’s “Cut The Clutter” at my local library (the book appears to a more fleshed-out, printed version of the author’s website, organizedhome.com). It did provide the inspiration and motivation so bitterly needed, and a few eye-openers. For example, it never occurred to me that chaos can be described as resulting from put-off decisions – definitely one of my weak points.
Of all the personality types Cynthia Ewers mentions in her book, I have elements of every single one in me: because I’m sentimentally attached to many of my possessions, I have a hard time throwing them away, even long after they’ve stopped being useful or important. Because I tend to think that I might need something later, I’m afraid of getting rid of it. Perfectionism gets in the way of organizing, because I am under the impression that I need a faultless system before I can get started. I feel bad about throwing out items which once were expensive. And a tiny part of me still is in rebellion against my mum telling me to pick up my room, even though I moved out of there a long time ago.
Four out of those five reasons I can overcome with rational thinking: even if an item used to be expensive, its worth usually decreases over the course of time. It’s more important to get chores done than to slavishly follow a predetermined plan. Most of what I was saving for later use could easily be obtained at the time I actually would need it, so holding on to it is just a waste of space. I am a grown-up now and do not need to rebel against my mother – having a nice place should be more important.
That leaves sentimental attachment as the only reason where pure logic alone does not help me changing my behaviour.
The decluttering process began as a rather assessable project, with re-organising my pantry. Certainly not the most pressing matter, but it promised quick results and little risk of running out of steam before completion and thus adding to the long list of problems. I finished within two days and due to instant improvements when cooking (ingredients were so much easier to find), it gave me the motivation to tackle a bigger challenge the following week: sorting out my wardrobe / closet, which I hadn’t done since the day I moved out of my parents’ flat (throwing away individual pieces does not count). By the time this was done, there were two big and four small bags of clothes as well as a bag of shoes waiting for the trip to the donation containers. For the first time in years I was able to move the hangers on the rack – another instant improvement.
Over the following weeks, I would finally put an old glass-showcase outside that had been sitting empty in my flat for at least three years, because I never got around to taking it apart, and then I’d move on to weeding out all the books I’d never read again, with the intention of selling them online. To this date, I have made just over 90 euros out of 87 books sold, with about 100 more titles I hope to sell eventually too. There were about 30 shelfmetres worth of books in my flat, and while I kept the majority, now there is actually enough space to put every single volume on a shelf.
The last week was dedicated to decluttering my desk, because I intended to put both the desk and my swivel chair out for the bulky waste collection. While the collection is free here in Germany, you have to call in and register in advance if you want it picked up, because in the past scavengers used to tear the piles apart, making a lot of noise and strewing the discarded items all over the neighbourhood. In my community, there is a collection every other month and you can order the service twice a year , meaning that you’d better have the bulky trash ready once the date rolls around.
The swivel chair posed no problem, because both armrests had been broken and resisted any attempts at repairing them in the past. It was utterly unusable and actually a minor threat of injury. The desk had two drawers, one of them unfixably broken, but otherwise it still was in a good condition. Had it been smaller, I’d have kept it – however, with dimensions almost as large as a single bed, it was too big for our bedroom and we could not keep it. Decluttering the desk was not as difficult as I thought since it was mostly paper, and after about two hours I was done.
This is the status quo; since I want to move some furniture in the bedroom and change a couple of things, I reckon that I am about half done now. I will keep reporting on the progress.