When Nothing Sparks Joy: The KonMari Method and Depression


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When Nothing Sparks Joy: Decluttering and Depression

A few months ago I wrote this review of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It fit so perfectly with my desire to live an uncluttered, minimalist lifestyle that I wanted to begin immediately. 

The book recommends decluttering items in your home in a specific order. Clothing, Books, Papers, Komono (a fancy word for “random stuff”), and finally, Sentimental. 

I tore into my clothing right away. And at first it was easy. I’d done a pretty dramatic closet purge a few months before, so I wasn’t really dealing with an excessive amount of clothing. Many people describe the “shock value” they get from piling all their clothing into one place, and I didn’t experience that. I quickly found two large garbage bags of items that definitely did not fit the criteria of “joy sparking” items. I donated those. Then I filled a bag of items to send to Thredup. My closet was emptier, but I didn’t feel the “click” that Marie Kondo describes when you have finished a category. I ignored it and moved on to books. 

Books weren’t much more difficult than clothing. We have a great library system here, and I figured any that I really regretted parting with could easily be replaced for a couple bucks at Goodwill. I donated two boxes. 

Then we moved. 

And it turned out we had multiple boxes of books and clothes in storage. 

So I began again. First clothes, then books. I got rid of a lot, but still no click. 

So I tried to figure out why. Was the book wrong? Or was I doing something wrong?

I went back to my closet and started a third time. I held each piece of clothing in my hand and waited for one to “spark joy”. And none of them did. Not one. single. piece. Now if I was a different sort of person, I might assume that my wardrobe simply wasn’t doing it for me, and chuck the whole thing. But a little voice in the back of my head wasn’t satisfied with that, and I kept hearing it ask “so what does spark joy for you?” An excellent question. And one I should be able to answer. So in order to determine my joy ‘baseline’, I went around the house picking up my favorite things. (Scientific, I know.)

I held my wedding gown. I held the photo album of my oldest son’s babyhood. I held an autographed novel by Gore Vidal, my engagement ring, a poem my husband wrote for me, and my iPhone. I even picked up my dog. And I felt nothing. 

And I think I figured out the problem. 

I have Dysthymia. 

What is Dysthymia? 

Dysthymia is a mild, longterm and persistent form of depression. And one of the classic symptoms of Dysthymia is an inability to experience joy.

Did I just blow your mind? 

I will admit that after I had this realization, my first thought was, “well, I guess this is pointless. Time to give up. Good one, Kelley. You can’t even declutter right.” And then I pulled myself together and tried to figure out a new approach. Because, Dysthymia be damned, I will be a KonMari graduate. 

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So How Do You KonMari When You Have Dysthymia?

1. Start With Easy

Some stuff will be really easy to get rid of. The stuff you bought because it was cheap, but you never used it. The gifts you kept out of guilt. Broken stuff. Stuff you don’t use regularly that you can replace in under 20 minutes, under $20. 

2. Do it in Short Spurts

Are you struggling with low energy? Don’t feel like you have to declutter in long, exhausting sessions. Try setting aside 15 minutes a day. If 15 minutes is too much, try 10. Or 5. Set a timer and focus on this one thing. You’ll see progress faster than you think, and that can be very motivating. 

3. Try out Different Feelings

If nothing “sparks joy” to you, try to see if you can evoke another good feeling. Relaxed? Calm? Peaceful? Safe? Envision what that feeling really looks like in your home environment. Try to really see it in detail. What are you doing? What are you wearing? For example, I envisioned myself curled up on my couch at the end of the day with a book and a blanket. When I went to my closet, very few of my clothes were conducive to that scenario. That’s when I realized I’d kept a few things because I felt like they were too nice to get rid of. Not because they made me feel how I wanted to feel. 

4. When You Can’t Decide, Put it in the Sentimental Pile

Here’s another symptom of depression that can be a stumbling block in your decluttering journey. Indecisiveness! It’s okay. Baby steps. The Sentimental category comes last in the process for a good reason. By the time you’ve done clothes, books, papers and komono, you’ll have given your decluttering muscles a workout and you’ll be ready for the most difficult stuff. Chances are, once you get back to the things you couldn’t decide on, you’ll see them a lot differently.

5. Be Nice to Yourself

Don’t beat yourself up like I was doing to myself. It’s pretty much the least productive thing ever. Remember, you’re trying to do a good thing that’s going to help you and the people you live with immensely. It will take as long as it takes. It’s not a race. 

 The KonMari Method and Depression

About Kelley

Hi! I'm Kelley. Real foodie and crunchy mom to a teenager and a toddler. My husband and I live in Southern California.

Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this. I’ve struggled with the Konmari method for a similar reason, though not exactly depression. I love the overall approach, and it’s helped me get rid of literal truckloads of stuff, but was getting stuck with the “joy” part, too. I’ve been through some traumatic stuff over the last couple years, and it’s changed the way I feel about many things. Few objects truly spark joy for me. And many items that once brought me joy now fill me with guilt or sorrow. Yet I know I’m not supposed to get rid of all these things. I like your idea of trying out different feelings. That’s basically what I’ve been doing. I’m still able to sort through things and find what belongs in my life, but I don’t demand that everything bring me joy anymore – that’s just too much to ask at this point.

    • Thank you for your insightful comment. It’s amazing how life events can change how we view things.

  2. Wow, what a thoughtful article! Thank you for sharing!

  3. I managed to organize my clothes, books, and most recently paper, but never quite felt that “spark of joy”. This weekend, I tried holding all sorts of my favorite items–no spark. Now that I’m at the tougher part of organizing, find myself getting to the point of mild despair over the KonMari method. I’ve struggled with depression my entire life (but am doing much better thru meds). Your article has given me new insight and a strategy better tailored to those of us with emotional challenges. THANK YOU!

  4. i also don’t feel the joy she describes with my things. for the stuff i love most i have slight feeling of lightness, for bad things they feel like they slightly feel heavy or sit in my throat but most things i don’t feel anything at all. for now i’m working through the categories and keeping the stuff that makes me feel indifferent and only throw stuff away that make me feel a little more heavy. I’m aware that i will probably go through things soon again, but i’m currently diagnosed with a light depression and symptoms of exhaustion, so I hope i just feel better soon and keep on. also my big pile i expect with papers and komono, so i really want to get to that stage and perhaps until i’m done with that, I used up some of the indifferent stuff i own and can throw it away with better feelings 🙂

  5. I also have dysthymia. Like you, nothing much sparked joy. However, I started in my bedroom. I did not start with clothes, but all the clutter which drives me mad. I found a local thrift store and donated, so far, 3 trunk loads, and two large garbage bags to a church clothing closet. I also did my books and that was the hardest. However, I ended up keeping only my favorite books. I probably gave away 50 books. Clothes were next. I am left with one closet which has only clothes I wear. Did you know you can wear the same clothes for most activities? LOL. I am amazed. Not to go on, but this has been a very freeing project. As I loaded the trunk of my car, I could feel a burden lifting, and I felt lighter. I blessed others with stuff I didn’t want, need, or love. Thank you for being honest about depression. Now, on to the kitchen!

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