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Depression and Clutter

If there ever was a catch-22 conundrum, it’s depression and clutter. It can become a never-ending cycle of chasing one’s own tail, around and around, one step forward, one step back.

When getting out of bed and trying to get through the average day takes every ounce of energy, there isn’t much leftover for dealing with the mail or folding laundry in the super specific method of Japan’s organizing phenom, Marie Kondo. Trying to keep a shiny sink and the dust down to less than 1/2 inch thick is like running a marathon, when you’re out of shape

Oh come on Julie, you may think, you’re surely exaggerating. I am coming from a place of not just professional experience but personal experience as well. I have suffered from depression for years and am grateful to say it’s mostly been under control for the past decade or so. My first extreme situation was postpartum depression after my daughter was born. I’m so lucky that I’ve had dysthmia for most of my life, which is a mild, persistent disorder; clinical (major) depression and seasonal affective disorder — the trifecta! As I write this column, I have what’s called a “happy” light blaring 10,000 lux of full spectrum lighting on my desk to keep away what people commonly refer to as the wintertime blues.

Professionally, I have dealt with clients who have suffered personal losses, are having trouble with the aging process, have been through the wringer with medical illness and injury, have experienced trauma, are going through divorces or are just grappling to get through life because of a chemical imbalance in their brain. It’s not just a pile of old magazines here or too many shoes as a result of retail therapy there. I help people who have to go through the possessions of their loved ones who have passed away, decide what to do with the stuff that the spouse abandoned when he or she left the marriage, deal with the childhood room of a son or daughter who is now in college or off in the world. Sometimes we have to adapt the home for a household member who is now wheelchair bound or for an elderly parent who can’t climb stairs anymore.

Women especially feel embarrassed or ashamed that they haven’t been able to keep up with the household because in our society women are in charge of taking care of the family and the nest. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but my female clients who lack a sense of organization or how to maintain an orderly environment can’t understand why the Martha Stewart gene was left out of their DNA. It’s particularly hard for them to ask for help.

Depending on how severe someone’s depression is, keeping house can be just a little challenging all the way to “nothing a stick of dynamite wouldn’t fix” because clutter is never-ending. If you’ve read a magazine cover or saw a home improvement show profess that you can kiss clutter goodbye forever, they are seriously pulling your leg. Stuff comes into our lives no matter how much of a minimalist we attain to be. This is where having a good defense is the key to having a good offense when trying to keep clutter at bay. Not letting it cross over your doorstep helps tremendously.

Overwhelm is a top reason people reach out to me for help and overwhelm is one of the most innate emotions people with depression suffer from. Overwhelm and hopelessness is like the backbone of depression. My clients feel overwhelmed frequently because they are looking at the mess or disorder in their home as one big picture and therefore knowing where to start is perplexing. Of course, I’m not a therapist nor do I have any medical training, but when I’m doing an initial phone consultation with a prospective client, I often hear keywords within their story that leads me to believe they may be dealing with some form of depression.

At some point they may volunteer the information. I like to be open about my experiences because talking with someone who knows how you’re feeling can create a sort of an immediate bond and I do end up bonding with some clients at some point. It may sound cliché, but if I can help one person by sharing my struggles, it’s worth it.

People are frequently surprised; “you, depressed?” they exclaim. That’s the thing, depression reminds me of some homes — painted a cheery color on the outside, beautifully decorated inside but down in the basement, toxic mold grows in the dark, floorboards are rotting where there is a leak and it’s like home away from home for a troll.

Coming out of a deep depression is like a dark, black curtain being lifted. There is joy to be found in little things, energy that was once almost impossible to corral now abounds, you may feel ambitious for the first time in a long time, but most importantly there is hope, hope for the future. It’s not easy to ask for help, but if there’s just one thing you can do for yourself or a loved one, it’s seek help from a medical professional and know that you’re not alone.