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Fumio Sasaki (author of Goodbye, Things) said in an interview with Hiroko from Asian Boss, “Well, a lot of people may not know this, but minimalists tend to be people who are messy and have developmental disorders. So these people, who dislike tidying up, take care of themselves through decluttering to create a clean environment.”

This statement sums up why I have taken a minimalist approach to my life. I have been diagnosed with manic depression, seasonal depression and attention deficit disorder. Now, that makes me far from a special case–many people struggle with these conditions and more on a daily basis (my hat’s off to those who do). But some of what makes us unique as people is how we go about dealing with what we’re handed in life.

I’ve made to do lists since 5th grade–a specialist on ADD taught me that they could help keep me on track. But those lists have also brought their own problems. Check lists at times have made my depression worse by enabling me to see in writing all the things I haven’t done. They have brought anxiety as the lists kept getting larger and were clearly too big to fit into a single day. Last but not least, the thing that has affected me the most is dread. I look over the list and avoid the task I really don’t want to do, while always thinking, “I should get that over with.” At times, I would try and put all things I didn’t get done over the week on one day, thinking I would rather have one bad day than deal with it throughout the week. However, you can only do that until you end up with a multitude of self-inflicted bad days in a row that break you. And I did indeed break.

I was single and living in a three bedroom apartment with two other roommates, who were fighting at the time. I sequestered myself in my room to avoid both of them because, frankly, I thought they should just talk it out like adults. But my room came with its own issues: it was a mess all the time, and I still hadn’t unpacked all my boxes from my last move (even though it had been several months since I moved in). I kept it dark because the one window led to a courtyard, and I didn’t want strangers to judge me by what they saw. None of these factors make an environment worth living in, if you can help it.

One day, I got home from work, went directly to my room, and before I could shut the door, I saw it. The box I didn’t know quite what to do with. It didn’t fit in my closet, and I didn’t have space to put it up against a wall, so it floated around on the floor in front of my dresser. I had to move it to open the bottom drawer and move it back if I wanted a book from the bottom of my bookshelf. I dropped all my things, grabbed the box, left the apartment door open as I headed to the trash chute, and threw away the box with everything in it–no questions asked.

The clang of metal and the sound of breaking glass from inside the box was the most satisfying sound I had heard all day–a normally distressing noise brought me so much calm. I went back to my apartment and grabbed another box, and by the third trip back, my roommates caught on. For the first time in a month, they were unified under the thought of, “What the hell is wrong with him?” They asked questions, and I simply replied, “I’m taking something off my to do list.”

My reply became a truth I live by now: take whatever I can off my list. I don’t approach my daily tasks as something I have to check off, but instead as striving to remove it from ever showing up again. My to do lists are much shorter now. By letting go of my belongings, I have less to clean, less to dread and one less opening for depression to creep in from not finishing a task related to the items I own. Minimalism has become my coping mechanism: I’ve removed that which caused me stress, and I make sure not to invite it back in.

What can you get rid of? Nothing big, just some small things, like the second spatula you don’t like as much and that jams the drawer. Maybe the college textbooks that you kept because they were too damn expensive, but you haven’t opened them in….. how long? Or my personal favorite: the one million dead pens jammed back into the holder, or hell–the ones sitting next to it that work but don’t fit because you decided to keep the dead ones anyway. Eliminate a stressor–just one–and let me know how you feel.

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