The Unvoiced Sorrow of Tidying Up

In the summer of 2010, I spiraled into my 2nd manic episode.

I was working at a summer camp and lost a significant amount of sleep. The camp directors and I decided I wasn’t fit to work. They arranged a ride for me to go back to the San Francisco bay area from Yosemite Valley.

My mom picked me up in the east bay and drove us back to my grandma’s house. When I arrived at my grandma’s house, I began a process that became the keystone of my manic episodes: tidying.

I didn’t tidy up in the Marie Kondo kind of way (more on that to come later).

I wanted to throw everything away and compartmentalize my belongings. I threw away shirts, luggage, plastic, pictures, and my wallet.

When the mania subsided, a deep sorrow entered my soul realizing how much I threw away.

Many years later, my sister and I talked on the phone and she said, “Maybe you’re not so irrational when you’re in an episode.”

Having jumped on the minimalist train in my mid-twenties, I like to believe she’s right.

In my 3rd episode two years ago, I displayed similar behavior at the beginning of 2014. I started tidying up my studio apartment and throwing away lots of things. Paper, towels, the tent and sleeping bag in my trunk, pictures, frames, playbills, clothes, gifts that people gave me and a bunch of junk.

After coming down from the episode, I told a good friend that I threw away a gift she gave me. She was deeply hurt. I was deeply sad to know how much this crushed her. She spent a lot of money on the gift.

I’ve learned as a minimalist, you’re not supposed to share this information with loved ones and people you care about.

When my best friend came to my rescue during this episode, he tried to save as many possessions as possible. He didn’t save everything but he salvaged the tent and the sleeping bag.

I felt ashamed of my behavior having lost many items during this tidy binge, so I went to see a therapist.

Just like my sister, my therapist explained maybe my behavior wasn’t irrational. She asked, “Have you heard of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up?”

I hadn’t. I bought it immediately after therapy.

In reading the book, I realized there are fundamental differences between the KonMarie method and what I did in my foggy mania.

Going through Kondo’s book, I threw away bags of clothes and items that no longer brought me joy. Only this time I did it with a clear mind. When I donated the items or took the bags to the trash can, I felt a sense of relief rather than a sense of sorrow.

Kondo’s perfected the method of tidying.

The biggest mistake I made during my manic episodes was throwing away nostalgic items first. In the KonMarie method, you throw away nostalgic items last and you don’t tell anyone about it.

You don’t want to feel sad for throwing away cherished items that no longer bring you joy, nor do you want a beloved friend or family member to feel sad when you throw away an item they gave you.

Having gone through the KonMarie method, I can confirm my life has changed dramatically over the last year. Here’s some magic that’s unraveled in my life:

  • I quit my job to become a freelancer, writer and yoga teacher
  • I moved into a new apartment with an amazing roommate
  • I took up a meditation practice
  • I read more
  • I’m more honest with my feelings than I’ve ever been in my life before
  • I hardly own anything and it’s never felt so liberating and free
  • I became a pescatarian
  • I haven’t experienced another manic episode and I have a safety plan in case it ever does happen

My days are simple. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I spend more time with people who bring me joy. I spend less time with people who don’t.

You might experience sorrow when you tidy up. Marie Kondo doesn’t talk about it in her book. I guarantee you might feel sad getting rid of things.

Remember sadness is impermanent. It will pass. Sadness doesn’t remain forever.

Minimalism has changed my life.

However, minimalism has taught me more than just how to clean up my space.

Minimalism taught me that our minds and bodies are the most important material item on the face of the planet.

Minimalism taught me that America consumes way too much. We need to consume less.

Minimalism taught me that relationships and experiences are more important than possessions.

Minimalism taught me that happiness is available in spiritual activities instead of consumption. Spiritual doesn’t mean religious. Spiritual in this context means how I show up in the world and what I give.

For me, my spiritual life means that I’m present in every activity.

I seek to share and give wisdom, value, and love through writing, teaching and creating.

Yes, I may need a computer, a journal, and a pen to get these jobs done. These things bring me joy and I believe they bring others joy too.

Minimalism isn’t for the weak of heart.

It takes courage, strength, and commitment to live in minimalism.

I believe in the KonMarie method. If you’re looking to dabble in tidying up, I recommend her book. It’ll sound silly to fold your socks in a new way, but eventually, it’ll become second nature.

Quality questions create a quality life.

As you go through the KonMarie method, you’ll be asked the same question over and over again. This question will change your life and create an abundance of magic.

As you pick up an item, ask yourself, “Does this bring me joy?”

If this answer is no, get rid of it.

If the answer is yes, think again.

If the answer is truly yes, cherish it with all your heart and soul.