Sunday, January 31, 2021

Mental Health and Minimalism

 No doubt, 2020 was a rough year for so many of us the world over. Lockdown, isolation, and quarantine brought to the forefront just how important mental health, self-care, and mental health awareness are. I have struggled with anxiety disorders and monopolar depression my entire life, and lockdown only served to make them worse.

As everything in the world became less personable and more distant, I did what I've done best my whole life and have looked inward. Except I decided to use the depths of my depression in a positive way, by letting my inner critic become an outward one to pare down my belongings. 

Lockdown early on meant that decluttering efforts were not necessarily effective. Boxes full of unwanted items piled up as businesses deemed non-essential, such as thrift stores and charity shops, had to close. By the time the first round of lockdowns lightened and businesses could open back up, I damn near had a pallet's worth of gently-loved clothing, home goods that no longer sparked joy, and other items ready to be piled in to the back of my car and taken to a donation center. Being limited to shopping online, and poor ability to cope due to mental health centers being closed to in-person visits meant that more items were coming into my home to fill an emotional void. Now that vaccine distribution has started and lockdown restrictions are lifting, it's getting easier to remove a year of clutter from the home, and lighten spirits while lightening the load of stuff on the home.

How I used Depression Constructively with Minimalist Habits (and vice-versa)

Mind, Body, and Closet: Tired of fighting negative self-talk that worsened with isolation, I turned the critique onto the items in my home. Instead of saying "I don't look good in this dress anymore," I started saying "This dress no longer looks good on me." My inner critic got new targets that helped me keep negative self-talk at bay. As a result, my closet was pared down to dresses and blouses that unconditionally flatter me and make me feel good when wearing them.

Sustenance: The early months of lockdown had me working from home, which left me with no commute and consequently more time to cook each meal. I tracked which utensils, pots, pans, and appliances we were using the most, and paid careful attention to which were languishing in a cabinet going unused. Knowing how it felt to not get to reach my full potential when it came to supporting my end-users (I'm a systems administrator), I sympathized with the ice cream machine, stovetop coffee maker, and small vintage crock pot and decided to let them go where someone else could make the best use of them.

The Pile-Up from Supporting Others: When restrictions were lighter, I would take advantage and go to shops that sold local artists' work. When restrictions intensified again, I'd order posters from artists online. Ultimately, I was left with a pile-up of poster tubes and canvases that were taking up space on the floor. Getting sick of the mess, I decided to scrounge around for hardware to just hang the damn things in fit of being inexplicably and suddenly mad at an easily-tidied mess. The simple act of putting a piece of art in its place was one that sparked a joy that is renewed every time I walk by--whether it's a comic poster in the living room or a canvas in the hallway. After all, they were pieces purchased for a purpose--to spark joy. A little smile here and there helps to keep negative feelings away.

Tidy the Home, Tidy the Mind: Having a strong inner critic meant I heard, "This place is a mess. Why are you so messy?" more times than I can reasonably count. Once I started working back at my office instead of from home, it seemed the pile-up of dishes and general house mess got out of hand. It was hard, but I ultimately convinced myself to just suck it up and deal with messes on weekends when I'd normally have 48 hours of uninterrupted time at home for myself. I now tidy my home as much as I can, setting aside 20 or 30 minutes here and there to tackle specific areas. When something gets tidied and stays that way for weeks, my inner critic fades. The "maintenance" categories like dishes and laundry no longer stress me out like they did at the start of being back at work. Now, I use the act of loading the dishwasher or folding towels to tell my critic, "I'm not messy. I am just a busy person and devoted to my job during the week." When I shut my critic down, tasks take less time to catch up on and the house stays tidier for longer as a result.

Open Up (Space & Self): Minimalist habits tend to make spaces open and so much more breathable. I couldn't see a therapist in-person during lockdown, so I had to make do with phone calls. I opened up about how, having a commute again, I felt like I was losing time to myself, and losing time to give to my home. The calming voice on the other end of the calls told me to set a timer for 30-60 minutes, at least twice a week, to do things just for myself. I followed through, knowing the bi-weekly calls would keep me accountable. Opening up and baring my inner thoughts to another person I wouldn't get to see helped me open up some spaces at home, even if others wouldn't get to see the progress. I started by making my craft room a space specifically for me and my creativity. Although I eventually morphed my "me-time" into time to take care of myself OR my home, whichever needs it more, I realized that an open mind led to open spaces, which has led to a more open and free feeling for myself.

Dealing with all sorts of isolation and lockdown has affected us all. Mental health issues have become more apparent (and sadly, sometimes harder to get adequate help for amidst lockdowns), and some of us have spent more time at home than we ever anticipated. It seems a weird combination, but minimalism and mental health disorders can actually benefit each other when we're left with fewer outlets for our stresses. The hardest part is to find a way to mesh minimalism with depression and anxiety in constructive ways, but hopefully my example has been at least a little bit of an inspiration. Turning an inner critic on to inanimate objects helped me in two ways: I was less the focus of my own personal attacks, and my home was rid of objects that no longer worked for it (or me). Isolation won't be forever, but better habits for a healthier home and healthier mental state can be. Praise yourself for what you can accomplish, and don't beat yourself up for what you can't. Everything will get better.