Tackling the Clutter Demon With Bipolar Disorder

For those of us living with bipolar disorder, the battle to control the mess in our houses is very real.

Anyone who has ever been depressed knows that cleaning is a struggle, to put it mildly, especially when you can’t even shower or feed yourself. And when we’re manic, we either can’t concentrate to clean the clutter, start new tasks without picking up our messes, or purchase frivolous items to soothe anxiety. In persons with bipolar I specifically, the wiring in their frontal lobes is so tangled that they suffer these executive functioning difficulties even during stable periods.

konmari
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo. Also known as the Kon Mari Method.

Studies have even shown that hoarding is linked to bipolar, for the same reasons. We’re just wired to create messes.

But there is hope. I’ve just started decluttering using the KonMari method, based on the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo. In short, you tidy by category. In order to start the process, you first search the house for items (clothes, books, papers, miscellany, and then sentimental clutter). Then you lay them out on the floor. Then you hold each item and ask if it “sparks joy” before making a decision to keep it and put it away, donate it, or toss it.

I feel a little silly doing this, but so far the method has really worked to tidy up my clothes closet. I got through my closet and dresser in three hours, and donated two full garbage bags. I now only have five items hanging up, one full-sized drawer full of clothes, and an underwear drawer. I’m exhausted.

One caveat to the method for bipolar I people especially is that I can easily see how it could trigger a hypomanic episode. The elation from throwing things out is very real, and it might be difficult for a person with mental illness to stop once he or she has started. It’s almost ritualistic, which might spell trouble for people suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

This is also not a method to use when you’re depressed. Laying out all my clothes on the floor was overwhelming, and I was fortunate to have my sister to walk me through the KonMari process. I confess that first, we had to clean up the floor to make enough room to sort through the clothes, which took half the time we’d allotted to going through them (three hours total).

So, I have a mixed review of the KonMari method. It’s effective, but dangerous. I’ll hold off on giving a full review until I’ve completed the six months the book says the method takes.

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Author: Cassandra Stout

Hi! My name is Cassandra Stout, and I am a freelancer and memoirist who blogs at The Bipolar Parent (Cassandrastout.com/bpparent) and at the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF.org). My current project is Committed, my upcoming memoir that depicts my time spent in a psych ward after a postpartum psychotic breakdown. I am a ten-year member of a five-person critique group called the Seattle Scribblers. It's nice to meet you!

18 thoughts on “Tackling the Clutter Demon With Bipolar Disorder”

  1. That’s odd because I am bipolar 1 and cannot stand a mess. My room and car however are crowded spaces. Organized crowded spaces mind you. But I also have OCD. That may counteract the impulse to hoard. I am a collector of paper things as memorabilia. This is interesting.

    1. Hello, Eve! Yes, having OCD would definitely change things wrt messes and hoarding. In the KonMari method, she recommends tossing all of your paper items except those needed for taxes and warranty purposes. That might be positively barbaric, but that’s what she says to do. I doubt I’ll toss all of my papers, and I’m not advocating that you toss your memorabilia collection. Whatever brings you joy is worth keeping!

      1. I am just seeing your reply and apologize for my delayed response but I would rather be considered a hoarder than to throw away my papers!! I also collect pretty paper so perhaps I am a hoarder of paper. Lol. I’ve not thought of it that way I just say I’m a collector πŸ˜‚

        1. No worries about a delay! As you know, you can be a collector of paper without hoarding it. I’m sure you can strike a balance in your life. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  2. That’s great you were able to get your clothes closet in order. I’m impressed you gave this a try, Cass! I’m very curious to see what you think of it when you reach the 6 month mark–please let us know…that will be right around my birthday, LOL, in mid-March.

    Have a great weekend! πŸ’–
    Dyane

    p.s. I plan on emailing you back soon as I wanted to share somethin’ wth you…

    1. Thank you, Dyane! I actually suffered a mild bout of depression two days after I finished with my clothes, but had no ill effects after going through all of my books, so it was probably just a fluke. I will have to see if I go through another episode–of mania or depression–after I tackle my papers.

      As always, thanks so much for your support and comments, and I’m looking forward to your email!

  3. I do not have bipolar disorder but DO have many depressive symptoms. I relate to your descriptions of feeling overwhelmed and buying to feel better, so maybe that’s a common tendency in general? I look forward to reading more about your results and will try what you’ve suggested.

    1. I’m so sorry that you have depressive symptoms. It’s so easy to get into the retail therapy trap! Buying things to feel better is very common. Good luck with the KonMari method!

  4. It’s a great idea:) I have bipolar disorder and although I think I could do it for a second, I think the pressure to keep it that way would break me down. I have a 5 month old so maybe not the best time. Great idea though, because it’s a goal. Hey, I could use any tip to get me motivated to clean. I’m so tired and overwhelmed that the apartment is a wreck which makes me even more upset.
    Just started my blog http://www.mylifeglass.wordpress.com

    1. Hi, Simelani! Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I have a toddler myself, so the only way I was able to go through the start of this process was having my sister help me out. The pressure to keep a clean house is very real, and it’s difficult not to break down under it. I totally feel you. I actually have a couple of upcoming posts addressing how to clean your house with a toddler and bipolar disorder; I hope they’ll be helpful to you!

      I stopped by your blog and followed it, because I found your posts to be thoughtful and interesting. I’m looking forward to future posts from you!

  5. I never linked my “clutteriness” with my Bipolar Disorder! Although I refer to it as my “organized messiness”. Although it definitely explains the whole “its the middle of the night and the best idea in the world is to organize everything in my house so it’s not cluttered and messy anymore! Annnnd now there’s piles of clutters everywhere and I’m learning how to perfectly ice a cupcake”.

    All jokes aside, this was a super interesting read and thank you for sharing! I look forward to your end review! πŸ™‚

    1. Hi, Jacquelyn! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! I totally get the whole frosting a cupcake in the middle of the night thing. (It’s always baking, isn’t it?) I often realize that I’m turning in circles hours after I start. I hope that the both of us can get a handle on decluttering, though I admit that having my sister around to watch my toddler and guide me through the process has been instrumental. If there’s someone to help you with staying on track, then by all means take advantage of the help! Best of luck!

  6. This is an interesting article post. I have never had trouble with clutter or cleaning with my bipolar disorder. I hope I never do, actually. I talked about my history with episodes today on my website on WordPress, too.

    1. Hi, Brenden! Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I’m so glad that you’ve never had a problem with cleaning or clutter wrt your bipolar disorder. I’ll check out your posts.

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