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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