Managing Depression With Minimalism

Can The Move To Minimalism Help With Managing Depression?

Recently I began the long overdue process of cognitive behavioral therapy to address several co-occurring emotional problems stemming from a long history of social anxiety, low self-esteem, and major depressive disorder. As a firstborn child to two very young and unprepared parents, I grew up suffering physical and mental abuse from my father, which continued well beyond my parents’ divorce right up until my junior year of high school, which is when I left home to attend a state-run residential school for gifted and talented students on the campus of a state university. Soon after graduating high school, not long after starting college, I was diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus, which, in the early 1990’s, was still considered somewhat of a death sentence. It’s no wonder, having encountered such a harrowing series of awful events during my formative years leading up to adulthood, that I should find myself a little messed up.

During the intervening years between 1993 and 2016, I went from guardrail to guardrail with ways to self-medicate or self-terminate. I tried everything from attempting suicide to finding myself stuck in a hopeless addiction to alcohol and drugs. I managed to have a couple of ill-fated relationships early on, but after a cheating and abusive ex-boyfriend managed to reinforce my already abysmal sense of self-worth, I gave up on the love game and poured myself into what has become a 15-year-long focus on career, dedicating a growing portion of my waking hours to my job, and trying to bolster my self-esteem by amassing a hoard of crap that became more and more like a noose around my neck.

Instead of subjecting myself to the stigma and rejection that being HIV+ in the gay community often meets, I decided to set myself on a course for certain death through continued substance abuse, ceasing all anti-retroviral therapy or maintenance for any of the subsequent health conditions which arose, and by shutting myself off from the rest of the world to withdraw completely into my work-from-home hermitage, filling it with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff until eventually I began to fall apart. In addition to my worsening bouts of depression, my anxiety grew to new heights, making the simple act of going out and being sociable more difficult with each passing month. I built myself a perfect downward spiral that was set to autopilot, and I still kept spending like a boss.

In 2015, when my mom died suddenly at 60, I severed all ties with the remaining members of my biological family. I retreated further into my sadness, and my use of amphetamines went from being recreational to being an absolute necessity for me to function. My health continued to plummet, and I continued to ignore it. In the second half of 2016 alone, I spent $12,500 on methamphetamine, hoping to either speed up my descent or at least lose myself in a cloud of irresponsibility and a blaze of glory. It was then that I decided I couldn’t go on trying to fill that ravenous void inside me with drugs and gadgets anymore. All the spending in the world wasn’t helping me feel better about myself or my situation, which had reached the point where I was only able to feed myself or my cats for up to a week at a time. (My cats never missed a meal.)

I’m happy to say that I am no longer set down that horrific path toward death. It’s taken a lot of soul-searching on my part, and a fair amount of reassurance from my therapist that the good in me far outweighs any self-perceived bad in me by a mile, and that those traits that make me well-liked by others — my intelligence, my giving and generous nature, and my empathy for people all around me — are things anyone in their right mind would want in a friend, a lover, a caregiver, etc. It turns out, I’m worth a lot more than what I’ve been valuing myself, and I finally began to see it after some thoughtful meditation and several hours of documentaries on Amazon Prime.

That’s when it clicked for me. For real. I recognized that the few times I could recall having felt anything resembling happy over the past several years had been after I’d gotten rid of some of the hoard I’d been cramming into closets or stuffing under my bed. Whether it was donating unused clothing to Goodwill or giving away gizmos and gadgets to anyone who needed or wanted them, I always felt lighter — freer — after I’d cleared a space or emptied storage containers or left some space free of clutter somewhere in my home. So, I asked myself, is any of this stuff important? Does any of it make me feel a sense of pride or well-being? ┬áDo I even use most of it, and would I not feel exponentially better without the responsibility of holding onto it? The answer was immediately clear to me. It’s time to downsize!

Today I am scheduling a bulk trash pick up with my local waste management company to clear out the old, smoke-scented sofas and other pieces of furniture that would be unsuitable to donate. I’m sorting the rest into “Sell”, “Donate”, “Recycle”, and “Keep” categories while figuring out the logistics of each. I’ve given myself until the end of March to accomplish all of this, with the intention being to end up with no more than can reasonably fit into a couple of suitcases and a few moving boxes. If I can reach my goal and shed all the things that are weighing me down, I feel like so many doors will open themselves to me, giving me the chance to live a smaller, more intentional life doing something meaningful that gives me joy. At least that’s what I hope is in store for me in the weeks and months ahead. One thing’s for sure, though. Continuing down that destructive path on auto-pilot is completely off the table. I owe myself much better than that, and I’m poised to start paying.

What are your thoughts on downsizing for a happier way of life? Have you made the switch from corporate consumer to something smaller but more fulfilling? Has embracing minimalism helped you at managing your depression? Tell me about it in the comments! I’d love to hear your experiences.


One thought on “Managing Depression With Minimalism

  • January 30, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Thanks for posting this. Our life situations are extremely different, but we have both struggled with depression and anxiety. I have been teaching English in East Asia since 2008 and have moved several times, once with only a day’s notice. Every time I move, every time I hear scary news that might possibly mean losing my job or my work visa, I look for ways to reduce my possessions. When I contemplate a purchase, I ask myself whether I’d be willing to schlepp the item up four flights of stairs or move it to a new city or country. Usually, the answer is “no.” Being somewhat mobility impaired, my carrying capacity is limited. I feel safer with less stuff because that means I could leave faster in an emergency.

    Depression complicates my efforts toward minimalism. I often lack the energy or inclination to deal with piles of unsorted papers (each sheet of which requires a decision and maybe action). I don’t have people over, so I rarely clean until I lose something, smell something, or step in something sticky. I’m hoping that if I get rid of enough stuff, cleaning will be easier or the messes will be smaller.

    One other thing: I used to hoard books. Now, as a wandering teacher, I hoard e-books. I don’t need a physical shelf of books to show others (or myself) how intellectual I am.


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