How To KonMari Your Home Without Triggering Mania
Today is Lunar New Year. Depending on where you live, that may or may not be a big deal. In the Vancouver area, particularly in Richmond where there is a large Chinese population, Lunar New Year is a big deal. And cleaning the bad luck away is one of the traditions of Chinese New Year.
The biggest name in cleaning right now is Japanese organizer Marie Kondo. Thanks to her Netflix show, she is everywhere, spreading the magic of tidying and her KonMari cleaning method. Thrift stores all over North America are getting record donations, and people are feeling freer after downsizing their stuff and embracing a more minimalist way of life.
I am usually not one for trends. I was all set to shit on Marie Kondo. I've been avoiding watching the show, partly because who has the time, but also because I had preconceived notions of how she was going to dictate to people they were doing everything wrong. I thought KonMari sounded rigid and extreme, so I assumed she would be, too.
I could not have been more wrong about Marie. She is so sweet, the opposite of dictatorial. She is all help and kindness and practicality. And she isn't about making your house look like a magazine or convincing you to buy complicated organization components. Her focus on gratitude really resonated with my New Year's goal of gratitude and mindfulness.
After a week of our family being down with the stomach flu, our house was desperately needing a clean. A sanitation and excavation from laundry and dishes and books and toys. So I dug into the show to inspire me in the process of bleaching every counter, door knob, and surface to destroy the germ that took us down.
Marie Kondo’s methods teach you to be mindful of your possessions, to stay in touch with what gives you joy, and to be grateful for your home and the things in it. She is cute as a button, and she never pushes her clients further than they are ready to go. She meets each person where they are, and she is not confrontational at all. I don't know how anyone could dislike her.
If you struggle with mania or hypomania, however, going full KonMari on your home could easily trigger an episode. I have mood swings, and it would easily trigger a spike and crash for me. As lovely an idea as it is, it has all the hallmarks of spinning one up toward a “perfect” ideal amount of stuff and coming up with “brilliant” solutions that can feed the intense mindset of mania.
If mania is not something that is problematic for you, or if you are in a depression and need a boost out, go forth and KonMari your heart out. If you do live with a mood disorder, and you are inspired by the show or book to reclaim your space from clutter, here are some tips that helped me bring the spirit of KonMari to my cleaning without it triggering a manic episode.
Focus on Mindfulness
Don't try and rush through the process. Focus on each item, meditate on it, and really practice watching your thoughts. The more slowly you soak in the moment, the less likely you are to latch on to racing thoughts.
Force yourself to take 15-20 minute breaks every so often. You can make a rule that you can't work longer than 90 minutes without a break.
During that break, make sure you are really turning your mind from cleaning. Turn toward doing something restful and calming, like yoga poses or reading a book or watching an episode of (calming) TV.
Pick one area at a time. The hard part about the KonMari method is the rigid categories and order you do them in. If you can slow things down a little bit, that might help. For example, divide the komono category into CD/DVD, craft/art supplies, make up/bath products, tools, kitchen, etc. Only tackle one at a time. Tell yourself, “Today I am organizing the tools. If I find anything that isn't tools, I will put it aside for another time.”
Inform Your Safety Network and/or Therapist
It is always a good idea to keep your safety network informed of these kind of things. You might have someone check in with you after a little while to make sure you're still at baseline. You might have someone make sure you're taking your breaks. Your friends can also schedule relaxing activities with you to ensure you have adequate down time. And your therapist will be able to advise you if they think this type of cleaning isn't a good idea for you.
Find a Mantra or Two
Mantras help focus the mind. It keeps thoughts from pinging around, and it reminds you of your pre planned coping strategies. Mantras that might help when tidying could be “Each step is enough”, “I am in charge of my reactions”, or “Calm is within reach”.
Redirect Your Thoughts
If you find your thoughts racing, redirect them. Take a few deep breaths. Focus on sounds, smells, and textures of the moment. Turn back to your mantra. This should quiet your mind and slow your thoughts.
Stop If You Notice Symptoms
Of course, if none of these strategies work, and you're noticing those manic symptoms creeping in, stop right away. Initiate your safety plan, and remember: while the KonMari method is a lovely idea and philosophy of living, it is not for everyone, and not completing it is not a failing. The problem is the method's, not yours.