How My 30-Day Minimalism Challenge Helped me Overcome my Depression, Take Control, and Find Freedom
I know I’m not the only one who sat up and took note when Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus’ film, Minimalism: A Documentary first hit Netflix.
What made this film stand out from the countless hours of content available was this:
It said it was a documentary about the important things, and at the time, I had no idea what those were.
I was battling the worst bout of depression I’d ever experienced.
It was the kind of depression that leaves you bed bound for days simply because you don’t have the energy to get up and act on those dark, terrifying thoughts.
It was the kind of depression that leaves you hiding under the covers, only emerging to grab a piece of chocolate tell Netflix that yes, you are still watching the same sitcom you’ve been binging for two days straight.
I was convinced that nothing mattered, that nothing was important.
Yet if this documentary was going to tell me that some things were important, I was at least willing to listen.
So I did, and I started to change.
The first step to happiness
I won’t tell you that watching Minimalism: A Documentary cured my depression and allowed me to live happily ever after, but it did do one very important thing:
It motivated me to get off the sofa.
That may not sound like much to some, but for someone in a deep, almost suicidal depression, it was a big deal.
The documentary made me look at the Kingdom of Crap I’d built up around me and reassess my relationship with all of it.
In an effort to fill the emptiness within me that had been at the root cause of my depression (and my previous addiction struggles), I’d filled my home with junk.
I’d hoarded, I’d collected, I’d held onto countless broken gadgets, lying to myself about this one wonderful day that was bound to come when I’d suddenly develop a passion for technology repair, break out the soldering iron, and fix all of it.
My home was a museum of low-quality crap that didn’t in any way make me happy.
And that’s when it struck me:
It was no wonder that I felt so miserable if I was constantly surrounded by things that brought me no joy whatsoever.
So I took the first steps to happiness.
I started getting rid of the things that brought me no joy and found that the extra space and the extra freedom soon did.
I started to feel control of my life again.
The depression started to lift.
I started to feel happy.
And then I hit a roadblock…
For over a year I had meticulously minimised and remained utterly devoted to decluttering.
I had given away furniture, taken sack after sack of books and clothes and random household objects to the charity shops in my hometown, sold plenty of things that I no longer used on eBay.
So far, so good, apart from one thing:
I found that the less I owned, the less I wanted to own.
Even after a year of hardcore decluttering, I still owned so much “stuff” and it was starting to suffocate me.
I needed to double down my efforts but I didn’t know where to start.
So I started with a challenge:
The 5 x 30: A 30 Day Minimalism Challenge
I called this challenge The 5 x 30 and made it as simple as possible:
Declutter and de-own five items every single day for thirty days.
If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. — William Morris.
I used Morris’ famous golden rule as my own.
Every day, I would look at the things I owned and ask myself some important questions.
1: Is this useful to me now?
In other words, was I using it on a regular basis?
If I hadn’t used something in months then it clearly wasn’t essential to my life and could be de-owned. There was to be no keeping things “just in case” they may come handy in the future.
If I wasn’t using an item in my current, day-to-day life, it had to go.
2: Does this bring me joy now?
If something wasn’t useful then, according to Morris’ golden rule, it had to be something I believed to be beautiful.
Rather asking myself the beauty question, I asked myself whether or not an item brought me joy. If I held it in my hands and it made me feel good, it was allowed to stay. If I felt nothing or, worse, I felt bad, then it had to go.
It had to bring me joy at the present time. It was no use keeping something just because I was happy for all of five minutes when I first bought it.
With this game plan in mind, I set to work.
The challenge in progress
Some days, finding things to declutter was easy.
Broken technology, clothes I never wore, books I never read, and a collection of old WWF wrestling action figures from my childhood were among the smaller items that would leave my life on a daily basis.
I also got rid of my bed (I’m downsizing to a small sofa bed), living room cushions and a huge, old-style printer.
Some days it was harder, and I would find myself going through drawers multiple times only to come up with things like rolls of sellotape and old notebooks.
Still, it all counted, and it all helped me achieve some pretty awesome results.
Day by day, I found more and more space opening up around me.
I no longer felt suffocated in my home. I no longer felt like I lived in chaos, the disorderly emperor of my own Kingdom of Crap.
I felt a sense of peace. I felt a sense of freedom. I felt a sense of control that I’d never really experienced before.
I no longer looked around my home and saw things that brought me no pleasure.
I looked around my home and saw beautiful, clean space, populated only with those things that I had consciously decided to own because they brought me joy.
There were additional benefits too…
Keeping my home clean and tidy now took an hour or two a week rather than half the weekend.
I felt less anxious and less stressed out in my own home because I wasn’t constantly being reminded that there were things in my home that needed fixing, organising, or “dealing with” in some way.
I felt relaxed. I felt happy.
A new way of life
Towards the end of my 30-day minimalism challenge, I came to see that what I was doing was no longer about a challenge, but about a lifestyle.
I had spent so much time asking important questions about possessions and my relationship to them that it became second nature.
This was no longer about just decluttering and getting items out of my home, it was about being mindful of the items that came into it.
I’m sorry, Mr Sparkly New Object. I don’t care how shiny you are or how many fancy new features you have. If you can’t pass The Golden Rule Test, then you’re not coming through my front door.
Reflections and moving on
All in all, I decluttered and de-owned a total of 150 items over thirty days, including 24 items of clothes, three pairs of shoes, a toasted sandwich maker and all manner of assorted objects.
The majority of that stuff went to one of the numerous charity shops that make their home on the high street of my home in the North of England.
Some of that stuff was given away to friends or family, reused as something else, or recycled.
Of the 150 items that I de-owned, only 13 of them were thrown away and ended up in the garbage.
I didn’t take the decision to throw away any of those 13 items lightly.
Any time something ended up in the garbage, it was because I’d explored every avenue for recycling, reusing or giving it away, and found that throwing it away was the only real option.
Moving forward, I’m even more mindful about creating as little trash as possible. I still wish I could have thrown away less than 13 things.
I’ll keep that online and may even update it from time to time with further thoughts and reflections on minimalism, decluttering and de-owning.
For now, I’m simply enjoying my new way of life.
I’m enjoying my new freedom and my new space.
Above all, I’m enjoying my new-found sense of happiness, a happiness I couldn’t have even imagined when I was hiding under the covers in the throes of depression all those many months ago.