From Clutter and Depression to Minimalism and Contentment

From Clutter and Depression to Minimalism and Contentment

Before I “became a minimalist” I had dreamed of it. I loved motel room simplicity. I wanted my home to feel that way and to be so tidy that I could just focus on whatever I wanted to focus on, not always “I have to clean the house”.
Though I wanted that, I thought it was impossible to get to that point.

I was afraid to get rid of things. I was paralyzed by the idea of “I may need this” or “Just in case…”
It was so bad, I was afraid to throw away receipts, grocery bags, instruction manuals, and extra parts.
When my piles of stuff got to be too much for me, I’d put it in a box and shove it into the back of a closet.
After a few years, a few moves, and many marital fights about stuff. I tried to declutter. I would start, donate several boxes and bags, feel accomplished, but it never made a difference. Within a few days, the house was still a mess and I struggled to keep the dishes done and the floor picked up.
I would mentally beat myself up all day long:Seriously, housework isn’t that hard. It’s a miracle you get the kids fed. Look at this house… normal people don’t live like this. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
And I was.
I was depressed. I felt worthless.
For me, the mental shift was a slow process. I knew I didn’t want my stuff to control my life, but I had tried and failed so many times before, I floundered around many times trying to gain control.
The change was slow, but it did come. And the more I got rid of, the more my thoughts changed, the less attached I was to stuff and the more I was able to get rid of.
I worked hard and it took me a long time. I think ideally, 6 months would be wonderful to be rid of everything, but for me, I didn’t start out to become a “minimalist.” I knew I needed to get rid of most of my belongings and I really did love motel room simplicity, but I didn’t know if I would ever actually get there.
It was years of slow work. Every month I would drop off more boxes and bags at the donation center. It was 3 years before I saw the difference- and I saw that difference when I was looking through old photos.
In the children’s birthday photos, I saw so much clutter in the background and as I looked at the same spot in our home, I realized that I did it. I actually decluttered enough to see a difference!
It was a very exciting realization.
And then I had to shift my focus from decluttering to living purposefully. It was awkward the first time I sat down and realized that I had nothing pressing to do. I didn’t have anything on my to-do list and there were no more boxes to sort. I could sit.
Honestly, it was rather uncomfortable. Besides hiding behind my stuff, I had been hiding behind the busyness. I had to force myself to simplify my schedule because I knew my whole purpose of getting rid of so much, was to be with my family. And then I had to force myself to be. To put down the phone and really focus on what the kids were saying. Play games with them, read with them, be with them.
Through all that, my relationships with people became deeper. I was able to be more transparent- with everyone around me. Which gained more friendships. I was more open with God as well. I know that sounds silly, but I had been trying to be perfect before Him, rather than allowing Him to love me regardless.
Depression and anxiety didn’t completely go away, but they were greatly decreasedI learned to treat myself positively. No more berating thoughts.
Finally, I learned to be content (which, truthfully is a work in progress and every day I seem to see more of my discontent, but it’s definitely changing).
I was no longer trying to fill the areas of lack in my life with stuff.
Stuff doesn’t make us happy. Stuff doesn’t fulfill us.
Things surrounding us can’t bring happiness. Even getting rid of the things surrounding us won’t bring happiness.
Minimalism for me has eliminated the distractions, so I could focus on what I needed: deeper relationships with God and others around me. That is what decreased my depression and brought me contentment.
Read more:
The Clutter-Depression-Anxiety Cycle: How to Stop It

About Rachel Jones

Hi there! I’m Rachel Jones, and I founded Nourishing Minimalism in 2012 at the beginning of my minimalist journey. If you're looking for encouragement in your journey, I created a FREE Facebook Group - feel free to join me there: Nourishing Minimalism Facebook Group and I share videos each week on YouTube


  1. Gina, a book dragon on 04/29/2015 at 5:33 pm

    Thank you for putting to paper the words I needed to see. Maybe this time I can keep going.

  2. Magda on 04/30/2015 at 4:02 pm

    Thank you! I’ve been perusing your blog and you have truly inspired me. I’m married with 2 kids (almost 5.5 and 11) and a hubby who likes his ‘stuff’. I’ve realized we have to get rid of tons of it (I mean I still have all of my boys’ clothes – as in clothes for newborn to age 4 that I will never use again). A real blessing to me is that my kids spend the summer with my in-laws so I literally have days and days when I can clean, de-clutter and throw away stuff!! I did so for the past 2 years but didn’t go as far as I wanted. This summer I’m serious: major de-cluttering, throwing away tons of stuff (including the sentimental ‘burdens’), one garage sale – then donation time!! I cannot wait to have less stuff. Right now we have a cleaning lady that cleans our house twice a month but we are getting rid of her this summer. So this will help me keep a clean house when I have to do the cleaning myself. Thanks again for many great ideas and tons of inspiration!

  3. Myrte on 05/02/2015 at 12:45 pm

    Thank you for your story. Your journey is inspiring. As is your course.

  4. Margie on 05/02/2015 at 2:19 pm

    “Normal people don’t live like this:” One of the punishing things I tell myself all the time.
    I read that it took you 3 years to really get to where you wanted to be on decluttering and I think, “3 years?! That’s so long!” But then I have to ask myself how many days, months, year I have been living with my clutter and intentions that never turn to action. I kind of feel like knowing that it took you many false starts and 3 years might actually be motivating to me…but only time will tell. In the meantime, please keep up the motivational writing! Thanks so much.

  5. Cathy on 05/02/2015 at 3:50 pm

    Thank you for this post. I started last December with getting rid of stuff, then at the beginning of February I found the 2015 challenge and started ticking things off. I am already at well over 800 items in just 3 months, and no-one except me can tell the difference. Until recently even I couldn’t really tell the difference, but now there are a few corners that seem tidier and shelves of bookcases that aren’t quite so overflowing.
    Yes 3 years sounds a long time, but for me that is actually encouraging. Perhaps in 3 years’ time I will really have made a difference! (And perhaps my husband and 4 sons will begin to see how it’s possible to have less but live more…)

    • Rachel on 05/02/2015 at 8:04 pm

      That’s great Cathy. Keep working, it’s worth it! 🙂

  6. Jill on 05/02/2015 at 10:19 pm

    This was wonderful. Thank you!

  7. Andrea on 05/03/2015 at 12:57 am

    I love this so much. I’ve wondered how long it took for you to see progress, and I relate entirely to your experience on being present with the family. I’ve spent so many years distracting myself, I struggle to really focus and give my kids full undivided attention and be invested with them.
    I’ve been decluttering slowly for 2 years now. I’m seeing the progress and improvement but still have a way to go. But, because I am starting to see those improvements, I know it will continue to get better and my goals are attainable if I keep at it.

    • Rachel on 05/04/2015 at 5:27 pm

      I’m proud of you Andrea. I know it’s challenging with little ones under feet and pulling things back out of the giveaway stash!

  8. Theclutteredminimalist on 05/03/2015 at 1:54 am

    Good post. It’s always helpful to hear how someone that is at the end goal actually got there. Too often we just see that you(and other “role models of minimalism”) are minimalist and forget you didnt do this overnite. If you did it, I can too.

  9. elle on 05/03/2015 at 4:12 am

    Thank you for your posted. Your first few paragraphs describe exactly where I am at right now. Tired of keeping up with house chores, feeling paralyzed of what to get rid of (or not knowing where to start), Depressed because there is much to do and it seems never ending and no matter what I dumped or donated. I am using your 2015 chart and pretty much donated or dumped nearly 1000 items already, yet I feel unaccomplish. I think it will be easier for me if my husband would be more invested in minimalism verses his idea of “decluttering minimally.” Can you please share how your husband got on the same page as you? How did he decide to live minimally?

  10. Louise on 05/03/2015 at 4:43 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    You have put to words what I am going through since new year. I have just started to see the difference in my home since I started to declutter and I often get a feeling of peace and relaxation instead of stress when I come home nowadays.

  11. Bethany on 05/09/2015 at 4:26 pm

    People seriously underestimate the impact that decluttering can have on their mental health! Healing often involves more than simplifying, but clearing up that clutter can give you a great kick start.

  12. Julie on 05/11/2015 at 8:48 pm

    This is just what I needed to hear to help me keep moving towards my minimalist dreams. I’m dealing with mild depression and just feeling paralyzed by stuff!

  13. Rafaela on 05/27/2015 at 5:20 am

    You’ve written everything that I want to say…
    I’m decluttering our home for couple months and last 3 days, I actually see the diference. I woke up and I have nothing to do, except make up our bed. I fall a sleep without looking in piles of clean wardrobe laying next to my bed… My only goal right now is to convince my husband to get rid of his things and clothes.
    Yesterday we gave away 2 bags of his clothes, and still he has at least 3 times wardrobe then me (i’m somewhere around no. 33 including sportswear, jackets and shoes)

  14. Amy Putkonen on 05/29/2015 at 7:30 am

    Great article. It may not seem like it, but someone posted this article in our SoulSpace Online Book Club FB group and a lot of us have read it. I think that most people just don’t think to comment if they don’t know you or something. I don’t know you but I like your article. You make some very good points about the slowness of the process. We are taking 8 months in our group to declutter our homes and make them what we want them to be. I think that this is an issue of our culture and of our time. While some cultures are struggling to feed themselves, many cultures are struggling to stop the influx of meaningless stuff in our lives. Thanks for writing this. It gives me hope that I can be minimimalist too!

    • Rachel on 05/29/2015 at 1:24 pm

      Thank you Amy!

  15. Amanda on 06/08/2015 at 2:52 pm

    I loved this post—I do aspire to minimalism, I have started my de-cluttering process, and am already seeing a bit of a difference in my house AND my mental state, but I have a question. I’m honestly confused how decluttering to motel room simplicity can free me of so much of the housework. We will still have to own SOME clothes, dishes, cooking utensils, and maybe a few books, right? We have to have something to eat on and wear at least. So if I get rid of all my clutter, I can see how it would save time tidying up, but I’m still going to have laundry to wash, meals to cook, dishes to load, toilets to clean, and school backpacks to go through (oh, the sheer amount of papers!!). I desperately want to feel less stressed and have a shorter to-do list and less housework, but I am wondering how it really decreases THAT much. Is it just because being in a minimal, nice-looking house is so refreshing and motivating that doing those things that will still have to be done isn’t as taxing as it used to be? How is it that you say you “sat down and had nothing pressing to do”? Can you please elaborate? Thanks!

    • Rachel on 06/10/2015 at 5:09 pm

      I built cleaning/maintaining routines into my day. It’s gotten to the point where I just do all the cleaning as I go through my day, so even though I’m still doing it, it’s done efficiently and I don’t notice that I’m doing it (because I’m on autopilot instead of setting aside time to clean). So, when it comes to the end of the day- there isn’t anything pressing to do. Since I went minimal with the amount of possessions, the tasks take less time. I don’t have to move piles of clutter to clean the counters, so to wipe the counters, it’s very quick. So, in that aspect, in used to take 20 minutes to clean up the kitchen counters- making sure they are all wiped, etc. And now it takes maybe 2 minutes.

  16. Beth on 06/08/2015 at 11:42 pm

    I completely relate to this and find this post encouraging and motivating. Thank you for sharing!

  17. Meryl @ Simple Family Home on 06/11/2015 at 10:19 am

    I really appreciated your post on this topic! Thank you for being so open. I decided to share my own experiences with anxiety and minimalism on my own new blog and I mentioned your post here: I hope that’s ok 🙂

    • Rachel on 06/11/2015 at 1:39 pm

      Of course! Thank you. 🙂

  18. Gail on 07/13/2015 at 7:55 am

    You have put this beautifully. What a wonderful post. Thank you, this has given me lots to think about.
    Blessings Gail.

  19. Kinberli on 08/21/2015 at 10:56 am

    Thank you so much for this article today!!!! I have started decluttering and continue to feel overwhelmed. I felt peace when you talked about it being a three year process. I know I can get there now!!!! I have been very hard on myself that it’s taking so much time. I love where you are and know I can get there too.

  20. Annie on 09/27/2015 at 7:24 am

    OMG this could be my story of when my kids were young. I was overwhelmed and trying to “keep up with the Joneses”. I wasn’t as successful as you though and didn’t start simplifying and decluttering until they were older. Thank you for sharing.

  21. Erica on 03/13/2016 at 3:19 pm

    “Motel room simplicity.” I like the sound of that. My husband and I are slowly moving toward that state of being. And this is my go-to blog whenever I need encouragement in pursuing minimalism. Thanks a bunch!

  22. MamaC on 04/18/2017 at 5:20 pm

    Great article! Been following for a while now and never realised I needed it. I teach a financial get and Stay out of Debt class at churches and have realised that this kind of simple living concept fits right in. After the death of my husband downsizing has been a nightmare. Now im feeling so much better after just going for it. Now thinking of how to incorperate some of this with my classes.

  23. Anna on 06/18/2017 at 10:43 am

    I have been wanting badly to declutter in a big way for ages, but it feels so overwhelming. Last week we went on vacation for a week (myself, husband, three children). Away from home, I had moments of actual rest! Time to think and be intentional! Time to go for a walk! Time to play without thinking about what I *actually* should be doing! And then we came home and I feel myself instantly feeling buried, stressed and irritable. I KNOW it’s the piles of stuff and “to do’s”. A simplified home that allows room for what is important to me and not just a constant hamster wheel of bouncing from one mess to another is my DREAM. So hope I get there. Thank you for the encouragement!!

  24. Jason McFadden on 10/08/2017 at 9:54 pm

    This resonates with me. Thanks for sharing.

  25. Thea on 05/20/2018 at 10:23 am

    I have been battling depression and anxiety for several years now, in particular OCD and ADD – and those two conditions have been the major cause of my mental health problems because OCD wants me to have everything perfect but ADD drags me away and distracts me when I try to get my house and my life organised. This morning I came across your article and it was as if a light went up…. so many things resonate with me. Thank you SO much for this, I am determined that TODAY is the start of a journey towards clear spaces, an organised house and the ability to live in the moment and focus. May God bless you and your work Rachel!!

    • Rachel Jones on 05/22/2018 at 4:58 pm

      Awesome Thea! ❤️

  26. Treena on 06/18/2018 at 8:05 pm

    My issues seem somewhat ridiculous after reading this. I am now an empty nester and live on my own, but I feel overwhelmed. I have started to declutter, but now I have piles of stuff that I want to get rid of. Because I’ve lost my job, I’m wanting to somehow sell the items, but of course, haven’t gotten around to it. I just need a fire lit under me….

    • Rachel Jones on 06/19/2018 at 11:12 pm

      Not ridiculous at all! Getting rid of clutter can be overwhelming!

  27. Kathy from CT on 03/06/2019 at 1:18 pm

    Great article! The part about hiding behind business really hit home for me. That is the next area of our lives that we need to work on. Thank you.

  28. Sandra on 11/10/2022 at 4:13 pm

    I just came across this on Facebook I have been a slave to my house much like you were you said you were going to have a boot camp I would love that but not sure if you’re still doing this because you said January 22 can you tell me how I cane get you if you’re still doing this I hope so. Thank you 🌻

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