April 30, 2020

Minimalism and Mental Health

Mental Health & Wellbeing

Over the last few years, minimalism has gained a large following. This has been due to the many documentaries, blogs, social media and economic circumstances that have called for a re-evaluation of our time, money, and possessions. Often, minimalism focuses purely on the physical and is associated with clean, white, empty spaces. Occasionally, authors will talk about some of the emotional benefits of minimalism, such as more time with family or less financial stress.

What’s missing from the discussion on minimalism is why so many people benefit mentally from the process of simplifying. Minimalism is about more than the act of removing physical possessions to save time or money. Through the process of minimizing, we begin to further examine what is aligned with our values and how this benefits our mental health.

Finding Your Values

Most minimalism instructions recommend starting with something easy to minimize, such as clothing. The mental reason for this is because “low value” items are less anxiety inducing to remove. However, some items might still be difficult, such as that shirt you bought for the day you reached your goal weight or finally got that promotion you have been fighting for. The challenge is that these items have more value that you might have realized. When this happens, it signals that there is something more important that we have been trying to accomplish but fail to do so. Instead of only finding satisfaction in the amount of space we free up, the act of simplifying helps us identify the things that have been missing from our lives so that we live with more intentionality.

Simplifying Aligned with Values

When you begin to simplify, it can become evident that other areas of your life need to be simplified for your own mental health. For example, your schedule may be so overwhelming that you realize you do not have time for any of the things that matter to you. Instead of spending the evening with family or friends, you find yourself working extra hours or completing household tasks. This evaluation can help you see the importance of re-arranging aspects of your life so that you no longer feel like you’re missing out.

More importantly, are you starting to find areas in your life that consistently cause you to feel more anxious? Maybe you said “yes” to a commitment that you knew you did not have time for. Is there a project that you keep trying to work on but never find the time or motivation? Often, the things we feel most guilty about are the things that feel “urgent” but not “important”. At its core, minimalism is about finding the things that are most important to us. If owning 300 books is important to you, then please continue to collect books. However, if a possession is weighing on you because it was a “gift” then it may be time to let it go. If you want to spend money on lattes because it makes you happy, then please continue the habit! But if you find yourself wishing you had more money for family vacations, it may be time to evaluate ways you can simplify your finances and free up money.

Creating Purpose and Peace

At times like these, it can become clear that our lives do not have as much purpose as we initially believed. When all of the business is cut away, what do you have in your life that really matters? Do you start to have feelings of existential dread that make you wonder if anything in your life matters? When these feelings come, it can be nerve wracking to consider that we may need to make some drastic changes in our lives. Instead of making massive changes, like quitting your job and living off the land, think of other ways to find peace and simplicity. Some places to start can include simplifying parts of your home so they feel more calm, removing one thing from your schedule that no longer fits your values, or adding activities that feel meaningful, like volunteering or learning a new hobby.

With external changes, peace can begin to feel like a more attainable goal. Sometimes we may need help creating inner calm or finding a new purpose. In these circumstances, a therapist can help you find your more simplified and intentional sense of self. Call today to begin the process.

Written by therapist Elise Champanhet

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