Minimalism and Wellbeing: How De-Cluttering Brings Calm, Focus and Contentment.
Just a couple of years ago, I set out to de-clutter my home and ended up discarding more than half of my possessions. Recognising that that I can live without so many of the things I'd been holding onto opened my mind to a new contentment. I discovered the joy of less and immeasurably improved my mental wellbeing, in ways I never anticipated.
During the lockdown, we have all spent more time in our homes. Many of us have taken a look around our space and found ourselves drawn into a home-improvement project. When we are at home all day; the furniture screams to be updated, the kitchen drawer clamours to be organised and the kid's bedroom practically cries out for a complete decontamination! A good clear out and de-clutter can of course do wonders for the appearance and liveability of our homes - the minimalist home is after all perfect for the 'gram. However, in this article I'm going to share some of the wider benefits for mental wellbeing which happen when we let go of superfluous things. I'll tell you about my personal de-cluttering journey, as well as introducing some of the books and media which have inspired me to embrace life with less. Truthfully, reducing the number of material possessions I own has changed my life.
This may seem a bit over the top. All I did was get rid of a load of stuff, right? Well, yes, however all the things in my home were affecting my everyday mindset in surprising ways.
This post is very much focused on my experience and my feelings. I'm using my own story in order to explore the positive impact of a minimalist lifestyle. Writing such a self-absorbed post is not something I'm usually comfortable with and kind of represents everything that I dislike about social media. However, its my hope that this personal tale is relatable and inspires others to find the benefits of minimising for themselves. Still, apologies in advance for all the me-me-me, I-I-I, self-self-self.
The Stuff of Life
Firstly, a bit of background. For the greater part of my life I have coveted stuff and placed high value on the things I own. Shopping was a hobby and an important part of my social life. The filled bookshelf in my living room was a source of pride when guests visited my home (much the same as how many politicians choose to position themselves in front of bookshelves when they appear on television via video call). I enjoyed searching for quirky home décor to improve my home and create a stylish look. Whilst it's true that I have always been environmentally conscious, I didn't see the link between the consumerist buy-buy-buy lifestyle and environmental sustainability until more recently.
Working as an Assistant Buyer in the consumer goods industry; my occupation was to bring more things into the country, to fill Britain's discount stores and then our homes. Sometimes, being in this line of work prompted a feeling of overwhelm at the sheer volume of products available. Before long, environmental consciousness prompted me to question the need for all the extra stuff we buy. I became uncomfortably aware that the real journey of things can be summarised like this: factory, shop, home, landfill (this process is very eloquently explained in 'The Story of Stuff'). Like most sensible members of society, I pushed these worries down and instead bought some new shoes.
As a result, I had the normal, sensible amount of stuff in my home. I haven't always been organised and I am still not neatest of people all the time. However, I did dislike the untidiness in my home. I'd only lived in my house a couple of years so considered it in a state of transition, I was always one trip to Dunelm away from making it perfect.
So, I had an inkling that all the stuff I surrounded myself with might not be serving me as well as I'd thought and might just be a load of pointless tat. A big turning point was reading Goodbye Things by Fumio Sasaki. This book was recommended to me by a friend and I've been recommending it onwards to just about everyone ever since. Many of the strategies for de-cluttering which I now use are adopted from Goodbye Things, so all credit to Sasaki.
Goodbye Things inspired me to be honest about my possessions. For example, the book suggests to 'say goodbye to who you used to be'. This means, if there is something we are keeping hold of because we used to use it a lot, we can afford to let it go. Sasaki points out that 'holding on to things from the past is the same as clinging to an image of yourself in the past'. Reading this re-assured me that I can let go of some things I used to love, because I am no longer that person, and that's okay. I recognised that my values, personality and past-times will change throughout my life. I could get rid of a box of craft materials and didn't need to feel guilty about doing so.
The example of the craft materials seems trivial, but please stay with me here. The reason I kept all the craft stuff because I wanted to be creative, artsy and clever. I wanted to show off the skills I had picked up when studying art and fashion. Yes, I enjoyed crafts as a sometime hobby but realistically I hadn't touched most of that stuff for over a year. And sometimes I felt guilty about that. Being totally honest and accepting the real reasons why I held onto things was freeing. I felt calm after having addressed the anxieties attached to the things I kept.
Following the theme of honesty and self-acceptance, I resolved to discard anything which did not add value to my life.
Keeping Up Appearances
I have never considered myself self-centred, but it was eye-opening to me just how much stuff I was holding onto for the sake of appearances. Now that I was being honest with myself, I could see there were certain things I kept only because they represented an impressive persona.
Clothing is an obvious example because it's so tied into personal identity. With two wardrobes full, I had loads of clothes to choose from so I could express myself through my outfit choices every day. I could show people how artistic, creative and stylish I was. At least, that was the idea. However, those clothes were not telling others great things about me after all, instead they were always nagging at me. "Why have you not worn me for so long?", "I don't fit anymore, weren't you going to get out the sewing machine and fix me up?", "I'm a fabulous party dress but you haven't been on a night out for ages, why is that?". Moreover, choosing what to wear in the morning was an overwhelming experience, because I was very concerned with creating a certain impression.
drastically parred down my wardrobe. Without the clothes I never wore, I don't feel anxious about no-longer being a certain
way. I can feel content with what I have because I've stopped putting pressure
on myself to razzle-dazzle others. Don't get me wrong, I still take pride in my
appearance, but I recognise that looking my best is about maintaining a healthy
lifestyle. And I'll let you into a little secret, if you only own 13 items of
clothing and wear the same things every day, no-one else will notice, never
With less clothes, I dress quickly and without the decision fatigue which used to plague my mornings. It helps that the things I chose to keep suit my lifestyle now. Where there used to be the task of putting together an outfit, now all my clothes pretty much go together, what's called a capsule wardrobe.
I've discovered that taking away one of life's less-important daily choices frees up some headspace. This makes sense really, since we all lead busy lives and make many choices every day, one less choice equals one less problem! And you know what else is one less problem? When you have less clothes, you are never confronted by a laundry mountain!
Buying new things is something I don't have to do or think about - at least very rarely. My to-do list is not a shopping list.
Calm Place, Calm Mind
Most would agree that a clean, spacious room is a more pleasant environment than one which is full of stuff. Just picture a nice hotel room: neutral décor, white bedsheets and mostly empty of things. This minimal aesthetic makes for a relaxing space, so of course I feel calm in my clutter-free home. Positively, and here's where it gets all life-changing, the calming impact of de-cluttering went further than I had anticipated.
Remember those clothes that were nagging at me all the time? Well, it turns out it was not just my clothes which had something to ask of me. I had books taking a similar tone with their incessant "are you ever going to finish reading me?" In fact, all of my things were asking for a good clean all the time - even when I'd had a full on busy day, would you believe! When I sat down to relax of an evening, instead I started thinking about when could schedule in a full cleaning session.
There were other requests from things which intruded on my downtime too. Sometimes I felt under pressure to use an item solely to justify that item's place in my home. For instance, this mini-chopper kitchen gadget I had. I owned a food processor as well which could pretty much do anything the mini-chopper could and better. But, I asked myself, what if I need to chop some nuts? I thought I'd best hang on to the mini-chopper just in case. It is after all an ideal nut-chopping tool. Next, I'd resolve to make some sort of chopped nut dessert at the weekend, otherwise that gadget is just needlessly taking up space.
Since reducing the amount of things I own, my home is free of visual clutter and distractions. I find it much easier to relax and unwind. And if I want to chop nuts, I use a knife.
The contentedness of having less comes largely from feelings of self-acceptance. It's strange to say that having less means I never want more. I've acknowledged what is truly necessary for me, so I already have everything I want. I cannot express enough how much of a difference this makes to how I feel every day. Where I used to get hung up about the amount of money I make, now I remind myself that I have enough.
At one time I remember feeling quite dissatisfied with my job, and so treated myself to some new clothes. I told myself that I go to work to make money after all, and my job means I can buy all these lovely things. Of course, the comfort was short-lived and my workplace-based woes continued. Now, having dismissed consumerism as the solution to all life's problems, I'm forced to take an honest look at my worries and if something is truly an issue, I've got to make changes.
With this new contentedness, I find I am less likely to compare what I have with what others have. If I feel envious or resentful, I can remind myself that material things do not make for happiness or fulfilment.
Focus on what matters
'The Minimalists' of theminimalists.com; give themselves the tagline 'live a meaningful life'. This pair have much to say on the benefits of a life with less and I'd recommend their blog, books and documentary. The minimalists greatly stress how their choosing to jettison most of their possessions has allowed them to focus on what matters. This matches my own experience.
Taking care of myself can no longer be about buying a product to sooth my ills. Now, self-care means keeping my body physically fit and healthy; simply eating well and exercising. I recognise that the uplifting feeling of new clothes, make up or any lotion or potion will be short-lived. Instead, I feel content that I look my best when my body is fit and healthy.
I'm no longer striving to present myself through the clothes I wear or anything else I own. Instead, I'd rather be judged on my actions and the things I say. This recognition has changed the way I interact with my friends and family, I try to listen more and to be a good friend. Writing this down here it seems like a tenuous conclusion to draw, but I can truly say that ditching all my superfluous possessions made me want to better understand and support those I care about.
It's as if, with the focus on material things taken away, a space is open to consider what's really important to me.
Minimalism and Mental Well-being
So yes, all I did was throw away a bunch of stuff. But that process changed how I think and freed my mind! Everyone's relationship with things is different, so if even one person can empathise with my experience and feel inspired, I am content. If your things are, like mine, taking up too much time and energy than my advice would be to go for it and start your own de-cluttering journey.
And here comes the plug... As a Professional Organiser, I provide practical help and sympathetic advice on how to clear clutter and restore some order to your home. If you feel overwhelmed with stuff and just don't know where to start with clearing up, do get in touch to discuss what you need.