Why minimalist living is good for your mind – and how to get started

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We often associate having more with feeling more successful, but learning how to live simply, without the need for unnecessary material possessions, can do wonders for our emotional health and wellbeing.

Living a minimalist lifestyle encompasses the ideology of living with less; streamlining your possessions to live in a simpler environment, therefore encouraging a clearer outlook on what you deem to be important in life.

Choosing this lifestyle actively benefits your mental health and wellbeing – once you decide that your happiness won’t depend on the things you own, but rather will be determined by the quality of your relationship with yourself and your thoughts, you realise that happiness isn’t something that can be bought or sought externally.

So, should you give minimalism a go? Here are a few ways it can help to improve your life, and some tips on how to get started.

Tidy space, tidy mind

It’s scientifically proven that our surroundings play a huge part in our mental wellbeing; a minimal, clean and organised environment helps us to feel calmer and content. And the less stuff you own, the less clutter you’ll have in your space – both literally, and inside your head.

‘There’s truth in the phrase “messy house, messy mind”,’ Dee Johnson, a counsellor and member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), tells Metro.co.uk. ‘Living in a tidy space plays a great part in maintaining your mental fitness.

‘Our environment can be a representation of our inner emotional state. If you’re in a tough place mentally, seeing the chaos and clutter of a disorganised space often just embeds further feelings of being overwhelmed and unable to cope, which then lowers your mood further.’

Downsizing your belongings so that you only own products that are useful means it’s far easier to keep tidy and organised.

When you only have the essentials, you’ll free up time to focus on activities that are important to you, which in turn enhances your mood and helps you to remain mindful.

‘Minimalism is a great way of practicing mindfulness – it helps you notice and focus on what you actually need; how it makes you feel, and encourages gratitude for what you already have,’ Dee explains.

‘That’s a real mood balancer, and with long-term practice, helps you make better and more honest decisions for yourself.

‘There’s a reason spas are designed to be clean and minimal – we automatically associate this with calmness due to less sensory overload in our brains, so we can focus on what really matters in the present.’

Boost your motivation and productivity

Simplifying our life allows us to focus on the things that really matter. Our possessions can distract us more than we realise, and living in a cluttered environment can disrupt us from being productive and attending to the task at hand.

According to Psychology Today, researchers discovered in a 2011 study at Princeton University that clutter can make it harder to focus on tasks. They revealed that the visual cortex of our brains can be overwhelmed and distracted by task-irrelevant objects, which then makes it more difficult to allocate attention to completing tasks efficiently.

Therefore, once you streamline your possessions, you may notice an increase in productivity, as you gift yourself a simplified environment to thrive in.

Dee seconds this sentiment, telling us: ‘Having a cluttered environment means it’s naturally very difficult to focus on what’s important, while a tidy space gives us encouragement. We can breathe easier and without angst; we have more clarity in our thinking. It also builds self-trust, self-worth, and – as a bonus – may help us problem solve or find solutions easier, without being distracted.’

Improve your self-esteem

We’re all guilty of partaking in consumer culture – especially during the pandemic, when we spent a lot more time online.

Online shopping purchases soared throughout lockdown, with ads seizing their chance to push us products we didn’t need, under the guise of selling us happiness. It’s this instant gratification seeking that leaves us feeling like we need to buy more until we feel happy – but this isn’t the way to achieve long-lasting contentment.

‘There are links between materialism and low self-esteem,’ says Dee. ‘Putting conditions on your worth only ever has negative impacts on your mental health.

‘Living in an ordered environment offers an immediate benefit to our self-esteem – it slows the production of stress hormones, allowing us to feel more peaceful.

‘This then brings an awareness of feeling capable and in control in a healthy way, helping to regulate our emotions with mood-balancing hormones like serotonin.’

Enhance your finances

Living minimally will encourage you to spend your money on meaningful experiences, rather than material items that clutter up your home.

Once you disconnect from the conditioned societal belief that ‘more possessions = more happiness’, you’ll likely discover a newfound enjoyment for saving your money.

For instance, rather than spending a chunk of your earnings on new clothes, you may decide to put money aside for a trip you’ve always wanted to take or invest it in something for your future.

‘Minimalism is liberating in that your time, energy and even finances can now be focused on what really brings you joy, worth and value,’ Dee explains. ‘In short, having less actually allows you to do more. It’s about being able to live, as opposed to exist.’

Having fewer possessions also means you could opt to live in a smaller space – whether that’s a smaller flat, a bedroom in shared accommodation, or even a camper van. Cutting back on the space you use can decrease your monthly outgoings, increasing the amount of money you’re able to save.

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Help the environment

Choosing to be mindful about the products we buy doesn’t just support our wellbeing; it also supports the environment. After all, the fewer unnecessary items bought means fewer things ending up in the bin.

‘Minimalist living offers the bonus that you’re making a positive impact on the environment by being more ethical and aware,’ Dee shares. ‘As natural herd animals, this helps us feel we’re doing something for the benefit of others – and that alone offers a wonderful boost to our wellbeing’.

Ready to get started? Tips for minimalist living

  • Start slow. Focus on one area or room at a time. If you’re not quite ready to get rid of some stuff, but know you don’t really need it, collect it into a bag and hide it for a month. If, after a month, you haven’t used anything in the bag, it’s time to get rid.
  • Repurpose. It might be tempting to chuck things out but try to repurpose items where you can. Donate unwanted items to charity shops, gift things to friends, or even try upcycling items into something more useful for your home.
  • Reassess what’s important often. Have a clear-out every few months to stay on top of your possessions. If you find it hard to part with certain items, group these into a designated box. Then, when that becomes full, you’ll know it’s time to go through and assess once more.

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