Guest Post for That Minimal Life
This guest post on minimalism and mental health is written by my wonderful friend of 14 years, Natalie West (where has the time gone?!). Natalie runs an amazing blog called Pretty Little Grind and is an absolute mindset guru. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I am not a mental health expert, care provider, or psychologist. If you are experiencing intense mental distress, please consult with someone who is!
Stress and burnout affect nearly every adult. Feeling overwhelmed is not at all uncommon in today’s overly-busy lifestyle. Often, we attribute this stress to not having enough – time, money, friends, or stuff. But what if we have it wrong? What if the very ideals we are chasing are the core cause of our stress? This post dives deep into the close relationship between minimal living and mental health and provides practical tips for managing both.
What is Minimalism?
Minimalism is also known as a minimalist lifestyle. Essentially, minimalism means simplifying your life and living with less. This means less clutter, less spending, and less busyness. We will get into more specific examples of a minimalist lifestyle. For now, the guiding principle to remember is that less is more.
Minimal living isn’t about minimizing just for the sake of it. It’s the concept behind minimalism that people resonate with: removing the clutter of life to focus on what matters.
Another way to think about minimalism is that it is the opposite of consumerism.
the preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods: “many people are becoming increasingly conscious of the environmental impact of consumerism.”
Instead of obsessing over “more, more, more,” minimalism quietly points to the timeless adage: it’s not about having what you want, but wanting what you have.
So how does minimalism affect mental health? To fully understand the strong relationship between the two, let’s break down what a minimal lifestyle looks like in daily life.
Because there are many ways to discuss minimalism, it’s helpful to break it down into physical, digital, and mental minimalism.
Physical minimalism comes to most people’s minds when they hear the phrase “minimal lifestyle.” They envision Marie Kondo-esque decluttering or Kim Kardashian’s empty mansion.
Yes, decluttering is a big part of physical minimalism. There is freedom in getting rid of things you don’t need! However, reducing your “stuff” doesn’t have to fit any particular method of minimalism. Focus on what lowers your stress and clears the proverbial fog.
Another aspect of physical minimalism is consuming less and getting in touch with what you really need. Separating needs from wants is an on-going practice of minimalism. This doesn’t mean depriving yourself. It means that your priorities change, and buying “stuff” is no longer what makes you happiest.
Reducing waste is a priority for many minimalists. Thrifting, upcycling, composting, and gardening are popular lifestyle choices for those wanting to live mindfully.
Physical minimalism comes into play financially, as well. Simple living means living within one’s means. Again, the goal is not to deprive yourself but to embrace security and simplicity. Other financial priorities include paying off debt, reducing monthly bills, saving, and making smart purchases.
Mental Health Benefits:
- Reduces clutter in the home, which reduces stress
- Prioritizes relationships and experiences over stuff
- Encourages you to live within your means
- No pressure to “keep up with the Joneses”
- Living within your means lowers worry, stress, and anxiety
It’s crazy the extent to which our daily lives are affected by digital interaction. From professional to personal life, our days go by sending emails, text messaging, watching videos, liking, posting, commenting, etc. It becomes overwhelming!
Most minimalists agree that smartphones and the Internet are essential aspects of human life these days. There’s little discussion around technology being “evil” or “unnecessary.” Instead, minimalism encourages a healthier approach:
- Set boundaries with technology
- Practice being present in your real life
There is no singular way to practice digital minimalism. It is a practice unique to each person. Perhaps you decide to turn your phone off for certain hours of the day. Or maybe deleting certain apps off of your phone works better for you!
I limit my news media intake because I am easily overwhelmed by the many intense crises currently taking place in the world. (2020…need I say more?) It’s a delicate balance of staying informed and knowing my limits. But practicing awareness in my digital life is helping me understand myself better.
Digital minimalism has become more challenging to manage with quarantines and stay-at-home initiatives. However, I believe it has become more essential than ever during these uncertain times.
Mental Health Benefits:
- More quiet time for recharging
- More time for close relationships
- Less comparison with strangers on the Internet
- Less distraction and “checking out”
- Better sleep
We’ve discussed how minimalism is all about simplifying our lifestyles. How can we apply that to the way we think?
Simplifying one’s mindset does not mean thinking less. It means thinking intentionally.
It turns out that your brain is in charge of how you perceive and experience life. (No surprise there!) How you train your brain to think dramatically impacts how you experience your own life. The mind is a muscle, after all, and will function inefficiently if left unexercised.
What does it mean to think inefficiently? Consistent negativity, pessimism, people-pleasing, and overthinking are a few examples that come to mind. On the other hand, mental minimalism focuses on training your brain to be calm and healthy.
Ways to Practice Mental Minimalism:
Practice saying “no.” Many of us are repeat-offenders when it comes to people-pleasing, which adds to stress and decreases joy. Minimalism asks us to strip down to the essentials and consider what is serving our mindset.
Invest time in mindset work. It might sound daunting, but a few minutes of mindset journaling each morning is a game-changer. You can find my mindset guide here, where I take you through the 4 Pillars of Mindset and provide you with 21 days of journal prompts!
Minimize your schedule. If there’s one blessing to come from quarantine, it’s having to slow down and reprioritize! I encourage you to take a hard look at your weekly commitments and ask questions like, “Which of these things is growing me?” “Which of these things is draining me?” We indeed have obligations that we cannot avoid. However, it’s also human nature to bite off more than we can chew!
Practice gratitude. Engaging in gratitude is the feel-good drug you never knew you needed. Seriously, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin (the pleasure drugs) into your body when you practice gratitude! Make your gratitude practice a routine part of your day and feel the difference in your mindset.
Make time for self-care. Taking care of yourself is the only way to operate at 100%. Self-care is sometimes confused with over-indulgence like binge eating or lying in bed for three days. (Been there, done that.) You’ll know the difference between the two by how you feel afterward. Self-care leaves you feeling refreshed and recharged. Over-indulgence causes more lethargy and negative feelings. Whether it’s going for a walk or having coffee with a friend, make self-care a priority.
Practice affirmations. Affirmations are my favorite mindset hack for bad days. (But I use them on good days, too!) An affirmation is a true statement that replaces a negative message in your brain. For example, “I have everything I need to be successful today,” instead of, “I’m a failure.” You can find lists of affirmations everywhere, or write your own! Click here for 147 Daily Affirmations for Women.
Mental Health Benefits
- Opens the intuition
- Encourages self-love
- Creates time for reflection and calm
- Stimulates growth mindset
- Boosts your mood with gratitude
- Increases productivity with affirmations
- Prevents burn-out by reducing busyness
- Encourages healthy boundaries with others
Does Minimalism Improve Mental Health?
Every person is different, and not every method works the same for everyone. However, minimalism has many positive effects on mental health from a holistic perspective. Minimalism trades pressure and stress in favor of a manageable lifestyle.
By eliminating busyness and clutter, minimalism opens time for the things that matter – living in the present, connecting with loved ones, and caring for yourself.
Quick Tips for Minimal Living
- Declutter areas of your home that stress you out
- Carve out time for self-care
- Identify your core values
- Start mindset journaling
- Subscribe to That Minimal Life!
Natalie West is a full-time lifestyle blogger, an avid traveler, and a growth mindset guru. She loves true crime documentaries, Japanese food, and all things pink! Her blog, Pretty Little Grind, helps women increase productivity, gain confidence, and create healthy, wealthy lifestyles. Natalie publishes new content three times a week and is always creating resources and tools to share with her readers.
Connect with her here!