Minimalism and anxiety: worry less with less stuff

2017-08-18T12:23:08+00:00 Anxiety tips, Featured|

 

Big toes poking through the mesh, my only pair of trainers had finally met their end. These bad boys had taken me up mountains, through forests, in and out of gyms, and on cheeky chocolate runs to the shop.

They were my only trainers.

Until today, when I ceremoniously tossed them in the bin and begrudgingly bought a new pair of slick black trainers online.

Let’s all have a moment’s silence for Rex and Ronnie:

minimalism anxiety

 

*Sniff*

Now that we’ve mourned (sincere apologies for adding grief to your day), I want to explore the topic of minimalism. And how living with less stuff has helped me keep a calmer mind over the years. And, dear warrior, how it may help you.

 

Stress and stuff

I’ve always lived with less – and worked on a bare desk. I just can’t handle too much stuff.

Even when I was a girl, everything had to be put in its place before I could play or sleep.

So I guess it’s no surprise that I once ran my own professional organising and decluttering business!

Surrounded by clutter, I feel irritable and antsy. I don’t know where to look. My mind becomes a whirring mess, reflecting the space around me. I yearn to escape – to nature, or a dazzlingly white bare room.

To me, the perfect home has more space than stuff.

It has a few key pieces of furniture, but no oversized dining table or dresser. Add a little shelf for a candle and a stack of books. A tea cup on a table. A beautiful photo or piece of art. And the most basic kitchen essentials, hidden behind closed doors.

If my space is clear and uncluttered, so too is my mind.

So as I threw Rex and Ronnie in the bin, I wondered: is there a connection between minimalism and mental health?

Less stuff = less worry

I did some digging, and it turns out many people feel overwhelmed in cluttered spaces.

It does depend on your triggers. Some people will be more affected by their surroundings than others. That being said, overstimulation has been shown to be a major contributing factor to anxiety disorders.

What causes overstimulation? Loud noises (like busy roads). Chaotic scenes (like shopping malls). And clutter.

One UCLA study found a link between high levels of stress hormone cortisol and owning more household items. The more stuff people own, the more stressed they are.

I think the other piece of the puzzle is when we’re anxious, we tend to spend more time at home. So we’re around our stuff more often, increasing the odds that we’ll notice the dishes piling up and the wardrobe overflowing with unworn clothes.

How to get by with less

Drawing on my past life as a professional organiser, I’d love to share some tips on how to live with less stuff. Think of it as an experiment: go through the following steps and see how you feel.

If you notice your anxiety rises (this may signal an attachment to things, which a therapist can help you explore) or stays the same, maybe minimalism isn’t for you. At least, not for now.

But you might just find that having a clearer, cleaner space settles your flighty mind. Helps you come home to a safe, serene space. And create a little nest that nurtures you when you need time away from the world.

Ok, here are my top tips:

  • Start small. It can really overwhelming to turn your apartment inside out, all at once. So perhaps begin with the junk drawer in the kitchen, or your work desk, or your wardrobe. Baby steps, warrior, baby steps.

 

  • Divide and conquer. Put your belongings into piles: keep, trash, donate/sell. Bag up the items to donate or sell, trash the rubbish, and you’ll be left with the things you love or use. A golden rule is to get rid of anything that you haven’t used or admired in 6-12 months.

 

  • A place for everything. Categorise your items, and store them together. Then always put things back in the right place. That way, you’ll always know where your belongings are (yay, no more frantic car key searches!) which can be profoundly comforting.

 

  • Commit. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference, when it comes to calming your mind. Like always doing the dishes before the end of the night. Or making your bed in the morning. If you’re struck in an anxiety spiral, these little acts can help you feel accomplished – even when everything else seems all too hard.

Dig deeper

Making friends with your mind is all about understanding yourself better.

So, be curious.

Dig deeper into your relationship with stuff.

Question why you buy and hold on to some items, and what value you place on having the latest gadgets or clothing.

I found myself wrapped in an online shopping frenzy one night, desperate to find the perfect pair of new trainers. Before making the payment, I stopped and asked myself: “Do I really need these fancy £100 trainers, when that £40 pair ticks all the boxes?”

I pondered who I was wanting to impress. And I realised my feelings of inadequacy and wanting to be a ‘cool kid’ always came after scrolling through Instagram, feeding off images of hot models and beauty bloggers.

Once I got to the heart of the issue (the fear of rejection, and thinking expensive trainers would make me happy), I snapped out of my spiral. I bought the £40 pair.

Love yourself, not your stuff

Just one last point on this topic: by releasing our attachment to stuff, we open up to self-love.

When we strip ourselves bare, and stop hiding behind our things, we can start accepting ourselves. All our flaws. All our fabulousness. Our quirks. Our funny minds. All of it.

I also believe that minimalism takes us back to simple gratitude. By taking the spotlight off stuff, we can be thankful for what we have: our loved ones, our pets, our jobs, our healthy bodies, our brilliant minds, our ability to take time out. And anything else that brings you joy.

Our energy then shifts. It moves from material longing, to a real and raw appreciation for who we are and where we’re at in life.

And that, dear warrior, is a GIANT leap towards making friends with your mind.

So go forth and conquer that clutter!

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