Minimalism and mental health …two words that conjure strong images.
We often associate these topics with white walls, few furnishings, and a small, monochrome wardrobe. Panic attacks, chaos, and poor hygiene.
As I began searching for ways to cope with my own mental illness, I realized these two contradicting concepts were the perfect pairing.
As a child, I was a classic collector: birthday cards, letters, rocks, marbles, stickers, Beanie Babies, mugs, magazines, notebooks, etc. I owned at least 50 stuffed animals, 20 dolls, and multiple accessories. My entire wardrobe was based on pieces everyone else liked, not my own style. Let’s not even start on the amount of books I hoarded.
When I was thirteen, I acquired a brain injury that triggered a chemical imbalance in my brain. Hit with depression, anxiety, sensory disorders, and migraines, I lost the ability to “go with the flow.” Every little obstacle overwhelmed me. I couldn’t even start cleaning my room without calling for my mom to help me make a game plan.
More and more I found myself needing a daily surge of happiness just to get through the anxiety and depression. So, where did I turn? To money.
I’m a shopaholic and freely admit it. I blew my hard-earned savings on low-quality clothing, books I never read, beauty products I didn’t need, and housewares that looked great in the store but did nothing for my space. The adrenaline rush I experienced buying things became my short-term cure for low spirits.
I was accumulating so much waste. Why? Because the basis for everything I bought was on feeling.
This lifestyle contributed to my anxiety every single day.
I trapped myself in a cycle of amassing false happiness. It took me far too long realize it, but the source of my ever-growing discontentment stemmed not from my past experiences, but from my current habits.
At this point, I knew of minimalism but thought it encompassed the above ideals. White walls, no more than 20 personal possessions, 15-item wardrobe, no personal touch. The Bare Necessities played over and over in my mind…
Yet those who practiced minimalism exuded happiness, confidence, and peace. I soon got the sense this simplistic way of life wasn’t as black and white as it appeared in pictures. And I thought to myself, “Maybe there is a point to all this ‘nothing.'”
“Minimalism is not a style, it is an attitude, a way of being. It is a fundamental reaction against noise, visual noise, disorder, vulgarity. Minimalism is the pursuit of the essence of things, not the appearance.”
— Claudio Silvestrin, Minimalist Architect —
The Beginning of My Minimalist Journey
With my brain injury and sensory issues, I desperately needed less visual noise and disorder. So, I got to work.
I don’t even remember where I first started. I just remember getting rid of a lot: finally donating the clothes that made me feel like a frump. Passing on some of my childhood toys. Letting go of sentimentalism and saying goodbye to a few treasured “collections.” Going through old papers and notebooks and throwing out what I had kept for reasons I couldn’t even explain then. Yes, even reducing my home library — something I said I would never, ever do in my minimalist journey.
The key to this purge? I wasn’t just throwing things in a bin for the sake of reducing my possessions. Each item I let go had a purpose for moving on. I knew why I was getting rid of it and how letting go would benefit me, and I felt free.
Minimalism requires a lot of work for simplicity. It requires willpower for rest. It calls for a disturbance in your current state of life to achieve tranquility.
Now, instead of walking into my space and being immediately hit with anxiety and guilt, I am able to:
- enjoy a relaxing evening spent in bed
- clean without becoming overwhelmed in the first minute — mainly because I complete a decent clean in less than 10 minutes
- feel confident in each piece of my wardrobe
- know where everything I own is because there is space for my possessions
- accomplish tasks on a daily schedule without feeling rushed
Minimalism has not been a cure-all for my mental health.
I don’t believe “cure-all’s” exist. Rather a combination of treatments are necessary to heal the body, mind, and soul.
I’m not even close to where I want to be in my minimalist journey. But now that I have observed the impact this way of living has on my mental health, I will be pursuing it with vigor in the new year. I’m convinced minimalism is the right path for someone with mental illness, anxiety and sensory disorders especially, because the practice of minimalism ticks all boxes:
Body: Less physical exertion involved with material possessions
Mind: Less cluttered mental to-do list
Soul: A surge of contentment, confidence, and focus on inner well-being
Minimalism is not about numbers. I cut down a lot of my possessions, but I still have all my Beanie Babies and American Girl dolls. There are more books on my shelf than I really need. And you know what? I have several empty and half-filled notebooks taking up space in my desk.
Think of minimalism as intentionally surrounding yourself with possessions and people who make you happy, content, and serve a purpose. Keep this mindset close to heart and you won’t fail.
Who’s ready to begin their journey? Let me know in the comments if you’ve incorporated minimalism into your life!