Can You Reduce Stress with a Minimalist Life?
Does each and every item in your home “spark joy” for you? This is the fundamental question that organizing consultant Marie Kondo asks her clients. Never mind whether the platter from Aunt Edna might possibly be “an American treasure” on Antiques Roadshow. Does the platter evoke genuine happiness?
Millions of people have bought Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and, presumably, thousands have followed her KonMari method to declutter their homes.
It’s no surprise that minimalism is trending right now. When the outside world is chaotic and crazy, who wants to come home to chaos and possessions that spark guilt or anxiety?
what if clutter is the outward expression of mental clutter?
Psychologists have found relationships between physical clutter and anxiety, depression, and stress, but the direction of the relationship isn’t clear. Physical clutter might cause stress. But what if clutter is the outward expression of mental clutter? Does that mean you could find more peace and serenity at home without fighting over whose stuff gets hauled off by the Junk King, and without turning your house into a stone-cold, contemporary museum? Can mental minimalism tidy your house? It seems worth a try.
Of course, the initial step for any kind of training—but especially brain training—is awareness. What thoughts do you find flitting through your mind? You have to figure that out before you can hold them in the palm of your consciousness long enough to determine whether they spark joy or something else.
There are dozens of ways to develop awareness or mindfulness, from stream-of-consciousness writing (for example, Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages) to meditation (best coached by an app like Simply Being).
Once you reach a level of awareness that allows you to hear the things going through your mind, pause with each of them, and ask yourself one question: Does this thought deserve attention?
If the thought conjures genuine happiness, tranquility, or confidence, keep it! Put it in a prominent place where it will get lots of light and air. If the thought evokes shame or any other destructive emotion, put in your mental trash bin. If it’s truly destructive, you don’t need it. (Negative and destructive are not the same.) Practice doing this every time the thought returns—and return it will. If a thought evokes anything in between joy and destruction, ask yourself a follow-up question: Am I actively using this thought to accomplish something?
Perhaps the thought of losing a competition evokes disappointment, or maybe the thought of losing your health insurance stirs fear. If a thought like this motivates you to take productive action in your best interests, keep it, but find a “parking place” to file it when you are not using it. When you are done using the thought, discard it or find a long-term storage place for it. Repeat this process with each thought. Does this deserve my attention? Am I actively using it?
Organization-expert Kondo rightly notes that sometimes there are “necessary items” that you have to keep even though they don’t exactly spark joy. Sometimes there are thoughts that you don’t love, but that also cause too much pain when you try to discard them. Store these thoughts in the basement of your memory palace. You can retrieve them when necessary, but don’t resort to the equivalent of hanging that stuff on your living room walls.
if you are like me and not a fan of housework, try decluttering your mind first
When you delve into your spring cleaning this year, or if you are like me and not a fan of housework, try decluttering your mind first. With everything in place mentally, your house might suddenly begin to look tidier.