I’ve heard many stories and read numerous articles/blogs about people’s minimalism journey, and so far each and every story has a common theme, the inciting event that leads to minimalism is always diminishing mental health.
There are many reasons people become overwhelmed and that can manifest in various types of clutter. Sometimes our family messages are at play, it’s a learned behavior, or the clutter has accumulated subtly and slowly over time. Consumerism can play a role, or the dopamine release that comes with a shopping spree. Maybe it’s important to you to keep up with the Joneses or be Instagram ready at all times. There are so many paths for us to explore, but inevitably people find themselves there, surrounded by stuff that was supposed to make them happy but has actually led to mental distress.
The Outside Reflects the Inside
Our external environment is often a reflection of what we are experiencing internally. When we’ve allowed our space to become over crowded with items that are not useful contributing to living life meaningfully, we have to stop and ask ourselves “what’s really going on here?” “Why do I own 47 coffee mugs?” “Is that pen I got for free from that conference really adding to my life?”
It’s a good time to pause, look around, and evaluate. That physical clutter is contributing to your mental and emotional clutter in one way or another. Trying to move around your space, finding an item, making a decision about what to wear, or selecting the perfect coffee table to accurately represent you as a person are creating a lingering anxiety you may not even be aware of.
But it’s there, along with the sadness and disappointment that come with not having the “right” things or enough of certain items to feel secure or good enough. If those difficult feelings are not brought into awareness and processed, they will take a toll on your mental and emotional health. For a while it feels manageable, until one day you realize you’re drowning.
Discomfort Leads to the Desire to Consume
Our lives are so hectic and filled with stuff anyways. Work requires meetings and emails, our activities are sending newsletters and school supplies lists, and every store you’ve ever stepped into signs you up for spam (or coupons). Our minds are spinning and resources spread thin, which doesn’t allow much space for utilizing our coping skills.
When we feel uncomfortable, anxious, overwhelmed, sad, lonely, or especially shamed, we often turn to consuming to fill ourselves and make ourselves feel better quickly. If we do this repeatedly or every time we experience discomfort or discontentment, we find ourselves lost with a whole lot of stuff. Notice your behavioral patterns and when you are consuming something, both physical or metaphorical, ask yourself why?
The cost of clutter shows up in our relationships as well. Many relationships are entered into with both partners carrying around loads of their stuff (again, both physical and metaphorical). I’m sure if you’ve ever visited an IKEA on a Saturday, you’ve witnessed some pretty apparent relationship tension.
That’s because we often inadvertently assign value to the possessions we bring into our lives, and that couch suddenly holds a great deal of weight in our relationship. From the years that I’ve been working with couples, I’ve learned it’s never really about the couch, and also that so few people are willing to look at (especially on their own) what’s at the root of this discomfort.
Focusing on the Important Things
Our clutter comes at a cost, to our space, financial security, the environment, relationships, and of course our mental health. In the first blog of the series explored the idea of being enough without your stuff and releasing yourself from whatever shame is leading you to consume. I hope that by understanding where and how clutter shows up for you, you can start the process of looking at yourself in a more honest way, and letting go.
I encourage you to take inventory of the areas of your life where you can see the tolls of clutter or notice items you don’t need, and start getting rid of it. Pay attention to the feelings you experience when you’ve donated or given away that first item. Just notice what comes up and do not judge any feeling or thought. Let go of that item and that judgment so that you have room to focus on what’s really most important to you. After all, what leads to a more meaningful life, that 47th coffee mug, or the freedom from choosing between 47 coffee mugs?