This is a guest post by Emily, a sustainability writer who believes in creating a better life that is also better for our planet. She is also the editor of Conservation Folks.
There has been a growing global trend toward minimalism. People are abandoning anything from cable TV to extra pairs of clothing.
When asking about such lifestyle changes, you will probably hear something about “simplifying” or “not stressing”. People everywhere are downsizing and forsaking the very things that once symbolized comfort and success, all in pursuit of destressing.
But is there a truth to that? Can you quickly eliminate stress by merely cutting down the amount of stuff in your life?
For now, the answer seems to be yes.
The Purpose of Decluttering
The underlying philosophy of minimalism is very, very similar to decluttering. By minimalizing you are in essence decluttering your very existence.
Decluttering focuses on the micro, though, advising you to clean up this pile of papers or sort through that drawer, taking a steady and measured approach to cleaning and organizing each room in your house.
The purpose of decluttering is freeing your mind from all the distracting and ugly things surrounding you.
A messy bed or cluttered floor unconsciously weighs on your mind, making you feel cornered and threatened by encroaching junk. By cleaning, you are essentially putting your life back together and allowing yourself to focus on a beautiful and well-ordered environment.
Minimalism is the same basic premise, taken one step further.
Instead of only focusing on the things that are junk, minimalism seeks to eliminate anything that draws your unconscious focus away from those belongings connected to joy or fond memories. You’ll end up with a lot of empty space — the same side-effect as cleaning.
Ownership is a huge factor in social status. What other reason could people have to buy gigantic HD TVs and home theatre systems?
While quality can be nice, the need to show others your new toys is something fundamentally connected to being human. And like any other competitive game, ownership can be very stressful. We want to keep up, to compete with our friends and neighbors.
The fact remains: you can’t lose a game you don’t play.
By making the conscious choice to cast away objects of material competition, you will have nothing to compare with others. You’ll even make your friends uncomfortable showing off their new toys: it is socially taboo to flaunt your possessions if others have none.
The same angle applies to new, trendy clothing, expensive artwork, and anything else that causes competitive social anxiety.
This can even have the added benefit of steering your friendships to a new depth that would be otherwise impossible. Conversations can stray away from superficial topics on recent purchases and into more existential, significant territories. It won’t happen every time, but the possibility is there.
It’s fine to wax philosophical, but there is one concrete benefit to downsizing and minimalizing: you save a ton of money. All the money that normally goes into new and unnecessary possessions ends up in your pocket.
Freed from the need to compete and stack your things against others’, spend that money any way you want! Go on a vacation with the kids, put it toward a project you’ve always wanted to complete. It’s entirely your call, as long as it makes you happy.
Of course, giving yourself these memorable, meaningful experiences also does wonders for your long-term stress levels. You’ll feel more fulfilled, more capable of doing what you want when you want to.
And if you choose to save the money, that lessens a whole brand of financial stress as well. No more need to paint the radiator black to try to save a few dollars!
One of the greatest modern myths is that an abundance of pricy items makes a person happy.
You fill your day looking through a loaded wardrobe or staring at the TV, and that makes you happy, right? But in this lifestyle, where do you fit in?
Consumerism seems to make you a witness to your own life, passively wasting your time and distracting yourself from the things you want.
This is the big one: minimalism leaves time for you.
Instead of distracting yourself by staring at your vast — impossible to ignore — TV, you can sit with nothing but a cup of coffee and get to know yourself again. Take a walk in a beautiful place, put on a pair of wool socks and snuggle up with a book, putting yourself in the shoes of your favorite character.
If you really love a movie or a show, go ahead and treat yourself to it. Minimalism makes room for anything you care about, whatever form it takes.
One final thing to remember: minimalism is a process. Don’t throw out your TV, burn your wardrobe and lock yourself in your room tomorrow.
Take a few days and really think about the things you want and need in your life. Then slowly move away from the rest.
You’ll find your social stress subsiding, especially as you carve out time for yourself.