It is likely that you’ve heard something lately about “minimalism”, as it has been all over television and in the news. With that, you may have wondered what minimalism is and if or how it may be applied in your life. In this article, we briefly explore the root of the minimalism movement, including recent findings about its impact on one’s mental health and wellbeing.
While most of the minimalist authors and icons have their own definition of minimalism, they all generally agree on its core, namely, living with less. For some, less simply means less clutter; for others, it means less more generally. For example, you may have heard of Marie Kondo, whose 2010 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, accelerated the rise of minimalism in popular culture. Her approach to minimalism suggests that you hold each and every item that you currently own to see if it “sparks joy”, with the intent of keeping only the ones that do while eliminating all of the rest.
Other minimalist evangelists have taken this even further. For example, Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists blog, went from unhappy, high-consumption executives to happy, minimalist gurus by getting rid of the vast majority of the items that they owned. (You can read more about their journey in their book, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life or by watching their film, Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.)
You may have also seen or heard about so-called tiny houses. With countless movies and TV shows dedicated to the topic, it would be a little difficult to miss it these days. Tiny home proponents push the minimalist ethos closer to the extreme. By strictly limiting the amount of living space they have, tiny home dwellers dramatically reduce the amount of clutter they could possibly accumulate, while also reducing their carbon footprint and their overall cost of living.
Minimalism isn’t just about your physical environment, however. Many other authors and speakers are thinking about what minimalism could mean for our social media and connected lives. Georgetown Professor (Hoya Saxa!), Cal Newport, is perhaps the leading voice in this space. His excellent 2019 book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, provides an incredible survey of many of the negative effects that stem from the advent of our increasingly connected world. More importantly, he provides clear, actionable insights that can help interested readers understand how to set boundaries for how they engage on the internet and, in particular, social media.
Regardless of whether you are inspired to reduce the time you spend on social media or perhaps even to clear out all of your belongings so you can move into a new micro home, there are some important lessons to be taken from the minimalist movement. None, though, are perhaps more pressing than understanding how a lack of clutter can positively affect the brain.
While all of the minimalist gurus out there will talk about how the change has improved their lives, you don’t just have to take their word for it. No doubt driven in part by the rising popularity of minimalism, academic research in the space has also blossomed recently. There are now numerous scientific and peer-reviewed articles on how minimalism can reduce anxiety and related disorders or simply promote general wellbeing. From these and many more studies, it is clear that minimalism can have a positive, lasting effect on one’s brain health.
The deep connection between mind and body has long been understood, with the recent findings about minimalism and mental health and wellness only deepening our understanding of this incredibly important space. While this research is only just emerging, the consistency of the findings make it clear that adopting some minimalist practice into one’s daily life can be rewarding for the body, mind, and soul.
With that, here are four simple things you can do to start incorporating minimalist concepts into your habits:
Once you start to incorporate some of these suggestions into your daily routine, you’ll likely find, like so many others, that minimalism has a lot to teach us about living our best life.