From tiny houses to closet cleansing, the notion that “less is more” has gained traction in the United States. The idea, made famous by the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo suggests decluttering your living space may boost your emotional well-being, igniting a sense joy and calm. But can the “minimalist movement,” actually benefit your mental health?
I believe “decluttering” your physical space is a psychological process. Imagine the overfilled closet, bursting with t-shirts from college, old prom dresses, and acid washed jeans leftover from the 80’s. It’s unlikely you’ve worn or used these items recently, but they hibernate on your shelves like relics in a museum. While you may keep these things “just in case” they make a comeback; you may be holding onto your objects for emotional reasons.
If you feel a spike of anxiety at the thought of recycling these items, ask yourself these questions:
The Exploration — What does this object mean to me?
As you pick up each item, ask yourself, “What does this object mean to me?” Often, we associate shirts, dresses, and shoes with fond memories of the past. Perhaps they’re reminders of milestones, like weddings, job promotions, and graduations. We hold onto our possessions because we’re afraid that if we let them go, the memories will dissolve, too.
Pay Attention — What sensations arise as I pick up the object?
When you reach for the old dress or the top you haven’t worn decades, what feelings arise? Does your stomach clench? Does your chest tighten? If these feelings emerge, anxiety may be present. You may be holding onto emotions from a transitional time in your life that you haven’t fully worked through, yet. It’s possible that if you process these feelings, you’ll be freer to cast the past away, realizing it doesn’t hold meaning in the present.
The Letting Go — How does it feel to place my items in the “giveaway” pile?
As you put your beloved possessions in the giveaway pile, what do you notice? Are you tempted to reach into the heap of clothing and retract some of your things? If so, what might this attachment symbolize in your life? We often hold onto objects, as well as relationships because we fear losing something if we set them free.
The Goodbye — What does the “goodbye” mean to you?
As these items leave your living space, notice what it’s like to say “goodbye” to them. Is it relieving in any way? Acknowledge the memories these items hold, honoring the role they’ve played in your life’s journey.
The Resolution — Moving Forward
After decluttering your space, look at your new surroundings, what it’s like to have more space. How might you apply these minimalist tools in your daily life? Perhaps you’ll remove something old before purchasing anything new. Maybe you’ll declutter your space twice a year, ensuring that things won’t pile up.