We live in an era of instant gratification, where we want everything right now. We’ve come to expect that whatever we need will be available at our fingertips through the magic of the internet.
And while this is great for things like groceries and clothes, it’s not so great for your mental health.
This is where mental minimalism comes into play.
Living with less forces you to be more mindful about your choices, your habits and even your relationships. All of these things have direct impacts on both your mental health and the environment around you.
Table of Contents
- The Paradox of Choice
- What is Mental Minimalism
- How Mental Minimalism Can Improve Your Mental Health
- 1. You feel less stressed
- 2. You’re more focused
- 3. It makes it easier to form new habits
- 4. You see who your true friends are
- 5. You become more compassionate
- 6. You start making better choices
- 7. You enjoy what you have more
- 8. You have more time to pursue your goals
- 9. You have more energy to do the things you love
- 10. You appreciate yourself more
- 11. You don’t compare yourself to others as much
- 12. You’re more productive
- 13. You’re happier in general
- How to Live With Less Mental Stuff
The Paradox of Choice
Research shows that people who buy more material items are less happy than those who don’t. But how does this make sense? Shouldn’t owning more stuff lead to greater happiness? The answer lies in what psychologist Barry Schwartz calls “the paradox of choice.”
We’re bombarded with options. So many that no matter what decision you make, it feels wrong because there was another option you could have chosen instead but didn’t because you had too many choices.
This simultaneously makes you feel like a decision-making failure and unworthy of the thing you didn’t choose because it’s hard to appreciate something that’s always just one click away.
In other words, as Barry Schwartz explains in his TED talk, “the more choice we have, the less satisfied we become.”
And once you start down this path, it’s hard to break free You’ve trained yourself to believe that more is better so you can’t go back.
As you continue to accumulate more stuff, the expectations for what your purchases should provide rise as well.
So when you buy another sofa, not only are you paying for the sofa itself, but now you also expect it to be comfortable, aesthetically pleasing and last forever.
Living with less is how you can break out of this pattern.
By not buying more stuff than you need, you’re no longer faced with the paradox of choice because your foregone options are zero.
You don’t have to decide whether you want to keep the sofa or return it. You don’t have to keep making payments on that piece of furniture you’ll never use again.
You can go back to appreciating each choice that you make and feeling like a decision-making master, and thus, happier!
What is Mental Minimalism
Mental minimalism is when you focus on what’s most important to you, which helps you feel more calm and peaceful.
It makes your mind less cluttered with trivial decisions that aren’t really important, like whether to wear this jacket or that one. Instead, you’re left focusing on what actually matters.
As you’re no longer fumbling through the paradox of choice, you also have more energy for things that truly matter, like spending time with people you love or pursuing a life goal that’s always eluded you.
You can achieve mental minimalism in two ways:
1. Decluttering your physical space
2. Decluttering your mental space
The first is the more easily understood way of living with less – simply getting rid of things you don’t use or need anymore. It’s also typically what people think about when they hear the phrase “living with less.”
However, living with less can be as much about what you don’t have in your life as what you do.
In fact, when research was conducted to see if minimalism could be beneficial for our mental health, they found that living with less actually impacted people’s emotions and state of mind even more than decluttering their physical space.
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How Mental Minimalism Can Improve Your Mental Health
1. You feel less stressed
It’s no secret that clutter is a stressor in our lives, but when your home isn’t cluttered, it’s easier to find what you need when you need it and have more mental space when everything has its place.
Additionally, when you’re surrounded by things that you love, you’re in a constant state of relaxation and peace because these are the things that make you comfortable.
And it’s just not just physical clutter. The same goes for mental clutter also.
When you don’t have as many choices to make, there are simply fewer things that can go wrong. This means that you have less to think about, which reduces your stress levels and makes it easier for you to focus on what really matters.
2. You’re more focused
Minimalism helps us find freedom, one of the three pillars of well-being.
When you live with less, you’re forced to prioritise and think deeply about what’s most important in your life. You learn to let go of goals that don’t align with your values and focus on the future you want for yourself.
As we do away with trivial decisions, we free up our time and mental energy that we can then invest in living a meaningful life.
3. It makes it easier to form new habits
When we feel overwhelmed by our options (i.e. we’re faced with too many possibilities and not enough time to explore them all), we often feel like we never actually accomplish anything, because there’s always something else that could be done.
However, having fewer options makes it easier for us to commit to an action – like going to the gym or eating healthier – because each choice feels significant.
4. You see who your true friends are
What’s more important to you: hanging out with your friends or going on a shopping spree to keep up with the Jones’?
When you consider what actually matters, you’ll realise that spending time with people is much more valuable than owning things.
This insight can help you discover who truly forms part of your circle. Are the friendships in your life based on what you can do for them or because they lift you up and make you feel great? Allowing yourself to see this will make it easier for you to replace a shallow relationship with a deeper one.
5. You become more compassionate
When you stop focusing on the materialistic aspects of life that aren’t important, you have more time to focus on what is, like helping others and making a positive impact.
In fact, studies show that those who live with less are actually happier giving than those who live with more because they see what really matters in life.
6. You start making better choices
As you become less materialistic and focus on what’s important to you, you slowly begin to realise that the things you own don’t define your worth.
This newfound perspective can help shed light on how much time, money and energy you’re actually spending on the things that matter to you. You’ll start to naturally see what needs to be cut out in order for you to overcome self-doubt and live a life that feels fulfilling.
7. You enjoy what you have more
When you’re surrounded by things that catch your eye and disrupt your peace, it’s harder to appreciate what you already own.
Even though they’re technically yours, the fact that they’re always distracting you means that they’re kind of not yours, either.
So when you get rid of your distractions – be it by getting rid of your stuff or just finding a better place for them to live – you feel more present in the moment because what’s left are only things that make you happy or bring value to your life.
8. You have more time to pursue your goals
When you have fewer distractions, it’s easier to see what you want in life and go after it.
You’re no longer juggling appointments, events and errands that don’t matter much to you. Rather, you’re able to focus on yourself, your family or even just doing less because that’s what you’ve always wanted.
9. You have more energy to do the things you love
When your mind isn’t filled with thoughts about clutter or distractions, it’s easier to reinforce positive thoughts about yourself and what you want out of life.
You’re happier with your current situation, which means you have the energy to go out and enjoy yourself, or simply take a break from things you don’t love anymore.
10. You appreciate yourself more
The less you have, the more you appreciate all of your choices and what they’ve brought into your life. You also feel less guilt because, let’s face it, no matter how much we try to justify our purchases, we know deep down that some things just aren’t worth it.
11. You don’t compare yourself to others as much
Minimalism is not about getting rid of what you have so that you can own more. It’s about being intentional with the things in your life so that you’re not constantly chasing after the life that someone else has.
When you detach from our desire for things, it’s easier to see how little materialistic things matter in the long run.
Read also: The Importance of Letting Go of Expectations
12. You’re more productive
Your home is not the only thing that needs to be decluttered in order for you to lead a simpler life. You also need to declutter your mind. Otherwise, there are too many things interrupting you when you try to focus on something.
When you have fewer distractions and more focus, you’re able to get your daily tasks done faster and with better quality. Plus, the added mental space means that you’ll be able to accomplish even more in a given day.
13. You’re happier in general
Some people might think that living with less means you’ll miss out on experiences or will feel like something is missing all the time. But in reality, most people who live with less are happier because they have fewer distractions and more focus to spend on what’s important to them.
When you care less about physical possessions, it’s easier to enjoy life because there simply aren’t as many obstacles which means you can finally really explore your options.
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How to Live With Less Mental Stuff
Be mindful of what’s most important for you
If it helps, write down all the things in each category that are most important to you. This list is the only place where the majority of your decisions should come from, not out of reflex or hesitation.
Get rid of anything else
When it comes time to get rid of all the extra stuff, go through this same process again and see what’s left. It might be more than you expect.
Repeat as necessary
Living with less is indeed a process, not an event. So even if you’ve already cleared out the extra clutter once, it might come back or you might need to do it again. That doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong–it just means you have more work ahead of you.
However, every time you’re able to declutter your space, you’ll also be decluttering your mind. And that’s a superpower we all need.
What are your thoughts on mental minimalism? Have you chosen to live with less in an effort to live more?