Interest in minimalism may not be as widespread as in the days of “decluttering” and Marie Kondo, but there are still plenty of people who swear by the lifestyle – especially when it comes to the mental health and wellbeing benefits it can provide.
Minimalism may have inspired movements in interiors, fashion, beauty and more, but at its core, it’s just a style or way of thinking – an ideology that celebrates simplicity and the opportunity to have, use or be surrounded by less. And for those people who swear by the mental health benefits of minimalism, it’s this fact that can make it so rewarding.
“Not only does living a minimalist lifestyle makes you less likely to feel stressed or pressured to buy the next thing, but it also means your home will be less cluttered,” explains Somia Zaman, a psychotherapist specialising in cognitive behavioural (CBT) and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) therapies. “You may even save money in the long run because you’re less likely to feel the need to keep buying.”
Zaman continues: “Minimalism isn’t ridding yourself of everything; it’s about focusing on the things that have value and meaning. This focus can bring you more joy, and therefore have a positive impact on your mental health.”
The mental health benefits of minimalism aren’t just anecdotal, however. Numerous studies have confirmed that adopting a minimalist lifestyle can provide psychological benefits – a recent review of 23 studies published in the Journal Of Positive Psychology found that more than 80% reported a connection between minimalism (or voluntary simplicity) and wellbeing.
The negative mental health impacts of clutter have also been well documented. A 2010 study in The Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology looking at dual-income married couples found that those who perceived themselves as having a cluttered home tended to have increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) throughout the day. Those people tended to be women – a trend researchers suspected stemmed from the expectation placed on women to shoulder domestic labour.
While minimalism isn’t for everyone – the growing cluttercore community is proof that living simply isn’t the only way to boost your mental health – it’s clear that minimalism can offer plentiful benefits for those who need space to focus and struggle with clutter.
To find out more, Stylist spoke to three women who follow a minimalist lifestyle about how embracing minimalism has helped their mental health. Here’s what they had to say.
Nadine, 32, London
My appreciation for minimalism comes from enjoying simple pleasures blended with an urge to maximise space and minimise clutter.
My first real encounter with minimalist living was when I visited my uncle in Stockholm when I was a teenager. He lived in an apartment with high ceilings and beautiful wooden floors. He lived a spartan existence really, a university professor with lots of books and not much else.
I remember thinking how vast his apartment seemed and appreciated the simplicity of his interior choices. It was a calming, quiet space and I really liked that – even at a young age. (My mum, however, was itching to buy him homewares the entire visit.)
Nowadays, clutter and mess genuinely stress me out. I love a good clear out and giving things away, so I’m well aware that having less “stuff” is better for my state of mind.
I don’t have an emotional attachment to objects unless they have sentimental or artistic value and I think this helps me stay grounded in my purchasing decisions.
Even if I want something, I know that once I have it it won’t necessarily make me happier or add value to my life – minimal living can become a bit of a life practice in that sense.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think minimal style means not having anything. For me, minimalism is about having only the things you really and truly love.
I also think there are clever ways you can style objects so they don’t become overstimulating. For example, I love the recent trend of hiding book spines and having the page side on display. Such a small styling detail means you can have lots of books, but you’ve eliminated all those contrasting spine colours that could feel a bit overbearing.
Check out Nadine’s home at @rona_renovation
Rebecca, 28, Munich
My first true experience with minimalism was when I was a student and I moved to a different city for a little while to complete an internship. I only took the bare minimum with me because I had this very small twenty square metre apartment, and I realised from that experience that my life became easier when I had fewer things to manage and deal with.
To me, minimalism is both an aesthetic approach and a way of living. I find that everything you have in your surroundings is another element that you have to manage in a way, even if it’s finding a place to put something that you bought on impulse.
So I’ve really reduced the amount of impulse buying that I do, and I really take into consideration whether a certain item, be it clothing or a piece of furniture that we have in our house, will really fit into our lifestyle.
I’ve found minimalism to be really beneficial for my mental health. I live with ADD and OCD – both of which present me with daily struggles – so even as a kid, I found that keeping my space organised and tidy was something that helped me cope better with being able to focus or feeling a little bit out of control of my surroundings.
Some people find it a bit strange that we have areas of our home that are very sparsely furnished or without any art on the walls, but I’ve always found that there’s a certain amount of room for contemplation that I get from having these open empty spaces.
There’s already so much going on in my mind and our daily lives that whenever the environment is really hectic or haptic – in terms of too much texture, mass, objects, clutter or even colour in a way – I find that those things can distract me.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy those elements and other areas of life when I’m in another person’s home or in a hotel or just out in the city – I really enjoy all of these different aesthetics and colours. But for our home, having a space that is really pared back gives my mind room to think and focus.
It also affords me more time. My time is very valuable to me, and I find that having too many things to sort through and organise and find a home for takes away from my time. That’s something that I really try to protect myself from because I get flustered if I’m being distracted or have too much to manage.
Finally, I think that having a space that doesn’t quickly become messy – because there are fewer things to create a mess with – makes it easier for me to feel relaxed. It creates a space that feels calming – not overwhelming or overstimulating. And that definitely helps my mental health.
Check out Rebecca’s home at @rebeccagoddard
Sophie, 37, Birmingham
My introduction to minimalism began 10 years ago when I moved 200 miles to live with my partner in a tiny 500-square-foot apartment and had to severely downsize all my belongings.
It puts into perspective how much stuff we accumulate (and money we waste) without even realising. Living in such a small space made me focus on being intentional with my purchases, and only buying things after a lot of consideration.
The main thing I’ve learned over the years is that minimalism looks different for everyone. The point isn’t to own as little as possible – people can get obsessed with decluttering and turn it into a competition about who can own the least. Minimalism is really about focusing on living the life you want but without the clutter. It’s about simplifying our routines, belongings, purchases and activities so that we can make room in our lives for the things we value the most.
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Minimalism absolutely benefits my mental health. I’ve always been someone who likes a clean and tidy home with as little clutter as possible. It helps me to concentrate and feel at ease in my home.
It’s not so much about owning very little but rather it’s about only having objects around me that are either useful or beautiful. Living in a sparse apartment would make me as unhappy as living in a completely cluttered one would. Minimalism is about surrounding yourself with the things you love the most and simplifying the rest.
Minimalism also helps me to focus on my goals and aspirations. If I’m worried or stressed, minimalism provides a way of thinking about things in a considered, level-headed way.
Instead of fretting over the things I can’t change, it helps me to focus on the things I can. It helps me to remove the mental blocks or work through them, mentally and physically. In that way, minimalism is a great tool for taking care of my mental health.
Minimalism helps us to live intentionally, bringing into focus the things that matter the most to us and those that don’t. Society puts immense pressure on us to buy certain things, make specific life choices and follow a certain path. We might not want those things for ourselves but end up feeling pressured into them.
Minimalism can give you the confidence to make different choices that align with the life you want to live, rather than the life you’re forced into.
Check out Sophie’s home at @imsophiedavies
Images: @rona_renovation, @sophiegoddard, @imsophiedavies
Image Design: Molly Saunders
As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.