I have anxiety. I wrote a whole book about it and started this blog to continue the narrative that began in Messy Bun Mantras. One thing that I don’t discuss at length in the book is minimalism. It worked its way into an earlier draft, but by the time the final edits were made, I opted not to share at length why I call myself a minimalist, or why minimalism is a game-changing tool for anxiety.
I have always been obsessively organized. I literally have a place for everything, though with two young boys, not everything makes it back to its designated place. As I teach my children that messy can be good – mudpies, play-doh, paint, puzzles, train tracks, nature collections – I am also reminding myself of that mantra, It’s okay to be messy. There is a time and a place for mess, just as there is for tidiness. The issue that minimalism addresses is not mess, it’s clutter.
You recognize clutter even if you can’t put an exact finger on what it is, because it’s not always obvious. My desk is cluttered right now. I’ve got a water bottle, empty yogurt raisin boxes, a Women’s Health magazine, a to-do list, a weekly calendar, my phone, and two devotionals occupying surface space, not to mention my lamp, monitor, speakers, and pen holder. Before we have company tonight I’ll most likely combine all of that into one neat pile and voila, mischief managed. That obvious clutter is easy to fix. It’s a lot harder when you have to work to identify the objects, relationships, extracurriculars, routines, and stuff that is responsbile for that unspoken, often unseen, anxiety-giving clutter.
When I first decided I wanted to try minimalism, I swept through the entire house and purged. I’m not talking spring cleaning purging where I’d keep the “maybes,” donate the obvious, and still have almost as much stuff as when I started. No, I’m talking a deep, deep purge where there was no “maybe” pile and there was a noticeable decrease in our family’s stuff. I didn’t ask myself if an item brought me joy because sentiment says “yes” when practicality says “no.” Guess which one wins more often? I asked instead if an item was serving me, meaning, what is the purpose of this item? Am I using this item for that intended purpose? Does it serve me if this item continues to sit in storage for the next ten years or should I just go ahead and use it? Am I holding onto this item that Aunt Betty gave to me for wedding gift and I don’t want to hurt her feelings in case she ever comes over for dinner and specifically asks to see this item? If the answer to that last one is “yes” and I haven’t seen Aunt Betty since the wedding, it’s not serving me in any capacity except taking up precious space that could be used for something more important or could be – GASP – left empty.
Consumer culture tells us that we need more and more stuff; this is not a new message. But the truth is we function better with less. We don’t need to be stimulated 100% of the time with wall art or whatever item is your Hobby Lobby weakness. Our eyes need blank space to rest; not every wall or shelf in the home needs to be filled. Don’t fill the void, as it were, because you feel pressured to do so. I am picky about what I bring into my home. Before I make a purchase (don’t get me wrong, just because I’m a minimalist doesn’t mean I don’t like to shop) I ask a few questions: Can I live without this item? Do I already have a place for this item? Is it on sale or will it be in the near future? Can I possibly make this item? If you ever come shopping with me be prepared for me to “think about” everything in my shopping cart and then put half of it back. Just saying, you’ve been warned. When you spend time thoughtfully curating the things in your home you’ll be happier with the outcome than if you were to chain-buy through sales and trends. I’ll have been married ten years this October. It took me eight years to learn that simple lesson and the other two to curate my current decor into a home and feel that I positively LOVE.
The act of decluttering releases tension. I let go of the things I was holding onto – literally – and learned to live without them. Once I realized I survived, I took it deeper, and then deeper, until now the only thing we seasonally purge is the boys outgrown clothes.
And yes, this is a family affair. The boys’ toys are not exempt. Kids have better concentration and focus with fewer toys and are more likely to actually play with their toys and help clean up, versus the play room or their rooms always looking like the aftermath of an angry tornado or them complaining that they’re bored. Boredom is good. It nurtures creativity, invention, and exploration. Cut the quantity of toys in half and start encouraging reading, quiet time, and crafts. Homeschool moms get this! If you don’t believe me, do the research for yourself.
Now that my deep, deep decluttering phase has concluded, I spend less time picking up clutter and more time simply maintaining the house. If someone were to ring my doorbell right this second, I wouldn’t be at all ashamed of my house. There’s some toys here and there, but there is room for drop-ins. That right there is a huge load off of these anxious shoulders, and the kind of space I want to welcome people into.
Is my home clean? Yes, because I’m Monica, and if you don’t get that reference we can’t be Friends. Is my home perfect? Never. But it is my sanctuary, and at the end of a long day, that’s what matters. My anxiety slumbers peacefully when my home is at peace. My anxiety is nudged awake when my home gets a little cluttered. Therefore, anything I can do to maintain the clutter and lessen one aspect of my anxiety is a worthwhile pursuit to me.
I don’t care if you want to hang more wall art than me, have more toys than my kids, or keep more sentimental items – that’s not the point. It’s not about never buying anything or owning succulents or being surrounded by empty white walls. The whole point of minimalism is to keep things to a minimum. Live lighter. Shop with clear intentions. Spend less time cleaning and picking up stuff.
Trust me, the absence of clutter goes a long way.
Everything I learned about decluttering was through the ultimate minimalist, Allie Casazza. She has a great website with programs that are designed to walk you through decluttering, as well as a FREE podcast called The Purpose Show where she dives more deeply into the reasons why decluttering is so valuable to women and to mothers. I know it’s super dramatic to say this, but she literally changed my life. If you’re skeptical start with Episode One of her podcast; it’s best listened to in order.
Thanks for reading!