Living with less can improve my mental health. At least that’s what I’m saying. Less than a year ago, I began unintentionally asking myself, what in my life is actually making me happy right now? And as much as it pained me to admit it, it wasn’t much. I was (and still am) dealing with anxiety and depression, as are so many others. My belongings, routines, and habits weren’t helping me. They didn’t provide me with a sense of happiness or clarity. They weren’t even allies for me in my everyday life.
I took a deep, long look at what I owned, what I invested my time in, and how I felt because of it. And then, I decided to make some changes. Thus, that unintentional question to myself became a very intentional process of living minimal and mindful to improve my mental health.
Decluttering My Home to Make More Mental Space
I wouldn’t say my house was a catastrophe of unnecessary acquisitions. I wasn’t hoarding or holding onto rooms full of material items I no longer needed. But the amount of things you own isn’t always necessarily the problem. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a closet or two filled with things I had long forgotten I ever owned, let alone things I had ever thought I needed. What had kept me from emptying out those spaces? The pang of anxiety that hit me every time I thought about cleaning those spaces out. The feeling that if I let it go, I may regret it later.
What I realized in those moments (although I had to keep re-realizing it) was, a certain sense of guilt was traveling through me with the normal anxiety. A pang of guilt that I had made this or that particular purchase for a reason—and then not even a year later—forgot what that “reason” even was as it hid in my closet. This also went for gifts I never used or needed, and items passed along to me for any given reason. These things weren’t still sitting there because I might find a reason to need them later. They were there because dealing with them meant dealing with feelings I wasn’t prepared for.
Until, of course, I was. Or more honestly, I just thrust decluttering upon myself. I decluttered whatever closet I knew I was ready to tackle. And guess what? After the initial pain of anxiety and slight guilt of letting go, the more my anxiety melted away like a stick of butter in the sun. It felt good to get rid of the clutter. It felt good to be free of the things that I didn’t even realize might have control over me. So after I went through my closets, I spread this decluttering bug to the other rooms of my house.
I didn’t make a mental note of just how much I was getting rid of. Instead, I took note of the renewal I was feeling. Try it sometime! Letting go and decluttering made space in my home, but it also made some much needed space in my mind.
Eating Simple & Clean
I didn’t (and neither should you) commit to a diet or “lifestyle” change I knew I couldn’t keep up with. What I did do was assess my feelings toward food. Mainly, what food made me feel good, and what made me feel like I’d never again move from my dining room table. How much was I eating? How did that food make me feel? Does strawberry flavor count as a serving of fruit? All the questions I never wanted to ask myself, because it would mean admitting that my eating choices weren’t helping my mental state (or physical health) at all.
Every doctor and their mother will tell you that a well-balanced diet is key to basic wellness. And as much as I want to believe I can survive off cake and pizza alone, I know I’m doing my body and mind a disservice if I were to try. The changes in my diet started small. I ate less meat every week, cut down on my bread consumption, and added a serving of fruit to a morning meal, and vegetables to all the rest.
Eventually, I struck a balance between eating foods and eating foods that are good for me. I even found I fancied eating whole grains, veggies, and healthy fats far more than I thought previous. I wasn’t restricting myself, I was just minimalizing my foods to dishes easy to make at home, with my own hands. I put genuine thought into my meals. Over time, becoming aware of my relationship with food, helped me fear my sorry excuse of food willpower less.
Marie Kondo’d My Sleeping Routine
Sleep is something we all need and is vital in order to improve my mental health. It’s not just for the weak. And my sleeping patterns were a mess. I was using my phone routinely in my bed, well into the night. On more than the rare occasion, a glass of wine or favorite snack would greet me before I started my bedtime routine. And I never stayed awake tossing and turning almost every night of the week.
I’d wake up to an alarm, feeling like I hadn’t slept more than an hour. And I actually wondered, why? Now, obviously, looking back, I realized most of my bedtime habits were negatively impacting my sleeping routine, but I didn’t know how to fix it. It was another closet full of things I didn’t want to unpack and tidy up.
Until—you guessed it—I just did. I decided to take a close look at what I was doing about two hours before I went to bed. I slowly started to “think minimal” trading a bad habit for a good one, until slowly but surely, I was waking up in the morning feeling rested and ready for the world. Every person’s nighttime routine is different, but it isn’t uncommon to indulge in a late-night snack or a drink before bed, and an internet surf before we drift into dream town. My suggestion is to trade out sugary drinks, alcohol, and dense snacks several hours before you sleep. It wasn’t my favorite thing to change, but herbal tea is a better sleep ally then all the above.
As for my phone, as hard as it was to part with my trusty cellular device living lovingly under my pillowcase, I started to part ways with each evening. Eventually, I took a book to bed instead of my phone, leaving it across the room as to not be tempted by its alluring screen. I found a way to say goodbye to the things that kept my body and mind up in the wee hours of the night when I desperately needed sleep. I opted for the minimal, simple things that made me feel ready for slumber, and substantially more fulfilled instead.
Do yourself a favor and ask the tough questions. Ask yourself if your routines are making you happy. Are they providing you with a sense of ease, control, and simplicity? If you’re not sure, strip your habit and routines down and see what they’re really made of. Are they worth keeping or is there something better for you out there? It might be time to adapt to the role of minimalism, gain back control and improve my mental health.