Is it possible to alleviate your anxiety by decluttering your life (and therefore your mind)? 

Mental health is so complex and nuanced that it would be highly reckless (and untrue) for me to tell you that getting rid of all your stuff will magically rid you of depression and anxiety just. like. that. I would like to tell you a story about how decluttering my life through minimalist practices helped me find some mental clarity and relief from my anxiety.

Minimalist living has come to the forefront in today’s society. There are books, documentaries, blogs and YouTube channels dedicated to the movement. There are people trading their expansive homes for 500 square feet apartments and mobile living. There are people opting to keep only 30 pieces of clothing in their possession at any given time.

People are driven to the minimalist lifestyle for a number of reasons; some just like the aesthetic, others just appreciate a simple existence. For me, it’s not only about being a more mindful consumer also healing through opting to own less stuff. Now, don’t stop reading because you own stuff and feel called out. There is nothing wrong with owning stuff, but there is something flawed in the way we attach too much meaning to these material possessions. Hear me out.

Anxiety is one of the most common health issues in the world today. I have had anxiety since as early as I can remember. It manifested in nightmares and irrational fears when I was a child and as I have grown up, I’ve slowly become more comfortable talking about it and how it affects me. I have realized that I am definitely not alone, and that many people are struggling with anxiety, too.

My anxiety has never been fully debilitating as I do not typically suffer from panic attacks. Anxiety seeps in to every part of my life, though. It always prevents me from living fully in the present moment, always beckoning me back into the dialogue and worry of my own internal chatter.

Our culture places an intense importance on a lifestyle of “getting”. We are constantly pressured from all sides to get more, have more, be more. I found myself in this trap after graduating college; I was ready to check the next box as society expected. I bought a small home, and my anxiety worsened. When I thought about the cleaning, the organizing and all of the time that I needed to spend to keep this space looking nice, my anxiety was triggered. The amount of energy expenditure that the typical consumerist lifestyle requires is astounding. Energy spent doing laundry, folding laundry, and picking up laundry adds up.

I saw how minimalism was pervading our society and a thought began to bubble to the surface in my mind: perhaps physical clutter begets mental clutter. I was tired of spending my precious time and energy on things.

Minimalism doesn’t have to mean living without possessions; it means discovering and understanding what your legitimate wants and needs really are. Not just what society and culture have pre-programmed us to believe. In my world, minimalism means surrounding yourself only with items that have been acquired mindfully (and sustainably).

The continuous cycle of attainment and attachment is undoubtedly exhausting, especially if you suffer from anxiety disorder. When you allow yourself to break from this cycle, you have time to discover the activities that really soothe your mind and bring you joy. By adopting minimalist practices, you will find that your sense of self becomes stronger. You can start to really differentiate between what is necessary and important for you what what’s not. Like me, you may begin to realize that a lot of what causes your anxiety is actually from putting your energy into things you don’t genuinely believe in or things that aren’t authentic to who you really are or want to be. Purpose and meaning are not things we stumble upon – they are things we choose and create.

Another thing that decluttering my life made me realize was that I was using spending as a numbing mechanism. I am a huge fan of Brené Brown’s work and would highly recommend all of her books. One of the most powerful things that I learned from her research was this “numbing” phenomenon. There is a laundry list of actions that we take to numb ourselves from feeling. But, you see, we can’t numb the darkness without numbing the light. As I stripped away more and more of the things and habits that I had accumulated, I was left dealing with the root of a lot of my emotional pain. This is no easy task, getting rid of your stuff brings many demons to the surface. I had to take time to do this slowly and methodically. I realized that over half of my wardrobe was purchased from companies with values different from my own because it was “cool”. I began to free my mind from this persistent, nagging feeling that was my anxiety.

I realized that I didn’t need things to be happy. I discovered a stronger sense of sense by making room for who I really am. I discovered peace of mind. I am capable of living in the present and enjoying each moment. And you are, too.