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How to Declutter to Reduce Anxiety: Tips for a minimalist lifestyle

Dr. Joti Samra

October 27, 2020

Resiliency

How to Declutter to Reduce Anxiety: Tips for a minimalist lifestyle

There is so much talk when it comes to “minimalism” and decluttering our “stuff”. Often, people are stuck in terms of where to start, or don’t even quite understand what minimalism means to them: it is different for everybody. Here I’ll discuss how to declutter to reduce anxiety in order to create a balance between what you love to have in your life, while also maintaining a clutter-free environment with fewer things you don’t need.

Why should we be concerned with minimalism and having a clutter-free environment? 

For starters, there’s a lot of wisdom in the old adage about a cluttered environment leading to a cluttered mind. Too much (of anything) around us leads to reduced focus, efficiency, and a general state of emotional or even physical ‘chaos’. 

Why does clutter lead to anxiety and stress? 

  1. Bombards our minds with excessive stimuli causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.
  2. Distracts us by drawing our attention away from what our focus should be on.
  3. It makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally.
  4. Constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done.
  5. We’re never sure what it’s going to take, or how long it’s going to take, to get through to the bottom of the pile.
  6. It inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, brainstorm, and problem solve.
  7. Frustrates us by preventing us from locating what we need quickly (e.g. files and paperwork lost in the “pile” or keys swallowed up by the clutter).

But it isn’t just about anxiety and stress. There are increasing reasons environmentally, and financially, for reducing what we have. Financial stressors plague at least one-third of all Canadians – and less stuff can lead to more money in the bank. 

Most people have too much stuff, more than they want or need. For about 6% of the population, this tendency to over-collect and under-purge turns into a clinical compulsive hoarding condition

Hoarding: How is it different from having excessive stuff?

This article isn’t about hoarding in particular but let’s define it so we know what the difference is between hoarding and simply having an excess of ‘stuff’.

For those who are compulsively hoarding, a few criteria need to be met. A person collects and keeps a lot of items, even things that appear useless or of little value to most people; these items clutter the living spaces and keep the person from using their rooms as they were intended; and, these items cause distress or problems in day-to-day activities. 

How to Declutter to Maintain Balance

Personally, I have found the rule of “if you haven’t worn or used something for a year, purge” not that helpful or practical. There are many items I have and will, or do, use that don’t necessarily meet those criteria.

Several years ago, I watched and was significantly impacted, by Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m by no means close to being a minimalist. I have a long, long, long way to go. However, after watching this documentary I have found myself to be substantially more aware and intentional about the items I purchase. As well as which items come into our home (getting better at purging is the area I’m still continuing to see as a work in progress!).

One of the things that stood out to me from the documentary was to ask yourself one simple question when bringing something in or out of your home: does it have beauty or function? If neither – then out it goes. This is a question I find I repeatedly ask myself when considering a purchase that I may not need. It’s also a question I ask myself when I find I’m resisting letting go of something.

How to Declutter

Pick only one room in your home you want to declutter. Then break it into sections: for example, in your bathroom, you could have “sink counter”, “medicine cabinet” and “under sink cupboard” as 3 different areas. Make a commitment to purge one area a week. As you review each item within that area, ask yourself: is it either functional or beautiful? 

Then, move onto another room.

I find I can get overwhelmed if I try to do larger purges, and so starting with a drawer or cupboard at a time can be a great way to start!

If you’re still having trouble, try making it fun. Put on your favourite upbeat music as you’re organizing it will likely make time feel as though it’s going by quicker.  

Once you start to see the positive impact of decluttering and living a more minimalist lifestyle, it will get easier and you will find yourself being more intentional about the things you bring into your home.

Now that you have some tips on how to declutter I challenge you to start on your next free day! Start small but it will make a difference.

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