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Minimalism and Mindfulness: Why less really is more

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

Madelaine Stannard delves into the minimalist aesthetic, and discusses how this way of life can have far-reaching benefits for people and the planet.

‘A tidy home equals a tidy mind’, a phrase instilled in many of us by chagrined mothers as we held onto the most trivial, but to us, sentimental of things as children. It’s not a new idea, that of minimalism, a post-World War Two art movement with a focus on simplicity and a transition away from materialism into something meaningful.

“Does this spark joy?”, asks Marie Kondo, one of the prominent figures in the world of minimalism. “The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.” It is important to note that the KonMari method is not equated directly to minimalism, the idea of living with less. Marie Kondo preaches we should live among what sparks joy, and that the goal of tidying is not ascertaining what you wish to eliminate, but choosing what you truly want to keep.

Marie Kondo, Japanese organising consultant and best-selling author, giving a speech at Web Summit, 2015. Image credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE / Web Summit

In a world saturated with rampant consumerism, overexposure to trends, an ever changing market made so easily accessible to us by the rise of the internet and social media, it can be easy to fall victim to an endless cycle of buying. I, for one, have had my issues with compulsive spending, using retail therapy to lift my mood on days where other, more financially responsible, methods fail. This is not to say that buying is inherently bad. But Marie Kondo’s words have far more meaning than a lot of us may have previously considered.

Minimalism, an aesthetic choice largely inspired by Japanese culture and thinking, is the art of decluttering, evaluating what you own and creating both physical and mental space for the things that actually matter to you the most. The practice of clearing your home of clutter, creating a space that is simplistic and peaceful to the eye, can bring a sense of calm and positive wellbeing to any home. Research shows that minimalist living can have indirect effects on our mental health and even the ways in which we interact with our loved ones. Slimming down our possessions and keeping only what we need and value can give us more time to spend on the things and people important to us, instead of endless tidying and hiding our clutter in cupboards when we have company.

How many times have you bought an item of clothing in the store, only to return home and find an almost identical piece already hanging in the wardrobe? Or, like me, have you ever found yourself swiping items through the tills simply because you want it, and not necessarily need it?

Compulsive buying and excessive consumerism are, for many, just symptoms of the disease. Society as a whole pushes us towards new products, marketing them towards us by thriving off of our insecurities. We are exposed, often on the daily, to huge shopping hauls on social media, adverts for items that we simply have to have. I will never be one to argue that to live responsibly is to deprive yourself - after all, we are only human. This article is not to shame you. This article is not to judge you for what you choose to purchase, or where you choose to shop. But it is worth considering how transitioning to a more minimal mindset when making any purchases can do wonders for your mental health as well as the state of our planet.

Materialism is bad for the planet. It’s a proven fact, an undeniable statement. Over-consumption, the cycling of microtrends, the disposable nature of fast fashion, to name a few, are just some of the ways that our product-driven world harms the planet we call home. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you at this point, that what is equal to a rubbish truck’s worth of clothes ends up in landfill every single second. We tell ourselves we need more, and we discard the rest. And as demand surges for material things, estimates suggest that we are currently overusing seventy percent of the Earth's natural resources that are used to make them.

A minimalist house interior, organised and free of clutter. But what did it take to achieve this aesthetic? Left - Image Credit: HelsinkiArtBeat, Wikimedia Commons; Right - Image Credit: Pixabay.

It isn’t just the planet we hurt when we fall victim to this cycle of spending, hoarding, more spending. Have you ever experienced feelings of intense guilt and shame after spending beyond your means, falling deeper and deeper into debt? You may have even felt culpable in the face of the climate and biodiversity crisis, angry and frustrated with yourself for buying into the cycle, forking out for items you don’t need or are unlikely to use at the expense of the environment. Minimalism can alleviate these anxious feelings, the shame spiral, by encouraging you to pause before you purchase, evaluate what you already own. It can provide you an incentive to spend mindfully, keep your home organised, and facilitate better mental health.

Something that the KonMari method, developed by Marie Kondo, emphasises is using the opportunity to declutter your physical space as an opportunity to get rid of mental and spiritual clutter. Objects can be mnemonic, holding memories of past selves and relationships, traumas and lives. In many ways, choosing to be minimalist with what you own and buy can serve as a means by which you can almost ‘self-refresh’. Letting go of what no longer serves you, what no longer holds value, both physical and metaphorical, can be a freeing experience reaping numerous well-being rewards.

There are so many mindfulness benefits to a minimal lifestyle - greater freedom in your home to utilise newly discovered spaces, an overwhelming sense of calm, knowing you only own what you truly need. Keeping minimalism in mind when you shop, considering what you already own, purchasing things with intention rather than impulse. Socioeconomic research into materialism has shown that those holding materialistic values are more likely to harbour a diminished sense of well-being than those who buy and keep less. Moreso, the KonMari method is somewhat centred around Shintoism, which encourages you to focus your attention on the value your belongings have to you, as opposed to their monetary value, and organising your home in a way that allows the divine spirit of each object the space to flourish.

Whether you believe in the energy of inanimate object, their kami as known in the Shinto religion, or whether you simply enjoy tidying and arranging your home spaces in a way that pleases the eye, the mindfulness benefits of organising, cleaning and decluttering are plentiful.

But here at Wild, it is our duty to analyse things from a perspective of sustainability. Minimalism, and in particular Marie Kondo’s ideology, has faced criticism from some environmental groups. The principle lacks the idea of permanency - decluttering and switching to minimalism by “discarding what doesn’t spark joy” is well and good, but the objects and clothes and belongings we no longer see purpose in keeping have to go somewhere. Landfill is not the answer, with all of our unwanted belongings leaching pollution into our oceans and waterways.

Secondhand September, the campaign run annually by Oxfam, aims to encourage people to shop secondhand wherever possible for the month of September and beyond. If you want to throw your hat into the minimalism ring, and find out more about how mindfulness runs alongside, why not consider how you can keep this practice sustainable? Your old high-school uniform doesn’t spark joy? Neither. But don’t throw it away, or send it to landfill. Donate it to a charity shop near you, or participate in a clothes swap in your community, fostering a sense of belonging with the people around you. And if, like me, you have been bitten by the organising bug, always try to think about the life cycle of the products you buy and those you wish to discard.

About the Author: Madelaine is based in Sheffield, studying a Bsc in Zoology with a keen interest in animal behaviour, endangered species recovery and science communication. You can find her on Instagram @maddie_stannard_wild for wildlife photography and sci-comms, or on her website Maddie Stannard Wild.

Disclaimer: Second-hand September is a campaign run by Oxfam. WILD Magazine is not affiliated with Oxfam in any way, and views shared may not reflect those of Oxfam.

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