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The Concept of Minimalism: Its Psychological Benefits

Updated on April 20, 2019

As the concept of minimalism is gaining acceptance, more and more people are embracing the minimalist lifestyle. It has been found that high consumption lifestyles and materialistic values don’t lead to individual well-being. Instead, materially simple lifestyles such as minimalism, with a focus on intrinsic values, have been suggested to contribute to happiness and satisfaction.

Minimalism is a way of life, in which we get rid of the excess stuff in our lives to make room for the essentials. The key idea of minimalism is to remove what isn’t adding value to life and to make room for stuff that is.

Simple living is a way of life that focuses on simplicity, living life with regard to simplifying one’s activities, eating habits, home, emotions, and thinking. Living simply looks different for each individual, depending on one’s own personal values and views on life and what is important to the person. It's the combination of an uncluttered environment and a simplified life.

The terms minimalism and simple living are largely interchangeable.

There are basically six types of minimalists –

Aesthetic minimalist - It isn’t necessarily about owning less but having less on display in sight. This type of minimalism allows for a clean and fresh living space, where your mind isn’t always cluttered or distracted by what’s going on around the room.

Essential minimalist - The essentialist ascribes to a philosophy of fewer but better. Essentialism is minimalism that focuses on quality, not quantity.

Experiential minimalist - The experientialist will invest in memories acquired from various experiences instead of things.

Thrifty minimalist - Spending less is the main goal of this minimalist. They buy clothes from thrift stores, tend to a personal, self-sufficient garden, refinish their own furniture, live in a tiny apartment, and ride a bike rather than owning a car.

Eco-minimalist - The eco-minimalist pursues a life of less consumption in order to reduce their impact on the earth.

Soul minimalist - The soul minimalist cherishes stillness of soul and works to keep mental and spiritual clutter to a minimum. He or she regularly practises the observance of silence and mindfulness.

“What Minimalism is really all about is a reassessment of your priorities so that you can strip away the excess stuff—the possessions and ideas and relationships and activities—that don’t bring value to your life.”

- Colin Wright

Psychological benefits of minimalistic lifestyle –

The followers of the minimalistic lifestyle derive definite psychological benefits. However, it is associated with benefits that help people live happier, more satisfied and calmer lives.

Happiness –

Many studies uphold the concept that money can’t buy happiness. But the majority of people believe that more money will bring more happiness in their life. Ironically, this striving for more comes at the expense of current happiness.

Money can buy short term happiness because you will eventually return to your level of happiness that existed before the financial gain. This puts you in a vicious materialistic circle in which you strive to achieve long term happiness through the constant purchase of material items.

A study by Dunn et al. (2008) showed that it’s how we spend the money that can determine how happy we feel. How people spend their money may be at least as important as how much money they earn. Researchers hypothesized that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself. Providing converging evidence for this hypothesis, they found that spending more of one’s income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). Finally, participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.

When we have new experiences, we often have excitement as we have never done before. The excitement caused by new experiences releases endorphins and creates a state of happiness which can be increased with minimalism by stripping away the fat and letting in new worthwhile experiences.

Less stress –

One of the benefits of minimalism is less stress, anxiety, and depression in life. In general, embracing minimalism means that you have less to take care of and thus spend less time taking care of it. Cleaning the house, doing the laundry, washing the dishes all take-up time but when you streamline what you have, they take up less time. Discarding some physical possessions and making the home simple and easy to keep clean means we actually have time on our hands.

Research shows that a messy home may actually dampen our mental well-being due to stress. In 2010, a study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the researchers studied the life of 60 dual-income families. They found that women who perceived their homes as cluttered had less healthy patterns of the stress hormone cortisol. On the other hand, people who didn’t feel this sense of clutter actually experienced a drop in their cortisol levels.

More emotional stability –

Minimalism gives emotional stability. If you clear away the clutter of painful memories by getting rid of something, it does your heart good. It may mean getting rid of a sentimental item, which conjures up unpleasant feelings. It may also mean forgiving someone that has wronged you. Minimalism also is letting go of emotional clutter as well.

Greater self-esteem –

It has been found that poor self-esteem is linked to materialism. Materialism researchers have found that individuals with high self-esteem are less materialistic than individuals with low self-esteem.

Of the two types e.g. the explicit self-esteem (conscious evaluations of the self) and the implicit self-esteem (unconscious evaluations of the self), they found that the individuals with high explicit but low implicit self-esteem exhibit higher levels of materialism than do individuals with high explicit and high implicit self-esteem. This is contrary to the previous findings that high explicit self-esteem individuals can be more or less materialistic, depending on the level of implicit self-esteem.

The bottom line –

The modern culture ascribes to the concept that a good life depends on possessing things as many as possible. They have inadvertently subscribed to the idea that happiness can be purchased at a departmental store. As a result, people keep running at a frenzied speed in a race to acquire possessions that seem to have no end. This often causes many different types of problems ranging from relationships to health. Many may find an answer to this by embracing the minimalism.

Minimalism doesn’t denote giving up most of our worldly possessions and living out of a rucksack. We can still own a car, have a roof over our head, use a few electronics and keep more than one change of clothes. But the key idea is to remove what isn’t adding value to our life, making room for the stuff that is.

References –

  1. Ji Kyung Park and Deborah Roedder John (2008), "More Than Meets the Eye: The Influence of Implicit Versus Explicit Self-Esteem on Materialism", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 35, eds. Angela Y. Lee and Dilip Soman, Duluth, MN: Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 911-911
  2. No Place Like Home: Home Tours Correlate With Daily Patterns of Mood and Cortisol Darby E. Saxbe, Rena Repetti First Published November 23, 2009, Research Article


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