Want to be healthier? Try minimalism.

Since embarking on a full blown minimalism quest recently, I’ve been noticing some unexpected side effects.

More energy.

Better sleep.

More happiness and fulfillment.

Clearer skin (and I swear, fewer wrinkles).

It happened so insidiously. Initially, I didn’t even make the connection to minimalism. After all, how could something as benign as possessions get in the way of health?

It all boils down to two words: mental clutter.

The more mental clutter we have, the harder it is to focus on the things that really matter.

Are physical clutter and mental clutter linked? You bet.

The things around us trigger certain thoughts and feelings. A painting might trigger memories of a great holiday. A book might remind us of an old friend. A piece of furniture might remind us of our childhood home.

Not all thoughts and feelings are positive, however. In many instances, our belongings can remind us of unpleasant, and even painful circumstances. A dusty treadmill might remind us of our futile past attempt to improve our fitness. Perhaps a crowded fridge reminds us that we need to eat more healthfully. Or maybe our clutter simple adds to a general feeling of disorganisation, which can lead us to procrastination or self-sabotage.

The more clutter we have, the more our brain has to work. It takes mental energy to filter our distractions, whether they be our clothes, books, memorabilia, or even email.

We usually discover the profound impact of clutter only retrospectively, once it’s removed. Many people describe the feeling as one of liberation, or a weight being lifted off their shoulders.

Clutter drains our energy. And the more fatigued we become, the harder it is to make rational, logical decisions.

This is why so many of us start the day with the best intentions to eat well, do some exercise, and be productive – but, by evening, it seems far more tempting to curl up on the couch watching Netflix and eating peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon.

We often squander our mental energy during the day on relatively banal decisions, like which pair of black boots to wear or which episode of Game of Thrones to view on the train.

By afternoon when we’re choosing between a banana smoothie or a white chocolate chip frappucino with extra whip, we’re mentally tired from all the decision making. It becomes harder to listen to our rational mind and make decisions logically, rather than impulsively.

There’s a term for this. Decision fatigue.

People like Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg know this well, which is one of the reasons they wear an identical outfit every day. They know to save their mental energy for the decisions that matter.

While most of us aren’t making squillion-dollar deals or have the fate of the nation in our hands, we all still have important decisions to make. Decisions around our health, finances, career, family, relationships, coworkers, community, and the world at large.

Minimal living is about streamlining our lives so that we don’t have to squander precious mental energy on decisions that don’t really matter.

A minimal wardrobe means fewer decisions about our daily clothing. We don’t have to waste half our morning searching for that perfect scarf, or agonizing about whether we can pull off those pants with that jacket.

(Or we can go full Obama and just wear a grey or navy suit every day).

A minimal bathroom means that getting ready is a breeze, because we know exactly where everything is when we need it.

A minimal home means that we’re not frantically searching for our phone and keys while we’re trying to rush out the door.

When we own fewer belongings, we take better care of the things we already have.

And this includes ourselves.

By eliminating mental clutter, we can use our precious mental energy to plan and prepare healthy meals, exercise, spend time with the people who are important to us, and take care of our emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Since embarking on this minimalism journey, here are some of the health benefits our family enjoys:

Healthier meals made from scratch.

Consuming more fruits and vegetables daily.

More frequent activity/exercise. My 1 year old and I recently started doing yoga together. At the very least, our abs are eating a decent workout from all the giggling we do!

On a personal level, I have more time to write, meditate, give interviews, work with students and clients, and – perhaps most importantly – to play with my son.

Ironically, it’s only since I started getting rid of clutter that I started receving more of the things that money can’t actually buy – like more time, improved physical and mental health, and a greater sense of purpose, happiness, and fulfillment.

Want more of my thoughts on minimalism? Check out my experiment with minimalism, and decluttering to reduce stress: How to start?

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