Minimalism is an old concept that has Buddhist roots. The Buddha learned of 4 noble truths. The second noble truth states that the cause of suffering is craving. We feel like something is missing and then try to fill that gap with physical possessions. We feel better, but it only lasts for a short period of time and then the craving comes back. The cycle continues with nothing being gained except for a bunch of junk we don’t need.
The concept of minimalism has been modernized. A good example is Marie Kondo. She is a Japanese organizing consultant. She has some great books on minimalism. Her work can be distilled down to keeping what “sparks joy” and getting rid of everything else.
(1) A study of 30 families in a west coast city was conducted to determine if the way people describe their home reflects if their time at home is restorative or stressful. The review measured a stress hormone called cortisol during different time points in the day and compared that with how people described their homes. The wives in the study who described their homes as being cluttered and stressful had cortisol levels that are seen with chronic stress. They also showed a more depressed mood. The same results were not seen for the husbands in the study. Husbands with a higher home stress score did not have cortisol levels indicative of chronic stress. This study leads to the importance of decreasing clutter. Minimalism could help in this regard and potentially decrease cortisol levels.
(2) A study of 30 couples tracked the location and activities of the participants every 10 minutes. Women spent the most time doing housework, then communicating with others and finally leisure. Husbands spent the most time in leisure activities followed by communicating with others and finally, on housework. The stress hormone cortisol was higher in both men and women who devoted more time to housework. Wives who had husbands that devoted more time to housework had more cortisol recovery. The division of housework between spouses is very important! One way to decrease housework is to simplify possessions. Minimalism may help in this area as well.
My experience is that possessions do make me feel happier and more motivated in some instances, but the happiness is short-lived. I used the same red Nike gym bag all through high school basketball, all through my 6 years of college and for a travel bag for 2 years after college. The poor bag was falling apart. The inside of the bag was crumbling away by the end of its lifespan, leaving a fine red dust on the final inhabitants of the bag.
The time had come to retire and discard the bag. I looked online and found a hip bright green and gray Adidas bag. When it arrived, I felt more motivated to go to the gym. I remember thinking how cool I would look. I went to the gym every single day the week after I got the bag. The next week came and I was already back to my normal routine. The bag quickly went from cool and motivating, to just a gym bag in a week.
My old bag was falling apart, so I needed a new bag. But did I really? I have multiple drawstring bags that would have worked, heck, even a plastic grocery bag could have held my gym clothes and shoes. I wanted a nice Adidas bag, I didn’t need one.
The other side is getting rid of possessions. I had already gotten a U-haul trailer, packed up all my things, and moved halfway across the country. Whatever didn’t fit in the U-haul was thrown out. Moving to a different state for the past 4 years helped me to keep my possessions relatively lean. But, after just a few months back in Pittsburgh, I couldn’t shut the door to my own closet.
The first step that I decided to do was to throw out every item of clothing that I hadn’t worn in the past year. This seemed like an easy starting point. Was there really that much that I had not worn in the past year? A large size trash bag that was ripping due to the sheer weight and another half bag later, my closet was doing better. Sure, I hadn’t worn that Steelers jersey in a year, but what if I went to a game? I couldn’t throw out my late grandpa’s shirts as well even though I never wore them. So I did my best for now.
I finally went back and donated two more trash bags full of clothing and my closet door can now easily shut! I still have a long way to go in regards to minimalism but I will do my best.
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1. Saxbe D, Repetti R. No Place Like Home: Home Tours Correlate With Daily Patterns of Mood and Cortisol. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2010 Jan;36(1):71-81.
2. Saxbe D, Repetti R, Graesch A. Time spent in housework and leisure: links with parents’ physiological recovery from work. J Fam Psychol. 2011 Apr;25(2):271-81.