I used to be a mental hoarder. Every third negative thought, bad memory, and personal slight was filed in the memory bank collecting interest.
I held on tight for two reasons:
1. Occupying mental real estate with negative content meant I wasn’t “cheating happiness.” Translation: Around-the-clock pre-emptive worrying meant life might spare me a random calamity, like cancer.
2. Negative reserves ensured I had every reason to project my uncomfortable thoughts onto others when angry. Translation: Cheapest (and meanest) trick in the psychology book.
When You Have 99 Problems (but positive thoughts ain’t one)
Accumulating unhealthy thoughts at home, at work and in the community takes a toll. Your mind is a mental battlefield, and your days are wasted with one psychological arm wrestle, after another.
Toxic emotions and interactions derail your ability to embrace positivity.
No matter where you are in life, there was a time when you were happy. Or at least, happier. To get myself back on track, I reflected on better times.
What was different back then?
Who did I spend time with?
What can I do now to reclaim a clutter-free mental state?
I started with a positively clean slate. I got out of my head, and into helping others. I focused on creating meaningful experiences.
’Tis Better to Donate Than Accumulate
The turning point came in my late 20s. As a volunteer for various HIV and AIDS organizations, I spent Sunday mornings delivering meals to homebound people too ill to cook for themselves.
Months later, I switched course and visited the terminally ill who chose to live out their remaining days at home. Sometimes I was asked to read aloud, other times it was an oh-so-soft foot massage. The most memorable experience was the time a sweet man requested only that I hold his hand.
Sitting at a stranger’s bedside, gently clasping his frail bony hand while pictures of his vibrant, healthier days stare back at you, stops you in your petty tracks.
Back then I gave what I could, which was my time. I volunteered until my heart could no longer pass through death’s door. As heart-wrenching as the experiences could be, there was beauty in knowing you made a tiny difference.
Every so often I’ll spot the exit signs for Avenue 42, or 56 on the 110 freeway and remember the whispering voice, “Please don’t talk. Just hold my hand. That is all.”
Collect Moments Not Things
We know money can’t buy happiness, yet we still buy into the media’s hype. Every generation of holidays, family events, and Secret Santa’s in-between hasn’t convinced us that consumption doesn’t work.
What does work is defining the following:
- What do you care about?
- What provides meaning?
- Who are you connected to?
- How do you know?
If it all ends tomorrow, what wp themes will your last memory hold? The beautiful Craftsman bungalow which was the envy of the block? Or the time you drove 75 minutes in traffic to catch the last quarter of your son’s basketball game, and the spring in his 12 year-old step when he saw you rushing in, two bleachers-at-a time?
Like the saying goes, One smile can start a friendship. One word can end a fight. One look can save a relationship. One person can change your life.
The minimalists who pare their wardrobe down to 33 items are onto something smart.
Energy spent doing laundry, folding laundry and picking up laundry adds up. Just as buying a new kitchen appliance, unwrapping it, breaking down the packing materials, storing the instructions, and finding space on the kitchen counter comes with a price.
Every day you see that shiny new purchase your mind is distracted because it has to register another thing.
What if your mind had less things to process?
How would you spend your free time?
Minimalist Mental Health
Many come to therapy to get rid of unhealthy habits — negative thinking, indecisiveness, dysfunctional relationships, over-drinking, over-spending, and over-doing in general.
Physical clutter begets mental clutter.
The habit of accumulating possessions didn’t happen overnight. Just as waking up tomorrow with a streamlined, pared-down, and simple living space won’t happen, either.
But like the psychotherapy client craving mental peace, those negative thoughts are stripped of their power one sentence at a time.
Be More With Less
We have a finite amount of mental energy every day. Unused minutes do not roll over to next month. Choose your thoughts, actions and relationships wisely.
Happiness comes from being connected to ourselves, to others, and to preserving our planet for future generations.
As a former card-carrying member of the mental hoarding club, I say let’s end our busyness obsession and embrace simplicity, instead. Incorporating a minimalist mindset means the difference between “I’m busy” and “I’m free.”
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