By CARRIE STENSRUD
Minimalism is a style of extreme spareness and simplicity. Originally demonstrated in expressions of music or art, minimalism has gained momentum as a lifestyle, inspiring folks to keep only a minimum amount of belongings and sell or donate the rest. Some have taken the idea so far as to leave their homes and move into “tiny homes,” downsizing from a traditional house to spaces as small as 400 square feet.
Despite varying degrees along the minimalist spectrum, the bottom line remains: “Less is more” is better for your physical and mental health.
This philosophy is not just a trend. Embracing minimalism can help keep you safe in your home. Falls are a common source of injury among senior populations, and having a cluttered home can contribute to falling. According to the Journal of Injury of Violence, most falls for individuals 65 and older occur at home, and many are complicated by environmental hazards, such as throw rugs, curled carpet edges and transitions between rooms.
To compound the problem, general disorganization results in not being able to find things when you need them. The risk of falling increases with rushing, worrying, and losing focus.
Clutter around the home also creates places for bacteria, dust, and mold to collect. Exposure to increased levels of environmental hazards can aggravate allergies and other respiratory conditions, cause generalized inflammation, and even lead to chronic illness.
In addition to physical safety, clearing the clutter is beneficial to mental health. Clutter contributes to higher levels of stress and anxiety. Being surrounded by piles of papers, trinkets, and mementos provides a lot of information for the eyes to process, creating a visual reminder of unfinished work. This constant, low-grade stress results in mental fatigue over time, ultimately reinforcing procrastination habits and weakening decision-making skills.
The cycle of disorganization is real. In order to break it, we must confront issues of attachment. We hold on to things because they have sentimental value or represent a fond memory. According to Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, those memories and moments have served their purpose. They have already provided moments of joy, and it is perfectly acceptable to let them go.
The book holds steady as a best-seller because it represents a level of freedom that resonates.
People want clarity and purpose. Kondo’s strategy has become known as the KonMari method. She presents a systematic approach to sorting through categories of belongings and only keeping those things that “spark joy.” It requires a level of honesty in looking at those items that might be weighing us down for the wrong reasons. Upon finishing the process, people often report feeling their true authenticity shining through.
Winter brings with it an acute awareness of being confined to indoor spaces for longer periods of time, making it a perfect time to begin the process of paring down, clearing out, sorting through, and letting go.
Modifying the home to become safer, simpler, and more efficient is a wonderful opportunity to connect with family members as well. If you have storage boxes full of childhood mementos for your children, hand them off, so they can decide what they would like to save or toss. If you have vintage items you’d like to sell, connect with someone who can help investigate their value in the online market.
Start small, one room or one category at a time, and give yourself a set time to work. Tackling too much at once can keep you in the messy loop of messes, feeling helpless and overwhelmed.
If you experience limited physical ability, request a consult with an Occupational Therapist. These health professionals can assess your environment for safety risks and fall hazards, offering suggestions and tools to make you less vulnerable and more in control of the space around you.
Keep in mind that “out with the old” does not always mean “in with the new.” Once you have created a space that reflects the best, most simplified expression of yourself, it’s even more empowering to keep it that way.