Minimalism has become one of the big buzzwords of the past few years. There are thousands of pins, blogs, articles, and books on decluttering, being minimalistic, the benefits of minimalism, and on and on. I personally love the idea of minimalism. I am, however, terribly, terribly bad at the actual living part of minimalism. In fact, I am a clutterbug of high degree.
While recently doing research on how to better help my dyslexic and dysgraphic children (I have one of each so far, and one that might be both), I discovered that some people are naturally neater than others. More specifically, some people’s brains naturally develop the neural connections for organizing, planning, and remembering better than others. These are called executive functioning skills, and people with dylexia, ADHD, and related neural wiring have a lot of trouble developing them. These people, and others with no diagnosis, but some non-neuraltypical wiring, have to work very hard to develop skills in organization and planning.
It’s quite helpful to know that not everyone is starting with the same neural potential in these areas. That’s why some of the highly touted organizing and minimalizing books out there were overwhelming. Their process was directed at someone with very different brain wiring than mine, or my children’s (or my mother’s, for that matter–as she is also dyslexic).
But I still love the idea of minimalism. It’s probably why I love all the neat and tidy little store displays at IKEA. While physical minimalism in my home is going to a be an ongoing and possibly futile task, I came to realize that there’s a far more important type of minimalism I need in my life. I suspect that this type of minimalism is the true goal of many who declutter, downsize, or otherwise start thinning the stuff out of their lives. We are searching for emotional minimalism.
What is emotional minimalism? Just like physical minimalism is removing things from you house or work space because they are unnecessary, joyless, or dragging you down, emotional minimalism is removing such things from our mental and emotional space. We can’t walk though long term memory storage and chose which memories to discard like the brain workers in Inside Out. When it comes to what’s in our mental/emotional house, we have to focus on the input. My grandmother’s favorite saying is, “Garbage in, garbage out.” What we put in affects what comes out. Put in sources that encourage anger, envy, bitterness, pride, contempt, or despair, and guess what is likely to come out.
We have access to enormous amounts of information. Via the internet, I can connect with groups who like just about anything. I can find fellow sighthound owners, other moms homeschooling dyslexic children, other public school teachers who decided to homeschool, people who share my faith, my taste in cars, or my eye color! I can dig up political arguments and articles at any time of day or night. Do I suddenly feel the need to research terror birds? I can do that without ever leaving my recliner. It’s truly amazing. It’s truly cluttering our heads.
Before you stop reading, I’m not going to tell you to give up social media for Lent. I’m pretty fond of social media myself, and I’m ready to get back to it. After my miscarriage, I dropped Instagram and blogging, and unfollowed several Facebook groups. Emotionally, I couldn’t handle the interaction. I think stepping back did me good, and it helped me realize that I didn’t need all the input I’d been shoving into my mental closet. I started evaluating that input more critically. Asking myself these questions has helped cut down on the emotional clutter:
- Do I love this? Whether it’s a Facebook group or page, a blogger, or even a book or magazine, if it’s something I love, I’m going to keep it. My sighthound groups and pages stayed in my Facebook feed. I love them and other people’s pictures and enthusiasm brought me joy. The same for my crochet groups and pages, and I will never give up reading The Awkward Yeti. On the other hand, I had to unfollow two authors’ pages because the political rants against other authors were getting extremely ugly. It stole my enjoyment of the authors’ works to read the ugliness they spewed.
- What sort of emotional reaction does this give me? Let’s face it, there are entire websites out there designed to inflame responses. Even news sources are part of the 24-7 outrage machine. It’s a big world out there and violence, horror, and injustice are happening all the time. Now, we can access story upon story about these things. But does it do me good to constantly fill my head with horrible stories of abused children, abandoned animals, and evil ex-spouses? Probably not. There are national and state news stories that are worth keeping tabs on, but when stories are published to simply elicit a disgusted or angry response, they probably don’t need to be in my feed. The outrage porn can go.
- Does this help me grow? Is this input–whether a book, a website, a Facebook group, or otherwise–giving me information that helps me become better? Some groups I’m in are helping my business grow. Some give me a place to discuss my fiction work. Other places allow me to connect with other moms who share my goals, challenges, and faith. These are usually good and edifying. However, when a group starts to drag me down, it’s time to hide it. If it’s causing me tension, anger, or frustration, it might be time to quietly exit that group.
- Is this helping me put my time toward people and activities I love? This is perhaps the hardest question for me to face. It’s easy to get swallowed by scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, or find a new blog and read ALL the archives in one weekend. They suck away my time, and scrolling Facebook isn’t really something I love. It isn’t drawing, writing, teaching, or being with my loved ones. It isn’t even the solitude necessary for introvert mental health. Too often, my mental input is a barrier to the things I love, not an aid.
- Do I truly need to stay in this conversation? This one is pretty specific to Facebook. There’s a conversation. I post a response. I get notifications for the next 300 responses, even if I don’t care about them. (Or worse, I do care because I keep going back and arguing!) The notifications are a distraction. I’ve learned to quickly and frequently use the “turn off notifications” option on posts. I’m less distracted, less annoyed, and not cluttering up my life with comments or opinions that I didn’t want in the first place.
Decluttering the input stream hasn’t been easy, but it does help me focus on the things that are important to me. I have more time and physical and mental energy to spend on my husband, children, and activities–and I’m happier that way. Over Christmas, I was quite sick with a three-way punch of sinus infection, strep, and rhinovirus. I went back to my old habits and discovered exactly how badly they affected my peace of mind. My house might be cluttered, but I discovered that I can’t afford to let my mind and heart become cluttered with unnecessary and unrelated bits of drama. I can work to be an emotional minimalist.