The Relationship Between Minimalism and Mental Health

Minimalism has done wonders for my anxiety. I’m truly happier and more content than I have ever been and it feels so damn good to say that because it’s been a very long road. I have removed both physical and mental clutter from my life, resulting in a calm that I have desperately craved — for as long as I can remember! I’m not sure exactly how this happened but I welcome it with open arms. It’s almost become a coping mechanism for me.

Yes, I still get anxious, I still panic, after all, anxiety isn’t something you just cure and it presents itself in so many different shapes and forms. It’s a constant learning process. But a process none the less, and I happy to making strides and finding what works best for me. The constant feeling of being uncomfortable in my own skin is gone.

I’ve also been able to pinpoint the cause of my depression. But that’s a whole other post, and unfortunately not something I can control with a minimalist lifestyle. I will say, though, it’s kind of nice to not have to worry about the physical condition of my home when I go through a low point. If you experience depression, you know what I mean.

Not only do you feel useless, worthless even, you still need to maintain and upkeep your home for the sake of your kids or the added guilt will eat you alive. When you’re depressed, it’s hard enough to just exist, let alone put on a smiling face and play Susie Homemaker. Now, when shit gets dark and stormy, I can focus on pulling myself out and healing, rather than adding the stress of keeping a good home too. Less stuff = less mess. Period. One less thing to worry about.

There is one aspect of my mental health that doesn’t seem to be improving with these changes, though. I have clinically diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. OCD is a term that gets thrown around quite a bit and is commonly “self diagnosed” by just about anyone who has a particular tick, habit, or preference, when in reality, it’s so much more than that. The most common association with OCD is the ”clean freak”, but it actually presents itself in many different forms.

Here are a few of the different ways OCD can present itself:

Contamination

Triggers: Germs, dirt, dirty surfaces, door knobs, hand-shaking, soiled linen, virus/bacteria, bodily specimen.
Obsessions: “I will get sick, experience bodily harm or be in perpetual pain” (which may lead to death), “I will harm/make someone else sick” (which may lead to death), contaminated living/working space.

Compulsions: Excessive hand-washing, bathing, grooming, washing items/surfaces, avoidance, wearing gloves/masks, controlling bodily movements to avoid touching.

Checking & Repeating

Triggers: Electrical appliances, doors and other locking mechanisms, candles, receipts, phone numbers, conversations, data entry.

Obsessions: “The house will burn down because I left the stove on”, “I made a mistake”, “I will get robbed because I left the doors unlocked.”, “What if I said something that offended someone?”

Compulsions: Excessive checking of doors, locks, appliances, belongings, data entry, quality of work, etc, seeking ongoing reassurance from others that everything is “OK”, mentally replaying conversations over and over again.

Symmetry & Ordering

Triggers: Disorganization and/or cluttering of objects. Non-symmetry. Odd angle placement of objects. Untidiness.

Obsessions: Can be magical in nature. A sense of loss of control. Non-specific.

Compulsions: Reorganizing objects. Placing objects at perfects angles to achieve symmetry.

*To see the source of the above info and read about more ways that OCD can present itself, check out this link.

“Individuals with OCD will tend to have the majority of their symptoms fall into 1 or 2 categories, although it’s not uncommon for someone to experience symptoms from all categories.” OCD Ottawa

My Obsessions

While I have mild-moderate compulsions in the Checking and Repeating category, the real kicker is the moderate-severe compulsions in the Symmetry and Ordering category. It’s something people have poked fun at me about for years, and while I can laugh it off like it’s no big deal, it kind of is. Have you ever stayed up into the early morning hours rearranging the exact same bookcase (sometimes up to 20 or 30 times), feeling like your entire world will crumble if you don’t get it just right? Or spent HOURS adjusting the same 10 picture frames in your home, feeling like impending doom is on the brink if you don’t have the exact angle or alignment desired?

To someone without OCD, this seems illogical, irrational, and even insane. To someone with OCD, the compulsion is so strong you literally go into full out panic mode if you can’t feed it.

It doesn’t matter that is 3am and you have to be up in 2 hours with your kids.
It doesn’t matter that to the naked eye everything already looks in order.
It doesn’t matter if you have somewhere to be or something else to do.

All that matters in those minutes or hours is feeding the overwhelming compulsion. You know what you’re doing is “crazy” but it doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters. If you don’t give in, panic ensues, and anyone who has had a legitimate panic attack knows that you literally feel like you might drop dead. It’s so fucked up! No one has ever died from a picture frame being a millimeter off center. But try telling me that when I’m in full blown panic mode. Every catastrophic thought possible goes through my mind during those times, as logical or illogical they may seem to the naked eye.

Another common misconception about OCD is that it’s constant. Every moment of every day. Sadly, for some, it is. Fortunately for me, and many others, it’s a stress reaction and displays itself in episodes. I can go days without compulsions, but then something triggers it and I’m fucked, for lack of a better term.

OCD and Minimalism

While my generalized anxiety is improving with each box of junk that leaves my house, for some reason, I become even more hyper-focused on the items that are still here. I find myself more obsessed with the placement and symmetry of what’s left… I can only speculate, as I’m no doctor, that this is a result of the abundance of white, empty space. I used to look around a room and need each space to serve a specific purpose. Since I have eliminated many personal possessions, I have many open and unused areas in my home. This used to (and still does) make me uncomfortable. Seriously, who the hell gets uncomfortable with open floor or wall space?!

Maybe it’s my insecurity that I’m not a “good enough” minimalist, which in reality is ridiculous since minimalism is an equivocal concept.

Should I purge more? Do I still have too much? Do I really need this item in my life?

I know stress is my compulsion trigger, so what could be stressing me out? Is it stress from other aspects of my life just looking for an outlet? Or could it be my previous resistance to change, rearing its ugly head? Maybe I’ve just shifted the focus of my generalized anxiety and haven’t in fact been coping with it.

Regardless of the reason, it has become apparent that I must spend some time addressing my increasing compulsions and get to the root of the problem. I will continue to purge unnecessary clutter from my home, and unnecessary clutter from my life, while investigating the root of my obsessive tendencies. Some days I feel like I’m adding fuel to the fire by continuing to purge and simplify but the reality is, this is only going to bring me closer to the answers I’m seeking.

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