Minimalism and Zero Waste Living Can Help with Anxiety: Here’s How
When you think of ways to manage anxiety, I’m going to guess you may not think of ‘minimalism’ as a solution – although I think the correlation between the two has been getting some mainstream attention lately. But I’m going to also guess that you definitely wouldn’t think of zero waste.
But what if I told you that these two lifestyle changes can make a huge difference in your anxiety?
How do I know?
Because they helped with mine tremendously!
Is my anxiety gone?
I personally believe that the anxiety I deal with won’t ever be ‘cured’ or will ever ‘go away’. But I have learned a number of ways to help manage it. And changing my lifestyle is one way.
I know, I know, a lifestyle change sounds big and daunting. But it doesn’t have to be if you take it slow. I have been working on these lifestyle changes for four years now. But over time, my family and I have gotten rid of 140+ large boxes of stuff and sold countless more, and we’ve also reduced our waste by 40lbs a WEEK (yes, it’s coincidental that they’re both ‘40’).
While this may sound like a lot of work at first, and maybe your mind/ego/anxiety is already like, “woah woah woah now”, I promise you it’s not as scary as it sounds.
If I can do it, as someone who has dealt with anxiety (and at times crippling anxiety) her whole life, you can do it to.
But back to the post. Sorry for the detour, but I wanted to show you that I’m not just spewing random stuff out to come up with a blog post for the week. I truly believe in this and have the results to prove it.
This post will not show you exactly how to become a minimalist or zero waster. I have other resources for that which you can find throughout and at the end of the post. The goal of this post is to show you that these things (some you may not have considered before) can possibly help you!
As with all my posts, a quick disclaimer: I am not a doctor or medical professional. Just a girl who has tried hundreds of ways to manage her anxiety, and found these ways as solutions. I am not claiming that these things will magically ‘cure you’. And, if you feel like you need to talk to someone right way, please check out these resources below:
- National Institute of Mental Health
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Online Resources and Finding Help
- Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741 (US number) to be connected with a trained crisis counselor.
- Finally, this is a great page from ‘Everyday Help’ with a ton of resources for mental health assistance such as financial help for therapy and medications, support groups, etc.
Before we dive in, I want to share the definition of minimalism and zero waste living in case you are new to either of these ideas/lifestyles.
Minimalism: While there isn’t an official definition of minimalism, the gist is that you aim to live with less; the intentional act of refusing, reducing, and reusing stuff and clutter (physical, mental, and other types).
Here are some ways my family and I adopted the minimalist lifestyle:
- we have reduced people who are toxic in our lives
- we are extremely selective about what goes on our calendar
- we are aware of digital clutter – and try and do what we can to keep it at bay
- we say no in order to make time for things like family time, self-care, etc.
- we *try* to limit our time on social media, news sources, and electronics. This is still a work in progress
- We reduced physical clutter
Zero waste: The International Zero Waste Alliance (yes, there is one) defines zero waste as:
““The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.””
Here are some ways my family and I have worked to reduce our waste:
- We have started composting
- We have switched almost all of our disposable paper goods (paper towels, tissues, etc) with reusable ones (less time spent buying, money spent, and not as much ‘stuff’ to store)
- We repair items versus buying them new
- We have expanded our vegetable garden to enjoy local, fresh food (and to share with others in our community)
- We have swapped more of our meals to be completely plant based
- We have swapped other disposable, single-use products with reusables
- We have reduced physical clutter by only having to store a small number of multi-use reusables versus tons of disposable products
Upon first glance, I see some similarities in the definitions – especially if reading between the lines – calling out reusing, responsible consumption, and I’ll add one – refusing/reducing (which could fall under responsible consumption).
But before I get too off track here (this isn’t a post about how these two lifestyle changes are similar after all), let’s dive into the ways that applying these two components to your life can help you manage anxiety.
Reducing and Refusing
Having already mentioned reducing and refusing above, you’re probably not surprised to see this first. Here’s the thing – it’s not just about reducing and refusing physical items, although that is certainly part of it (and something I talk about more next). But it’s also reducing and refusing commitments, toxic people, digital clutter, and more.
By eliminating the unnecessary things, or the things that ‘don’t bring us joy’ for you Marie Kondo fans out there, we (my family and I) were able to create space for things that matter and bring us joy collectively and on an individual level.
On a personal level, removing excess ‘stuff’ helped me reach a state of mind where I could focus on time to support myself physically and mentally – which in turn helped/helps manage my anxiety. I found ways to do this through practicing mindfulness and intentional living which includes: allocating more time to hobbies I enjoy, spending time outside, meditating, reading, exercising, and more.
Overall, by reducing physical items/waste and non-physical clutter, you are training your mind to be in a mindset around ‘reducing’. With practice and seeing the benefits, the ‘reduction’ mindset naturally flows into other areas of your life.
How can I learn more?
Honestly, follow me and my blog. I swear this isn’t just shameless promotion, but this tip right here in a nutshell is everything I cover on my blog. So sign up for my email list, follow me on social media, join my groups (all of which can be found at the end of the post) and start learning how to get into a reduction mindset!
A ton of research has come out within the last year or so that shows that physical clutter can cause anxiety. Check out here, here, and here for more information. Basically (and know I’m generalizing here), research has found that when you see clutter, it triggers a stress response in your body. When your body gets stressed, it releases a hormone called cortisol. You may have heard of cortisol before, and if so, you know it isn’t all bad. Cortisol is part of our body’s fight or flight response which is essential in times of danger. However, if cortisol gets released and as a result the flight or fight response triggered, but there is no actual threat, your body has to channel that response in some way.
And the way it does that is through more stress, anxiety, and overwhelm.
If you think about it, if you’re constantly surrounded by clutter, you could be in a constant state of stress and anxiety. Then if other stressful situations come up, your body repeats the whole ‘release-of-cortisol’ process. However, it is already in a ‘heightened’ state due to the constant clutter, so you experience a higher level of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm.
I’m guessing you get the idea.
Both the zero waste and minimalist lifestyle advocate for reducing clutter (in an eco-friendly way) and changing spending/buying habits in order to vastly reduce what is coming into your home. Not only is it beneficial for the planet, but it is also good for your wallet (more on that below), AND your anxiety!
How can I learn more? If you’re looking for tips on how to reduce physical clutter, check out this post: 35+ Resources for Getting Rid of Physical, Mental, and Other Clutter
Ok, so we’ve already talked about the benefits of adopting a reduction mindset in terms of minimalism and zero waste living, as well as eliminating physical clutter. But there is one other important benefit of buying less that we haven’t touched a lot on. And that’s saving money!
Since I’m not a finance blogger, I’m not going to go into detail about budgeting and all that jazz (although if you want a recommendation for one, I really like ‘The Fun Sized Life’ where blogger Renee talks about reducing debt, budgeting, and minimalism). However, I do know firsthand that money can ____ (fill in the blank). If you said ‘cause stress and anxiety’ you’re right.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt stress or anxiety around money? I’m going to guess that almost everyone’s hand is raised. You’re not alone.
You want to know one way to save money? Stop buying stuff!
Want to know another way? Utilize reusables!
Since going zero waste, my family and I don’t buy paper towels, tissues, napkins, paper plates or utensils, bottled water, convenience food, menstrual products, single-package snacks, etc.
While that may not seem like a lot, let me tell you. Those things add up! Plus, bonus – we don’t have to spend time shopping for these items either. Remember how I talked about reducing things that don’t bring me joy? Yeah – shopping for toiletries, etc. doesn’t bring me joy.
Before I get too deep into the weeds (can you tell I love talking about minimalism and zero waste?), let’s get back to the point.
By adopting these lifestyle changes, you can save money, which can help reduce stress and anxiety.
The great thing is that you don’t have to make all of these changes at once – you can do them slowly! The second good thing about them is that you don’t have to go out and buy all new stuff! Use what you have at home – bonus – decluttering and reusing all in one.
How can I learn more? Here are some resources:
- 12 Zero Waste Resources you can Implement in 5 Minutes or Less + 2 FREE Printables!
- 13 No Effort Swaps That Are Saving Us Over $300 a Year
Ok, ok – one additional benefit. By making a commitment to buy less, you’re ensuring that you’re surrounding yourself with items that you love (which is an amazing feeling – less anxiety and stress!). When you get to that point, it is much easier to refuse something you don’t really need.
I don’t know about you, but the recent reports on climate change, the mass extinction we’re facing, and the overall future of our planet gives me constant stress and anxiety. Did you know that there is a term for this stress and anxiety? It’s “creatively” called eco-anxiety.
I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about this here because I have an entire post dedicated to eco-anxiety. You can check it out here: Eco-Anxiety and Guilt: The What and The How (to manage).
One thing that helps relieve some of that eco-anxiety is action. Whether that is taking action against reducing at home, in my community, at work, etc. – wherever it is, knowing that I am doing what I can helps me feel a little bit better about the dire state of things. This in turn reduces my anxiety.
How can I learn more? Check out my post on eco-anxiety and guilt above. I list ways to help reduce the eco-anxiety and guilt – keyword being, you guessed it, reduce.
I recently read a scientific study linking air pollution to anxiety in children. As awful as that sounds, this isn’t the first connection between environmental factors and mental health I’ve seen. And while we may not be able to see this connection, it is there, and it is getting worse.
At risk of sounding like captain obvious, people who are directly involved with a natural disaster almost all come out on the other side with a mental illness – temporary or permanent (source). The news is even worse because natural disasters (floods, weather extremes, droughts, forest fires, etc) are only going to increase with our changing climate.
By adopting a minimalist and zero waste lifestyle, you can take action in your own life and the lives of others to help minimize environmental factors. While this may not directly impact your own anxiety (or maybe it does), it can help the mental health of our fellow human beings.
Here is an example: by consuming less (satisfies minimalism and zero waste), you’re eliminating the need for products to be manufactured, transported, and packaged- all things that are big contributors to air pollution.
Yes, you may only be one person, but you CAN make a difference. And you’re out there doing your thing, you’re inspiring others to do the same. And once you’ve got things down at home (or simultaneously tackling waste at home), you can be contacting companies, reaching out to your local government, and voting in national elections.
How can I learn more? Check out the resources already provided and below on how to adopt a minimalist and zero waste lifestyle. In addition, here is a good post on things you need to be zero waste (that aren’t actually things). Bonus – some of the tips can apply to minimalism too.
If all else fails, and NONE of the above work for helping you with anxiety, here’s an idea. By putting your focus on reducing and adopting a minimalist and zero waste lifestyle, you’re distracting your mind from obsessive, anxious thoughts.
One thing that also helps my anxiety is doing something for others. When I’m giving something away in my community – whether it be a physical item to avoid the landfill, or some extra food from my garden – it’s incredibly hard for me to feel anxious.
Minimalism and zero waste have been great community builders for me, and it is hard to get stuck inside my own head (where anxiety likes to keep me) when I’m distracted with stuff going on in my community.