Can a minimalist lifestyle improve your well-being? What you need to know before your next big declutter

If you're looking for a fresh start in the new year you could benefit from trying the minimalist approach

Living room with built-in seating under sofa in bay window area
(Image credit: Future PLC/Tim Young)

New year, new you might sound like a cliche, but the start of the new year is the perfect time for a fresh start. If you're hoping for a happier and calmer home in 2024 then adopting a minimalist lifestyle could be the key. 

A few years ago I was introduced to minimalism by my sister as a way to help me ease the anxiety my cluttered flat was causing me. She had already successfully adopted a minimalist lifestyle, but as someone with what can only be described as maximalist and eccentric home decor taste, I wasn't convinced it would be for me. 

But I couldn't have been more wrong here's the thing that surprised me, you can be a minimalist and not live in a plain white box. It is more a process of decluttering items that aren't adding to your life to create a calm and serene space. It can be the first step in giving your home a mood-boosting makeover, the effects of which you'll feel way beyond a simple January clearout. 

What is minimalism?

In short, minimalism is about simplicity and owning fewer things. However, it isn't just about tossing all your belongings in a skip and living out the rest of your days with only one chair and a skeleton kitchen. 

'People often confuse minimalism with having zero belongings with white walls and sitting on cushions on the floor,' explains Craig Hoareau, APDO Member and Owner of A Tidy Mind London. 'Although some people do live this way, minimalism means different things to different people. Ultimately, a minimalist lifestyle isn't just about having fewer possessions, it's about mindset, one that encourages intentional living, mindfulness, and appreciation for the things that truly add value to your life.'

The goal of minimalism is to intentionally let go of things and hold on only to the things that you value and bring value into your life.  

Joshua Fields Millburn part of the team behind the popular podcast The Minimalists explains: 'When I first stumbled into minimalism, I spent eight months letting go of my excess possessions. Through countless trips to the local donation center, I deliberately freed myself of more than 90% of my possessions, and suddenly the chaos transformed into calm. 

The Minimalists
Joshua Fields Millburn

Joshua started out on his minimalist journey in 2009, and launched the Minimalists website in 2010. The Minimalists are made up of Joshua Fields Millburn, T.K. Coleman, and Ryan Nicodemus. Not only are they New York Times–bestselling authors but the The Minimalists Podcast, has more than 130 million downloads and is one of the most popular podcasts in the world.

Can a minimalist home improve your mental health?

There are easy things to declutter at the start of a new year, but letting go of 90% of your belongings can sound intimidating. However, if you looked around your room right now would you be able to name the last time you used everything? Now think about the mental capacity that not only buying, but owning and maintaining those objects is occupying in your mind as well as your house.

Studies have found that there is a link between minimalism and happiness. In an article published by the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2021, the authors of the research led by Joshua Hook of the University of North Texas found that from the results of 23 studies, there was a consistent relationship between minimalism and well-being. 

Open living room with white walls, grey stone floor, off-white corner sofas, wooden panel, brick fireplace, and colourful decorative accents A renovated Victorian four bedroomed farmhouse in Ottery St Mary, Devon, home of Emma and Hendrick Jaulin

(Image credit: Future PLC/Photoworld Ltd)

There are many reasons this might be, in the paper the researchers speculated that it was due to those living a minimalist lifestyle being able to control their desire to consume things more. Instead, they were able to focus on their psychological needs. 

That is a complicated way of saying that a decluttered space will often help people feel calmer, more focused and able to devote time to what makes them happy. 

How to adopt a minimalist lifestyle at home

If like me the concept of a minimalist lifestyle and the benefits sound great, but the reality of axing 90% is easier said, than done, don't worry. I promise I'm not about to make you lay out all your belongings in a giant storage facility and race through to slash the amount of things you own like the families on BBC's Sort Your Life Out

Instead, I've rounded up some simple tips for how to get started, from what to get rid of and how to go about buying new items for your home.

1. Try the 'Spontaneous Combustion Rule'

This trick is from the Minimalist Rulebook, by the Minimalists that outlines 16 rules to live with less, and is a personal favourite of Joshua. It starts with a simple question: If this item spontaneously combusts, would I feel relieved, or would I replace it? 

'If you’d replace it, then that possession has a purpose in your life, and it makes sense to keep it as long as it continues to add value,' explains Joshua.

'But if you’d feel relieved once that item was gone, that’s a sign that you can give yourself permission to get rid of it.'

'The interesting thing is that this rule can apply to anything from material possessions and digital clutter to careers and relationships. It’s a question worth asking throughout all areas of your life because it helps you better understand the truth about what you value, and what you want to let go.'

White painted room with mid-century armchair and shelving with framed artwork and decor

(Image credit: Future PLC/Katie Lee)

2. Cut down your 'just-in-case' belongings

This doesn't mean getting rid of your emergency blackout box, or other emergency items that aren't often used. Instead, this means that tennis racket gathering dust 'just in case' you want to play in the future, or the empty jam jars you're keeping 'just in case' you need them for storage. 

'A good rule is if you haven't used it in six months to a year, consider letting it go,' says Craig Hoareau. 'However, be mindful that your work is done when you’ve done a round of decluttering, you have to be careful with what you bring in afterwards, otherwise, you will keep having to declutter.'

Hallway with upcycled IKEA drawers with pin legs.

(Image credit: Future)

3. Try the minimalism game

Another one from the minimalist, the minimalism game is a great way to slowly build up to mindfully discard the things you don't need. You start by getting rid of 1 thing on the first day, 2 things on the second day, 3 things on the third day and so on until you get to 30 days. 

The only rule is that the item has to leave your house instantly. That can be dropping it at a charity shop or giving it to a friend who might need it. One of my colleagues tried it and was stunned at how it motivated her to seek out the things she didn't want to keep, and how much calmer she felt at the end of the 30 days. 

4. Consider the value an item will bring to your life

'My wife, daughter, and I don't own much, but everything we do own adds real value to our lives. Each of our belongings—our kitchenware, our clothes, our car, our couch—has a function. Every possession serves a purpose or amplifies our well-being. Everything else is out of the way,' explains Joshua. 

'Our things tend to get in the way of what’s truly essential—our relationships. Human connection is missing from our lives, and it can’t be purchased—it can only be cultivated. To do so, we must simplify, which starts with the stuff and then extends to every aspect of our lives,' he adds. 

Next time you buy something new or are decluttering, consider what that particular item is adding to your life and what purpose it's serving.

Cosy reading nook with shelving unit turned bench seat topped with cushions

(Image credit: Future Plc/Simon Whitmore)

5. Don't mix up minimalist lifestyle with a minimalist asethetic

This was the part of minimalism that always scared me, but you don't need to subscribe to the minimalist aesthetic to benefit from a minimalist lifestyle. 

'Minimalism doesn’t always mean neutral decor, the key is not having clutter. For myself, having a clutter-free home makes me feel happy, calm and organised. Some people, however, can be calmer in a busy space surrounded by personal decor which reminds them of happy memories. Interiors are very personal and it’s important to listen to your mind when considering the interior direction of your home,' explains Kelly Collins, Head of Creative & PR at Swyft

Joshua also points out that while he might live a minimalist lifestyle, it isn't instantly obvious from his home. 

'After minimizing, my home was comparatively sparse, but if you visited my home today, more than a decade after minimizing, you wouldn’t leap up and proclaim, “This guy’s a minimalist!”' he says.

'No, you’d probably just say, “He’s tidy!” and you’d ask how my family and I keep things so “organized.”

You can still have bold wallpaper, blankets and artwork, just make sure whatever design ideas you opt for are chosen to help you feel happier in your home.

White kitchen with teal and natural wood open and closed cabinetry

(Image credit: Future PLC/James French)


How does minimalism improve mental health?

Their are many benefits to adopting a minimalist lifestyle including improving well-being. A relationship between well-being and a simpler lifestyle has been found in many studies, which researchers concluding that it allowed people to exercise more control over their desires and to focus on psychological growth.

'A minimalist home can significantly impact your organisation and well-being as you have less to tidy up and worry about, and it also saves you money,' says Craig Hoareau. 'A clutter-free space reduces visual noise and promotes a sense of calmness and clarity. You'll spend less time looking for things and more time enjoying your home.

'Less things means less distractions and you'll find it easier to concentrate on tasks and boosting your productivity and creativity. Your stress levels will reduce as a result of having fewer possessions which are organised and simplified having a big impact on your mental wellbeing.'

I planning to kick January off by giving the minimalism game a go - will you be joining me?

Rebecca Knight
Deputy Editor, Digital

Rebecca Knight has been the Deputy Editor on the Ideal Home Website since 2022. She graduated with a Masters degree in magazine journalism from City, University of London in 2018, before starting her journalism career as a staff writer on women's weekly magazines. She fell into the world of homes and interiors after joining the Ideal Home website team in 2019 as a Digital Writer. In 2020 she moved into position of Homes News Editor working across Homes & Gardens, LivingEtc, Real Homes, Gardeningetc and Ideal Home covering everything from the latest viral cleaning hack to the next big interior trend.