Have Less Crap, Make Life Less Crappy

The present blog is a proposed “script” for, or at least a rough draft for an outline of a script, for a presentation I hope/plan to make to a minimalism group to which I belong. Hopefully, by the time you read this, it will be retroactive and I will have already made the presentation and the following sentences will be redundant and irrelevant. (HELLO FUTURE SELF!!)  In regards to this, therefore, please read it as such. Picture me (or at least picture some dude with a fantastic beard, black slacks and a light blue oxford shirt and possibly a tie if I’m feeling swanky) nervously presenting these words on a Saturday afternoon to a small group of peers and it will make a bit more sense.  Again, consider the intention of this blog instead of what it is at the time of construction; a solo brain storm, in written form, with future intention and which was presently executed in reaction to not being able to sleep at my mother in law’s house on a weekend trip back to my hometown with my wife.

For further context and clarification, it’s important for me to mention my definition and practice of the word “Minimalism”. First of all, I have to mention that I sincerely hate that this idea has become such a buzz word lately. Yeah. I’m a hipster. “In” isn’t cool. Some readers may have also seen “The Minimalists” documentary on Netflix. It’s a decent film and a good introduction to the philosophy but I find myself in a petty conflict with what has become the intentional or unintentional representatives of this movement. I just kinda think those guys are douche bags. I admit it. There’s no real intellectual basis for this. I just find them kind of annoying. It’s an issue all my own. In this situation, truly, I’m just being a judgmental prick. I think the way the one guy’s hair flips out at the ends makes him look like a woman from the 60’s and think the other guy’s lips are too big. That’s all there is to it. Just because I’m a therapist doesn’t mean I’m not susceptible to the same nonsensical judgments as the rest of you so LEAVE ME ALONE!! I get to be petty sometimes too!

Anyway, my definition of minimalism is some version of the title of this blog. “Have less crap, make life less crappy”.  I try to own and/or be attached to as few “things” as possible. I keep on hand the bare minimum of objects in my home and in my life in general and to keep my life as simple as possible as it relates to possessions and distractions. My wardrobe consists of a pair of black slacks, dress shoes, 4 of the same blue oxford shirt, 1 pair of shorts, 5 t-shirts, and very little else. I ride a bike most everywhere I go and when I’m not, I drive a simple, modest, affordable car. The walls of my house are largely unadorned.  I can legitimately brag that my wife and I, in regards to minimalism, were “country when country wasn’t cool”. We have been practicing our own version of this, as far as I know, long before the term existed. Even though it was in the form of a benign insult, I took GREAT joy when a friend came to my house and asked, with great confusion, “Where’s all your stuff?” Since I was a young adult, I valued simplicity and freedom. In the physical sense, freedom meant the state of not be impeded by my environment. I’ve almost always had some desire to keep my belongings to a minimum so that I’m able to move around in my living space. I could go into great detail on the emotional/childhood explanations on why this may be but that might take up another blog. Furthermore, I’d probably have to drag my parents name through the mud in the process and I’m not ready to do that just yet. Maybe later. As I was saying then, my personal definition of “minimalism” has to do with having less possessions and as a byproduct of this, leading a happier, healthier, freer life. It’s quite a bit more complex than this and my goal is to express this in the yet to take place presentation. For now, however, let’s jump forward in time and pretend that this presentation is taking or has taken place.

Here we go!! 

Hi I’m Brandon Peters and I’m what you call an LPC, which means Licensed Professional Counselor. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it means I do what a psychologist does but I do it cheaper and I do what a clinical social worker does but I do it better. And don’t even get me started on Life Coaches because as far as I’m concerned, that’s not even a real thing. You may be asking yourself “Why is a therapist giving a talk at a minimalism group”. There are 3 answers for that. Number 1 is; STOP RUSHING ME, I’M GETTING TO IT!! (Pause for what I hope will be laughter) Answer number 2; I’m going to talk about the links between minimalism and mental health and how minimalism can make your life better. And finally number 3; MARKETING! This is my daughter (pause for hopeful ‘awww’ reaction to slide show picture). She’s 3 and her name is Allie. Isn’t she cute? Well, she eats lots of food and daddy has to feed her. When you schedule a session with me or refer a friend, you’re putting food into this cute little belly!  For real though, her daycare is almost 900 bucks a month. For that price I could literally get her a decent apartment in Montrose and just leave out some food and water (and don’t think I haven’t considered it).

But seriously, I’m not here to sell you a product or some useless junk you don’t need (that would be the opposite of what a minimalism group is about) but I am here to tell you how about how minimalism can enhance your mental health. And as a side note, I hope that you’ll see therapy as a useful way to encourage you on your minimalistic path and hope you’ll consider me as a helper in your quest towards a simpler, healthier life.

So, let’s first talk theory. I’m going to be drawing a bit from “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo and from a school of thought called “Positive Psychology”. Most of you have probably heard about Marie Kondo. For those of you who haven’t, here’s the crash course: “keep in your life only the things that bring you joy”. Consider this idea for a moment. Think of something you really like. Maybe it’s a shirt or your car or your house or a restaurant you go to or maybe it’s a person. Think about how good you feel with or around that thing. Now imagine if you could duplicate that feeling with EVERYTHING around you. Literally everything; the shoes you wear, the car you drive, the toothbrush you use, all the people you associate with. Imagine how much joy this could bring you! Imagine how little room there would be for things like depression and anxiety! Follow me so far?

Positive Psychology is basically the opposite of what you know of as traditional psychology. Up to this point, psychologists have mostly studied “what’s wrong with us… how do we fix trauma…let’s talk about the bad stuff that happened to you so we can heal it”. That’s all well and good and necessary but, positive psychology, on the other hand, is asking “what makes us feel happy… what makes us feel satisfied and fulfilled…what are the things that contribute to well being?” Over and over, the same things have come up in the research: diet, exercise, gratitude, meditation, proper sleep, healthy relationships, simplicity, etc.  I have not personally seen any research where positive psychologists have directly studied minimalism but I’d like to propose that it fits very well with the line of thought.

Under the umbrella of positive psychology is this idea called “Mindfulness”. Although it’s kind of a buzzword these days, there’s a lot of research to suggest that it’s a powerful thing. The best definition I’ve heard for mindfulness is “a kind, compassionate, self-awareness in the moment”. A constant practice of wherever you are, whatever you’re feeling, being aware of it, acknowledging it and reminding yourself, “it’s okay to be that way”. The research suggests that if we live in a mindful way, we live longer, we function better and we are happier while we do so. Now let’s connect the dots; If positive psychology studies what makes us well and mindfulness is a compassionate, here and now focus on self, and if the goal of minimalism is to only surround yourself with the things that bring you joy, how much better could you be mindful and be immersed in joy when you rid yourself of distracting, unnecessary, potentially detrimental stuff and instead surround yourself with simple joyful things? This is part of what Marie Kondo has been saying for a short time and what psychologists have been saying for a long time and perhaps what philosophers and scholars have been saying forever; live simply, own only the things that are functional or bring joy, focus on the here Do all these things and you will live longer and live better.

So, let’s add another part to this and bring in a greatly oversimplified course in brain science. Consider this maybe the Part II of what we’re doing here. The overly simplified version is this; turning your attention towards something builds neurons around that idea. The more I repeat an action, the more neural pathways are wired in my brain around that action. For our purposes, think of it as emotional habit formation. So what if you spent as much time as possible wiring your brain around simplicity and the accompanying joy? Some of you might be thinking about “affirmations” right now, the old Stuart Smalley, “I’m good enough I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me”. Although this is just stupid comedy, there’s actually something to it. If you do the affirmations, they work. If you do the decluttering and keeping only joyful things, it works. You’re training your brain to focus on joy and satisfaction; you’re training your brain to believe in a certain way. You’re building neurons around an idea.

Here’s the harder part, or maybe “part II of part II”. Decluttering and mindfulness and affirmations and positive psychology can work most effectively if you’ve done the deep down, emotional work that happens in therapy. I’m not saying don’t be minimalistic or give yourself positive affirmations if you’re not in therapy. It’s a good idea. You should do it. However, and this is a big however, it will only be so effective. I’d suggest that an ongoing pattern of clutter in one’s life be it in the form of physical “stuff” or other less concrete forms of “stuff” has its origins in unexplored negative emotions of the person with the “stuff”. Without looking inside and processing the emotional foundations of unnecessary attachments to “stuff”, anything you do will be somewhat superficial and not very long lasting.

Picture therapy as being broken up into small phases; exploration, insight, feeling of feelings, pre contemplative, action. In the action phase is where the fun begins. It’s where you start to say, “I’m at a new baseline. I’m ready to work with a new canvas. I’m at the point where the traumas from the past are not the primary narrative for my life”. Notice that there are several necessary steps before the action phase. The other phases lay the groundwork for the behavioral changes (such as minimalism) that take place in the action stage and thus enable them to have a greater effect on your mental health.  Once you reach the action stage, decluttering and minimalism can be magical. It will work to some degree in your life regardless of whether or not you’re in therapy but will work far better if through therapy you’ve cleared the path of the old pathological ways of being and leave only fresh, fertile soil for this new way of thinking to take root.

I’d suggest minimalism is a good thing for all people.  In my fully biased view as a therapist, I think therapy is a good thing for all people as well. I also believe the 2 go hand in hand. Therapy is a way to make minimalism work better. And minimalism and therapy are both paths towards making life better. In conclusion, I’d ask you to consider them as effective tools to make your life less crappy.

 

Unrelated book recomendation: Carl Sagan’s Cosmic Connection, An Extraterrestrial Perspective

Unrelated Song: Okay, this is an album but it’s SOOOO good! You should listen to the whole thing. Dark, brooding stuff from some acquaintances of mine in DFW, Wildspeaker.

 

About Brandon Peters, LPC

Brandon Peters began his career in mental health approximately 11 years ago while pursuing a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Arkansas. During his training he worked as a psychiatric technician at the Piney Ridge Treatment Center for adolescent sex offenders in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He later relocated to Houston, Texas and obtained his master's degree in counseling from the University of Houston. Since then, he has worked with clients in residential treatment, psychiatric hospitals, school based therapy, home based therapy, support groups and outpatient therapy. He has worked with children as young as 4, adolescents, and adults in areas such as individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, case management, play therapy and crisis intervention. Brandon Peters now owns and operates a private psychotherapy clinic conducting individual, group and family therapy and specializes in Existential Therapy. Additionally, he is a board approved LPC Supervisor.
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