What is minimalism coaching? To be honest, I’m not sure I have a clear definition. Unfortunately, being a private practice therapist forces you to be both clinician and business man. In regards to the latter, I’m looking for a blurb or a soundbite to market this whole thing and I’m not sure I’ve found one that would play well on my TV commercial (if I had that kind of marketing dollar at my disposal that is). I have a relatively stable idea in my own brain. I can “feel it”, I can see it in my head but still I find it extraordinarily hard to put into words. This may be due, in part, to the definition of Minimalism itself being somewhat vague and subject to personal interpretation. I’ve heard people ask questions like “How many plates does a Minimalist have?” or “Can I have a 2000 sq ft house and still be a Minimalist?” I feel like these questions are entirely missing the point but I also can’t objectively define WHY they are missing the point. I feel like Minimalism to you might not be Minimalism to me but we can both practice our versions of it and still get enjoy the same benefits. I don’t believe Minimalism has rigid boundaries; the idea is just an idea and can be interpreted as one sees fit. But again, that’s just my definition of it. As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, mental and emotional health, like the idea of minimalism, is a qualitative idea rather than a quantitative one. Therefore trying to rigidly define how to help someone lean more towards a lifestyle that is vague and personally subjective is terribly hard. But here’s an attempt at my own personal definition: A minimalism coach is one that helps clients to heal, overcome and integrate traumas and mental and emotional “hurts”/barriers that express themselves as a lifestyle of over accumulation of unnecessary and unhealthy things. These “things” or “stuff” come in multitudinous varieties both physical and nonphysical and express themselves in an individualized manner but almost always result in a maladaptive way of coping with the world that is usually but not always focused on the accumulation of and maintenance of physical objects.
In this particular role, my approach will be slightly different that of traditional therapist and the word “coaching” is at the heart of that difference. I often tell my client’s that while therapy is a definitely a collaborative enterprise I’m also working off a humanistically based theory that suggests that humans possess an innate mental/emotional healing mechanism. I will rarely say “do this, don’t do that”. All we have to do is create the right conditions in our therapeutic relationship and that mechanism does most of the work for us. This approach assumes you already have the resources you need to be happy, healthy and successful. Our job in therapy is to remind and discover more than it is to teach and direct. Coaching on the other hand, is more directive. While you, the client remain in the driver’s seat as a fully formed adult with free will and resources, I will take a more hands on approach that is based on my own experience and conglomerated bits of research and anecdotal data. There often WILL be times when I advise “do this, don’t do that”. However, as a minimalism coach, I won’t come to your house and help you organize. That part is up to you to interpret and put into play. What I will help with is the exploring and identifying of past traumas that push you in the direction of over consumption and/or in the direction of keeping unhealthy/unnecessary things in your life be they physical or nonphysical in nature. As our work progresses, I will also assist and encourage you in your behavioral change as you eliminate some of the unnecessary “things” in your life. I will teach and guide you along the way but it is your role to put these teachings and guiding’s into action. Again, as I’m understanding and approaching it, there is no simple formula for this. There is no standard definition of what minimalism is and no benchmark for how and when you will be “successful” in it other than your own self-reported sense of well being, and mental/emotional fulfillment.
To illustrate this process more fully, here’s a short vignette that’s based on a mixture of several fictional but realistic clients and how Minimalism Coaching would help:
Pete, 63 lives with his wife, Betty 60. Their 3 children are grown and no longer live with them and as with many folks their age, their home is stuffed to the breaking point with random junk accumulated over many decades. Pete and Betty have many unresolved issues from their individual childhoods, in their marriage and in their relationship with their sons, especially their oldest, Christopher who has struggled with drug addiction for years. Pete and Betty live in near poverty as Pete was laid off from his job several years ago after an injury that left him unable to work. As he is near retirement age, and still is in mediocre health, he has not been able to find suitable employment for a few years. They currently live off Pete’s meager disability income. Pete and Betty both grew up in similarly impoverished households and had relatively cold, emotionally neglectful families who were nearly always stressed and in conflict. Amongst other things, this has left them both with a deprivation mentality. The narrative that runs their life is “we’ll never have enough”, therefore, they hoard. Nothing is thrown away and the saying “I might need that someday” is a common one. They attach to “things” as a substitute for security. Betty has also said of the many things they have in their home “I never had anything as a kid but I’m an adult now and I can have anything I want”. This is a direct response to her emotionally and otherwise deprived/lacking upbringing. As a side effect of this, their home has reached near stereotypical hoarder levels. They acknowledge this to some degree but maintain that they are “going to do a spring cleaning soon”. However, the sheer overwhelming volume of things keeps this from ever happening. This creates a looping pattern of stress caused by feeling trapped by the stuff itself, shame and guilt related to its accumulation and lack of action taken on it in the first place and further mental chaos related to rarely ever having a clean, organized home. It’s suggested that each item you own takes up a certain amount of brain space associated with it. Therefore, the more stuff, the more brain energy used, thus leaving far less energy to devote to health and well being. For Pete especially this plays out in both direct and indirect ways. He often buys used items, especially electronics and tools, at yard sales and thrift stores. The items rarely get used for more than a few weeks and eventually just get stored in the garage or in the home. Pete is largely unaware of it but this is a subtle attempt to distract from his feelings. He focuses on the electronics and the purchasing of them rather than introspecting and taking a chance at bringing to the surface years of hurt and sadness. As the electronics and other items accumulate, they do, in fact, take up brain space and eventually DO distract him from his feelings.
In this scenario, the first order of business would be individual therapy aimed at exploring Pete and Betty’s upbringing and how it has contributed to their current lifestyle. As this progressed, exploration would also look at the emotions being avoided (in this case their feelings of failure related to their oldest son, lack of connection in their own marriage, feelings of failure at not having achieved more in life at an advanced age, etc.) In each part of this, therapy would also be asking, “how has this contributed to or expressed itself in accumulation and maintenance of “stuff”? As Pete and Betty work through some of those old emotions, they would also be asked to read specific books and articles on Minimalism and non consumerism in order to help retrain their brain in a newer, healthier direction. They would be given basic information regarding how neural pathways work and be encouraged to use Minimalism and related literature to start building these new neural networks. Also, obviously, they would be encouraged to continually assess their household in terms of a modified version of the Marie Kondo method. They would be instructed to ask themselves whether their items, behaviors and relationships meet the criteria of being “useful, beautiful or joyful” and if not, they would be encouraged to sell, donate or recycle or discard.
There’s not a whole of “content” to this as of yet. Again, as this is a newly developing specialty that’s inherently vague in nature, I’ll assume it will flesh itself out more as the actual practice of it takes place. As therapists, we spend a great deal of time learning theories. At some point, however, we have to practice those theories on live people. We’re rarely ever ready when we first start but we do so cautiously and ethically so that at the very least, we do no harm and then carefully stumble and bumble our way towards mastery. This specialty will be no different. There are some basic theories that underlie it. Now I just need some volunteers to help me to experience it live. Any takers??
Licensed Professional Counselor
Houston, TX 77006
Unrelated book recommendation:
The Millionaire Next Door– In a very literal way, this book has and continues to change my life and I haven’t even finished reading it!
Unrelated song recommendation:
The bit starting around 4:12 still blows me away.