I spoke last week at the University of Ottawa to kick off their Health and Wellness Week. It was chilly and cold, but a fabulous event to be part of.
I am thankful for the organizers and their forward thinking in connecting minimalism to wellness. Our pursuit and collection of physical possessions has a profound effect on the lives we live—and the level of life satisfaction we experience. I was grateful for the opportunity to help make that connection for both students and faculty.
As part of the presentation, I took some time to connect minimalism with the seven pillars of wellness. And I thought it might be helpful to share those connections here as well.
(I know there are different models of human wellness available and the number of pillars can change from one organization to another. But I’ll use the University of Ottawa model as the basis for this post).
The 7 Pillars of Human Wellness
1. Spiritual Wellness: Fostering a sense of inner peace and harmony while participating in activities that support one’s beliefs and values.
It is important to note, in descriptions of wellness, that spiritual wellness does not necessarily speak to the practice of a specific faith (or any faith for that matter). Spiritual wellness is about alignment—aligning one’s activities with their beliefs and values.
Within this definition, minimalism contributes significantly to spiritual wellness. In fact, minimalism is, at its core, about alignment. Minimalism is about promoting your values by removing distractions. Owning less allows us to direct our most finite resources (time, money, and energy) towards those things that matter most to us.
2. Physical Wellness: Adopting healthy habits and minimizing risky behaviors that may affect your well-being.
I can’t speak for every person who has adopted minimalism as a lifestyle, but I can speak for a large number of them. More importantly, I can speak for myself. I am a far healthier person today than before I discovered minimalism.
Intentionality in my possessions sparked intentionality in other areas of my life. As I removed the physical clutter from my home, I began eating healthier and exercising more. This occurred partly because owning less freed up my time to pursue those habits and partly because intentionality in one area of life tends to spark intentionality in other areas.
I am not alone in this experience. Courtney Carver, Joshua Fields Millburn, Leo Babauta, and Francine Jay have all written about similar experiences. Does practicing minimalism make you healthier automatically? No, but it does provide the opportunity and often the initiative to incorporate healthier habits. Minimalism encourages physical wellness.
3. Financial Wellness: Understanding your financial situation and your relationship with money, so you can make sound decisions.
The connection between minimalism and financial wellness is not difficult to see. As we own less and buy less, we are able to live on less money. This change in our financial obligations means any number of things for an individual: perhaps you are able to get out of debt, get ahead financially, give more, or even change your career.
“More money” means different things to different people. But in terms of wellness, having a good understanding of your financial situation and where your money is going (or not going) is a key step to being proud of the life you are living. Minimalism makes that easier to do.
4. Emotional Wellness: Being emotionally balanced, understanding yourself and seeking support, if necessary.
Minimalism brings about greater understanding of ourselves than most people realize.
Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value by removing everything that distracts us from it. In this way, minimalism forces questions of values upon us. As we begin owning less and identifying those items that support our purpose, we can’t help but ask ourselves where do we find joy, happiness, and fulfillment in life.
Additionally, the process of removing possessions from our lives invites us to dig deep into our hearts as we seek answers to the questions that inevitably surface: Why did I buy more than I need? What prompted me to waste so much money on physical possessions? Why is this item hard to get rid of? What emotions or fears are making this process difficult for me?
These questions are not easy to answer—and we don’t always like what we discover when we ask them. But they are important and they are questions that many people never ask themselves. Minimalism, without a doubt, brings about greater understanding of ourselves, our purposes, and what inner obstacles are keeping us from realizing them.
5. Intellectual Wellness: Inspiring a sense of curiosity by opening your mind to new experiences, concepts and skills that are mentally stimulating and creative.
For some people, the mere pursuit of minimalism becomes an exercise in curiosity and new experiences. For others, it opens the pathway.
Experiences result in greater life satisfaction than possessions. For one reason, as noted above, new experiences result in more intellectual wellness. And the less financial resources we spend on possessions, the more we have left over for new experiences.
For some, this may mean travel. In fact, many people become minimalist specifically so they can travel more. But there are other experiences that minimalism opens the pathway for: local concerts, cooking lessons, eating out, hiking, new hobbies, volunteering, or local community events.
Minimalism may not force intellectual wellness upon us like it does with emotional wellness. But it does provide opportunity for countless new experiences if we so choose to use our money in that way.
6. Environmental Wellness: Making efforts to protect and sustain your surrounding environment to promote health and well-being.
Without a doubt, minimalism contributes to environmental wellness (both as individuals and as a society). As we purchase and consume less, we begin living a life that is better for the environment around us.
We are not able to change the actions of our past, but we are able to change the decisions of our future.
And if we remove our excess possessions in a responsible way, we can bring even more good to the environment around us. Our excess possessions, through local charities, can become a blessing to others as we donate to organizations meeting needs of people in our community. Of course, donating or recycling our excess is not always possible, but the harder we work to discard our possessions responsibly, the more everybody wins.
7. Social Wellness: Making meaningful connections with people by taking an active part in your community and maintaining positive relationships.
I was once asked by a journalist if minimalism negatively affected my relationships with other people. I responded, “Absolutely not. Minimalism has had the opposite effect. It has made me a better friend and sparked more meaningful relationships in my life.”
If you know my story, you know that my reason for embracing a more minimalist lifestyle was specifically for the purpose of spending more time with my kids. But minimalism has also brought me closer to my wife and community.
Relationships take time and effort. When our lives are wasted chasing and accumulating (and caring for) unneeded possessions, it is our relationships with other people that often suffers the most.
For some, that may be because we wasted an entire Saturday cleaning a garage rather than playing catch with our son. For others, that might mean missing out on opportunities to spend with friends or loved ones.
Will embracing minimalism automatically make you a better, more positive friend to others? No, absolutely not. But if meaningful relationships are a value of yours, you will be surprised how minimalism frees you to experience more of them.
Minimalism and Happiness
I am asked from time to time, if minimalism leads to happiness.
In short, I believe the answer is, “No. Minimalism does not automatically make a person happier.”
What minimalism does is it frees people to pursue happiness in new ways. It recognizes that lasting happiness and fulfillment can never be found in material possessions. When we remove ourselves from that pursuit, we free our resources to begin pursuing happiness elsewhere. And in that way, minimalism contributes to our happiness, even if it is not our greatest goal in life.
As we reflect on the pillars of human wellness, we are able to see even more how minimalism provides a pathway to happiness and meaning.
While not delivering wellness by itself, minimalism supports and encourages each of the most essential pillars: spiritual, physical, financial, emotional, intellectual, environmental, and social.