This blog post was written by Victoria L. Freeman, Ph.D., CHFS, CMH, CBC.
Before our lives became so busy, so cluttered, there was space; big, beautiful, peaceful, wide-open space with endless potential – in our homes, in our heads, and in our souls. As Trina McNeilly writes in her book, Unclutter Your Soul: Overcome What Overwhelms You, we need space to de-stress, relax, and recharge.2 We need space for our minds to create and our souls to breathe. When we feel cluttered on the inside, it directly corresponds to how we view and manage our external world, she explains. Our internal and external worlds are deeply intertwined, so suboptimal health in one affects the other. As holistic health practitioners, we know all about this internal/external connection, and we know that addressing only one aspect of health often results in a deficit in other areas. With that interconnectedness in mind, the goal of this blog is to offer a way to reclaim space – internal and external – by exploring the how and why of the recently evolved minimalist movement, sometimes known as holistic decluttering.
The word “minimalism” can conjure up thoughts of a stark white room with a single potted plant and one picture on a wall. But the movement has recently broadened into a way of being as much as a way of experiencing a space, says one of the leading experts in the holistic decluttering industry, YouTuber, blogger, podcaster, author, and course creator Mia Danielle. Now, not only do proponents of minimalism incorporate personal style along with cleaning out cabinets and decluttering closets, but the blossoming movement also includes pruning schedules, prioritizing and simplifying relationships, and relying on soulful, space-promoting practices of mindfulness, including meditation, yoga, and prayer, says Danielle. “I like to think of our lives as an ecosystem where all of the pieces work together and influence each other – like relationships, mindsets, emotions, finances, schedules, and personal environments,” she explains. “When one of these areas is out of balance, all areas are affected.” That philosophy sounds like holistic health, doesn’t it?
What Is Holistic Decluttering?
Decluttering or creating space in one aspect of life only – your physical home, for example, is only a partial solution. Yes, a cluttered home can affect your mind and spirit. But clutter in your mind and spirit can also manifest in the way you create your home. If we’re trying to achieve real peace, we must pursue it holistically by addressing physical, mental, and spiritual space. So, before we go any further, let’s dig a little deeper by breaking holistic decluttering into its components.
Physical decluttering is all about sorting through, organizing, and unloading unnecessary stuff to create a physical space with order, warmth, safety/security, and peace. Danielle describes physical decluttering this way: “Letting go of excess in the environment to create a support system based on functionality and energy that is unique to the individual.” She recognizes that your home – when it’s free of excess – can and should function as a support system for you and your family.
A good starting place is with something small, like a junk drawer or a single closet shelf. Simply remove all the things you don’t regularly use, tidy up the things you do use, and make a commitment to keep it that way, suggests Erica Layne in her book The Minimalist Way: Minimalism Strategies to Declutter Your Life and Make Room for Joy.1 Once you’re successful in a small space, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and motivation to tackle larger areas.
Another approach is to set a timer for 10 minutes and clear as much clutter as you can, knowing that when the timer goes off, you can stop – guilt-free. If you wish to continue, just set the timer for another 10 minutes. The realization of what you can accomplish in 10 minutes of focused work will likely motivate you to persist.1
In mental decluttering, Danielle says the goal is to “let go of unhelpful thought patterns such as worry and overwhelming to-dos.” To identify what needs to go, start by determining your core values, or what’s really important to you, suggests S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport in their book, Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking.3 Then, with your values in mind, prioritize your time, energy, and thoughts around those values. Finally, armed with your core values and priorities, create a plan with realistic and measurable goals to structure your life in alignment with them.
For example, if freedom and flexibility are some of your core values, then working for someone else in a 40-hours-a-week office job does not represent a priority that supports your values. However, if stability and a predictable income are more important to you, then that 40-hours-a-week office position may be just what you need.
Here’s an example of a realistic and measurable goal: If you value intimacy with God and you’ve determined it’s a high priority, then a good goal could be to clear space in your day for 30 minutes to spend in prayer and Bible reading to become part of your daily routine by the end of the month.
The process of spiritual decluttering involves taking inventory of your soul clutter (e.g., fears of what others think of you, unrealistic expectations of yourself, emotional pain, or feelings associated with anxiety), making space for a healthier internal environment, and taking action to live clutter-free from the inside out. McNeilly explains that change starts on the inside, so the only way to get out of our clutter (physical, mental, or spiritual) is to dive into it. Examine it, understand it, sort through it, and then change it. You can’t go over it, under it, or around it. You must go through it, she says. We are the guardians of our own change. In fact, nothing will change unless and until we decide to make it so.2
How can we create more spiritual space? McNeilly writes that the key from a Christian perspective (Trinity is founded on a Christian philosophy, after all) is breaking spiritual strongholds, which simply refers to areas where we’re stuck in spiritual bondage, falsely believing we can’t change them. Feelings associated with depression, anxiety, fear, past emotional hurts, and unforgiveness are all examples of strongholds where it’s common to feel stuck. This is an admittedly simplified version of the process but breaking free involves two major steps, according to McNeilly.2 First, you must believe you are not powerless. In the book of Ephesians, chapter 6, the Bible describes spiritual weapons or armor God has given us to battle spiritual strongholds, weapons like the shield of faith, the breastplate of righteousness, and the helmet of salvation. Secondly, you must recognize the false belief, take responsibility for it, and replace it with the truth of God’s Word. Like John 8:32 says, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Let’s say, for example, you’ve recognized that your spirit is overwhelmed with fear that affects several areas of your life, and you want to let it go. One strategy is to search for, study, and act on Bible scriptures that describe God’s truth regarding fear. The Bible has much to say about fear (and hundreds of other things that can plague our souls), including Psalm 91:4-5, Isaiah 41:10, 2 Timothy 1:7, and Luke 12:32. For stubborn spiritual clutter, or if you’d simply like some support in the process, consider working with a Biblical Coach who can guide you through the process of identifying and removing strongholds.
“At the end of the day, decluttering is decluttering, and living with less looks the same across all aspects of our lives,” says Danielle. “In essence, you're prioritizing, simplifying, and releasing. Whether you're doing so with unused physical belongings, debilitating thoughts, or spiritual baggage, this way of thinking is like a muscle that gets strengthened when you use it. At some point, the philosophy of minimizing clutter becomes a lens through which you look at everything without even realizing it.”
Why Live Clutter-Free
What are the benefits awaiting us if we put forth the effort to remove the surplus from our lives? Danielle offers three benefits – she calls them “The Big 3” – that, across all aspects of decluttering, can improve health and life.
1. Support: Creating a physical, mental, and spiritual existence that supports you as a person and your life goals.
2. Freedom: There's much freedom in letting go and releasing the obligations and trappings that come with excess.
3. Growth: This one may be surprising but try thinking of it like pruning a plant. You must remove the dead limbs and other parts that aren't bearing fruit for new branches to flourish. Our lives are the same. When you remove something that's weighing you down and absorbing your resources, you make room for new and better things to enter and grow.
Holistic Support for the Decluttering Process
The benefits are certainly worth it, but decluttering takes time and effort. Some people want a quick fix, Danielle says, but it rarely, if ever, works that way. “If people are unsuccessful at decluttering, it’s usually because they try to brute force the change rather than working through a holistic approach.” Here is Danielle’s five-part, holistic process for decluttering success:
1. Mind: Get your beliefs and intentions on board and learn to break mental attachments to "things."
2. Emotions: Bring your loved ones into the process and find ease in the emotional process of letting go.
3. Physical: This involves a variety of physical space strategies like the ones mentioned earlier.
4. Energy: Determine what kind of mood you want in your physical space. How do you want your home, mind, and spirit to feel? How do you want them to function?
5. Maintenance: Identify the habits, routines, and systems you need to establish to maintain your progress.
Take the time to complete all these steps of decluttering, whether it’s physical, mental, or spiritual, Danielle urges. “The mental and emotional preparation removes attachments to physical clutter and pulls those attachments up at the roots. This includes beliefs about belongings, about yourself and your own capabilities, or about your unique situation. It also includes fears about what you may need in the future and how to release the past.”
The same is true for mental and spiritual clutter, she says. You can clear your schedule of what's currently on it and feel good about that new mental space, but if you don't change your habits and your emotional need to please and to say "yes" to people, your schedule is going to fill back up, Danielle explains. Or you can do the hard work of forgiving someone who hurt you, but if you have an unbridled spirit of being easily offended, it's only a matter of time before that spiritual clutter creeps back in.
A Nudge to Get You Started
Before you clean out a single drawer, toss your to-do list, or dig into what’s ailing your soul, remember to stay benefits focused instead of features focused. Whether it’s physical, mental, or spiritual decluttering, the first step Danielle recommends is to find a powerful why. Why did you decide you wanted to create space in the first place? What do you value that you currently don’t have room for in your life? When you switch your purpose from a generic "getting rid of some physical, mental, and spiritual junk" to something more personally meaningful, Danielle says, you’re more likely to take action and stay the course. “The why is the fuel that gets you from where you are to where you want to be.”
Layne agrees, “When you know your why – your deepest priorities, your core values – everything else falls into place. The nonessentials get stripped away, and you uncover the life you’ve always wanted. This is the heart of minimalism. It’s the privilege of creating a life that matches who you are on the inside. It’s the gift of pursuing what matters to you – free from the distractions that too often take you off track.”1
Less isn’t always easy in a culture that values busyness, achievement, and the endless accumulation of material things. “Yet one of the most powerful catalysts for adopting a minimalist mindset is recognizing and internalizing the impact clutter has on you,” notes Layne. “When you finally open your eyes to the clutter around you and the clutter inside you, that’s when you feel the heaviness of it – and you begin to want to change.”1
If you need help with mental or emotional concerns, seek help from a therapist. In addition, your pastor or a Biblical Coach can offer guidance in spiritual matters. For more advice on implementing minimalist strategies in your life, see Mia Danielle’s website, which includes links to her podcasts and YouTube channel. Other resources include The Minimalist Way: Minimalism Strategies to Declutter Your Life and Make Room for Joy by Erica Layne; Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking by S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport; and Unclutter Your Soul: Overcome What Overwhelms You, by Trina McNeilly.
1. Layne, E. (2019). The Minimalist Way: Minimalism Strategies to Declutter Your Life and Make Room for Joy. Althea Press: Emeryville, California.
2. McNeilly, T. (2022). Unclutter Your Soul: Overcome What Overwhelms You. W Publishing Group: Nashville, Tennessee.
3. Scott, S.J. and B. Davenport. (2016). Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking. Oldtown Publishing: Coppell, TX.
About the Author:
Victoria L. Freeman, Ph.D., CHFS, CMH, CBC, has traveled a long and winding professional road that includes working as a teenage fine artist, later a personal trainer and wellness coach, a college professor and administrator in exercise science and education, a freelance natural health and fitness writer for national magazines, a property manager and interior designer for vacation and executive rental properties and most recently returning to the natural health arena while attending Trinity School of Natural Health to become a Certified Holistic Fitness Specialist, a Certified Master Herbalist, and a Certified Biblical Coach.