How Minimalism Can Benefit Those With Sensory Issues And Special Needs

How Minimalism Can Benefit Those With Sensory Issues And Special Needs
Disclaimer: I have only a little personal experience with special needs and sensory processing disorder, what is written here is wisdom gleaned from friends who were gracious enough to share with me.
We all are greatly affected by our surroundings and minimalism to any degree can benefit our mental and emotional health. With a growing recognition of autism and sensory issues, there are ways to help bring calm into daily life.
Many are helped by diet change and having a very consistent routine, but embracing minimalism can be extremely beneficial as well.
The SPD Foundation says:

Sensory processing (sometimes called “sensory integration” or SI) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Whether you are biting into a hamburger, riding a bicycle, or reading a book, your successful completion of the activity requires processing sensation or “sensory integration.”

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD, formerly known as “sensory integration dysfunction”) is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. Pioneering occupational therapist and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD, likened SPD to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and other impacts may result if the disorder is not treated effectively.

Cara at Health, Home and Happiness explained:

What looks a little messy to you, looks like complete paralyzing chaos to them. Toning down the toys, clutter, and decorations can help children with special needs [and SPD] feel more at home in their own homes.. ~ Minimalism and Parenting Children With Special Needs

When someone with SPD is surrounded by clutter, their brain has a difficult time making sense of everything around them (too much sensory input: color, sound, visual “noise”). Those who haven’t mastered self-control, will respond with mentally shutting down or attempt to settle their mind by physical activity. (This is considered “stimming”, short for “self-stimulatory behavior”.)
To help them make sense of their surroundings and bring calm and order into their mind, there are specific ways in which minimalism can help those with special needs and sensory processing issues:
Colors in the home. Having a neutral color palette for decor means there is less to try to sort and categorize when one enters a room.
General minimalism: Having a minimal amount of things in the home, allows for easy processing. Too many options can be paralyzing and the person may be unable to see any options.
Decor:  Avoid knick-knacks and mass collections. Consider one calming picture per wall, or a family photograph.
Routines: Once a routine is developed, the day can progress and feel “normal”. One can know what to expect and find comfort in that. Being a converted “messy”, building routines is how I learned to maintain my home and it definitely helped my children manage their rooms as well.
Schedule: People with SPD can get overstimulated by too many activities and simplifying the schedule gives more time to process what is going on and what to expect next.
Bedrooms: Removing all but the necessities can help calm the mind so rest and sleep can come easier. Just having a bed and dresser is best, leaving very little to occupy their senses.
Noise: Limit background noise to something that is calming. Each person has their own preference, so just be aware that some may tone out and focus on specific things easier and other people can only process one source of audio stimulation at a time. Avoid T.V. and music playing at the same time.
Toy room: Keep toys sorted by category and limit the room to only have a certain amount of categories available (4-6 is manageable). Some of the best ways to organize is a small shelf unit with baskets that can be labeled on the front of each basket.
Meals: Simple is best. Meat, veggie and side is perfect. Avoid casseroles and meals that combine too many textures.
What other ways have you found minimalism to help those with special needs and/or SPD?
Other helps:
The GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) diet which works at healing the gut. By healing the gut, chronic conditions such as autism, celiacs, food allergies, environmental allergies, eczema, and autoimmune disorders can be helped immensely.
For decluttering and simplifying walk-through, check out my decluttering helps.
Essential oils can be very calming and help over-stimulation and avoid meltdowns. If you have a friend who sells essential oils, take time to ask them what they recommend.
If you are in need of community support, there is a facebook group available: Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) Support

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About Rachel Jones

Hi there! I’m Rachel Jones, and I founded Nourishing Minimalism in 2012 at the beginning of my minimalist journey after I'd been doing a yearly decluttering challenge for 4 years and started to see a change in my home. If you're looking for encouragement in your journey, please join our FREE Facebook Group: Nourishing Minimalism Facebook Group


  1. Delana on 12/04/2016 at 2:38 pm

    Thank you for this article. I think I was one of those kids with sensory issues that was not properly diagnosed. Depression, anxiety, OCD. My parents home is extremely cluttered. The tv was on a lot. I think a lot of my problems stemmed from my environment. I noticed after reading your article that I keep my home minimal. My walls are all neutral except where I have allowed the kids to pick colors. When my husband watches basketball on TV all I am aware of is the squeaking shoes on the court! I’m sensitive to light. I keep a fairly clear schedule. I hate busy! I am interested in the part about the oils as I am also very sensitive to smells. They can bring on very happy feelings or bad feelings and I can’t always place why. I know that although I have very loving parents I am a much happier adult than CHILD.May e because I have more control over my environment. One of my happiest moments of the year is christmas night when I take down the decorations and clean the house! Anyway, I just really appreciate this article. I feel like it has really helped me to understand myself better.

    • b.G. on 01/26/2017 at 12:52 am

      Delana i feel as though you just told my life’s story! I Never recognized what i was eXperiencing was oversensoRy input and subsequent anxiety until my son began having behavioral problEms at a young Age. Minimizing helps me cope and i hope to help my son as well. Also i an cracking up about the squeaking basKetball shOes, i argue with my husband about that noise so often!

  2. Euphemia on 05/10/2017 at 2:56 pm

    You have given me a lightbulb moment about myself! Excellent piece you’ve shared!

  3. Meeghan :) on 07/18/2018 at 2:01 pm

    Elaine Aron has fabulous work on sensory processing. It has brought me so much peace in my own journey with being over stimulated. Combined with Rachel’s de-cluttering course life has become lighter, free’er and renewed with hope. I wish this for all!

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