Why cognitive flexibility is vital for a minimalist lifestyle

theoretical minimalist minimalism theory-plants (13)

Changes are afoot.

You’re beginning your journey into minimalism and the outcome is yet unknown.

Nonetheless, you’re willing to test the theory, give it a go, see what happens.

That’s when cognitive flexibility is both required AND working at its best.

A report by Barbara Jacquelyn Sahakian published in Mensa magazine (March 2022) discusses the concept of cognitive flexibility and of its importance in our lives. It includes traits such as curiosity, imagination, creativity and empathy and allows us to investigate different concepts and adapt to new situations.

Any kind of change of direction in your life will require cognitive flexibility. So, if you’re starting out on the path to minimalism, you’ll have already become curious about the topic and you may have begun to imagine how your life could be different when living with less.

You’ll also need to be flexible in your approach to your belongings and accept that your activities, routines and physical surroundings may need to change in order to live a more minimal lifestyle.

Imagining future scenarios where you have minimised your home allows you to discover how you may need to embrace new ways of doing things or may need to adjust your approach at the decluttering stage in order to achieve your goals.

Exploring a multitude of different scenarios shows cognitive flexibility and makes you more likely to succeed on your minimalist journey.

On the flip side, cognitive rigidity may prevent you from achieving your goal of living a more minimalist life.

The opposite of cognitive flexibility is cognitive rigidity, which is found in a number of mental health disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder, major depressive disorder and autism spectrum disorder.

Barbara J Sahakian, 2022

The good news is that you can learn to be more cognitively flexible. In fact, you may be able to overcome some elements of cognitive rigidity through your search for a more simple life.

For example, compulsive hoarding is often considered to be a type of OCD. So, if you are able to declutter some of your belongings, you’re demonstrating the ability to be cognitively more flexible.

Likewise, the changes to routine that are required to live more minimalistically may feel difficult for autism spectrum people but being curious about, imagining, and making that adjustment is a sign of improved cognitive flexibility.

All cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) methods help you to learn to be more cognitively flexible by training you to change your patterns of thoughts and behaviour. So each small step you take to toward a minimalist lifestyle will help to enhance your cognitive flexibility and get you closer to achieving your aim.

And when you stay cognitively flexible, you’ll be able to think outside the box to cope with any challenges that arise throughout your minimalism journey.

Go for it!

Sahakian, B. J. (2022) ‘Outside of the box’, Mensa, March 2022, pp.08-10.

First published:

Sahakian, B. J., Langley, C., and Leong, V. (2021) ‘IQ tests can’t measure it but cognitive flexibility is key to learning and creativity, [online]. [26 February 2022] The Conversation. Published June 23 2021 Available from: https://theconversation.com/iq-tests-cant-measure-it-but-cognitive-flexibility-is-key-to-learning-and-creativity-163284

Bratiotis, C., Otte, S., Steketee, G., Muroff, J., Frost, R. O. (2009) ‘Hoarding Fact Sheet’, [online] [26 February 2022]. International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), Boston. Available from: https://iocdf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Hoarding-Fact-Sheet.pdf

How to prevent recluttering

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If you’ve managed to declutter your belongings, good on ya!

You’ve made a decision to live with less and I bet you’re thoroughly chuffed with your efforts – I know I was every time I ‘completed’ a room.

However, within the physical and mental space left behind by the decluttering process, you may become tempted to fill that void.

You might feel the urge to reclutter.

You might not feel it quickly, as you’ll probably enjoy basking in your decluttering success for a while. But, if you don’t keep an eye on things, you might end up recluttering in a week, a month, a year, a decade.

Here are come common causes of recluttering:

You’ve got extra space. If there’s an empty cupboard, box or drawer, it means you can store stuff in it without it getting in your way and impacting on your day-to-day space. It’s tidy – but it’s still there.

You take a second look at the things you’ve decluttered. If you didn’t donate or remove your belongings immediately, there might be in a box in the garage. A box that you can easily access and decide that no, in fact, I don’t want to get rid of that… it’s coming back into the house.

You buy more stuff. Space in your wardrobe, kitchen or toolkit means you can ‘treat yo-self’ to something new. One-out-one-in, right?

You keep it ‘just in case’. You take a look at that bag of items you’re taking to the charity shop and realise you shouldn’t have decluttered that ball of wool. You might need it in the future so you keep hold of it.

This was certainly the case for me. I decluttered but I kept the boxes of stuff in the garage, ready to give away or sell. And then, the pandemic turned me into a hoarder. I went out to those boxes and decided that I might need these things – who knows when I’ll get a chance to go out to get them in the future? So I brought items back into my home.

HOW TO AVOID RECLUTTERING YOUR HOME

I know some of these ideas will sound simple, but it’s all about giving yourself a bit of a talking to. Here’s how to deal with recluttering:

  • Avoid the shops so you can’t buy anything new.
  • Get rid of decluttered items immediately so you can’t change your mind.
  • Remove excess storage solutions so there isn’t space to reclutter.
  • Know that if you need something that desperately in the future, you can buy it.
  • Take time to consider purchases. Give yourself a month and if you still want and need the item, maybe getting it is the right thing to do.

Have you had the urge to reclutter after a clear out? Do you have any tips for avoiding recluttering your home? Please let me know how you handled this issue in the comments below.