Minimalism and money: are you poor?

Money Saving Cash Minimalism Coins Card Save Minimalist (1 Of 1) 2

What a question.

I’ve heard it many times within the minimalism community. People asking minimalists if their way of living is simply because they can’t afford to buy the things that everyone else can.

There are many reasons to adopt a minimalist lifestyle – stress relief, saving time, freedom from anxiety, sustainability and environmental factors, rebelling against consumerism.

And money.

That can certainly be a key reason why someone would want to embrace minimalism. And that comes in various guises:

  • Spending less on stuff so that you can work less and have more free time
  • Simply not having the excess income available to spend on anything above the essentials
  • Saving money for a financially stable future rather than spending it on trinkets now
  • Selling additional belongings to make much-needed money from your clutter
The Minimalists (2010-2015) pp 8

But it’s not necessarily about being ‘too poor’ to buy things; minimalism can be embraced for any number of reasons, not just to improve your finacial situation.

In my opinion, minimalists are the most wealthy of all – time rich, managed money, invested relationships. As The Minimalists said above, they know what adds value to their lives, which is an eviable situation to be in. Whether with lots of money or with none, their lives are complete.

But, if you have savings, a secure home, investments and all the essentials, what’s left to do with your money?

An interesting question.

I spent many years as a student (and in my twenties… and thirties) not being able to afford stuff. I had less-than the minimum needed to live on, and was often floundering in my student overdraft.

But, oddly enough, I spent more then than I do now. Having no extra money to play with didn’t ‘force’ me to become a minimalist – although that would have probably helped my financial situation at the time. Instead, I just carried on spending money, buying non-essentials and not considering my financial future.

Fields Milburn, J. and Nicodemus, R. (2021) pp 57

That is until the debts got a little too grand for my liking. Until I wanted to put down roots and save a deposit for a mortgage. Until I couldn’t even afford my monthly bills. Things had to change and I simply stopped spending.

I got a budget and started to save every penny. Saving became addictive – and I wasn’t even considering minimalism as a way to save money back then.

In truth, I’ve always been a saver, but just didn’t have the funds while I was studying to be able to do that. It was only after starting to manage my money more carefully that I discovered minimalism and all the things that it would help me with – primarily peace and calmness, but also saving extra money on unnecessary shopping.

Well, I’ve been decluttering and cutting back and not shopping and not spending for so long that it feels a little alien to buy anything now. My money automatically stays in my purse and in my bank account rather than being spent. The furthest it moves is into my savings account, and sometimes into my mortgage as an overpayment.

Minimalism brought extra money to me when I sold excess collections during decluttering. It saved me money when I questioned the need to buy anything new. It meant I didn’t need as much money to live on, because I didn’t need a budget for browsing the shops. So I could work less and save more.

After a decade or more of minimalist living, it’s just a way of life for me now. And money doesn’t feel scarce any more, all thanks to minimalism.

But that doesn’t mean I want to go out and spend it now that I have it.

It’s not that I don’t want to invest in new items when my old tech, clothing and homewares have worn out or broken, it’s because I’ve become so accustomed to not buying anything that I really consider it before I do.

However, when I feel more secure in my financial situation, I admit that I am much more likely to spend money. I feel more free to browse the shops, knowing that anything I buy won’t put me in a difficult position fiscally. From buying second-hand items from charity shops to purchasing the latest technology frrom glossy elecronics stores, I can be more free with my money because it doesn’t feel scarce.

And when I did hit the shops recently, it was rather exciting. I felt a little giddy when exchanging my money for goods. Carrying those bags home, bursting with new items. What an experience.

But that’s all it was – a one-off experience. The novelty of shopping soon wore off. I’m not NOT buying items because I can’t afford it. I’m just not interested in recluttering my home. I’d rather spend on experiences (meals out, day trips, theatre tickets) than things.

Kaplan, J. (2015) pp 95

I can spend money as easily as the next person; it’s just that I would rather buy an experience that’s not going to clutter up my home.

Minimalism persists, while money comes and goes.

We are not minimalists because we are poor. We are not poor because we are minimalists.

Fields Milburn, J. and Nicodemus, R. (2010-2015) Essential Essays by The Minimalists. USA: Asymmetrical

Fields Milburn, J. and Nicodemus, R. (2021) Love People Use Things. Great Britain: Headline Home

Kaplan, J. (2015) The Gratitude Diaries. Great Britain: Yellow Kite Books

Comfort without clutter

Theoretical Minimalist Inspiation Minimalism Home Lifestyle (7 Of 9)

As I’m writing this, it’s January.

Soon after ‘Blue Monday’, in fact. Said to be the most depressing day of the year

And I’m thinking about comfort.

The ways that we can soothe ourselves through the dark days of winter and the things we might need to help us achieve that aim.

Even though the Mental Health Foundation says Blue Monday is a myth, some of the factors that have caused it to be nicknamed are certainly true of the month of Janaury in general:

Gloomy and grey days. Cold and wet weather. Back-to-work feeling. Post-Christmas blues (and debts). Dark mornings and evenings.

It can be a lot to deal with emotionally, especially when you bring Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and general low mood into the mix.

The lack of exposure to sunlight in the winter can cause distuption to our circadium rhythm and the body’s production of melatonin and serotonin, which are linked to lethargy and feelings of depression – symptoms of SAD.

So it’s no wonder that some of us might be seeking to improve our January by enjoying a little extra comfort:

  • Introducing extra blankets, hot water bottles and cushions to the bed and on the sofa.
  • Adding soft, cosy lighting such as fairy lights, lamps or candles.
  • Layering up with extra knitwear, thermal bases or dressing gowns.
  • Choosing warming baths over showers, with bottles of bubble bath, face masks and luxury hair products.
  • Treating ourselves to some new items from the January sales; clothing, tech, homewares, cosmetics.
  • Enjoying entertainment by buying new music, films, books, magazines, games.

All of these items – and anything else that brings you comfort – may be benficial to your wellbeing in January. Anything that can help you relax, feel supported and put a smile on your face seems like a positive thing to do.

But, to some minimalists, the list above constitutes clutter. Those items are all surplus to requirements, making them essentially non-minimalist. You are re-cluttering.

And we need to consider the cost factor; how much of your hard-earned money is going to be ‘wasted’; how much space are the items going to take up; how much time will you need to spend maintaining those extra pieces.

The novelty of buying new things can bring a short-term boost but, as I’ve explored previously, the desire to acquire soon wears off. So even though a shopping trip to get some new comforting items might uplift you now, it’s possible that you may regret those purchases in the near future.

But, does a sparse home with only the essentials provide enough comfort? Both physically and emotionally? If you’re looking around a room with only the furniture needed to house the small number of belongings you have and nothing else, is it going to soothe you when you need to feel ‘at home’ and comfortable.

Sometimes, having a little more than the bare essentials is important in keeping us satisfied.

Sure, have just one sofa – but adding a blanket and a cushion can make it into somewhere you’d like to settle down and relax. Yes, create a capsule wardrobe of items that all work together, but why not choose an extra-snuggly knit for those cold wintery days when you want to stay warm? Okay, a light fitting in the ceiling does the job of illuminating the room, but a lamp or string of fairy lights will bring that soft glow that’ll make you feel cosy.

Nothing is clutter if it feels right to you and has a positive impact on your wellbeing.

All of those non-essential items are what make a house a home, and can help you to feel abundant rather than scarce, both of which are uplifting when it’s a grey Monday in the middle of winter and you need a little extra comfort.

Stay snug.

NHS (2022) Overview: Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) [Online]. [Accessed 17th Janaury 2024]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/overview/

Kousoulis, A. (2021) What does blue monday mean for our mental health? [Online]. [Accessed 17th January 2024] Available from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/blogs/what-does-blue-monday-mean-our-mental-health

The emotions we attach to belongings when we’re grieving – and how to let them go

Theoretical Minimalist Minimalism Theory Plants (11)

When decluttering, it’s not always as simple as deciding if you practically need something or not.

You can’t always pick up a belonging, decide whether or not it sparks joy, and then let it go.

It’s not about getting rid of multiples, or ‘just in case’ items, or things that no longer serve their purpose.

It’s sometimes a little more complicated than that.

Sure, those factors can certainly help you to declutter the possessions that you don’t have much of an emotional attachment to – you don’t need duplicates, broken things, ‘rainy day’ items or impractical pieces – but these dispassionate factors don’t make it any easier to let go of things when feelings are involved. And especially when we are grieving.

That’s because, sometimes, the item you’re considering decluttering is more than just the item. It’s the sentiment behind it. The emotion you feel when it’s around. The positives (or the negatives) it brings to your life.

Happiness, nostalgia, duty, sadness, peacefulness, regret, longing, love, sentimentality, guilt.

All of these feelings could be triggered by an item and could determine whether or not you’ll find it hard to let it go, even if you want to.

So, it’s important to analyse the emotional attachment you have to the belongings you choose to keep and discover whether they are serving you well or causing more harm than good.

Grief

It’s often the case that we gain extra possessions after a bereavement. We might have been kindly left something by the deceased person or we might need to clear out a relative’s home when they go into care or die.

And, when we are already coping with such a difficult time and a complex set of emotions, it can feel like the easiest thing to do is to hold on to items and deal with them later when we feel better able to.

The difficulty with items that come to us during a bereavement is that we feel a duty to keep them. To preserve the memory of the person by cherishing their belongings.

Displaying a physical reminder of the person feels like we are honouring them. Like we are keeping them with us. Sentimental items allow us to reminisce, they serve as a prompt to remind us of the good times. That’s when an item becomes so much more than an item.

After a person dies, many of their most meaningful possessions become family heirlooms, seen by those left behind as for ever containing the lost person’s essence. 

Christian Jarrett (2013)

However, it might be the case that you’ve gained too many pieces and the other person’s belongings have taken over space within your home – and therefore, space within your mind. You might also find it difficult to see the items every day and be reminded that the person is no longer with you.

But it feels wrong to call it clutter. Simply clearing it out seems uncaring – the person meant something to you, so their belongings seem like they should be cherished too.

You may want to keep some pieces. There might be important items that are special to you, that encapsulate your relationship with the person. Things that make you happy to see them – nostalgic, joyful, whistful – anything that brings positive thoughts and emotions into your body is worth holding on to, if that’s what you want.

But we do already have our own possessions that fill our homes and our time, without adding another person’s belongings into the mix. You’re not being heartless if you’re considering giving any of it up, especially if you’re finding it stressful to have more items in your rooms that you’re comfortable with.

If it’s making you sad to see the items, to feel unsettled in your space, to feel guilty about having them (or letting them go) you may need to rethink whether it’s worth hanging onto someone else’s item if it is having a negative impact on your life. Deciding what to keep and what to let go can be supremely important in this instance.

The end of an era

Of course, grief doesn’t only apply to the death of a person. It could refer to the end of a relationship, a friendship that’s run its course, or a period of time – ‘the end of an era’.

Anything that triggers an emotional response can throw up the same feelings of guilt, sadness, duty, despondency, regret – or on the flip side – joy, sentimentality, contentment, well-being and so on.

Again, it can be tempting to hold on to items that remind us of the time or honour the person. And if you feel it’s positive to do so, there’s no harm in adding possessions to your collection.

But, you can also use the decluttering process to emotionally cleanse. Letting go of physical items can be a powerful demonstration of how willing you are to move on from that time in your life.

Consider the emotional attachment you have to the things you keep around you. Do you have decor around your apartment that you got during a particularly crappy time in your life? Let those things go, but decide what to let go by thinking about what they make you feel.

Brianna Wiest (2017) pp.179

It’s true that simply having residual things from a negative time around can be triggering. It can feel cathartic to ditch those items and start afresh. Perhaps it’ll be a strong signifier to yourself that you’re willing to change or to imagine a different life ahead.

Cleaning and organising can also help to ease stress. So, if you’re currently going through a period of change or upheaval in your life, the very act of decluttering and tidying your space can help bring about feelings of calm and boost wellbeing.

However, making snap decisions when you’re already feeling emotionally vulnerable could cause regrets. You might need to give yourself time to process the end of the relationship or era before you clear out the things you negatively associate with the time.

But once, you’re feeling emotionally strong enough to experience those emotions again, you can look forward to the release that will come with letting go of the things are aren’t serving you.

When it comes to sentimental items, we worry that our memories are tied up in them and that we will forget the person or the period of time altogether if we don’t have that visual prompt. While items can and do act as a signifier of the time/person, our memories are stored in our minds, not within the thing.

So perhaps a photograph of the item would be enough of a visual reminder of those happy memories? That way, we’re not being confronted by the item each time we walk into our room – which may trigger complicated thoughts when we’re least expecting (or prepared for) it – and we can choose when we want to sit down and reminisce with the photo on our own terms.

When we’re grieving – for a person, era or relationship of any kind – emotions run high and it can be a confusing time. Showing yourself compassion no matter what feelings are thrown up is the key to processing your thoughts. And there’s no need to act quickly (unless you feel it would help) when it comes to dealing with possessions that are linked to the situation.

Give yourself the time and space to contemplate, consider and choose what items you want to carry with you and those that would, in any other situation, just feel like clutter to you.

Jarratt, C. (2013) The Psychology of Stuff and Things. [Online]. [Accessed 5th October 2023]. Available from: https://www.bps.org.uk/psychologist/psychology-stuff-and-things

Weist, B. (2017) 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think United States: Thought Catalog

When decluttering causes regrets

Theoretical Minimalist Minimalism Theory Writing Ideas (2)

I have regretted decluttering two items in my life.

It took me about three years to realise that I regretted giving up one of those items.

And the second one, I can’t be sure if it’s even gone – it might turn up one day but I might have donated it. I just don’t know.

The trouble is that, although I’m happy – over the moon, in fact – with the rest of the stuff I’ve decluttered and the resulting peaceful life and tidy home, I tend to focus on those two items.

The ones that got away.

I don’t need them. I wouldn’t use them. But they were mine once. And now I miss them.

Do you have items that you’ve given up that you regret? Perhaps the item marked the end of an era, of a dream completed, or of a project discarded? Was it the full-stop to that time of your life? Were you happy to see the back of it at the time but now yearn for those hazy days?

If so, you may have an idea of how and why I’ve come to rue my impulsive decisions.

Let me tell you what specifically I have regretted decluttering:

The first and least bothersome is a jumper. A simple black jumper. I enjoyed wearing it for years. I probably donated it because it’s such a basic item; something that can be easily replaced and I may have even already got a duplicate black jumper. I know I currently have a perfectly acceptable one in my wardrobe.

But that doesn’t stop me from hankering after the old jumper. It was the best-fitting jumper I’d ever owned. It was supremely flattering, with a scoop neck and a figure-skimming waist. But now I can’t find it, so I’m assuming that it’s gone. That it was donated with any of the other bags of clothes I’ve cleared out.

However, I think I’m remembering it in a rather more favourable light than it actually deserves. Perhaps the knit was bobbled and pilled? I think I remember the black looking a little faded? Was that scoop neck really a little too low for my liking? Did it even fit me anymore? It had probably come to the end of its life when I decided to let it go.

But I still think about it from time to time.

The more worrying item is a childhood book. This time I know I’ve decluttered it. Because I remember it being worth some money so, once I’d decided to declutter it, I sold it.

I didn’t declutter it because it was worth money – that was just an added bonus during lockdown when the world was an uncertain place and we needed extra money, not knowing what would happen to our jobs and our future.

I specifically remember not wanting it at all – it almost gave me the ‘ick’ looking at it – and being certain about decluttering it along with other books, childhood toys and so much more stuff. I think I was searching for order in a chaotic lockdown world. In fact, the pandemic had turned me into a hoarder and I wanted to regain control of my home and my mental health.

So I let that book go.

And now, three years later, it’s pinged into my mind.

I suddenly want to see it again.

More specifically, I want to smell it.

The pages had a certain smell – warm, milky, oaty – that took me straight back to reading the book as a child.

It wasn’t a story I cared about and I don’t even really remember the content or how many pages it was. But I remember the pictures and I loved that smell.

I miss that book.

So much so that I’ve been searching online to see if I can find it again to replace it. But even if I did find the same book, it wouldn’t have the same scent – so what would be the point of owning it? My childhood memories are all tied up in the aromas, not the plotline. Replacing it would feel hollow and would just remind me of the one I gave up.

So I won’t be replacing it and will just have to work on letting it go in my heart as much as I let it go in my brain.

I admit, this particular item was given up during a bit of a whirlwind declutter. A month or so of quick decisions and unemotional moments. Maybe if I had decluttered more slowly, this single regret wouldn’t have happened.

In Episode 410 of The Minimalists Podcast ‘Declutter Slowly‘ they discuss how it’s perfectly acceptible to take your time while clearing out your belongings. They make the point that it will have taken time – maybe ten years or more – to have accumulated all your possessions. So, you may need to take just as long to rid yourself of those items.

There’s no need to remove excess belongings overnight – although the all-at-once method may work for you. Sometimes, you might need to put a little more work into the decluttering process, particularly with personal items, and let things go mindfully.

And I think that a little extra thought before decluttering might have minimised my regrets.

But, then again, to have only two items haunting me out of the thousands of things that have gone is quite an achievement.

And one of those items I don’t even want anymore.

Now that I’ve written about the jumper, I’ve become more certain that it was time to let it go and that I wouldn’t even want it if I had it here now. That’s like decluttering it for a second time – it’s out of my mind now as well as my home.

If only I could feel the same way about that book.

Fields Millburn, J. and Nicodemus, R. (2023) ‘Ep.410 | Declutter Slowly’, The Minimalists Podcast, YouTube [Podcast]. 18th September 2023. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlR1gV5TE40&t=365s (Accessed 20th September 2023).

How minimalism can help soothe the ‘Micro Stressors’ of everyday life

Theoretical Minimalist Minimalism Theory Interiors Building Lego

Unexpected life events are expected to be points of stress within our lives, but did you know that ‘micro stressors’ could be having the same effect on you as larger issues such as divorce, redundancy, moving house or trauma?

They may sound small and insignificant, but micro stressors are only that when seen in isolation. When grouped together, these everyday micro stressors can build up to unmanageable levels and can sap our mental resources.

They’re the smaller things in our lives that pile up to drain us – depleting our resilience, and making it harder for us to go about our daily lives in a good and healthy headspace.

Kathryn Wheeler

Micro stressors can be found in the workplace (deadlines, working hours, demands), in your relationships (values, expectations, pressure), and within your own sense of perfectionism. Each of these situations demands potentially unreachable standards and can therefore be the root of cause micro-doses of stress each day.

But, alongside these stressors is your environment. And that’s where minimalism comes.

Although there are often factors beyond your control in some environments you find yourself in (background noise, crowding, bright lights), where you can influence those micro stressors is within your own home.

Clutter is one of the most common micro stressors. It’s a physical manifestation of the problem because it literally builds up over time. Little by little, those piles of papers and messy corners add up until the clean-up operation becomes an overwhelming task. Stressful.

But, in this instance, we’re not talking about the stress of the massive tidying task itself, we’re concerned with the mini piles creating moments of micro-stress every day; A messy shelf catching your eye and nagging you to do something about it. The stacks of unopened paperwork and unread publications weighing down your kitchen table and your mind.

It becomes tiring – exhausting – to think about everything you need to sort out all the time. The to-do list is endless so those micro stressors in your environment become maxi stressors in your life. It’s only natural – evolution has caused us to be stressed by clutter.

Minimalism is such a useful lifestyle if you want to eliminate at least some of those micro stressors from your life. Although you can’t control other people and external environments (so may just need to find ways of coping with those micro stressors when they occur), you CAN tackle your home and remove any stressors there.

At the very least, by living a minimalist lifestyle, you won’t have mess to stress you out. You don’t need to grow your to-do list to extortionate proportions because there’s a place for everything and everything has its place.

Your home environment is organised and calm. It’s easy to keep on top of clutter. You can truly relax when you’re there. Plus, it’s easier to keep clean and tidy too, which is another way to ease stress.

That said, striving for the ‘perfect’ minimalist home is, conversely, a micro-stressor in itself. Try to let go of perfectionism so that it doesn’t become a new source of stress. If you can do this while still embracing decluttering and maintaining a tidy environment, you’ll feel a reduction in those daily mini-stresses – ‘one less thing to worry about.’

Just remember that ‘good enough’ is a more healthy approach than ‘perfect’.

Final thought: Why not try bringing minimalism into your workspace too? A clutter-free desk could equal one less work-related micro stressor and could help you to keep on top of your workload, too.

Wheeler, K. (2021) ‘Common micro stressors and how to tackle them‘ [online] [11th August 2023]. Published 13th October 2021. Happiful. Surrey, UK. Available from: https://happiful.com/common-micro-stressors-and-how-to-tackle-them

Why you should be a minimalist during the cost of living crisis

Theoretical Minimalist Minimalism Theory Money Saving (2)

With interest rates and the cost of goods and services soaring, the cost of living crisis is negatively affecting many of us.

But, if you’re a minimalist, you may be better equipped to deal with the storm than others.

Here’s why:

1. As a minimalist you’re more conscious of bringing additional items into your home. Therefore you’re not buying anything new so the current price rises won’t affect you as much.

2. If you’re still decluttering, you may be able to sell your unwanted items. This will help you to make extra money to put toward your growing bills.

3. One of the joys of minimalism is that less stuff equals less chores. If you have fewer things to clean or tidy away, you’ll have more time. Time that you could potentially use to earn more money.

4. Or you could use the time to grow your own fruit and vegetables or to make your own frozen meals from scratch, saving money on groceries in the future.

5. If you’ve been living a minimalist lifestyle for a while, you’ll have already reduced your spending on new items and may therefore have some savings in the bank. Which will now be earning you a higher rate of interest.

6. On the other hand, soaring interest rates are making debt unaffordable so you won’t want to borrow money to buy anything new.

Using money you haven’t earned to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.

Robert Quillen, 1928

Plus, on the flip side, the cost of living crisis actually makes it easier to make minimalist choices. :

1. If you have to spend more money on heating or food, there’ll be less spare money available for you to spend on other, unnecessary items.

2. If you’re working extra hours to earn more money to cover your rising bills, you’ve got less free time to go shopping so you won’t be able to new buy items.

3. If you’re getting a higher interest rate on your savings, you’ll want to keep your money in the bank account and not be tempted to buy any new items to clutter up your home.

4. When living with fewer items you’re more grateful for those things you have. Having a high level of gratitude can help you to feel calmer about crises like this, as you want less and appreciate what you do have.

Those who display a high level of gratitude are much mor elikely to have below-average levels of materialism.

Polak and McCullough, 2006

I’ve found that the way I’ve dealt with the cost of living crisis is in complete contrast to my reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic – when I felt the need to hoard my own stuff during 2020 and became a compulsive shoppier during lockdown 3.

Has being a minimalist helped you to cope with the cost of living crisis? Have you noticed a difference in how you approach your finances since embracing minimalism?

Polak, E. L. and McCullough, M. E. (2006) Is gratitude an alternative to materialism? Journal of Happiness Studies 7, No3, September 2006

Quillen, R. (1928) The Detroit Free Press, June 4, Page 6, Column 4, Detroit, Michigan. (Newspapers_com)

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

Minimalist Home Decor Hotel Decluttering Boxes 5

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.

You are an antelope: Why evolution causes us to be stressed by clutter

Theoretical Minimalist Minimalism Theory Beach (3)

You’re an antelope. You’re scanning the horizon. You’re on the look out for lions. You can’t quite see what’s beyond the trees. Did that bush just rustle? Your breath quickens. You’re ready to run at any moment. Your system is flooded with adrenaline. It’s fight or flight time.

That’s what it’s like to live in a cluttered home.

Okay, okay, maybe comparing people with messy homes to anetlopes in mortal danger of being hunted by lions is too abstract. But it’s essentially the same kind of effect; if you’re stressed out by clutter, it’s because you are programmed by nature to be stressed out by clutter.

Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.

Bourg Carter, S. (2012)

Our ancestors actually DID have the same kind of experience as an antelope. They WERE in danger from predators and they WOULD have to scan the horizon to keep themselves safe.

And it’s this tendancy to scan for danger that causes us stress in the modern era. Not being able to see the horizon beyond the clutter feels dangerous to our cave-person minds. Instinctively, this causes us to feel stressed when we’re confronted with too much stuff at once.

Some people aren’t affected by clutter in this way. Maybe they’re better adapted to modern living. Yes, maybe they’re more evolved than I am. But there’s no doubt in my mind about the stress levels I personally feel rising when I’m surrounded by clutter.

The unpleasantness of clutter is as much, if not more, a psychological issue as it is a topic of home design. Clutter can be a matter of the mind. It can immobilize us. It can get in the way of clear thinking, even clear functioning. It can derail us when it becomes excessive.

Davis. H. (2012)

In Notes on a Nervous Planet Matt Haig discusses just how quickly the human race has developed; from wearing animal skins 50,000 years ago to developing civilisation in Mesopotamia. It’s just a 4,0000-year hop, skip and jump from the first money and alphabet to email and space travel.

Did social evolution really give ourselves enough time to adapt to the modern way of life? Or are we all really just experiencing our natural pre-civilisation urges to feel anxious when we scan the horizon?

Historically we had a natural need to belong to a social group or tribe, as this was crucial for our survival. Our brains therefore have a strong ability to spot things that don’t belong which, in this instance, could be all the things your eyes have spotted ‘on the horizon’.

Our limbic brain is powerful, powerful enough to drive behaviour that sometimes contradicts our rational and analytical understanding of a situation.

Sinek, S. (2009) p.57

If you’ve ever had a ‘gut feeling’ that something was wrong but you couldn’t tell what, that’s your limbic brain sparking into action. It’s irrational, but instinctual. That’s why you can sometimes feel ‘off’ when nothing seems to be wrong on the surface of it. And we tend to trust our gut instincts in a lot of situations don’t we? Especially in over-stimulating environments.

Introverts in particular can easily feel overstimulated. Psychologist Hans Eysenck (Chung, M. 2016) proposed that extroverts can cope with higher levels of stimulation and that intoroverts are more sensitive, therefore requiring low-key environments.

When we feel overloaded in a situation or environment, we can become anxious or even panic. Haig discusses the how overstimulating the modern world can be and the effect this can have on our mental health.

Panic is the product of overload. In an overloaded world we need to have a filter. We need to simplify things. We need to disconnect sometimes… A kind of mental feng shui.

Haig, M. (2019) p.37

So, if you don’t want to feel stressed in your own home, panicked by an overload of belongings and under attack from your posessions, maybe now’s the time to streamline your stuff?

Chung, M. (2016) The Irresistable Introvert. New York: Skyhorse Publishing.

Bourg Carter, S. (2012) Why Mess Causes Stress: 8 Reasons, 8 Remedies. [Online]. [Accessed 25th August 2020]. Available from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/high-octane-women/201203/why-mess-causes-stress-8-reasons-8-remedies

Davis, H. (2012) The Perils of Clutter. [Online]. [Accessed 25th August 2020]. Available from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/caveman-logic/201206/the-perils-clutter

Haig, M. (2019) Notes On A Nervous Planet. 2nd Edition. Edinburgh: Cannongate Books.

Sinek, S. (2009) Start With Why. London: Penguin.

How practicing gratitude can support a minimalist life

Theoretical Minimalist Book Research Happy Gratitude More Of Less Minimalism Theory

Stress and anxiety can lead us to hoard. To take comfort in the things that surround us. We may come to rely on things to distract us and bring us happiness.

So when I began reading on the subject of gratitude, I soon realised the link this practice may have in supporting a person on their journey into minimalism – and into a happier life, for that matter.

Countless studies show that gratitude can boost happiness and reduce levels of stress and depression. When I read Janice Kaplan’s book ‘The Gratitude Diaries‘, one of the first pieces of information I bookmarked was this:

An article in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology evaluating all the literature in the field concluded that gratitude may have the highest connection to mental health and happiness of any of the personality traits studied. The conclusion: ‘Around 18.5 per cent of individual differences in people’s happiness could be predicted by the amount of gratitude they feel.’ Now, that made me stop. Being 18.5 per cent happier is a lot of happier.

Janice Kaplan, 2016, p.15

Janice Kaplan goes on to keep a gratitude diary throughout the year, applying gratitude to a variety of situations; relationships, work, health and, most interestingly for me, the stuff we own. Can gratitude really help us to want and need less?

In Joshua Becker’s book ‘The More of Less‘ the author tackles the topic of consumerism and how we are manipulated into filling our home with stuff and spending money we don’t have. Yet, even when we get the thing we want, we still aren’t satisfied.

Consumption never fully delivers on its promise of fulfillment or happiness. Instead, it steals our freedom and results only in an unquenchable desire for more. It brings burden and regret. It distracts us from the very things that do bring us joy.

Joshua Becker, 2016, p.47

The research of behavioural economist Tom Gilovich from Cornell University, supports Becker’s words. His findings discussed in Kaplan’s book showed, time and again, that material possessions are not as satisfying as we think they will be.

This is the very essence of what psychologists call the ‘Hedonic Treadmill‘. You want it. You acquire it. You’re not as happy as you thought you would be. You look for the next big thing.

You can avoid getting trapped in this materialistic cycle by practising gratitude. This keeps your focus on the things you DO have rather than the things you don’t have. It can help you feel satisfied and that you already have abundance in your life, without the need to acquire more.

Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little

Epicurus – Greek philosopher

Psychology and neuroscience researchers from Baylor University concluded that “materialism has been consistently related to lower levels of life satisfaction”. As a result of Kaplan’s year-long experiment to maintain a grateful outlook, her life satisfaction increased and she realised that she didn’t need stuff in order to be happy:

Instead of trying to psychological holes of the soul with jewellery and clothes and cars, it’s better to use gratitude to make the emptiness disappear altogether. As an extra bonus, people who are grateful are less likely to yearn for the stuff that ultimately won’t add to overall well-being, anyway.

Janice Kaplan, 2016, p.110

HOW TO HARNESS GRATITUDE TO SUPPORT YOUR MINIMALIST JOURNEY

There are many things you can do bring gratitude into your life and boost your life satisfaction levels – here are just a few ideas:

  • Keep a gratitude journal. Write the details of events you were grateful for as and when they occur so that you can look back over them during less-than-grateful times.
  • Record three things you’re grateful for. Do this in your daily diary every night to record good things that happened. It might be a phone call with a friend, a lovely meal, working in a job you enjoy etc.
  • Make a list. Brain-dump all the things – and I mean ALL the things – you could be grateful for, from your ability to breathe to your favourite blend of tea.
  • Go for a walk and notice all the things you can be grateful for; the weather, your surroundings, those smiling faces, the convenient location of the local post office, the sunset.
  • Enjoy a bit of manifesting by feeling grateful for the things you will have over the years to come; your dream career, future family, the home you’ll build, strong mental health etc.
  • Actually say ‘thank you’ out loud when thinking about something you’re grateful for.

In Fearne Cotton’s uplifting book ‘Happy’, the author believes ‘the wheels of our economy are spun by the feeling that we don’t quite have enough’ (Cotton, 2017 p. 216). She suggests that gratitude is a great habit to learn in order to feel lucky rather than lacking.

Feeling gratitude – real, whole gratitude – comes in spontaneous waves when you’re on the edge of sheer bliss, where it feels only right to smile and beam a big THANK YOU or the simple things that lie in front of you. Saying it and really meaning it can massively awaken your senses and perspective to what there is in life to feel thanks for.

Fearne Cotton, 2017, p. 215

The author suggests exercises to harness gratitude including writing a gratitude list or diary, seeking out little things to appreciate each day, noting down small things you are grateful for to build up a bank of gratitude and eve thanking bad experiences for lessons learnt.

Have you experienced higher levels of life satisfaction after practicing gratitude. Do you keep a gratitude diary? Have you become less materialistic as a result? What other techniques can you suggest? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

Becker. J. (2016) The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own. Colorado: Waterbrook Press

Cotton, F. (2017) Happy: Finding joy in every day and letting go of perfect. London: Orion Spring.

Kaplan, J. (2016) The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on The Bright Side Transformed My Life. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

The decluttering journey – Deciding what to keep

Theoretical Minimalist Minimalism Theory Interiors Plants (2)

Despite my desire to follow a minimalist lifestyle and the many years of downsizing and decluttering I’ve already put into my life, I still have a lot of stuff.

I just don’t know how it accumulates.

One month, I can feel perfectly satisfied that I have decluttered successfully and only own the things I need and love. I have the bare minimum.

The next month, I can feel overwhelmed by the amount of clutter I still have in my home.

It’s not that I’m going shopping or bringing new items into our home. I’m simply looking at it with fresh eyes. Perhaps more critical eyes.

I could do more.

Maybe I exhausted myself before I had truly finished decluttering last month? Perhaps I was ‘soft’ and allowed myself to keep things that I didn’t really need?

Whatever the reason, the process of decluttering sometimes seems never-ending. (When will it end? Will I be in an empty room, thinking about taking down the blinds?)

So, exasperated with myself, I started looking for motivation to do more. To declutter further. To minimise more.

I uncovered a quote that I hadn’t heard of before and it made a massive difference to how I look at my belongings:

“Decluttering is infinitely easier when you think of it as deciding what to keep, rather than deciding what to throw away.”

Francine Jay

MIND. BLOWN.

Unbelievable though it seems, I hadn’t heard of Francine Jay until now. I know, right? Where I have I been for the last decade?

Don’t worry, I’ve put that right – and I now have her ‘Miss Minimalist’ book on my Kindle.

This quite came into my life at exactly the right time. Just when I was getting despondent about my minimising efforts. It has given me a new perspective on decluttering and I am diving back into the task with renewed vigour.

I’m going into every room and thinking in reverse: ‘If this room were empty, what would I put into it? What would I keep?’ Then it’s simply a case of removing the rest.

So I thought I would share this quote with you today, in the hope that it might make all the difference to you too.

Have you discovered an inspiring quote that helped you on your minimalism journey? Has someone said something to you that made you stop and think? Let me know, I’d love to hear about it.

The non-monochrome minimalist

Joyful Book Minimalist Maximalist Monochrome Theory 1 2

I am not a monochrome minimalist.

And you don’t have to be either.

It’s been said hundreds of times that minimalism looks different for everyone.

Just because many Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube accounts are dedicated to the monochrome aesthetic of minimalist interiors, fashion and art, it doesn’t mean you have to adopt the same style in order to be a minimalist yourself.

The aim of minimalism needn’t be living in a perfect, empty, white-walled apartment, wearing a go-with-everything wardrobe of black, white and grey clothing.

(Although I think I could be quite happy living like that too.)

In her book Joyful Ingrid Fetell Lee discusses how design and architecture can bring joy and happiness into our lives. She discusses how “uptight” minimalist decor can be repressive and drain a space of joy.

In contrast, she claims that maximalist interiors can create pleasure, and that abundance makes sense from an evolutionary perspective; citing peacocks feathers as evidence of maximalism being a signifier of vitality.

Both of these theories seem extreme to me. But I suppose it depends on just how minimalist or how maximalist a space is.

Clutter would cause stress for me but, on the other hand, I don’t plan to live in an entirely empty, soulless space either.

Fetell Lee provides an example of famous interior designer Dorothy Draper’s design of the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. The lobby is painted in green, aqua and pink and when the author visited this space she was filled with pure delight.

This just goes to show how colour can be important in bringing happiness into our lives, in the same way that a simple, clutter-free home can also be.

HOW TO BE A NON-MONOCHROME MINIMALIST

What’s your favourite colour? Would you feel happier with more of this colour in your life?

If you like a rainbow of colours, go for it! Wear them, decorate with them and bring vibrant pieces into your home.

As long as it doesn’t affect you negatively to be in a space with rich or bright tones, feel free to decorate your home in any way you wish.

Do you enjoy pattern? Then bring it into your home and wardrobe.

If you like white spaces but want to stay away from the clinical, add just a splash of colour with a vibrant feature piece, such as an armchair or headboard.

If a colourful interior feels ‘too much’ try adding natural textures such as wooden furniture and plants instead to add personality to a white room.

MY EXPERIENCE

You may have noticed that there are a few splashes of colour in the photos on my website. That’s my way of putting a little personality into my website. While I DO want it to look clean, simple and (mostly) monochrome, I also want to inject some excitement too.

Likewise, my home is both minimalist and colourful in difference spaces.

My all-white bedroom is exactly what I need when I want to feel calm and relaxed. I can read, write and do yoga in peace.

While the walls of my living room are white, I chose the brightest blue sofas, and hung artwork in orange and yellow tones. It’s a happy entertaining space that I enjoy spending time in during the evenings.

My kitchen is a full-on homage to the 1950s with colourful cabinets, patterned melamine table and retro prints on the walls. It’s an uplifting room that provides an energetic start to the day.

Each room in my home feels different and suits the activities I do in the space.

Similarly my wardrobe has a neutral base of black, grey and navy, with colourful additions.

I like things simple and fuss-free, yet I need colour in my life. It makes me happy.

…Yes, I’m definitely a non-monochrome minimalist.

Fetell Lee, I. (2018) Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, United Kingdom: Ebury Publishing.

We’ve all got boxes we haven’t unpacked

Minimalist Home Decor Hotel Decluttering Boxes 1

Which is the perfect excuse for decluttering when you’re becoming minimalist but don’t want people to think you’ve gone to the extreme.

I found myself saying this when my husband mentioned a recent minimising session to some friends of ours. I immediately jumped in with “Yes, well, we’ve got boxes in the garage that we haven’t unpacked since we moved three years ago, so we probably don’t need them.”

Our friends nodded knowingly and agreed that they too probably had the same in their loft. We moved swiftly on with the conversation without any mention of minimalism. Phew.

Now, I don’t know why I didn’t want want to make a big ‘thing’ about our journey into minimalism. In fact, I’m usually rather happy to share my opinions on how less in more and that we don’t need to buy so much stuff.

I mean, I’m writing a book about it now, for goodness sake.

But at that moment, I felt a bit weird about it. Probably because I wasn’t where I wanted to be with minimising our belongings at that moment and I didn’t want people to come into our home and be surprised by the amount of stuff we still have.

On the other hand, I already felt a bit extreme with the amount of minimising we had already done and didn’t want to admit to the vast volume of donating, shredding and clearing we’d already done.

I felt like my innate minimalist urges might not be understood and I didn’t really want to get into a discussion about the mental wellbeing I was uncovering as a result.

My conversation swerve worked. I got away with it. I’d downplayed it enough and made it relatable enough that it appeared wholly sensible to clear out those boxes.

Because we ALL have those boxes in the garage, the loft, under the stairs, under the bed. The boxes we haven’t looked at in years.

Those boxes make it easy to understand why someone would be getting rid of their stuff, and the mere mention of those boxes usually elicits agreement in anyone you discuss them with.

So if you find yourself being questioned about your minimalism journey and want to help someone understand why, just casually slip those boxes into the conversation.

Because we’ve all got them.

And none of us need them.