You are an antelope: Why ancient history 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 simplfy 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 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. The 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 practicing 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 ‘hyper brain’ of high IQ individuals + how minimalism can help with these anxieties

mensa magazine july 2020 high iq intelligence anxiety disorder psychology minimalism-1

In an article complied from the Mensa World Journal, the results of a study by lead author Ruth Karpinski of Pitzer College were shared with the Mensa UK community in the July 2020 issue of Mensa magazine.

With findings originally published in the journal ‘Intelligence’ and on neurosciencenews.com the article reports that highly intelligent people have an increased chance of suffering from psychological issues, including anxiety disorders.

The study developed a hyper brain / hyper body theory and suggests that “individuals with high cognitive ability react with an overexcitable emotional and behavioural response to their environments. Due in part to their increased awareness of their surroundings, people with a high IQ then tend to experience an overexcitable, hyperactive central nervous system.”

So those with above-average intelligence may find that they are more sensitive to their surroundings and, as such, may benefit from a minimalist approach.

On the other hand, a disorganised, cluttered space or environments with loud noises or strong smells could be enough to evoke an anxious response.

The co-author of the original study Audrey Kinase Kolb confirms that participants with a higher intelligence experienced significantly more anxiety than average: “Just over ten per cent of the US has a diagnosed anxiety disorder, compared to 20 per cent of Mensans.”

It goes to show that being ‘gifted’ is not always the case – as Karpinski says; “Those with high IQ possess unique intensities and overexcitabilities which can be at once both remarkable and disabling on many levels.”

In an effort to minimise those disabling effects, adopting a calm lifestyle and peaceful environment with minimal distractions – sounds, smells, clutter – could be a factor in improving anxieties in high IQ individuals.

From:

Mensa World Journal, 2020, ‘Anxious times for those with high IQ’, Mensa magazine, July 2020, pp. 28.

Original study:

Karpinski, R.I., Kinase Kolb, A.M., Tetreault, N.A., and Borowski, T.B, 2017, ‘High intelligence: A risk factor for psychological and physiological overexcitabilities’, Intelligence. Published online October 8 2017

Welcome to the Theoretical Minimalist blog

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Minimalism is a mystery.

I’ve been researching it for years.

And I’ve heard it said so many times that there’s no ‘right way’ to be a minimalist.

Minimalism looks different for everyone.

  • It’s not about the aesthetic. But, also, it is.
  • It’s not about having a specific number of belongings. But, also, it is.
  • It’s not about getting rid of everything until you’re living in an empty, echoey box. But, also, it is.

So I’m not here to tell you WHAT you should do.

But I AM here to tell you the WHY behind it.

I’m interested in the psychology behind minimalism. What theories you can apply to it and how we can all understand ourselves better.

How minimalism can change our lives through the power of our minds.

Wow, that’s a big promise, isn’t it?