Everything is continually changing, so there will always be some amount of stuff moving in and out of our lives. Even so, we can strive to reach much greater levels of simplicity-to spend less of our time accumulating, caring for, and discarding material possessions, and more time experiencing and being.Laura Forbes Carlin
It’s the time of year when the calendar, if nothing else, tells us it is spring. Time to lighten up, declutter, let go of some old stuff, and make room for a little new life.
Decluttering is a zen practice. Simplicity as a way of life is age-old wisdom, found in Zen monasteries where clutter is non-existent. In Feng Shui, another eastern tradition that dates back thousands of years, intention and simplicity are fundamental to the layout and energy of a home. It’s cool stuff, but the journey there is not all easy. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, it is the anticipation of the chore that is most brutal and overwhelming. (My words, his idea. I think he technically said “unpleasant.”) It’s true.
It’s the anticipation and dread that weighs most heavily. “Anxiety is caused by a lack of control, organization, preparation, and action,” says author and CEO David Kekich.
Life has gotten more complicated. More stuff in requires us to be more disciplined about getting stuff out (of our heads and our houses).
“Tidying is the act of confronting yourself, cleaning the act of confronting nature,” says Marie Kondo, author of Spark Joy, a manual on tidying up.
William Morris says, “Have nothing in your house that is not fit for purpose or beautiful.” I think that pertains to our brains, as well.
I recently heard a new term, email apnea, which refers to people being so stressed about their email inboxes at times that they hold their breath. (Says she who currently has 31,707 messages in her inbox. Why in the world would I want to go to war with that deleting game? Not gonna win it.) That said, I will share this story about the mail that just keeps coming:
During a tough and stressful spell in my twenties, healthwise, stresswise and otherwise, I was at the doctor trying to get to the bottom of what was wrong with me. I was coming off pneumonia, traveling too much for work, unable to get rested and generally spent. My doctor asked me a litany of questions. Woven in somewhere was “Do you feel like the mail just keeps coming at you?” I couldn’t believe it. I had just had that very thought the day before. “Ugh, there’s more at the door,” I had thought. “It just keeps coming and coming and coming.” It was her subtle screener for anxiety and depression – apparently not an original thought for an overwhelmed individual.
Unfortunately, the more we feel this way, the more it builds and becomes harder to get in front of. When we are on our toes, we can lean in and take on most anything. Inevitably, though, we are going to spend some time on our heels, too, defending our position. That’s when the crap starts to accumulate. We all rock between the two. That’s life.
A few more thoughts from friends, experts of all sorts.
“Think about how meditation is linked to an organized house. You learn the skill of removing the layer of clutter to get to a more peaceful place. Meditation is an exercise of clearing your mind to allow peace into your life. The exercise of organizing your house can bring about a similar peace of mind,” says Vivii Brown, founder of Vivid Organizing. (Check her out – she will come to you and help you clean up your act!)
Laura Carlin, author of new book Clutter Free Parenting, shared some simple thoughts:
- How you clear is as important as what you clear.
- The energy we bring to the process will contribute to the results. We want to be compassionate with ourselves as we clear, and compassionate with our things. If we find ourselves judging ourselves or other negative self talk we can observe / forgive the judgments and move on.
- Gratitude and intention as we let go shifts us into a heart-centered place.
- Practice gratitude for what we are keeping.
- Practice gratitude for the things we let go of and how they once served us.
- Practice gratitude for the space we are creating.
- Maintain an intention as we give things away: that they will serve someone else for their highest and greatest good.
(For more of her wisdom, check out Laura’s book and business, which was featured on the Today Show this week.)
More wisdom that spans the ages, from 19…
Organization means calmness, practicality and efficiency:
“Having an organized house is a lot like meditation. It is a hard skill to learn, but once learned, it allows you to free your mind of clutter and live a more peaceful life.
After hearing Admiral McCraven’s speech at UT, (below), it changed the way I look at simple tasks like making your bed. His philosophy is that making your bed every morning teaches discipline and focus, allowing you to start every morning with a completed task and growing your day from that. And if your day is complete shit, at least you have a bed that is made to come home to. I think this has a very powerful message and can correlate a lot to meditation; meditation puts you in a disciplined routine that helps teach focus. Meditating or even just sitting for 10 minutes with no distractions every day puts you in a place of calm acceptance for everything as it is.”
– Colin Mcdonald, Economics and Cognitive Science major, U of Southern California
To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk, author,
Here’s my mediocre declutter approach. (Skip Step One, which is to dread the task for weeks on end.) Light a candle or run a diffuser, open windows for fresh air, and set up the speakers or maybe even a timer (try for an hour). Then get after it. Fake it until we make it. In an hour, we can lighten up a space that has weighed on us for years.
As you clear clutter, everything from your mind to more material matters, be gentle with yourself. Change is hard but going against it is harder. So, as thoughts and things come and go from your life, also honor the need to balance uncertainty with consistency.
I saw this plainly with our baby nurse, Rama. Rama literally lived on the road, traveling between families with newborn needs, moving every month. She had a ritual of afternoon tea at 4 p.m. every day. She never missed it. No exceptions. I came to realize this ritual was essential for her, a centering practice of sorts. It was one thing that was consistent, wherever she went. So it goes with moving, travel, clearing out clutter. As Laura Carlin says, be compassionate toward yourself, and honor your discomfort with something that grounds you. And breathe, deep and light.