For a while now, I’ve found myself drawn to websites on minimalism, while I sit amidst a clutter of papers, pens, cables and the like. Even just seeing those clean white homepages gives me a feeling of peace compared to the sites with flashing adverts and text-crammed webpages. I also checked around my home to see which spaces elicited the greatest sense of joy. It wasn’t the sitting room full of comfortable sofas and family photos. It was the studio, empty of everything but mats and cushions, my writing room, with a simple antique desk and a view of the garden, and our little meditation deck.
Some years ago, I was living in a windowless room, sleeping on the floor, with only a single rucksack of possessions. It sounds rather bleak, yet I remember it as one of the happiest years of my life. It was a time of focus and meaning. When I awoke each morning, I could quickly choose what to wear, based on the weather, and what was clean. Then I’d head straight into work, by bicycle, without my mind cluttered with unnecessary decisions.
This was during my year in Thailand, doing tsunami relief, and I experienced so clearly that when we feel deeply connected with our community, and have meaningful work, then we seem to have few other desires. Possessions were just extra things to carry, and didn’t add to my deeply felt contentment. I survived on $US5 a day yet lived with a sense of abundance. The street food was delicious, our work was inspiring, and in the evenings we would swim in the sea, or dive into waterfall pools. I had no other needs.
Getting to Grips with our Junk
Of course, that spacious lifestyle was only possible because I’d left all my junk behind in Botswana. Moving to Johannesburg meant carrying my possessions with me. Then bringing two households together after our marriage inevitably resulted in a fair amount of clutter. And I’m often shocked to see the percentage of our monthly expenditure that goes on maintaining stuff, cleaning stuff, insuring stuff and paying for security to protect stuff. The cave on a mountain top sometimes calls quite loudly. It feels like I am living back to front. The stuff I own feels like it rules me, rather than being of indispensable use.
So, for my birthday I received a book voucher, and browsing the shelves drew me to my favourite word ‘Joy’. Francine Jay’s book on mimimalism, “The Joy of Less” got my vote. I’ve often looked in cupboards with every intention to get rid of stuff, and then felt overwhelmed by the choice. This book turns the process around – take everything out of a defined space, have a good look at it, and decide what you would like to put back, based on whether it is beautiful or useful.
This simple mindshift has made things so much easier. The things that don’t quite make the grade get transferred to new owners, recycled or binned. I’ve been shocked with the things that hide in the bottom of jars, drawers, on the back of bookshelves. Things that I would never notice if they had been taken, yet they sit there, gathering dust. It seems that when I pass by clutter regularly, I think I’m able to ignore it, but it is slowly draining my energy, as part of me knows that I have to deal with it at one point. If I don’t, then someone else will have to. One of the simplest teachings from Buddhism is to make life as easy as possible for others when you die.
So, I’ve committed the last week to this process. Old CDs have been ripped, and I’ve been getting rid of both the CD and the CD rack. I’ve been sending clothes to new homes, and taking great delight in seeing other people wearing them. I’ve moved on two staplers, and actually started to wonder how much stapling I do anyway, and how much hole punching… So much of this office equipment is now outdated. I’ve had an old printer sitting on a chair for years – time to send it for recycling. I even found about 30 biros, long since dried up, swimming around in the bottom of a drawer.
Now that I look in my drawers, I can actually find the things I need. No time wasted rummaging. In the short term, the decluttering process does take time, but we can spread it out, drawer by drawer, over the weeks available. And it saves so much time in the long run, when we can actually find things when we need them.
Clutter seems to hold energy stuck in place. Minimalism helps to create the space that allows energy to flow. As I wrote in an earlier post, we regain access to our inner spaciousness by letting things in one door and out the other. This opens the way for spontaneity, a sense of potential and the magical connections that lead us forward with enthusiasm and vitality. Spaciousness, for me, seems to be the container for joy, while clutter saps me of energy.
Decluttering our Minds
In the Mindfulness-based Living Course, we often use the analogy of a basement, which like our mind is filled with old boxes. It can be too much to switch on the fluorescent light and try to clean it out in one go. We end up running from the task. Instead, we learn to go in with a soft light, and work through one box at a time. Our emotional baggage, or internal clutter is never so bad when we face it head on. It is able to ease, transform or release completely when we give it some breathing room. So, I’m working from the outside in, from my home to my head. I’ve cut my hair super-short. Easy. No time spent drying or styling. More time for writing. I’m hoping too that the process will take me one step further in, and help me declutter my mind. I’ll let you know when I get back from retreat!
“When we become minimalists we strip away all the excess to uncover our true selves. We take the time to contemplate who we are, what we find important, and what makes us truly happy.” Francine Jay, Miss Minimalist
I love the irony that I’m writing about minimalism and decluttering on Black Friday, the day of consumer frenzy. It feels a wonderfully revolutionary act! Let me know if you’d like to borrow the decluttering handbook, and I will happily pass it on – in the spirit of non-attachment.